Yesterday, on BBC London radio, Joanne Good and Anna Webb used their Barking Hour show to mislead listeners about how chiropractic, homeopathy and kiniesiology can help pets with serious illnesses. Her guest on the show was a McTimoney chiropractor by the name of Kay McCarroll who was unchallenged as she gave false, misleading and possibly illegal advice about the treatment of animals.
[Available here for this week. Starts 10 minutes in.]
This show failed to uphold the standards by which the BBC is required to adhere to of accuracy and impartiality. Listeners may have been seriously misled and their animals put at risk by following the advice given on the show.
The BBC is the respectable face of the broadcasting world and yet it was happily promoting bogus treatments. During the hour long show, chiropractic manipulation for animals was happily promoted as a treatment for spondylitis and acute arthritis. Homeopathy was touted as a treatment for epilepsy in dogs. The pseudoscience of kinesiology was presented as a credible diagnostic technique. There is not a jot of [good] evidence that any of these treatments can be effective. Furthermore, vets were undermined as not understanding chiropractic and vaccines guidelines were criticised without allowing response.
In the UK, veterinary chiropractic is not recognised. The regulator of chiropractors the General Chiropractic Council, is very clear about the misuse of the term chiropractor in this context.
The GCC has received legal advice confirming that the 1994 Act is “designed to cover human patients”. The entire regulatory scheme of that Act is devoted only to human patients and not animals. The latter come under the Veterinary legislation.
Under the Veterinary Surgeons’ Act only a Veterinary Surgeon can perform these functions in respect of an animal. Accordingly, within the UK there is no such thing as ‘Animal Chiropractor’, although a Chiropractor may apply manual therapies to an animal under the direction of a Veterinary Surgeon in accordance with the exemption specified.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has informed the GCC that if any person is alleged to have treated an animal otherwise than in accordance with the Veterinary Surgeons’ Act and the exemption Order, they will consider prosecuting such individual and that complaints about such activities should be referred to them.
The guest on the show is not a Veterinary Surgeon. It would therefore be an offense for her to treat an animal unless it was under the direction of a Veterinary Surgeon. Several times on the show, listeners were advised to look up McTimoney Chiropractors and homeopaths for treatment for their dogs and pets. If a chiropractor accepted the work, they would be breaking the law.
Chiropractic is a discredited belief system based on superstitious views of human health and unproven models of ‘subluxations’ causing illness. In humans, there is no good evidence that chiropractic can treat any condition with the possible exception of some temporary relief for lower back pain. There are considerable risks from chiropractic including strokes. The evidence for animal chiropractic is dismal. None of this was made clear to viewers.
Homeopathy is a magical belief system that flies in the face of well established and fundamental results of physics, chemistry and biology. Its products are so diluted that no active ingredient remains. The totality of the evidence base fails to demonstrate any specific effects for homeopathy for any condition.
Proponents of both chiropractic and homeopathy rely on cherry picked studies of low quality and anecdotes to support their claims. In particular, the canard of “placebos cannot work on animals” is used to justify beliefs that improvements in health were due to treatments. This argument is easily countered. Placebos manipulate beliefs and expectations about a treatment and the illness. With animals, it is the beliefs and expectations of owners and therapists who are manipulated and who mis-ascribe improvements in health to the actions of the treatment.
The show also advocated muscle testing or kiniesiology to diagnose problems in dogs. As a technique, this is indistinguishable from blatant fraud. The programme described how an owner would hold their animal while the owner’s other arms was pulled to see for resistance when various ‘stresses’ were applied. Such false diagnostic tests are used to sell owners supplements or other treatments. It is wholly bogus. The BBC’s viewers were not made aware of the pseudoscientific nature of these practices.
One listener by the name of Martin did manage to send in an email to point out the unscientific nature of homeopathy and how there is no good evidence that it works. For his efforts, Martin was mocked by the presenter. “Who rattled his cage?”
This stuff matters. It is one thing for an adult human to make decisions about their health to indulge in disproven, nonsensical treatments. But with animals, they need the clear advocacy for what is best for them. The BBC has seriously put animals at risk here from either unscrupulous or deluded practitioners and their owners are at risk of handing over money where no benefit will be forthcoming.
The BBC has a general problem here. A few years ago, it commissioned a report into the accuracy and impartiality of its science coverage. The independent review, by Professor Steve Jones, made clear recommendations.
Often shows are critisised for giving ‘equal weight’ to opposing views, even when one viewpoint may be fringe and unsupported by science. On this show, there was not even an attempt to give equal weight to evidence-based views. The Jones report goes further in saying “there should be no attempt to give equal weight to opinion and to evidence”. Indeed, there must be “due weight” to discussions, where scientific and evidence-based views must dominate against conjecture, opinion, superstition and pseudoscience. In such a context, the Barking Hour were completely wrong to give unfettered airtime to a fringe practitioner with pseudoscientific views on treating animals without any attempt to give due weight to the appropriate science.
I have written recently about how the Jones report does not appear to have filtered down to the regional TV and radio stations. This sort of show where cranks are given free reign appears to be fairly common. Given the serious nature of these issues, where dangerous and misleading health advice was given out and practitioners who appear to operate on the fringes of the law were given unchallenged advertising space, it would appear to be vital that the BBC investigate how such a programme could be made and how such programmes might be prevented from being aired in the future.
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More information on Veterinary Chiropractic can be found here.