People who work in public healthcare, or are involved with the promotion of health practitioners or techniques, do not have an absolute right to a reputation. It is most important that the claims, behaviours and results achieved are subject to the highest levels of public scrutiny. It is only in doing so that we can be confident that our healthcare providers are doing more good than harm. In pursuing that scrutiny, some reputations may rise and some may fall. The reputational cost to a few is a price worth paying for better healthcare for all.
The English law of defamation would disagree with me though. The law allowed the British Chiropractic Association to bring a libel case against the science writer Simon Singh for suggesting in the Guardian that many of the techniques they promoted were ‘bogus’ – that is, not based on a sound scientific footing and lacking credible evidence. Most people would have caved and apologised. It is not rational to defend a libel claim in the UK, as the economic considerations will mean that you will almost certainly lose a shed load of money – win the case, or not. But Simon Singh did not make an economic decision – he made a principled decision – that what he wrote was defendable, important and in the public interest. The BCA did not count on attacking a principled man – with money to defend those principles.
Two years later, and hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on lawyers, the BCA have now dropped their case. They state that this is for economic reasons, “to avoid further legal costs being incurred by either side”. However, they acknowledge that Singh was given a very reasonable way of defending himself in this case that would meant it would be unlikely the BCA would win.
But in dropping the case, the BCA are still insisting that they have been defamed and that they would still have a strong case if they chose to appeal. They are even claiming that they have been ‘vindicated’.
This is absurd and demonstrates the irresponsible and unthinking nature of the BCA.
They claim in their press release that “The BCA takes seriously its duty and responsibilities to members and to chiropractic patients.” This precisely what they are not doing. In their attempt to defend their reputation, their members and their customers are the very people who have been ignored and let down, with disastrous consequences.
Simon Singh made a very simple allegation: he stated that the BCA were happily promoting treatments for children and babies for which there was not a jot of evidence. If this claim was true then the BCA were involved in activities that could be seriously detrimental to public health. The BCA chose not to defend their approach to chiropractic but instead decided to sue the writer, knowing the outcome would almost certainly be his bankruptcy. Their chiropractic patients were never featured in their response – and they still are not.
The BCA would appear to wish to carry on as if they have been involved in legal error – not of their making – and nothing else. They have been the unfortunate victims of a byzantine legal process. But this is of course absurd. The BCA had many chances to restore its reputation – most notably by taking up the offer to publish their own account of their reasons for promoting chiropractic for children in the Guardian. But they did not. They could also have simply ignored the minor comment piece in the Guardian. Instead, their actions look like the deliberate attempt to punish a critic of their trade who has written books and spoken publicly about the shortcomings of chiropractors. Confident of an early victory, I am sure they felt that this would sent a message to people not to write about chiropractic in less than glowing terms. For this, they have been resoundedly and quite rightly condemned.
In failing to achieve their aims, they have now ensured many more people do not see chiropractic as just a small branch of the medical profession that looks after backs, but as a bizarre, cult-like pseudomedical trade who make spurious healing claims with little regard to evidence. Their reputation has been trashed. However, not all chiropractors can be characterised as medical know-nothing chancers. There are many who would appear to value the move towards evidence based medicine and want to work with other medical colleagues on the mutual basis of good evidence and responsible practice. The BCA are letting these chiropractors down badly.
Instead of trying to spin this defeat into what it is not, the BCA should be trying to repair the profession that now sees about a third of its members under professional investigation by the regulating authorities for making unsupportable claims. I cannot see how the current leadership of the BCA are in any position now to take chiropractic forward. If the leadership care about the reputation of their members they should resign and make way for new hands who are committed to evidence-based chiropractic, no matter how limited their scope of practice may then turn out to be. This is the only approach that is in the best interests of chiropractic customers. Any other path will simply be seen as either the protectionist practices of a guild of unscrupulous charlatans.
The reputation of the BCA is now worth nothing. But the wellbeing of their customers is well worth defending. Only new chiropractic leadership can ensure that the interests of their paying customers are placed at the heart of their trade and help steer reasonable chiropractors through the regulatory mess that the current incumbents have got themselves into.
And on a personal note to Simon. We both became fathers three weeks ago. I believe our babies were born 10 hours and 23 minutes apart. I am sure that you are finding this is a time of great wonder. With the collapse of this case, I hope the only lost sleep you are now getting is when little Hari decides to complain about something. Far better than the back quacks complaining. Well done on this case. You are a true superstar.
They realised they couldn’t win, so they quit saying “but he was still a meanie! He said mean things about us! Wah wah wah!”
Excellently spoken. More than a little creepy the your children are born 10:23 apart…
10:23… that’s crazy! A belated congratulations on becoming a father.
It takes some to do what Simon set out to do and hope that this will continue the process of identifying what chiropractors (and other related professions)can do. Key point is that we should never forget the difference between treating a condition and treating a person. Let’s just be completely sure that we as chiropractors keep on treating people and offer relief and management options for conditions we can predictably affect aka treat.I am pleased and grateful to the works of Simon, Edzard, Jack, Simon P, and many others because it will help the chiropractic profession be clearer and more reliably deliver on its promises. The public can continue to rely on the vast majority of the chiropractors who make no false promises and deliver the goods, even if they have been known to maybe overstate the case in the past. Let’s move forwards and not throw out the baby with the bathwater, even if we only have ourselves to blame for this saga.
Again: respect to Simon
The point is that the Guardian’s offer of column space for the BCA to make a reply and present their evidence clearly wasn’t a viable option. I would suggest the BCA almost certainly knew this was the case in spite of their claims to have a “plethora” of evidence to support their claims.
It just isn’t credible that the leadership is so dim and incompetent that none of them knew the reality regarding their so-called evidence. And that lack of credibility points to a more sinister motivation for pursuing legal action than simple rectification of damage to an upright and respectable reputation.
They knew they had been pushed into a corner and revealed as medical frauds. So they chose not to take the sensible option of doing nothing and waiting for it to blow over, after which normal service could have been resumed. Their only other option was to gamble and do a bit of bullying. And fortunately the bully has been humiliated.
Unfortunately it is unlikely chiropractic will beconsigned to its rightful place in the dustbin of medical scams because there are too many fans with a religious like devotion to being hoodwinked.
I’m ecstatic for Simon, yet at the same time just a tadlette disappointed: He never got his chance to kick their sorry asses in court.
Hope he now sues the BCA twice, once for defamation of HIS character and reputation as a respected and conscientious science journalist, and again for all the money and lost earning they cost him!
No one should be allowed to get away with sleazy and underhanded attempts to silence news and comment that is in the interests of those being swindled by alternative “medical” practitioners.
pv: you wrote exactly what I was prepared to type.
How very odd to read diatribes like these. I’ve worked for 3 DC’s in the USA, of which 2 were very good. I have had ribs set that were driving me nuts, my sublexed shoulder set numerous times, (it’s unstable so now my husband and a friend do the “fireman’s set” on me when it goes out, the trick was taught to them by a DC) and had a serious gut condition stopped by an occiput adjustment. I use a great deal of information I learned from DC’s in my job as a massage therapist,and this info works as well for me as it does for them.
Those of you who who have never suffered from chronic pain that responds to chiropractic treatment yet feel qualified to condemn it are like someone who has never had allergies and swears that those who suffer from hayfever must be imagining it and allergy drs are just taking their money for nothing. Shame on you for trying to stop something you don’t understand. If we were to compare how much pain relief a patient received from the average MD visit to the average DC visit, the MD’s would look very bad indeed. I agree, I know of cases where people have hurt worse after an adjustment, but I also know of cases where someone with mild pain wound up in agony after a cortisone shot by an MD. AS I have said many times, when you leave a DC’s office, no matter how greedy or incompetent he may be, you will still have all your body parts. I have met way too many people who did not fare so well after MD visits. Remember that here in the USA where I am, insurance seldom pays well or even at all for chiropractic tx, and yet people will go pay money out of their pockets because they actually get results from their DC. If they weren’t effective, they would all be out of business. An interesting corollary of this is that the very best DC in any small town is the one who has no advertising at all. He’s the one that is so busy from word of mouth referrals that it’s all he can do to empty his waiting room to go home at the end of the day. And what about horse chiropractors? I heard about one that couldn’t go to meets anymore because if a patient smelled him in the crowd, that horse would stop whatever it was doing and seek him out. I never heard of horses being that fond of someone who just gives them shots.
Your missing the point of the article. Chiro has its limits, it can help, but there is more quackery in Chiropractic than any medical profession. Simon called b.s and The BCA could not prove him wrong.
How very odd to read diatribes like the above…
I have chronic pain, have tried many things, and have had side-effects from both conventional medicine and CAM. The difference was that I got some benefit from most of the conventional treatments, and when I didn’t I could discuss that with my doctors and try other things, because they had no particular commitment to any single treatment system. If you’re genuinely in pain, I’d advise you to see a medical doctor as soon as you can.
“Shame on you for trying to stop something you don’t understand.”
Shame on you for the ignorance and illogic that inspired that unwitting irony.
“And what about horse chiropractors? I heard about one that couldn’t go to meets anymore because if a patient smelled him in the crowd, that horse would stop whatever it was doing and seek him out.”
Interesting anecdote, worthy of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! For goodness sake’s when will people learn the difference between science and fantasy?
Since the UK government has the GCC in place to register ALL Chiros in the UK, irrespective of ther original qualifications, and only the GCC has that power of regulation and registration, the BCA might as well close down. Only about 52% of Chiros are members of BCA and cannot practice unless registered with the GCC.
Clearly, quackery seems more to do with BCA politics than honest facts.
I have been treated successfully by McTimoney Chiros since sustaining a back injury in early 1980’s and was so impressed by the effectiveness of the 2 that provided a total of 11 treatments over the 30 odd year period, that I encouraged my son to take up that profession.