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.
If you would like to express your opinions about this you may like to contact the following
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Registrars
The General Chiropractic Council
More information on Veterinary Chiropractic can be found here.
Just in the interest of accuracy, Andy, the presenter is Joanne Good, and that’s her image posted here. Anna Webb is a regular contributor – basically a co-host – for the Barking Hour.
Agggh! This made my blood boil! It’s lucky I don’t listen to Radio London, or I would have tossed the radio out of the window!! What utter drivvel, and, as you say, totally unchallanged. Complaint to the Beeb and the RCVS on it’s way!
The GCC states: “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.”
Bearing that in mind, according to Wikipedia the McTimoney degrees are recognised by the GCC:
Does anyone know if that includes the McTimoney postgraduate programmes – i.e. its MSc Animal Manipulation, and its MSc Chiropractic (Small Animals)? See here:
If so, how can the GCC possibly reconcile its ‘humans only’ stance with accrediting degrees in ‘animal chiropractic’?
My understanding was these were not accredited programmes.
I wonder how many animal owners know that McTimoney chiropractors *who work with animals exclusively* aren’t officially regulated in that capacity even if they are registered with the GCC so that they can call themselves a chiropractor…
There is, of course, accredited and accredited.
Applied kinesiology is the term in the US for the pseudoscientific kinesiology to which you refer. I do not know if it is used on US animals.
I do see quite a bit of chiropractic care used on horses. From what I understand it really amounts to a really good deep muscle massage and it really helps the horses. In fact after initial reticence, they love it.
Homeopathic medicines are used widely in the horse industry. Most are available on-line or in supply houses. I have no knowledge about the use by vets. Given the high level of nonsense displayed by many equine owners and trainers and their unfortunate lack of any semblance of knowledge about horse physiology, psychology, etc., it would not surprise me that a vet would use a placebo so as not to harm the horse, but calm the owner. Also there are so many “miracle cures” when a horse recovers naturally that wide spread boosterism arises in support of some procedure or nostrum. Horse people talk with each other about their animals a lot more than other species owners talk about their pets.
I expect these observations are true in other countries as well.
They actually say so?
@mojo They actually say so? Well presumably not all will be ayes – some are bound to be neighs.
A side note on Homeopathy in the US. In the past 2 years a few potions were only about 6-7X or C. These caused reactions in consumers, some severe, due to remaining active ingredients. I now am even more concerned about meds labeled homeopathic since they may be poisonous if insufficiently diluted.
Very worrying news Jim.
Hopefully they will adequately dilute the antimatter sugarpillery remedy (using the last word loosely).
Otherwise we are all doooomed.
Complaint submitted to the BBC on the first 44 minutes. I could bare no more. Grrr.
Just noticed the razor bladey thing at the top of the page.
The early anecdote of the bull that initially disliked being in the ‘press’, but then relaxed as the spinal manipulation started (assuming it happened like that), is entirely compatible with the observations of Temple Grandin (animal behaviourist). She was so struck by cows’ quick transition from distressed to relaxed in the press, that she went home and built her own ‘squeeze machine’ as a therapeutic device to deal with her own autistic anxiety.