Simon Singh and the “Bogus” Issue

This is an issue that I’ve been meaning to comment about for some time, but hadn’t done so because I really didn’t have a clear view on what opinion to express! I’ve now decided to chip in precisely for that reason, i.e. because I don’t think the matter is as clear as others appear to think.

The story will be familiar to many readers of the blog, so I’ll only give a quick recap of the salient points. Simon Singh is a popular science writer – a very good one, in fact – who recently  co-authored a book on alternative medicine called Trick or Treatment? with Professor Edzard Ernst of Exeter University. In that book they produced evidence showing that many “alternative” medical therapies including homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractice  were, in fact, useless for the control of many conditions for which they are prescribed by the relevant specialists. Subsequent to the publication of this book, Singh wrote a piece in the Comment pages of the Guardian newspaper in which he specifically criticised the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for claiming that its members could use spinal manipulation to treat children with colic, ear infections, asthma, sleeping and feeding conditions, and prolonged crying. Singh described these treatments as “bogus” and criticised the  BCA for “happily promoting” them.

The BCA decided to sue Simon Singh for libel. The Guardian removed the article from its web pages and encouraged Singh to settle out of court, offering to pay his legal expenses if he agreed to do so. He refused and decided to defend the libel action in court. At a preliminary hearing in May, the Judge, Mr Justice Eady,  ruled that the wording used by Singh implied that the BCA was being consciously dishonest. Singh has denied that he intended any such meaning.

This ruling – which is currently under appeal – effectively means that Singh has to prove that the BCA are consciously dishonest in order to win the libel case. That looks like a very tall order. He also has to pay the costs of the preliminary hearing, which amount to £23,000. If the matter goes to a full trial then he will be out of pocket to a much greater extent than this: a conservative estimate is that his legal costs alone will exceed £100,000, and there will be damages to pay on top of that.

This has become something of a cause célèbre owing, it is alleged, to the intrusion of the courts into matters of scientific debate. The organization Sense About Science has organized a petition (“to keep libel laws out of science”) which has attracted over 10,000 signatures. The issue that signatories are worried about is that the open cut-and-thrust of rational scientific debate will be stifled if a precedent is set that involves one party taking another to court. As they put it

Freedom to criticise and question in strong terms and without malice is the cornerstone of scientific argument and debate, whether in peer-reviewed journals, on websites or in newspapers, which have a right of reply for complainants. However, the libel laws and cases such as BCA v Singh have a chilling effect, which deters scientists, journalists and science writers from engaging in important disputes about the evidential base supporting products and practices. The libel laws discourage argument and debate and merely encourage the use of the courts to silence critics.

The case has also revived calls to reform Britain’s  laws on defamation, which make the defence of a libel action in the UK very difficult from a legal perspective compared to other jurisdictions because, roughly speaking, they place the burden of proof on the defendant not the plaintiff. It is also so expensive to pursue such an action through the courts that the system clearly favours the rich and powerful versus ordinary citizens.

The ruling by Sir David Eady has been singled out for disapproval in the print media and across the blogosphere as an example of how  British law stifles free speech.

So why am I unclear about this? Shouldn’t we keep libel laws out of science? Doesn’t the British law of libel need changing?

Of course I say “yes” to both of those. But it seems to me that the Simon Singh case isn’t really about those questions.

For a start, there is no way that you can regard a Comment article in a national newspaper as the proper place for scientific debate between qualified specialists. Such arguments can and do take place at scientific conferences, seminars and through the pages of learned journals. Simon Singh was not participating in this process when he wrote his article. He was doing something quite different: publicising his book.

Secondly, it is true that Simon Singh is a qualified scientist. He has a PhD in particle physics, in fact. But that does not in itself qualify him as competent to pronounce on issues relating to medical practice. I wouldn’t want to stop anyone stating their opinion about things that they’re interested in. It’s just that he doesn’t get a special ticket because he happened to get a science PhD. My point is that his article was not part of the cut-and-thrust of informed scientific debate between experts, merely an individual commenting on something. The fact that he’s a scientist should not give him a blanket exemption from having to obey the laws that apply to others, especially when he is talking about things outside his speciality. It’s also worth stating here that if what he’d said had clearly just been an opinion it would not have been subject to a libel case. The problem is that it appears to be a statement of fact from an authority on the matter.

Third, note that the original book – which is a proper scientific work in which arguments are presented with accompanying evidence – is not the subject of the libel action, just the newspaper article. The BCA is not using the libel laws to suppress or contest scientific evidence.

Now we come to the crux. Does Mr Justice Eady’s ruling really “defy logic” as many commentators have alleged? What does the word “bogus” actually mean? It seems sensible to turn to an authoritative source, the Oxford English Dictionary. Doing so, I find that the word “bogus” is actually of American origin. The first usage found in the OED is from 1827 where it appears as a noun, meaning “an apparatus used for making counterfeit coins”. Later on it is found as an adjective, with current meanings

Counterfeit, spurious, fictitious, sham: ‘originally applied to counterfeit coin’ (Webster).

It seems to me that since the preliminary hearing was specifically intended to give a ruling on the meaning of the words that had been used in the allegedly libellous document, Mr Justic Eady actually had no choice at all in deciding that the word meant what it did. Clearly “counterfeit” implies a deliberate misrepresentation. Effectively the ruling means that Singh’s words mean that the BCA are no better than Snake Oil salesmen, a defamatory statement if ever I heard one.

Singh has claimed that this was not what he meant by “bogus” and what he intended was something more like “unproved” but I don’t see how it can be an acceptable defence to claim that one’s words mean what you think and not what everyone else thinks. It didn’t work for Humpty Dumpty and it won’t work for Simon Singh. If I write that “Jones the Dentist is incompetent” then that will be libelous (if untrue) even if I later claim I thought that the word incompetent meant something different to what it everyone else thinks.

Truth is of course an acceptable defence against libel, but the “truth” at issue has now become not whether chiropractice is effective or ineffective (a scientific issue) but whether chiropractioners are consciously fraudulent. I’d be wholeheartedly against trying to settle the first question in the courts, but nobody is trying to suggest that. The second question seems to me one that has to be settled that way.

Now let me say that I don’t know anything at all about chiropractice. I don’t know whether it works or doesn’t work, but it does seem to me that Simon Singh was very unwise to use the word “bogus” and even unwiser still to defend the action after he did.

For me, the only really significant issue in this saga is a general one: the overall matter of freedom of speech. In general, I believe strongly in freedom of speech but because we don’t have a written constitution the right to it is not stated as clearly here in the United Kingdom as it is, for example, in the United States. However, don’t forget that there are defamation laws (including libel) in America too. Among those statements considered defamatory per se under US law are statements “injurious to another in their trade, business, or profession”, which certainly would cover chiropractors. The US system is much less plaintiff-friendly than ours, in that it provides for a wider range of potential defences, and it also largely reverses the burden of proof unless there is an affirmative defence. It does not seem obvious to me, though, that Singh would have any more success in defending his case in America rather than here. But, then, I’m not a lawyer.

Even in countries like the United States where Freedom of Speech is enshrined as a constitutional right, it is necessary that it should tempered by wider considerations. It should not be legal for someone to damage another person’s reputation and livelihood by making intentionally false and defamatory assertions. Neither should it be possible to abuse and/or threaten another in such a way as to cause harassment or intimidation. There have to be laws covering such things. The real question is how to make them work in a more impartial way than they do now. To argue that one should be exempted simply by declaring oneself to be a scientist seems to me to be dangerously simplistic. The best way to keep the libel laws out of science is to for scientists not to make potentially libelous statements if they don’t possess the evidence to back them up.

I realise that many of you may think that, in not fully supporting Simon Singh, I am being overtly pro-BCA. I certainly don’t intend to be so. I think there’s blame on both sides. I think that the BCA was unnecessarily aggressive in suing him for libel. Given that they did so, though, Singh seems to me to have made an error of judgement in continuing an action he is very unlikely to win. If he continues with the case now his only hope is that he can produce enough evidence in court that damages the BCA that they drop the action. In the long run, what will probably happen is that he loses the case and the BCA wins damages, but suffers a big dent in its reputation for rather heavy-handed tactics. Along the way it might even happen that there is intense scientific evaluation of the effectiveness of chiropractics, and that might do the BCA more harm than good. Bear in mind that anything said in court under oath is privileged can’t be subject to libel actions…

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63 Responses to “Simon Singh and the “Bogus” Issue”

  1. Thomas D Says:

    Let me add that there are more pressing reasons for reforming the libel laws, for example some books about the funding of terrorism or the recent history of US intelligence, that cannot be sold here because their claims, while plausible and based on evidence, would have to be proved in court at great expense against a very difficult standard. This was mentioned in a Nature editorial some weeks ago.

    It boggles the mind slightly if some Saudi millionaire can squelch an entire book about his alleged links with terrorists and hardly anyone notices, but what really gets people worked up about libel is — a popular science writer who puts down a couple of ambiguous sentences about chiropractors!

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Do remember that Singh did not name any individuals in his article and obviously did not have any names in mind. That he can be sued by an Association is yet another thing wrong with our libel laws.

    Re the meaning of ‘bogus,’ Singh wrote in his Guardian article: “I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with… Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself…” Here Singh asserts that *techniques* are bogus. A technique either works or doesn’t work. It is not something that aims to hoodwink – only people are capable of doing that. So Singh’s meaning is simply that the technique doesn’t work, not that chiropractors operate in bad faith. In support of this interpretation, Singh also wrote n the Guardian that chiropractors “possess some quite wacky ideas,” which obviously implies that he sees them not as unscrupulous but deluded. A dictionary is not infallible, and neither is a judge…

    It is a great shame that the debate will not, as things stand, centre on the truth or otherwise of Singh’s claims that chiropractic manipulation of the spine is not only incapable of curing things like ear infections, but even for back problems can itself be damaging. Read his book and some chiropractic literature and decide for yourself.

    I don’t see what the fact that Singh’s qualifications are exclusively in physics have to do with it. I have had a few debates with experts in fields other than my own, and I found that if they are genuinely expert then they can explain easily enough where and why I am wrong, without resorting to insults or even to law.

    I am behind Simon Singh all the way.

    Anton

  3. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    A technique can be bogus just as a coin can be…

    I was being pedantic about the meaning of the word because when things go to court that is inevitably what happens. In the informal common-sense world we don’t have to split hairs, but it seems entirely reasonable that the judge should rule according to an accepted standard, i.e. a dictionary.

    I’ve replied to people privately about this to the effect that it’s a great pity that the libel courts are so accessible if you have money. I think the courts should be a last resort and the BCA is far from blameless in being so trigger happy.

    I would also much prefer the debate to be about the scientific evidence, and I think it’s very unfortunate that that will probably get lost in the noise.

    There are very important arguments about libel and freedom of speech, especially in the era of the internet, I just don’t think this case is the right ground on which to fight them.

    I know from discussions at work about this that I am in a very small minority on this one, but there you go. It’s not for the first time.

    Peter

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter,

    It is true that behind a bogus coin is a deliberate fraudster, but I do not think this is a good analogy because chiropractic could have come into existence in good faith even if it turns out to be wrong, like phlogiston but unlike a bogus coin.

    I believe that Singh is challenging Justice Eady’s ruling, and I support his challenge.

    I would actually hate to see a debate in our courts centred upon whether chiropractic works. I welcome such a debate but it’s the wrong forum – because it can’t settle the issue. As I recall a jurisdiction once stated that pi should henceforth be 3.14.

    Does anybody know if Freedom of Information laws could be used to obtain minutes of BCA committee meetings? It would be interesting to see whether their stated motivation for suing Singh included the preservation of the livelihood of chiropractors.

    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      As far as I understand the procedure, the Judge’s ruling is about what a reasonable person would understand by the phrase – although the connection between a reasonable person and a judge is not necessarily close! Singh is appealing the ruling, but my legal chums tell me that such rulings are rarely overturned on appeal in English courts. He might have more of a chance in the European Court, however. You never know…

      I also agree with you that the courts are not the right place to settle scientific issues – I said precisely this in my piece, in fact. What I mean in my comment was that the public debate should be refocussed on whether there is evidence any of this stuff works rather than on the legal minutiae of this particular case.

      The list of public bodies covered by the Freedom of Information Act is given in Schedule I of the Act. One of the bodies listed there is the General Chiropractic Council, but that’s a different body from the BCA. The latter is, I believe, an independent organization and therefore not covered by the FoI Act.

  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    For what a reasonable person would take a word (ie, ‘bogus’) to mean – that is what I was expounding above with due attention to context (something a dictionary can’t do). Unfortunately appeals seldom work because judges hate to disagree with each other in public.

    I am impressed that you answered my last question so easliy (though disappointed with the answer!) Can Simon subpoena BCA minutes?

    Anton

  6. randal eeyas Says:

    Hi telescoper

    I think you’re a bit confused about what you want. After saying “there is no way that you can regard a Comment article in a national newspaper as the proper place for scientific debate [for experts]”, you have gone on to reply “the public debate should be refocussed on whether there is evidence any of this stuff works”. So where do you want this public debate held?

    If experts, or even well-informed observers — if you want claim Singh has no expertise in this case, which is wrong regardless of the subject of his original PhD — can’t publicly comment on scientific understanding of a topic, then what’s the point of gathering knowledge for the public good?

    The comment under action was directly rebutting specific claims made in a publication by a professional body. The claims had no good evidence to support them. The practices being promoted related directly to public health, more so to children’s health (if that if somehow relevant or pushes any buttons with you). This happened during a week long publicity campaign by the professional body — which, to be honest, I was unaware of until reading the article, but nonetheless, the body was actively trying to push public awareness. An article in the comment section of a national newspaper seems a perfectly reasonable place to rebut the claims.

    The body was subsequently offered a right of reply, in the same paper, to be read by the same readers as the “offending” article, and a note in the comments and clarifications section. This, for reasons known only to the officers of the association, they declined and chose to pursue it through the courts. I don’t see that you’ve made a strong case for any controversy over the sanity or reasonableness of the suit.

    randal

    • telescoper Says:

      Dear Randal,

      I am confused about this case. That’s why I wrote the piece!

      There is no reason why the scientific debate shouldn’t be made in public, but the point is that in a scientific forum scientists are obliged to back up statements with evidence and use language that makes the uncertainty and ambiguity unclear. This is not so in the popular media where scientists are often encouraged to put things in black and white. The onus is then on the scientist to be sure that what he says is justifiable. Here, at least in my opinion it was not. The point is that he did not “rebut” the claims: he stated as fact that they were bogus.

      I didn’t know that the Guardian had offered to settle the matter in the way you say and I am grateful for your information about it. I think it casts even more doubt on the motives of the BCA.

      Peter

  7. Bogus might well mean counterfeit, but does it really mean that the provider of the bogus product in question is necessarily being deliberately dishonest?

    If I give you some counterfeit money, without you knowing it’s fake, the money will still be “bogus” when you later spend it – but will you be deliberately dishonest for spending it?

    Singh, as I read it, made it clear that he was labelling the treatments as bogus. Saying that the BCA “happily” promoted those treatments might make his intent less clear but at no point did he state, as a fact, that the BCA “knowingly” promoted them – in my layman’s opinion.

    Also, the English language is fluid and “bogus” has more meanings that a single, antiquated OED definition. Singh has stated that he did not intend to imply dishonesty on BCA’s part. Why was this clarification not satisfactory?

    Watching from the sidelines, it’s clear the legal action has only brought more scrutiny of chiropractic and very, very little defence. As such, it’s difficult to know what the motivation behind the action is.

    • telescoper Says:

      The OED definition is not antiquated. It is updated regularly to reflect common usage. I took the latest online version (2008) for the definitions given in the post. The judge decided that this connotation was implied by the text as written which is:

      You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

      It is regrettable that this matter has gone to court but given that an objective standard is required (or as close to it as possible) isn’t it reasonable to use a dictionary? What else would you suggest?

      On your other point, if you unwittingly pass on a bogus coin then that is one thing but if you are found with a minting machine in your cellar then that is quite another. In this case the chiropractors are actually doing the treatment i.e. making the coin. If you call the coin bogus, then you’re calling them counterfeiters.

  8. Not if the chiropractors (mistakenly) believe they are allowed to mint coins. There is no such thing as a perfect analogy.

    You are right that using the dictionary would seem emminently sensible but to use that and ignore context is a mistake.

    Anton is quite right in that his intent was made clear by the context – particularly with reference to their ‘wacky ideas’ which implies that they believe what they are doing is beneficial.

  9. Intentional or not—the courts will decide! 🙂 Does your title imply that the issue is bogus, i.e. that those who see it as an issue are knowingly deceiving people? How about “the issue concerning the word ‘bogus'”?

  10. telescoper Says:

    Oh no. Here comes the Judge!

  11. telescoper Says:

    There. I’ve put it in inverted commas so I’m safe.

  12. Before the German reunification, newspapers from a certain (rather conservative) publisher put “DDR” in inverted commas when referring to what was then East Germany (implying that it wasn’t really a democratic republic).

  13. Anton Garrett Says:

    We all know that anywhere called the People’s Democratic Republic of Somewhere is going to be a ghastly place to live. DUR might have been better (for “Undemokratische”).
    Anton

  14. telescoper Says:

    Come the revolution….

  15. Anton Garrett Says:

    Yes quite. “Lives of Others” was an exceptionally good film.

  16. Would it also be libel if I called astrology bogus? How about creationism?

    I usually assume that people who promote these kinds of things are honest. But really is it better to suggest that they are that stupid rather than suggest they are dishonest?

    The utility of a word like “bogus” is exactly in its ability to refer to a poorly formed unsupported and silly idea without taking a stand on the stupid/dishonest question. From an American perspective the word was used exactly correctly.

    • telescoper Says:

      ppnl,

      I respect your opinion but it’s not relevant to what a British court would/should decide in this particular case.

      If a hypothetical organization decided to sue an individual who said astrology was “bollocks” then the court would have to decide what the “bollocks” meant and what the defendant would have to do to prove their case. If the court decided that the individual was merely expressing an opinion then there would be no case in the first place.

      If it required the defendant to provide evidence to support their anti-astrology position then surely that is reasonable also. I don’t believe in astrology, but would relish the opportunity such a case would provide to put evidence against it in the public domain.

      I would really like to know whether professional astrologers actually believe in the drivel they peddle. I suspect at least some of them do.

      Peter

  17. Anton Garrett Says:

    PPNL: Well said – that is exactly the trouble. If Singh loses then anybody who publicly calls astrology bogus could be sued in England by any bunch of people who call themselves an astrological association. Weird that astrophysicists could call it bollocks but not bogus. There are many problems here but the biggest is that English libel laws permit a collective to sue.
    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton

      Anyone who uses the word “bogus” should now be prepared to defend it in court if sued. That’s all. I personally think any such “astrological association” would be extremely unwise to file such a suit.

      Peter

  18. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter,

    Aside from the libel laws of England, what I’m unhappy about is the precedent, currently being established in this case, that the proposition “chiropractic is bogus” is identical to the proposition “chiropractors are fraudsters”. Do you agree with their identity?

    Incidentally, astrology was found to score at chance levels in a detailed test whose protocol was devised cooperatively between sceptical scientists and leading astrologers, and which unlike previous tests was done “double-blind” (ie, the experimenter interacting with the astrologer did not know which outcome would support or disfavour astrology, so that the two could not exchange information at subconscious levels – a subtle pollutant in many protocols during psychological testing). See “A double-blind test of astrology” by Shawn Carlson, published in Nature vol 318 p419-425 (5th December 1985). Of course, scientific tests of astrology suppose that there is not any supernatural intelligence guiding the results, which is probably the deepest reason why many astrologers dispute the result.

    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      If Singh’s appeal fails then I think that will be the legal meaning established by precedent. I have discussed the word “bogus” with many people and certainly not all have used it in that sense up to now.

      I actually read the original article when it came out in the Guardian and that’s the meaning I attributed to “bogus”, i.e. a deliberate fraud. Others will disagree.
      This morning I searched through the draft manuscript of my book to see if I’d used the word anywhere!

  19. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter,
    Definitely wise to make sure ‘bogus’ is not in your manuscript, but it seems to me that this all boils down to whether the binary proposition “chiropractic is bogus” is identical in meaning with the proposition “chiropractors are fraudsters”. Formally, a dictionary is only part of what’s needed to answer that question; semantics is needed too, since words exist in sentences, not in isolation. That is what was meant informally by ‘context’ above. Forgive me if I’m repeating myself – I’m trying to make it clearer.
    Anton

  20. Adrian Burd Says:

    Like Peter, I too have been confused about this affair – particularly on seeing it through the eyes of American commentators. It appears to revolve around the definition of a word. Peter, perhaps your penchant for crosswords and language gives you an awareness to such issues that many do not share. From my own experience, I find folks on this side of the pond have a particularly fluid approach to the meaning of words and phrases, and are frequently surprised to learn the actual (even American) definition.

    I would agree with you that Singh’s choice of words was ill-advised. I would also agree that the BCA over-reacted and that the discussion needs to revolve around evidence (although that’s a different case to the one under consideration).

    Adrian

  21. Adrian Burd Says:

    Anton,

    I for one do not see how the context changes the meaning of this word? As far as I can see, either Singh use the word properly or he didn’t. Yes, many words have different meanings in different contexts, but I do not see that bogus is one of them. So, either the argument is that the dictionary does not contain a common usage, or Singh’s choice of words was ill advised.

    Adrian

    • telescoper Says:

      Context is important, but I think the BCA may be intending to argue that if the infamous word is left unchallenged then it may be quoted freely elsewhere other than the original article. This is a tricky issue in our cut-and-paste world….

  22. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian,

    Do you think that the binary proposition “chiropractic is bogus” is identical in meaning with the proposition “chiropractors are fraudsters”?

    Whatever you say in reply, please could it include a clear Yes or No to this question?

    Anton

  23. randal eeyas Says:

    Adrian, of course libel revolves around the definition of the words used. In order to successfully sue for libel, the statement in question has to be shown to damage the reputation of the claimant. The first step is to establish what the meaning of the statement is, then determine if it has damaged the reputation, and also if it as true or not.

    The word bogus is frequently used to describe things that do not work and have been shown not to work, as opposed to behaviour that is intentionally fraudulent. This is a commonly accepted meaning in skeptical criticism, especially of alt-med. Further reading of Singh’s, and others’, work will highlight that frequently the practitioners of alt-med are held to be ignorant of the (lack of) efficacy of the treatments they pedal, rather than knowingly and dishonestly defrauding people.

    This — unwittingly using useless treatement — is the meaning Singh intended, which makes defending the case given the current ruling on definition almost impossible for him, as he has to defend the truth of something he did not say.

    English is great. It evolves, as you say. In this case there is a whole scale upon which this statement could be interpreted, from “the BCA are well meaning, but naive, fools” (ie, let’s look at the evidence to see if they are promoting things that don’t work), to “the BCA are fraudulent charlatans” (ie, prove they *know* the treatment doesn’t work and they are consciously defrauding their patients). The judge decided to interpret the statement to mean something that was not intended, which would imply the most serious damage to the claimant. It could reasonably have gone the other way.

    It was a grossly illiberal ruling that means the specific focus of the case is not on whether chiropractic works, which was the general thrust of the original article, but whether the BCA knows it doesn’t work. IMO, this could still be extremely embarrassing to them because the best outcome for the BCA is that they will end up having shown in court that a) there is no good evidence that it works, despite studies designed to look for efficacy, and b) the association will have to admit to being unaware of the research in their own field or they lose the case on the meaning (as determined by Eady) being factual.

    r

  24. Anton Garrett Says:

    If Singh does have to defend according to Justice Eady’s ruling, he can nevertheless put in plentiful references to works that show chiropractic doesn’t work, and references to people who have suffered at the hands of chiropractors or paid them money and not been healed – and then hope that the jury will act according to its conscience rather than the judge’s direction. Although lawyers in court and lawmakers cannot acknowledge it, this is a time-honoured way by which “the people” may flag lousy laws or preliminary rulings.
    Anton

  25. Adrian Burd Says:

    Anton,

    Nice try! However, I’ll play.

    According to the definition of “fraud”, yes! According to the dictionary I have at hand (sadly, not the OED) a fraud is “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities”. As far as I can see (and I’m sure you will disagree), this fits Singh’s statement. He says that there is “not a jot of evidence” for what chiropractors do being treatments that can relieve the afflictions listed. Therefore, they are “unjustifiably claiming …. accomplishments or qualities” which, as far as I can see, makes their claims fraudulent. Just because these practitioners may (or may not) believe their treatments to work, doesn’t make them any less so. If I wish to get money from people by claiming that what I do will heal their ills, I’d better make sure that it does indeed do that. Not doing so makes me, at best, negligent (possibly criminally so if people’s health is involved).

    Now, I have a great way you can make money on the stock market. It’s a surefire way, no matter what the stock market is doing. I was taught this method by a very respected and qualified individual. All you have to do is pay me a consultation fee and send me the money you wish to invest.

    Now, perhaps you’d like to clearly explain how the context changes the meaning of the word “bogus” in the case in question.

    Adrian

  26. Adrian Burd Says:

    Randall,

    I agree with a lot of what you say. However, one thing disturbs me. I would agree that there is a difference between willfully administering an ineffective (and potentially dangerous) treatment and administering a treatment that you have not the faintest idea if it works or not. As far as I can see, people have a perfect right to do what they wish to their bodies. However, if someone professes to relieve an ailment and wishes to treat others (for a fee or not) under the guise of being a certified this or that, then they had better have convincing evidence that their treatment does what they say. Otherwise, we might as well all go to Sunday faith-healings or take a trip to Lourdes.

    To set the record straight, from what I’ve seen and read, I consider chiropractic treatments to be bunkum – potentially dangerous bunkum at that. So, I agree with Singh. I still think Singh was cavalier in his choice of words, in that it opened him up from the start to the position he now finds himself in. He had already stated that there was not a jot of evidence for the successful chiropractic treatment of the listed ailments, so he could have ended the following sentence with “these treatments” instead of “bogus treatments”. I actually think that this whole affair will end to the detriment of science journalism, so it saddens me.

    I’m in the middle of Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science” at the moment. In that, he continually makes his meaning abundantly clear, and frequently goes out of his way to do so. Singh could have done the same in the article in question.

    Adrian

  27. Anyone see the movie “Bill and Ted’s Bogus journey”? What is the meaning of the word here? Dishonest? Not really. It just means bad.

    Calling something “bunkum” is a far stronger statement than calling something “bogus” and in the US is probably more likely to get you in trouble.

    Legitimate chemotherapy can be called bogus in the sense that it is a bad situation even if it is necessary. It is a bogus journey.

    I wonder how people feel about the difference between the US libel law and the British version. It seems to me the British version is a kind of political correctness speech code designed to protect the reputation of the powerful. Under US law the rich and powerful are given far less protection under libel laws. It seems to boil down to a different approach to the idea of free speech. In the US free speech becomes almost a Calvinistic absolute where in most other countries it is a right granted by government that can easily be modified by government to suit the needs of government.

    • telescoper Says:

      ppnl,

      No I never saw that film. I looked in my Encarta World English Dictionary and found the following under bogus:

      1. FAKE OR DECEITFUL false dishonest or fraudulently imitating something
      2. US BAD OR USELESS not good, pleasant or acceptable (slang)

      Incidentally, just to bore people even more about this word I find two theories for its origin. One is that it is the same root as “bogy” or “bogeyman” (which is originally a Scottish word meaning “goblin”). More interesting, perhaps, is that it is of African origin from the Hausa word “boko” which means “fraud” and that it may have moved to the US with transported slaves.

      Note, however, the ordering and the fact that the second meaning is American slang. Singh’s article was in a British Newspaper..

      I agree with previous comments that the preliminary ruling about this could have gone either way, but I maintain my position that the judge was not being unreasonable in ruling the way he did.

      I would definitely like to see the British libel laws changed, in two main ways:

      1. To change the burden proof onto the plaintiff, as in the case in most situations in the US
      2. To prevent them being accessible only to the rich

      In particular on the 2nd point, I think it is now far too easy for the rich to pursue vexatious litigation against individuals they wish to silence.

      Peter

  28. randal eeyas Says:

    Adrian

    However, if someone professes to relieve an ailment and wishes to treat others (for a fee or not) under the guise of being a certified this or that, then they had better have convincing evidence that their treatment does what they say. Otherwise, we might as well all go to Sunday faith-healings or take a trip to Lourdes.

    This was the point of Singh’s article: that chiropratic makes specific claims about treatments without any supporting evidence. This is why the ruling is seen as illiberal.

    Many people would like to see Singh given the chance to show the claims made by the BCA were rubbish, rather than Singh being forced to prove the BCA knew the claims were incorrect and deliberately acted dishonestly — an almost impossible task and a claim he neither believes himself nor intended to make.

    Goldacre’s book is an excellent primer to protect against rubbish alt-med claims. It’s unfortunate that the people that most need to read and absorb its message are those who are least likely to read it. You do, of course, appreciate that Singh was writing a column in the comment section of a national paper with a tight word count. Goldacre had hundreds of pages to expand his definitions. I’m sure Singh and Ernst’s book on the subject will be similarly precise about defining terms.

    r

  29. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian,

    I asked you whether you believe that the proposition “chiropractic is bogus” is identical in meaning with the proposition “chiropractors are fraudsters”? and I asked that your reply include a clear Yes or No.

    You reply: “According to the definition of “fraud”, yes!”

    The meaning of “fraud” is not in question here, so I take this as an unqualified Yes.

    There is a huge difference between the two propositions. Chiropractic is a technique. It can either heal or not heal. It is not a conscious entity capable of sincerity or insincerity. So, in the proposition “chiropractic is bogus,” the word bogus is being used to mean that it (emphatically) does not heal. To suppose that this relates to whether chiropractors are fraudsters is a category error. You can see what Singh thinks about that issue from his later statement that chiropractors “possess some quite wacky ideas.”

    What about the dictionary? A dictionary aims to give a summary guide to the meaning of thousands of words, collected in a single book. It cannot possibly go into the kind of detail we are now exploring, or every word would need an essay and the point of the dictionary would be lost. Examples such as Bill and Ted’s bogus journey show that this is established usage of the word. The meaning of language is ultimately decided by usage.

    Anton

  30. I dunno it seems to me that insisting on a particular anal retentive exact definition to a word can be as bad for free speech as the rest of British law. But even by that exact definition I don’t see it as calling anyone a liar.

    I’m pretty much going to insist on the right to call UFOs, Loch Ness monsters, creationism, pyramid power and yes even chiropractic medicine bogus. There is clearly dishonesty involved in all of these yet there are clearly people who honestly believe in all of these. This is the situation that the word bogus fits best.

    In context the word “bogus” is not only correct it the best word available.

  31. […] Below is an excerpt from what I would consider the best analysis of the BCA V Simon Singh  case that I have read, In the Dark; To read the entire posting click […]

  32. Adrian Burd Says:

    Anton,

    As far as I can see you still have not explained how the context that Singh used changes the meaning of the word bogus.

    I appreciate the rhetorical trick by the way, which is why I wrote, “Nice try, however, I’ll play”.

    As for language, Singh explicitly says in the article “This organization is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments”. It would appear that many people give such a statement the meaning that you give it, others do not (a quick, unscientific poll of friends and colleagues indicates about a 50-50 split). This indicates an ambiguity in meaning. Given the potential for serious legal consequences, Singh, or an editor, or someone, should have advised a re-wording (a simple substitution would have sufficed). Whilst I agree with Singh’s sentiments, he basically left himself wide open for the situation that has arisen.

    Adrian

  33. Adrian Burd Says:

    ppnl,

    I think there’s also a difference in degree between the examples you cite. If someone wishes to believe in the existence of Nessie, then that’s up to them. If someone is telling me that X can cure my ailment, and have no evidence to back this up, and wish to charge me for X, that is a totally different matter, especially if they appear under the guise of a medical professional. From the few chiropracters that I have crossed paths with, my impression is that when asked about objective scientific tests, they act like Gollum/Smeagol, stick their fingers in their ears and shout “Not listening!” (metaphorically speaking, of course).

    If chiropractic treatments helped the ailments that were listed, then as a chiropracter, I would want the best tests performed so that I could shout it from the rooftops. Then, as a practitioner, I could not only believe they worked, I would know they worked!

    Adrian

  34. Adrian Burd Says:

    randal,

    I appreciate the comments. I can see why people think the judge’s ruling is illiberal, but I have to agree with Peter on this one, the judge acted quite reasonably. I think the fault lies with Singh in choosing to use a word that is ambiguous, and that had the potential to land him in the trouble he now find himself. Either Singh or his editor could have chosen to use another word instead. Asking friends and colleagues to interpret the meaning of Singh’s words, I found about a 50-50 split between the two interpretations – so the ambiguity exists and is real.

    Language is fluid, as anyone who has taught a class of American undergraduates will rapidly find out. But in situations where one needs to be precise, one should avoid using words and phrases that are ambiguous, especially if they could land you in court!

    Adrian

    p.s. my current favorite example of language fluidity is the use of the phrase “could care less” to mean “couldn’t care less”. The former seems to have almost completely taken over from the latter on this side of the pond.

  35. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian,

    In putting the question about whether two propositions were equivalent and requesting a clear answer I was going for clarity. Rhetorical tricks are ways to win an argument other than by truth and logic, and although I might sometimes use polemic I am not in that business.

    You say that I “still have not explained how the context that Singh used changes the meaning of the word bogus.” I am contesting that it has the unique meaning you ere ascribing to it at that point. In fact you now say that it has two meanings!

    Anton

  36. Anton Garrett Says:

    PS Your example about caring less reminds me of the story of the man who insulted another by saying he “didn’t have the brains of an idiot” and on being asked to withdraw the comment said that he did have the brains of an idiot…
    Anton

  37. Adrian, you state:

    according to the dictionary I have at hand (sadly, not the OED) a fraud is “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities”.

    surely the key there is ‘intended’. If the chiropractors believe that their methods work against available the face of the evidence then there is no fraud. This invalidates your following paragraph

  38. Adrian, you state:

    according to the dictionary I have at hand (sadly, not the OED) a fraud is “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities”.

    surely the key there is ‘intended’. If the chiropractors believe that their methods work in the face of the available opposing evidence then there is no fraud (your point about negligence is a whole other kettle of fish). In that case the two statements cannot be the same unless you are alleging that Singh was claiming that chiropractors intended to deceive. This is the implication of the judge’s ruling but that does not square with other language used by Singh that indicates his view that Chiropractors believe what they are doing (see Anton’s comment about ‘wacky ideas’ much higher up).

    If there is a 50-50 split in interpretation, surely one would expect a judge to allow for ambiguity of the meaning of the statement at the very least? The fault here lies not with Singh’s but with the judge who a) ignored common usage and relied on a dictionary definition (which is not unreasonable) and b) ignored the context of the word in the article which clearly indicated the intent

  39. Adrian Burd Says:

    Anton,

    I did understand the clarity issue, but your approach reminded me of the allegorical lawyer’s trick: “Please answer the question, yes or no”. As this whole discussion is making apparent, the issue at hand is clearly not so cut and dried. And the example you gave was not really the point. The discussion concerned the meaning of the word bogus, but you added an additional dimension, that of a technique verses a practitioner of that technique, thereby muddying the issue. Hence my reaction of “Nice try” – or maybe I’ve spent too long arguing with creationists!!!

    As for my saying that the word “bogus” has two meanings, it would appear that you are saying that, in that it has a dictionary meaning (which you consider to be a guide) and a meaning derived from popular usage – a meaning that may or may not have made it into the dictionary.
    I would actually agree with this, and in doing so would argue that it illustrates Singh’s poor choice of words: he was not precisely conveying his stated intent. Whilst there are many situations where a poor choice of words does little harm, this appears not to be one of them. And again, I stress that either Singh or an editor at the newspaper should have caught this.

    As my example about caring less was meant to illustrate, not all “definitions by mass usage” are useful or desirable. Should we accept changes to the meaning of the word “could” to also allow its negative? By the way, I’ve even seen the incorrect version in some of those on-line commentaries on websites belonging to top newspapers; “Ah, the end of civilization is nigh!”.

    Given the fluidity of language, I can’t see that the judge had much of a choice to rule except in the way he did. The alternative would be to rule that he did not know which meaning Singh intended, thereby (I suspect) effectively ending the case. This would also open up the situation to people writing all sorts of things, then later claiming that they meant something else instead: “No, I didn’t mean could, I meant the opposite”.

    Adrian

  40. Adrian Burd Says:

    Kav,

    One would indeed think this. However, to illustrate the opposite with a real situation, when I purchased my house, I was alarmed to find that the basement flooded when there was heavy rain. Where I live, the seller of the house is required to file a statement concerning the condition of the house, including the answer to a “Yes” or “No” question about whether there has been water in the basement. The seller had said No. I later learned that she knew it had had water in it. However, she believed that the small amount of water she had seen was not significant and therefore she was correct in stating that no water had been in the basement.

    The judge stated that, no matter what her belief was, she had committed a fraudulent act in filling out the form, and awarded me the cost of repairs.

    Adrian

  41. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian,

    I would regard it as discourteous to put a binary question and demand *only* a yes/no answer, which is why I said “Whatever you say in reply, please could it include a clear Yes or No to this question”.

    Yes I am saying the word “bogus” may or may not imply deceit. We agree about that. There is insufficient information to deduce which is meant in Singh’s reference to “bogus treatments” which he says chiropractors use. We can find out which by looking at Singh’s further comment that chiropractors have “wacky ideas”. He clearly does not mean that they are deceitful, merely deluded. Singh’s position is consistent, unique and deducible from the article – but Justice Eady botched it.

    Leave arguing with creationists to people like me. I am now an evangelical Christian and I still disagree with them about that – but I understand their motivation and how to talk to them. (For example, the six days of creation is six YOM in Hebrew, and the word can mean “era” as well as “24 hours” just as in English. That immediately removes a lot of the tension and shows that the Big Bang actually harmonises with scripture’s view that there was a beginning.)

    Anton

  42. Adrian Burd Says:

    Anton,

    I think our only point of disagreement is whether or not the wording in Singh’s article is open to multiple interpretations. From the informal survey I’ve done here, I would suggest the answer is definitely, yes. Somebody can have “wacky ideas” and still use them for deceitful ends (as Ben Goldacre’s book clearly demonstrates).

    Can one be deceitful whilst believing in the efficacy of the treatment one offers? Is belief in something, such as a specific chiropractic technique,
    sufficient to absolve one of deceit? To my mind, if there is no evidence pro or con, then maybe yes. However, if the evidence exists, if tests affirming the value of the technique are flawed, and properly controlled tests show no positive effect beyond the placebo effect, then the delusion of these people borders on (and to my mind, veers well into the territory of) deceit.

    One issue is how one distinguishes between delusion and deceit? To my mind (and I may well be wrong here), this can only really be determined by the actions of another. If someone believes in X, which is demonstrably incorrect, but keeps on believing, maybe even talking others into believing it as well, then I would call that delusion. However, if the same person tries selling X to others, even though proper controlled studies show X is ineffective or incorrect, then that seems to me to border on, if not wholly become, deceit.

    Similarly with Singh. He has stated his meaning and intent, and maybe that was his intent when writing that sentence. It may not have been. He may have decided to put in a sentence that pushed the edge towards implying deceit. None of us can ever really know. That’s why his choice of words was ill advised.

    To my mind (and maybe I’m in the minority here), Singh’s choice of words was correct (by my interpretation), but ill-advised, given the potential for legal consequences.

    Adrian

  43. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian,

    I actually agree with you that the word “bogus” is ambiguous as Singh uses it in the first sentence in which it appears. But Singh wrote an article, not a single sentence, and you can use a later comment in his article to resolve the ambiguity. It is mistaken of Justice Eady to look only at that first sentence. The position Singh takes is consistent, unambiguous and deducible from the article – but you need to look at two quotes from the article to deduce it, not one. When you do that it is clear he is not accusing chiropractors of deceit.

    You raise another very good point: if contrary evidence exists that is well known but chiropractors don’t look at it, what does it say about them?

    Anton

  44. Adrian Burd Says:

    Anton,

    I’m not so sure that one can necessarily infer that the article as a whole is consistent. Yes, it may very well be. However, I would still contend that it is entirely reasonable that Singh placed a sentence (the one in question) in the article that pushed the edge, but was worded sufficiently ambiguously that one could interpret it either way. One just cannot be certain, and assuming internal consistency is making an assumption (maybe a very reasonable one, but an assumption nonetheless). My argument is that if Singh had been more precise in his wording, then there would be no argument about his intended meaning, and one would not have to make assumptions about his intent. Whichever side of this one falls on depends I think, whether one is willing to give Singh the benefit of the doubt, or whether one just does not know. I sit in the latter camp and I really wish Singh had been more precise.

    It’s been some time since I read Singh’s last (first?) book, but as I recall, I found it well written. Although I imagine it easy to slip up, one should make an effort to be precise, especially when the consequences include a law suit. Having said that, I do not doubt that many can find fault with my writings.

    Adrian

  45. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian,

    It seems we agree that in one sentence Singh uses the word “bogus” in a way that does not resolve the ambiguity in its meaning (fraud or delusion), but in a later sentence he implies that chiropractors are merely deluded.

    An article is not a sequence of unrelated sentences but is an essay that develops a thesis. So it is reasonable to use the later sentence to resolve the ambiguity in the former.

    Even then, Singh said only that a technique was bogus, and his lawyer should make the opposition work hard to make their case that its practitioners are frauds.

    Even if the first sentence is wrenched from context, does anybody know where English libel law stands on ambiguous insult-words? Which side does benefit of the doubt fall on?

    Singh became well known for his excellent TV documentary on Andrew Wiles after Wiles cracked Fermat’s last theorem. Singh’s tome “The Code Book,” which is mainly about Enigma and codes in the modern computer era written at intelligent-layman level, is also very good.

    Anton

  46. Adrian Burd Says:

    Hi Anton,

    I agree with you that an essay develops a thesis (something our undergraduates, and some graduates, have yet to comprehend). The question in my mind is what thesis is he trying to put forward? One can write an essay which develops a clear, unambiguous position on some topic. One can also write an essay that deliberately treads a find line between saying one thing, yet implying something more by the use of an ambiguous turn of phrase, the choice of a word, etc. This is the whole essence of “spin”, of course.

    I’m not saying it was Singh’s intent to do this. I’m saying I really do not know. In in that light, I’m with the judge, in that I have to fall back on some reasonably solid ground and use the dictionary (rather than a popular definition that is not in the dictionary (yet)). I also have to assume that, since Singh is a professional author and journalist, he knows how to use words – they are the tools of his trade. Just as I should know how to solve differential equations. Therefore, I have to assume that Singh knows what he is doing. The alternative is to assume that Singh is sloppy about his choice of words, and that opens the avenue for all sorts of fun and games (“No, I didn’t mean could, I meant the opposite”). Or is it the case that we hold journalists and authors to a lesser standard than other professionals?

    So I still contend that, in the face of the evidence, the judge had little option. Again, I would contend that ones stance on this issue depends on whether or not one is willing to believe Singh, give him the benefit of the doubt and imply that his choice of words was ill-advised (in which case, one can open the floodgates), or assume that Singh knows his craft and was either sloppy or did in fact mean to suggest that deceit was occurring. Either decision has unfavorable consequences (as far as I can see).

    Adrian

  47. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian,

    You say: “I agree with you that an essay develops a thesis… The question… is what thesis is he trying to put forward? One can write an essay which develops a clear, unambiguous position on some topic.”

    That is what he does. At risk of repetition, he introduces, perhaps inadvertently, some ambiguity in one sentence; and then resolves it shortly afterwards. So there is no ambiguity except on first reading, and then only for a few seconds. Unless you accuse him of inconsistency – and, as you rightly say, we should presume he knows what he is doing.

    Can you sue on ambiguity, or does it have to be unambiguous defamation? That is a point of law I don’t know and would welcome information on. If you can’t, then an injustice is being committed. If you can, then the ambiguity lasts for only a few seconds, on first reading, before it is shown to have the non-defamatory meaning. What would a “reasonable man” make of this situation?

    Anton

  48. […] In the Dark blog offers a well argued article addressing the case and the support campaign which contends that Simon’s comments in the article may indeed have been libellious, the judges’ decision may not be that unusual and the support campaign may be wrong. Can’t say I agree with most of the points but certainly worth reading. […]

  49. Adrian Burd Says:

    Anton,

    You say “…he introduces, perhaps inadvertently, some ambiguity in one sentence; and then resolves it shortly afterwards.” I’ve re-read the article and do not see this at all.

    Singh does not say, as far as I can tell, “Oh, and by the way, by bogus, I mean that these are well meaning fellows who believe they are doing good, but are sadly deluded”. Instead, he starts ripping into their treatments saying that there is no evidence that these treatments work. In fact, the article is rather strange.

    The paragraph in questions refers to chiropractic treatments for ailments separate from back problems – it is these former treatments Singh is calling bogus. The very next paragraph talks about why he can call them bogus. In this paragraph he talks about the lack of evidence for the efficacy of such treatments, a result found by Ernst. He does not say anything about the beliefs of chiropractors. Note that, although he talks about 70 studies, he does not say that these claim a positive, neutral or negative effect. Did they all show a positive effect but were all flawed? Were they all properly conducted and all showed negative or neutral effects? We are not told. All we know is that Ernst found no evidence that chiropractors could effectively treat these ailments. We are told nothing about the beliefs of the chiropractors, but the impression given is one of a weight of evidence against chiropractic treatments that chiropractors should be aware of if they are genuinely interested in the effectiveness of their treatment – at least that’s the impressions I come away with from reading that paragraph.

    The following paragraph is about the chiropractic treatment of back problems. Here, he states that the results for both chiropractic and conventional treatments are mixed, but that chiropractic treatments run the risk of causing severe problems. Note, he has now moved away from talking about treatments of colic, feeding problems etc (i.e. the treatments he called bogus) and is talking exclusively about back problems.

    The following 5 paragraphs provide a litany of major problems resulting from chiropractic treatments. It’s unclear if he’s talking about treatments for just back problems (except in the case of Laurie Mathiason who was being treated for lower back pain), or for the aforementioned wider set of applications – Singh never mentions these again and from the logical structure of the essay, it’s impossible to tell if this list of problems comes from treating just back problems or the wider set of issues.

    The final paragraph compares spinal manipulation with a drug that has adverse side effects, and Singh suggests it would be taken off the market if such a drug had a similar track record.

    So, I’m sorry, but I do not see what you see in this essay – and believe me, I’ve tried. In fact, re-reading it for the umpteenth time, I begin to like it less and less. It is not a good example of a clear presentation of a thesis, and in fact, I come away with my original impression (that Singh is implying these people are deceptive) reinforced with each reading of it.

    However, at least Singh presents an argument, which is more than the likes of Paul Broun can muster (apologies, but this idiot just got completely up my nose – if you really want to risk insanity and delve into the surreal world of this man, just do a search for his name).

    Adrian

  50. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian

    I say: “…he introduces, perhaps inadvertently, some ambiguity in one sentence; and then resolves it shortly afterwards.”
    You say: “I’ve re-read the article and do not see this at all.”

    Certainly Singh does not state that he is raising a question and then, a few lines later, answer it. What he does is use the word “bogus” (applied to the technique of chiropractic) without stating whether he means its practitioners are frauds or deluded. You have stated that colloquial usage splits 50:50 on those meanings of the word, which is what I mean by ambiguity. Later on he says chiropractors have “wacky beliefs”, which resolves the ambiguity.

    So there is no ambiguity except on first reading, and then only for a few seconds. Unless, that is, you accuse him of inconsistency – on what evidence?

    I don’t know whether you can sue on ambiguity, or whether defamation has to be unambiguous. If you can’t, then an injustice is currently being committed. If you can, then the ambiguity lasts for only a few seconds, on first reading, before it is shown to have the non-defamatory meaning. English courts consider what a “reasonable man” would a “reasonable man” make of the situation, and I think he would not find Singh libellous even under England’s iniquitous laws of libel.

    Anton

  51. Adrian Burd Says:

    Anton,

    Actually, Singh states “but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas”, and this phrase comes prior to his use of the word bogus. His use of the phrase “still possess” implies to me that they are holding these views in the face of evidence to the contrary (re-read Singh’s sentence but without the word “still”, and you’ll see what I mean). Singh then (implicitly) heaps on the evidence: Ernst found no evidence of it working … 70 studies … people suffering from additional ailments resulting from chiropractic treatment, and even dying as a result. Ernst had identified 700 cases of serious complications arising from chiropractic treatment, and these had been documented in the medical literature. Do chiropractors not read the medical literature?

    Singh is basically saying the evidence that these techniques do not work, and can be harmful, is there and plain to see, but chiropractors are for some reason ignoring it. As an aside, if you do dig deep, you can apparently find some discussion of proper controlled tests in the chiropractic literature. Their conclusion? Adding control groups and randomizing, destroy something that prevents the effects of the treatments from being seen. Sound familiar?

    Anyway, it seems to me that Singh’s overall thesis (from the essay only) is that chiropractors have ideas that contradict mainstream medical science, evidence clearly exists in the medical literature that these techniques do not work for non-back-related ailments, and can be dangerous, yet the chiropractic community (including the professional bodies) are willfully ignoring this evidence. That seems to me to be tantamount to deceit: either chiropractors are in the business of helping to relieve patient’s ailments, or they are in the business of making money from these people by doing something that plainly does not work.

    You say: “English courts consider what a “reasonable man” would a “reasonable man” make of the situation, and I think he would not find Singh libellous even under England’s iniquitous laws of libel.” Thank you! Having the implication that I’m an unreasonable man made before 7:30 in the morning (my time, that is) is a record, even for me – and I do wonder what English courts think of women, are they reasonable or not, or does it even matter?

    Adrian

  52. Anton Garrett Says:

    Adrian,

    I do not regard you as an unreasonable man; I know your views on only one subject. I spoke of what a ‘reasonable man’ would think because that is a concept in English Law and this discussion involves English Law. (If the phrase is sexist, that’s not the only thing wrong with English libel law.) I also did not know that you would find Singh guilty, upon which your implication that I think your views unreasonable depend; your earlier comments that the word “bogus” is ambiguous established only that you thought the issue was not clear-cut.

    Deceit involves doing something to others that you know is wrong. Is it deceit to ignore evidence that what you are doing is wrong? That depends on your reasons for ignoring it, upon which Singh does not speculate.

    Anton

  53. […] The Great Pyramid and the Theory of Crystal Healing. I might even go so far as to call that one bogus. I have an entire filing cabinet in my office at work filled with things like it. I could make a […]

  54. […] Rube which alerted me to an update about the Simon Singh libel action which I’ve blogged about before, in a post that generated a great deal of debate and […]

  55. […] because the author, Simon Singh, has recently been the subject of much discussion on this blog (here and […]

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