hutch0 (hutch0) wrote,

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bogus science - the litigation years

A little while ago Simon Singh, a respected British scientist and writer, wrote a book about the reliability of alternative therapies. One chapter was about chiropracty and in a subsequent article in The Guardian Singh described the British Chiropractic Association's 2008 claim that chiropracty could help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, as `bogus.' Chiropractic treatments may help relieve back pain, but Professor Edzard Ernst, Singh's co-author on the book, had examined seventy trials and found no evidence that they could relieve other conditions.
Which is fine. This kind of thing happens, and when it does the usual route is for medical authorities to test the claims and see if they hold water. Instead of presenting the claims for peer review, the BCA took Singh to court and sued him for libel.
And Singh lost. In a pre-trial ruling a judge ruled that, because Singh had used the word `bogus,' he had to prove that chiropractors knew the claims were worthless but "dishonestly presented them to a trusting and, in some respects perhaps, vulnerable public."
This kind of thing is happening more and more. There have been a number of libel actions involving alternative therapies, and also involving large medical companies.
I've got no position on whether the claims for chiropracty are true or not, but this is not the way science should be done.
Singh's assertion is that chiropractic treatments for asthma, ear infections and other infant conditions are not evidence-based. Where medical claims to cure or treat do not appear to be supported by evidence, it should be possible to criticise those claims robustly and the public should have access to these views.
English libel law, though, can serve to punish this kind of scrutiny and can severely curtail the right to free speech on a matter of public interest.
And if you think this is one of those distant angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin rows involving pointy-headed individuals with too many PhDs and no lives, look at it this way. A British consultant cardiologist is being sued for libel by a US medical devices company over comments he made to an online news service about one of its devices. He was the co-leader of a clinical trial of the device.
Singh is appealing against the ruling, and there's a robust campaign running to support him and to lobby the government to review the present state of English libel law.
There are more details about the case here, along with a link to a petition. For every thousand names they get, they're going to poke the government again and again until they listen. I can't, of course, tell you what to think or what to do, but I've signed it.

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