UK chiropractors try to silence critic with libel claim

Stef sez, The British Chiropractic Association is using the libel laws to try and silence Simon Singh's discussion of some of the more, uh, unusual claims they make for Chiropractic treatments (such as curing Colic and Asthma). They've sued Simon for libel for describing such claims as 'bogus', and in a preliminary hearing a judge has chosen a somewhat odd, harder to defend, definition of the word, even though Simon clarified his precise meaning in the very same article. Dave Gorman has a good summary, and there's a lot more detail at Jack of Kent."

Two Things (Part B) (Thanks, Stef!)


  1. The UK libel laws are seriously fucked. US/UK laws are, in practice, often not that different(your constitution isn’t written, our constitution isn’t read); but libel law is one area where the British equivalent just plain sucks.

    That said, it generally takes a scumbag to misuse a bad law, and these guys qualify. For extra irony, they are probably in the same camp that spends most of its time complaining about a Big P$arma conspiracy to suppress the truth.

  2. @1 Scumbag is a great descriptor. I have been hating on these guys for 20 years. They are just as bad as homeopathy and astrology.

  3. Do a google search for “British Chiropractic Association”…

    All but the top result is about this case.

    Nice one :o)

  4. I would like to say that not all chiropractors are like this.
    My mom has been seeing a chiropractor for about ten years now.

    After an accident, my mother was left with chronic pain in her neck, and after dozens of operations it’s hardly any better.

    The neck is a very complex joint, and there are bits of cartilage that have hardened into bone, and probably some nerve damage.

    Doctors told her that she should just take powerful narcotics for the rest of her life.

    My mom swears by her chiropractor as being able to provide effective pain-relief so she doesn’t have to take Vicadin.

    I have seen her chiropractor a few times and spoken to her, and she never made any pseudo-scientific claims, she (my mom’s chiropractor) basically just said she was an “clinical masseuse”
    She seemed to be far more familiar with joint, muscle, and bone structure than a masseuse, and only ever claimed to be able to treat problems related to that.
    The few times I went, I found her treatments helped relieve physical tension in my shoulders, and were generally refreshing.

  5. Dequeued, that’s a good chiropractor. There’s no reason to believe that a highly trained, very skilled person wouldn’t be indispensable in dealing with joint and muscle pain though physical manipulation.

    But bad chiropractors exist and are quite common; they make outrageous claims about what they can cure and what they can diagnose. For example, they’ll test for allergies by putting certain materials on a person’s chest or measuring the “electromagnetic frequencies” that your body is emitting. Total quack territory.

  6. @Dequeued: Nobody is denying that Chiropractors can be perfectly decent physical therapists, nor is anybody denying that there a fair number of problems, many related to the fact that humans don’t really have bipedalism entirely figured out, where they can be of use.

    That doesn’t make the BCA claiming that they can cure asthma and ear infections, and suing someone who has the temerity to doubt them, any less pathetic.

  7. Chiropracty undeniably attracts some nut bags, but to say they are ALL bunk is like saying all car mechanics practice junk science after having a bad experience at jiffy lube.

    A chiropractor is not magic. But if you are having back or neck pain that is the result of a physical misalignment a GOOD chiropractor can provide reliable immediate relief from pain, and generally improved flexibility, and posture.

    I’d be suspicious of any chiropractor claiming to be able to CURE asthma, but i can vouch that i have on several times gone to chiros for neck pain while also having completely blocked sinuses, and after getting my neck adjusted i felt kind of a head rush and within seconds i could suddenly breath through my nose again.

    The relief of pain is not always permanent, but but it lasts longer and has fewer side effects that pain killers. And pain killers don’t improve your posture.

  8. No school of chiropractic is based on science — not even the ones that just claim to fix neck pain and not cure asthma. The problem with chiropractic, acupuncture, faith healing, etc. is that there is *no* such thing as “alternative medicine” — if something can be shown to work in scientific trials, it becomes part of real medicine.

    Yes, I know that some people 1) feel unwell 2) go to a chiropractor and then 3) feel better. The problem is that without scientific studies demonstrating the efficacy, it is highly likely that this is simply that 3) would follow 1) no matter what, even in the absence of 2).

  9. I fail to see the problem.

    Simon meant that that the BCA should not be promoting treatments that are bogus.

    The judge thinks that he meant the BCA is actively, dishonestly promoting treatments the BCA knows is bogus.

    What would the remedy be? An apology and retraction?

    “I apologize to the BCA for the first paragraph of my article, which may be misunderstood to mean that I accuse the BCA of actively and dishonestly promoting treatments which the BCA knows to be bogus. What I meant to say was that the BCA should not be promoting these treatments. They are bogus, and by promoting them, the BCA is harming the profession it is supposed to represent. The rest of my article goes into the detail as to why I believe these particular treatments are bogus. Oh, and using libel suits to silence critics? It does not exactly enhance the reputation of chiropracty. BCA members may want to consider this at their next AGM.”

  10. There’s a point of law, here. It’s like when Robbie Williams sued a paper for saying he was gay – he sued on the grounds that while, yes, he does live with another man, he’d previously said he wasn’t gay, so they were calling him dishonest. Because those were the grounds the paper was being sued on, the defense lawyers couldn’t discuss the issue of whether he was gay or not.

    He won.

    There’s a difference between being wrong and being dishonest. Accusing someone of being dishonest is not the same as accusing them of being wrong.

  11. The relief of pain is not always permanent, but but it lasts longer and has fewer side effects that pain killers.

    The problem is that it’s impossible to tell how much of that pain relief is due to actual medical benefits and how much of it is due to the placebo effect.

    What the placebo effect does better than anything else is pain relief. It’s absolutely staggering how much better you can feel from it. And contrary to what many people think, it’s a very real effect. It does actually relieve pain just like a drug would, the patients aren’t delusional.

    But it is always temporary. An hour, a day, maybe a few days later, the pain will come back. That’s why you can’t trust testimonials like yours, because without real scientific data, you simply cannot tell what made the pain go away. And so far, there’s very little evidence to support the claims of chiropractors, even the good, seemingly sane ones.

  12. I have seen cranial osteopathy can help with colic and researched it after I saw the results; there can be a direct relationship between colic and the positioning of the babies skull bones. I imagine a good chiropractor may know and can treat the same, but maybe that’s not true. Unfortunately I don’t think Simon Singh, and Edzard Ernst for that matter have the acumen to address a subject such as this, at least based on their book ‘trick or treatment?’ which I found weak and unscientific. Some guy here has finally worked through the book and has pulled the thing apart:


  13. #9
    That is part of the problem.
    These are the five stages of conventional thought on alternative medicine.

    1. Doesn’t work and is dangerous.

    2. Well, probably not dangerous, but doesn’t work.

    3. Ok, not dangerous and may work in some cases.

    4. Actually, pretty safe and efficacious.

    5. Hey, look what we invented!

    By choosing to define everything in conventional med as “Real” everything else becomes false. Historically, exercise, benefits of whole grains, benefits of high fruit and veg diets, healthy oils, dangers of smoking, dangers of high fat diets were all quackery at one point. I have a text from my chiropractic school that advocates most of the above. When the book came out, in the early 1940s, it’s advice was regarded as bogus. Many people’s lifespan and quality of life may have been improved had it been taken more seriously.

    There are studies that show benefit from chiropractic and acupuncture. They are weak and few, but since the granting agencies feel like you, a pittance is spent on alt med. vs. conventional med getting billions. Studies designed to debunk alt med draw more support.

    Anyone who says that a few simple studies will prove benefit one way or another has a poor understanding of research. It’s never simple, there’s always an argument going in three different directions you didn’t anticipate, and you generally figure out the ideal experiment after spending five years and all your grant money on the non-ideal series of experiments.

    The libel approach is overkill and will likely be counterproductive. British libel laws are intrinsically wacked.

  14. #11
    Story on placebo effect.

    Patient came in, said, “Well, I don’t believe in chiropractic, but I’m sick of the pain and my PCP said to give you guys a try”. He’d done a couple courses of different NSAIDS and had a cortisone injection with no benefit.
    I examined him, told him what I was going to do, treated him. He was good natured but skeptical.
    Next visit: no change, again reiterated that he didn’t believe in us, but was willing to go through the motions.
    Next visit: He’s kind of quiet. He seemed a little upset. I asked if he was OK.
    “Well, the pain went away for the first time in eight weeks. But I think it’s just placebo”
    I laughed at him. Empathic failure on my part.
    “It’s not placebo effect! If placebo was going to work, it would have worked on the first three things you tried, ’cause you expected them to work. You think I’m a quack!”

    Yes, placebo is real. It’s probably more of a factor in conventional medicine, as they get better press and less derision than we do.

    “It is always temporary” is just not true. I’ve seen patients years later, either for a different complaint or just on the street who told me they were still improved. This may be just your conjecture, but if it’s your actual experience, I’m sorry your pain came back. If it did and that’s what you’re going by, please be aware that your’s is just another testimonial. Not everyone’s pain returns.

    There is also little evidence for longterm benefit for most medical treatment of muskuloskeletal pain, especially painkillers.

    Yes, more research would be helpful.

  15. @Phisrow: Are you making a factual claim that chiropractors are physical sacks containing the impure film skimmed from the surface of a liquid? Better be careful – that’s a hard one to back up in court.


    I guess we’ll just have to get down to using euphemism and deniable ambiguity when we criticise “less than perfect” science from now on.

  16. My GP sent me to a chiropractor decades ago because, as a GP, I could receive muscle relaxers and pain killers, but that’s all that she could do for me.

    She told me that good (good: ethical, cognisant of the limits of chiropractic, as well as knows enough to do it right) chiropractors can manipulate the body so as to eliminate skeletal and muscular pressure on the nerves — which was causing me to limp severely and be in pain 24/7 following an injury to my lower back. No one should have to be in pain 24/7…nor should they be relegated to being whacked out on painkillers — and I was all of 19 at the time.

    Even though I wasn’t convinced, I went. And I got better. So I quit going.

    A few years later? My back went out while I was making the bed…after a week of pain, back to the chiropractor. And I got better. (My shoulder spasms from being on the phone and computer all day went away, too.)

    This hurt-recover-hurt cycle continued until I finally got it through my thick head that this works, and my pain goes away, and it’s better for me to go once a month for an adjustment than to be disabled, limping so badly I drag one foot behind me, and unable to enjoy my life with my children.

    I don’t give a shit if it’s a placebo effect — I feel better without side effects — which is what I wanted all along. But I’m not buying that it’s all it is — out of sheer desperation when I was suffering a sinus infection from hell, I asked the chiro for help with the congestion. He said he wasn’t a huge believer (shock!) in those cures, but that he’d do it because there’s no harm in it, and if it works, it works. Didn’t work worth a tinker’s damn — so I visit the chiro for my back problems, just like I visit the eye doctor for eye issues and the OB/GYN for my girl parts.

    Sounds like you’re lucky enough to have never had an ongoing back problem…when your luck runs out, think about chiropractic.

  17. It is true that some chiropractors are snake oil salesmen and others are good, but let me ask this question.

    Why do the so-called “good” chiropractors call themselves chiropractors? They could just call themselves physical therapists or masseurs, both completely legitimate professions. Even if a chiropractor does not practice the snake oil that chiropractic originated from, they are still guilty of associating themselves with it.

    And by associating with it, they validate it. It becomes much harder to convince someone that chiropractic is snake oil while there are people out there who aren’t con-men, yet call themselves chiropractors regardless. If the good chiropractors abandoned the term, we could easily get rid of the bad ones.

    Also, I think that a lot of people think that chiropractor is just the scientific term for back doctor the way that cardiologist is the term for heart doctor. That’s what I thought for many years. Now I know better. I think that back doctors need a lot better marketing.

    So basically, I will not, and can not, support anyone who calls themselves a chiropractor regardless of what they actually practice. There are plenty of legitimate physical therapists, back doctors, and masseurs out there.

  18. You know, if he isn’t too busy, Dave Gorman would be a good choice for guest editorn / contributor for tje illustrious BB one day. IMHO, that is.

  19. A Massage Therapist manipulated soft tissue.
    A Chiropractor manipulates bones.

    A Chiropractor who calls themselves a clinical massage therapist had better have a Massage Therapy license to go along with that statement.

    Most Massage Therapists have extensive training in anatomy and physiology.

    #19:”In actual medical studies (see Wikipedia if you are interested) chiropractic has never been shown to be more effective then a simple massage.”

    Wikipedia? Do I need to tell you that’s not a good source? And how do you define “simple” massage? Swedish? Most Massage Therapists are trained in multiple modalities including swedish, but also clinically proven methods such as Trigger Point Therapy. See “Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: by Janet Travell and Simons if you don’t believe me.

    Yeah, it’s not the original topic, but a lot of people on this thread are getting the two disciplines confused.

  20. #16
    Fair question.
    To practice the hands-on treatment that constitutes our treatment and call it something other than chiropractic would be considered deceptive practices and one would likely find themselves in legal trouble.

    To call oneself a “physical therapist” you have to have a bachelor’s or higher degree from a physical therapy school. Otherwise you are again misrepresenting yourself and will find yourself in violation of practice acts. They are transitioning so that eventually all PTs will have a DPT (a three year or so post grad degree), but those with a bachelor’s in PT can still practice. Though in some states we’re allowed to perform “physical therapy” and call it that, but we are not designated as “physical therapists”. In many states “massage therapist” is a protected profession as well, that requires certificate based coursework. Most states I believe you can call yourself a masseuse with no qualifications.

    Massage therapists and legit masseuses likewise have to contest with those who think they’re prostitutes.

    There are good and bad chiropractors, just as there are good and bad physical therapists, back doctors, and masseurs out there. I can’t change everyone else, but I can control what I do. We try to reign in the bad ones in our field. Chiropractic boards are often more punitive vs. chiropractors than medical boards are vs. MDs. There are major struggles within our profession to police ourselves. The largest chiropractic school was decrededentialled a couple years back by other chiropractors largely because it was viewed as dragging the rest of us down.

    Catholic priests have found themselves with a bad name. How should the remaining priests change their name to avoid being associated with the bad apples?

    Also you should read the wiki on snake oil. The original snake oil is a legit treatment. If
    appropriate research into it had been conducted decades ago, our understanding of pain and inflammation would be ahead of where it is now.

  21. 20 years ago, I had frequent, severe neck and lower back pain. I went regularly to a chiropractor and by the end of six months, the pain was gone and hasn’t come back. Chiropractic works quite well for a good portion of patients who stick with it long enough to get results. Modern chiropractors send you for x-rays and MRIs before doing adjustments.

    In other news, MDs continue to recommend high carb diets, do unnecessary surgeries and prescribe antibiotics for viral infections.

  22. #22
    Straying off topic with you…
    Chiros in most of the states can work on soft tissues as well. Some choose to just manipulate spinal joints. In the states I can (dependent on state) list “massage” as one of the techniques I can do as a chiro, but I can’t call myself a massage therapist, unless I’ve had separate training and licensure. If someone needs a half hour or more of massage, I’m usually going to recommend they see a massage therapist.
    Not all states license massage therapists, those that do require only 300-1000 hours or so.
    Canada requires over 2000 hours for their massage therapists.

  23. #15:”There are studies that show benefit from chiropractic and acupuncture. They are weak and few, but since the granting agencies feel like you, a pittance is spent on alt med. vs. conventional med getting billions.”

    In fact, since the establishment of the NCCAM at the NIH, there has been quite a lot of money available for scientific testing of alternative and complementary treatments. The division has a hard time finding people willing to take this money.

  24. Disclosure: My sister is both a Chiropractor and a Neurologist. She specialises in paediatric Chiropractic, coming to the vocation after her second child was turned form a colicky nightmare to a well-adjusted little boy by six weeks of treatment. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone. It worked for them.

    In Australia, Chiropractors and MDs do a lot of common subjects in their base degrees, and specialise in fourth and fifth year. Chiropractors are not allowed to claim that Chiropractic definitively cures or relieves anything, and qualify their services with phrases like “may provide relief from … ” and “may help … ” If they make any more definite claim, the Medical doctors sue them.

    That said, I’m in the regular-adjustment crowd. I don’t care if the fact that I no longer have to take steroids for severe asthma is due to the placebo effect. The side effects from daily doses of steroids are a thing I no longer have to deal with because I was willing to try getting my spine aligned (albeit with much skepticism). No, I don’t think it cures depression, but I’ve seen it alleviate the symptoms of all sorts of things. I trust that one day the research will catch up with the anecdata.

  25. Addendum: suing someone for libel is an incredibly stupid, self-defeating and shitty way to handle this situation. I hope Mr Singh fights it to the House of Lords.

  26. I have to admit that there a very few chiropractors out there that are out there to help people get better. Most though try all of those EXTRA things to make money. I am not saying adjustments are bad for you because their not. Do you ever wonder why you never see a chiropractor covered under insurance? Or treating patients in a hospital?

    Makes you kind of wonder huh? If your going to chiropractor for more than a few months their not doing something right. Even physical therapy shows improvement within the first 4 weeks of treatment if not sooner. Adjustments are a quick relief not a solution!

    Chiropractors can’t make a definite claim on curing anything because they really don’t have a lot of medical evidence based reasoning to back up a lot of the things they can “cure.”


      Chiropractic is covered by many insurers. Many physicians refer patients to chiropractors. Patients who have back surgery commonly take longer than your statutory four months to recover. Your comment is exceptionally disinformative.


    Are you sure? When I lived in Wisconsin, my HMO covered Chiro (this was a while ago – I realise things could have changed in the interim), and in Australia the public health system will subsidise Chiro treatments with the referral of an MD. MDs routinely refer people to Chiros here, and many integrated clinics have one on staff.

    My sister treats people in hospital, with the blessing of the staff, and many of the local paediatricians refer people to her, on the strength of her past results. Not all Chiropractors see themselves as working outside, or against, traditional medicine.

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