The random thoughts of a sceptical activist

Is it really to do with the BCA’s reputation?

In his recent Story so far, Simon Singh said:

Initially The Guardian newspaper tried its best to settle the matter out of court by making what seemed to be a very generous offer. There was an opportunity for the BCA to write a 500 word response to my article to be published in The Guardian, allowing the BCA to present its evidence. There was also the offer of a clarification in the “Corrections and Clarifications” column, which would have pointed out: “The British Chiropractic have told us they have substantial evidence supporting the claim they make on their website that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying. (Beware the spinal trap, page 26, April 19).”

Unfortunately, the BCA rejected these offers and moreover made it absolutely clear that it was not suing The Guardian, but rather it was suing me personally. At this point The Guardian newspaper chose to step back.

I find this all very odd. The BCA said that what Simon had said was:

defamatory and damaging to the BCA’s reputation

The Guardian offered the BCA space for a 500-word reply. The BCA refused.

The Guardian offered them a clarification. The BCA refused.

Remember Simon’s article was:

defamatory and damaging to the BCA’s reputation

Who read this (alleged) defamation? It was the readers of the print and online version of The Guardian — who else knew of it? That’s where Simon’s opinion piece was published and it can only be those readers who have been influenced by what it said, whether defamatory or otherwise.

Remember that the BCA were concerned that the article was:

defamatory and damaging to the BCA’s reputation

What better way to right a wrong and inform those very same readers that Simon had got it all wrong and there is, indeed, many jots of evidence for the efficacy of chiropractic for things like infantile colic and asthma and that it was Simon who was bogus? Surely the wrong would have been righted; their damaged reputation repaired, they could happily continue on their way promoting what they promote?

Instead, they chose to pursue Simon Singh.

Now, what has that done to their reputation? The case has gone world-wide, with articles in newspapers as far away as Colombia as well as the prestigious Wall Street Journal, Nature, the Economist and even the Daily Mail, surely a fertile ground for new (and existing) chiropractic customers?

Enter “Simon Singh” “British Chiropractic Association” into Google and you currently get 6,500 hits. A spectacular PR ‘win’, isn’t it? Particularly for an organisation very concerned that Simon’s article was:

defamatory and damaging to the BCA’s reputation

So, why did they pursue Simon and not quit while they were winning with a Guardian apology and the opportunity to put the record straight?

I can think of just one reason:

7 Responses to Is it really to do with the BCA’s reputation?

  • I googled '"British Chiropractic Association" +reputation' and the first link was to Jack Of Kent's blog…

  • It's an extremely good reason when you consider that the BCA's 'Chiropractic Awareness Week' took place during 14-20 April 2008 and Simon's 'Beware the spinal trap' article was published in the Guardian on 19th April 2008, followed by the release of 'Trick or Treatment' on 21st April 2008. It's likely to have posed a serious threat to the BCA's agenda, especially as the following was the main conclusion that 'Trick or Treatment' reached about chiropractic:

    Quote
    “WARNING: This treatment carries the risk of stroke or death if spinal manipulation is applied to the neck. Elsewhere on the spine, chiropractic therapy is relatively safe. It has shown some evidence of benefit in the treatment of back pain, but conventional treatments are usually equally effective and much cheaper. In the treatment of all other conditions, chiropractic therapy is ineffective except that it might act as a placebo.”

    Also, with Edzard Ernst nearing retirement, the BCA is likely to be quite worried about the very real possibility of Simon taking over from him as chiropractic's sternest critic.

  • At the talk in the Penderel's Oak featuring many speakers, Jack of Kent made a really great point: that the point of libel law is simply "to shut someone up".
    If the BCA had chosen a less well known target (like a Joe or Jane Blogger) they could potentially have celebrated a petty victory over them. Unfotunately for them, they picked one of Britain's best loved and well respected journo/scientists and now there are thousands of bloggers, scientists, journalists all backing him up. Epic fail on their part!

  • Chiropractors and homeopaths don't want 500 words in the Guardian in order to counter claims that their own claims are bogus. They want to be left alone, without any bother from anyone, to get on with the job of extracting money from gullible and sometimes vulnerable people.
    I think that as soon as they decided to complain that their reputation had been damaged they shot themselves through both feet. The offer of 500 words in the Guardian wasn't what they were expecting, I reckon. Most likely they wanted a retraction from the Guardian or from Simon Singh himself.
    They have nothing by way of incontrovertible evidence they could write in a hundred words to counter the article's claims, never mind 500.
    The Guardian itself is probably much to big to take on so I think they were more or less forced by the Guardian's offer to go through with their pursuit of Simon Sing.
    When I was very young my dad tried to impress upon my why it's not a good thing to tell a lie. It's because you have to tell even more lies to support it, then even more lies to support the supporting lies. Look at the way the BCA are spinning it.
    In the same vein look at how wilder and weirder are the claims of chiroquacks and homeos to distract from the baselessness of what they do.
    "Perjury" comes to mind for some reason.

  • Interestingly, that very same thought had been brewing in my mind after reading Simon's account of the Guardian's offer. I was thinking of blogging it soon – but you've done it now which will save my fingers some effort.

    It would appear the BCA expected a quick apology and this, had it happened, might well have looked more like a win for them. We should all be thankful Simon Singh was made of stronger stuff. It is only his dogedness that has seen this blow up in the BCA's face.

    And those Guardian readers, a year later, will still not have seen any rebuttal of the original piece from the BCA, nor any genuine declaration of victory in the libel suit, if the readers bothered to follow that barely-covered story in the first place.

    Australian defamation law is often seen as plaintiff-friendly but I'm pretty sure that an Australian court would have taken a very dim view of the BCA's refusal of what appears to be a very good offer for reparations. I also understand that in Australian Law "substantially true" is a defence. The English legal system need a good slapping for allowing this sort of trivial nonsense to consume so much court time. It is fast becoming an international joke.

    If Singh can see this through to the very end, it's very difficult to see how the BCA can salvage any useful victory from it since, at best, they will apparently have to prove that they were ignorant of the overwhelming scientific viewpoint of chiropractic. Great win, yep.

  • Ha ha, Of course you all conveniently forget that Simon Singh lost his case! So the BCA obviously had a case and Singh one to answer. He lost. How you would have gloated had he won, you'd been happy with the legal process then eh?

    Having had a look at the section in the book its quite clear Singh isn't having a scientific discussion, he's sticking the boot in. He also reveals his own real bias when he says they have "ideas above their station", that's not a scientific discussion that's just his opinion. Did he have a dialogue with the BCA first or get them involved? No. He thought he could bully his way out of it. Now he and his north London media crowd are after revenge. This is what this is really about isn't? In fact, most of you here would quite like severe, punitive and immediate action taken to at the very least cripple these people. If laws could be passed to make them illegal, have them driven into the sea, etc., all the better.

    Really, almost all of you here are so biased and self-righteous its laughable.

    Remember he lost.

  • No, Anonymous, Simon did not lose the case.

    At the *preliminary hearing*, Mr Justice Eady made a ruling about the meaning of the words complained of. Simon is appealing against that ruling and the case could still go to trial. See http://jackofkent.blogspot.com.

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