The random thoughts of a sceptical activist

I see, it’s not who you are…

In a comment on my last blog post, I mentioned that the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) had appointed two more chiropractors to their Investigation Committee (IC): Aaron Coode and Amanda Jones-Harris. Both work at the Anglo European College of Chiropractic (just how did they ever get a .ac.uk domain?) and both are members of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA).

A third new member is Helen Kitchen: she’s not a chiropractor, but she does work for Penningtons Solicitors LLB, one of the GCC’s legal advisers.

Anyway, the full IC now consists of the following:

Michael Cann (Chair)
Kathryn Adams (chiropractor and BCA member)
Graham Donald (Deputy Chair)
Carl Gardner
Anthony Kerrigan (chiropractor)
Jane McKenzie-Riley (chiropractor)
Helen Kitchen (co-opted, GCC legal advisor)
Aaron Coode (co-opted, chiropractor, BCA member and works for the AECC)
Amanda Jones-Harris (co-opted, chiropractor, BCA member and works for the AECC)
Kenneth Vall (co-opted, chiropractor, BCA member and AECC Principal)

This gives four non-chiropractors and six chiropractors, with three of them also working for the AECC, including their Principal. A good balance, some may say. Some may not. I’ll leave it to you to ponder any independence and objectivity implications, particularly if the chiropractors complained of attended the AECC and may be known to the staff or if they are fellow members of a beleaguered trade association.

So, what does the IC do?

The Investigating Committee considers all complaints against chiropractors received by the GCC. If the Investigating Committee decides there is a case to answer it refers the matter to either the Health Committee or the Professional Conduct Committee.

In many cases, all that is required is to look at all the evidence, look at the Code of Practice and decide whether there is a case to answer. The case is then passed on to either the Health Committee or the Professional Conduct Committee, depending on the nature of the alleged breach.

The Health Committee considers complaints against chiropractors relating to their mental or physical health.

So all my complaints and those from others would dealt with by the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC).

Clear guidance

The complaints are about whether claims made on the websites of chiropractors breach the conditions laid down in their Code of Practice (CoP). I’ve already covered the link between the Code of Practice and the Advertising Standards Authority’s guidance in the form of the Code of Advertising Practice, other guidance and, of course, previous adjudications (including all relevant adjudications):

ASA adjudications provide guidance to the industry on how the advertising codes are to be interpreted and act as a record of ASA policy for consumers, media, government and all parts of the advertising business.

Note that the relevant adjudications include not only those against chiropractors, but any that concern claims — particularly medical ones — and how the ASA have viewed the evidence required to substantiate them.

Since the ASA provides clear guidance on what they would — and would not — accept, the job of the IC and PCC is straightforward.

Decision time

Who is capable of making such decisions? The ASA are certainly experts, but are the members of the IC and PCC? Most people should be able to read and understand the ASA’s guidance and understand not only what it is but also why it is there. Indeed, Mr Justice Jackson has said:

that the CAP Code is a clear and simple code of guidance. It is intended to be readily understood both by the professions and by committees such as the PCC of the General Chiropractic Council.

No problem there, then. Hopefully.

But it also requires someone to be capable of understanding how the ASA views evidence — scientific evidence, that is.

Note also that how any other organisation (such as the BCA or AECC or GCC) or a chiropractor might interpret evidence is entirely irrelevant. It’s how the ASA’s view it that matters.

There has been a move recently by the GCC to sway public opinion by trying to consider all sorts of ‘evidence’. This would appear to include customer preferences and chiropractors’ personal views. And not forgetting the BCA’s attempt to use a glossary definition, similarly wide and woolly,  on which to base their view of evidence. It might be interesting to see what they come up with, particularly in the light of the utter destruction of the plethora of ‘best’ evidence the BCA could come up with for their libel case against Simon Singh.

This, however, has no bearing whatsoever on how the ASA consider evidence: the ASA are hardly going to change how they have always considered the best way to protect the public from ill-founded claims, just because the GCC or whoever come up with some different — and no doubt less scientifically rigorous — definition of what are acceptable forms of evidence, now are they?

So, the GCC’s hands are tied: the CoP says that it is the ASA’s guidance that is the standard that has to be achieved, not some arbitrary level of some other organisation. Lowering the bar is not an option, no matter how much they might want to.

It’s not rocket science

…as Mitchell & Webb said, but is it even science? Vitalism and vertebral subluxations might have been OK two centuries ago, but not today. They are un-scientific and outdated notions of how our bodies work.

What about the ability to properly understand science and scientific evidence that is required to consider the complaints? Can someone who believes that medical conditions are caused by invisible vertebral subluxations and in vitalism and claims to be able to cure/help/treat Tourettes Syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Emphysema and Dyslexia by making ‘adjustments’ to the customer’s back really be a good judge of what constitutes scientific evidence?

http://www.zenosblog.com/2009/05/these-are-the-rules-nothing-more-nothing-less/

10 Responses to I see, it’s not who you are…

  • Hi,
    Hi,
    i have been reading your pro science anti quackery blog with interest and wondered if you had an axe to grind with alternative medicine in general or just false unsubstantiated claims, i only ask as i was recently given an NHS leaflet at my GP’s surgery about vaccination which states in answer to the question

    ‘but what about overloading my child’s immune system with three viruses all at once’ (in reference to the MMR jab)

    Answer:

    ‘A baby could respond safely and effectively to around 10,000 vaccines at any one time. So the baby’s immune system can easily cope with the MMR vaccine’.

    Now i am not a doctor but i cannot believe that any baby has been tested with 10,000 vaccines at once, so this would seem to be a bogus claim? This post is not about the MMR vaccine debate, but i would just be interested as to why you are spending so much time and energy crusading against a relatively small and harmless professions unsubstantiated claims and not trying to bring attention to the bad scientific claims that effect the majority of the population?
    Would you enter a complaint to the GMC regarding this NHS leaflet?

    Cheers

  • @magpie555

    The leaflet does not make the claim that a baby has been “tested with 10,000 vaccines at once”. The preceding paragraph explains what is already known about a baby’s immune system and how it already copes with “tens of thousands of bacteria and viruses that cover their skin, nose, throat and intestines.”

    Arguments from personal incredulity don’t hold any weight with the ASA or any other regulatory bodies, so far as I’m aware.

  • Where’s the evidence to support the claim that is implicit in the leaflet that a baby could respond safely to around 10,000 vaccines at once? Could anyone point me to the research that proves this? Why not 10,000,000 at once? using ‘could’ and ‘around’ is speculation not science.
    The fact that there are tens of thousands of viruses and bacteria covering the skin is not relevant when talking about injecting 10,000 vaccines…you can cope with window cleaner on your skin but not injected into you bloodstream, the two paragraphs are not connected?

  • magpie – it’s not that the bacteria and viruses stay on your skin or just rest around you – they are breathed in and swallowed by the baby.
    Our immune systems are quite remearkble – you should learn a bit about them and you might just be fascinated by how they work.

    Anyway, vaccines aren’t injected into your bloodstream. They are intramuscular injections, not intravenous.

  • magpie

    The two paragraphs are indeed connected, though if you have a mistaken idea of what vaccines actually contain – and your analagy with window cleaner suggests that you do – then I can understand how you don’t see the connection. The assertion that a baby’s immune system can cope with “around 10,000 vaccines” isn’t speculation, it’s an estimate based on the number of antibodies typically generated by a baby after exposure to a vaccine. In a nutshell, if 10 vaccines were given to an infant at one time, that would only “use up” less than 0.1 per cent of the immune system.

    Here is a fairly comprehensive article with full references:

    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/109/1/124

    However, as none of this has anything to do with Zeno’s blog and what he has said on it I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss it any further here. If you have any further questions or thoughts on the subject, I suggest you take them to the Bad Science forum or Think Humanism. Here are the links:

    http://www.badscience.net/forum/
    http://www.thinkhumanism.com/phpBB3/

    Or you can always start your own blog, of course. :-)

    Regards…

  • Will do,
    Thanks for your response Skepticat and for pointing me towards more relevant blogs, i will have a good old look at the links when i’ve a moment.
    i do find Tom P’s response a little patronising…i don’t know if it is intended to be. I am aware that vaccines are intramuscular which i believe has an extensive capillary network so in effect it is a direct route into the bloodstream? More direct than the lungs. Still Skepticat is right and this isn’t really the right blog.
    Regards

  • Give us a break. The course content must be agreed and accredited by someone such as the University of Bournemouth or the like and I bet by someone in Europe to boot, and I bet it has a really chunky anatomy, pathology and the rest content. No, not only bet, but I went to the web site and found this:
    “For entry to Year 1
    • Three A-Level passes to include Biology, Chemistry and one other academic subject (excluding General Studies) to a total of not less than 320 UCAS points (Grades ABB)”
    So, even taking into account A level hyperinflation this is an ask in anyone’s book – have you tried taking A level chemistry, I have an it really hurt.
    Then, the first year course consists of this:
    Year One Units
    Syllabus
    Unit Code Course Title
    1.1 Anatomy
    1.2 Biomechanics
    1.3 Chiropractic Concepts
    1.4 Clinical Problem Solving
    1.5 Diagnosis
    1.6 Molecular Physiology
    1.7 Pathology
    1.8 Physiology/Pharmacology
    1.9 Psychosocial Concepts
    1.10 Adjustive Techniques
    1.11 Clinic Observation
    1.12 Investigative Imaging
    1.13 Radiography

    Which I think is a pretty science strong syllabus and I would have thought compared to Golf Course Studies at Milton Keynes or wherever merits a .ac.uk domain, don’t you?

  • A close reading of the GCC legal rules shows that K. Adams cannot sit on the Investigating Committee whilst a compaint is registered against them and she is one of zeno’s 500+ names.

    All the other chiros will have to declare any prior or current knowledge of the indivuals being investigated and it be discussed and agreed whether this amounts to a conflict of evidence. This might be working in the same clinic or having a close personal friendship with the accused. College Tutors might remember many of their students but rarely would this be considered a conflict of evidence.

  • @Aww Come On

    I could probably write a sylabus that includes all of the year 1 subjects but wouldn’t tax a hedgehog’s intelect.

    Just because they mention it, it doesn’t mean that they go into depth!

    Conflicts- I am a medical doctor and have been through what I thought was pretty hard-core stuff in med school. You graduate, start to work and then specialise and find out there’s a whole world full of even more specialised knowledge! I’m training in radiology and the sheer anatomical content is mind-numbing.

    So, after 5 years at met school, and over 5 years working as a doctor I can safely say (in the knowledge that it takes one hell of a lot of experience and scientific knowledge in all medical disciplines to be a good diagnostician) that a few years in woo-college learning how to crack someone’s back is in no way enough to diagnose anything like as much as they would like to think they can.

    Oh- accreditation-
    My wife has been teaching part of a business course that is accredited in the UK. I forget where. The kids know sweet FA, and the ‘school’ advises to effectively to let them pass. No matter if they can’t even spell her name properly. Monitoring by the accreditating institution is so far non-existent.

    A-level grades…
    Sadly, they don’t specify an A-level in maths with statistics. Perhaps then they might have a clue when it comes to research!

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