Wednesday 10 June 2009

If you don't like craneflies, screaming hysterically won't get them out of your room - only draw attention to you.

Sorry, but I really couldn't resist that headline. I am cracking up laughing at the Bad Astronomer's latest post - "Chiropocalypse". Drop this blog right now and go and read it.

Back? Laughing too?

Good, let's have a cup of tea.

Somebody very sensible wrote to The Independent, or something like that (I can't remember now), to chastise them for giving Nick Griffin of the BNP the publicity he was after. 2 seats in the European parliament is certainly something to groan and roll our eyes at, and an invitation to say: "Well done MPs. That's what you get for making us pay for repairing your lovers' dryrot and whinging on about how you are only getting six times as much as someone on your celebrated minimum wage, who is lying awake at night wondering how to pay for their kids' childcare while they're punching checkouts against their will." But screaming our heads off won't get rid of fascism, only encourage it. There's nothing more satisfying than knowing you've really frightened and annoyed your opposition. How much is he actually going to achieve? Don't take any notice of him and he won't get so far.

Similarly, the British Chiropractice Association might learn a lesson or two. They have now gone bananas! Witch hunt? Er, who started the witch hunt? You, I think, mate. Somebody points out that you have incorrectly claimed that there is "evidence" that young children's non-spinal ailments can be treated by your profession, and instead of stumping up this evidence like any mature person (let alone doctor or scientist) wouldn't find hard, you have a little tantrum and sue him. Naturally quite a few people are not on your side about this, so now you advise your workers to remove all information about chiropractice altogether, so that any customers thinking of going to you will be even less informed than before. This seems to be a continuation of your girly little "I'm-not-speaking-to-you" stance when the original article appeared - you were invited to write a rebuttal and turned it down!

I didn't even know the difference between chiropractice and chiropody when this started. The scrutinisation, complaints and negative publicity you're getting through your own childish behaviour is bound to set you back far more than Simon Singh's words that hurt you so deeply. Indeed, I do hope your legal fees and lost custom will cost you an awful lot more than you'd gain from any payout you'd get from Simon. In the meantime, I wonder who would actually benefit from that payout? Your practitioners? A spot of research? Hmmmmm. The top executives, I don't doubt. Not that I'm quite interested enough to delve in and find out. I'm too busy laughing, and I doubt you'd tell me.

Well, perhaps I'm being a little unfair. The BCA does seem to be attempting to protect its "doctors", and this makes extremely funny reading. Oooooh, and what a surprise - this is NOT to be discussed with patients! I wonder who naughtily released it?

In the meantime, Sense About Science's campaign is going well! We have a special button now; please click to add your name, and you can download it here:

free debate

It's not being ignored, either! As you see below, three politicians - one from each "major" party (pre-European-elections major, anyway) - have signed a statement in our support:
Original page here.

Now, I've nothing new or more informed than anyone else to say on the subject, but I can't resist writing up a few interesting views I've seen written. I've seen a few people remark that this is "scientists seeking to be above the law", and that they'd rather have signed to say that our libel laws are an embarrassment, rather than to protect scientists especially. I can understand this. I don't believe scientists generally seek to be above the law, but they can't be the only unfair victims of this sort of thing. However, as soon as someone is given an exemption to a rule, everyone else will want that exemption too. So I hope this is a good way to start chipping at a block generally - and the wording of the statement of support is encouraging on that front too.

On Jack of Kent's excellent blog, which I'm now following, someone has written an open e-mail to the BCA, detailing pretty much what I've written above about ignorance turning into . Scroll down past all those names to the comments! Jack of Kent (who turned out to my surprise and amusement to be David Allen Green) also details why, no matter how much money they get if they win the case, it's not going to help them in the long run. "A whole range of key opinion-formers are now hostile to the British Chiropractic Association and about chiropractic generally," he writes, then: ". . . [i]t . . . turns an almost-unknown professional body into a notorious bogeyman for scientists and journalists - both here and elsewhere. For the British Chiropractic Association is now a proxy for international dislike of the English libel laws . . ." Also, any complaints - for example to do with advertising accuracy - made against them will now certainly get a very interested public hearing!

Someone in my family said, "Will they care, as long as they get a massive payout?" I don't know. In any case it's certainly put their future on a more interesting course than it would have been otherwise.

Simon Singh himself is a great inspiration to us all. I'm particularly impressed by his statement to the many people who wish to contribute to a legal fund for him that, with three bestsellers out, although he will be poorer if he loses, "my wife and I will be able to cope" - and therefore could there please be a general fund to help Sense About Science and/or the next journalist this happens to. His statement is very thoughtful.

I began reading Ben Goldacre's book "Bad Science" recently, and my favourite bit so far has been the school pupils who wrote in delightedly about their science teachers who would teach them real science once minute and unproven nonsense about "energy flow" the next, due to this new "Brain Gym" phenomenon in schools. (He has an amusing little blog entry on the subject too.) Can I say it often enough? The solution to all these kinds of things is better mainstream science education. Stop viewing science as somewhere between a lot of boring incomprehensible maths and unquestionable magic, and make it something wonderful and reachable to all.

The depressing points people remark on are the niggly little technicalities - for example, that the issue hangs on the use of the word "bogus", whose meaning is seized upon as meaning "deliberately deceitful/harmful". Frankly, I think their refusal to be informative deserves a remark like that, but the point is that Simon now has to prove that that word is not libel, rather than discuss science and evidence and alternative medicine. He doesn't say this precisely, but something like it - it is under the heading "The Recent Disastrous Ruling". He has to prove the accuracy of his statement.

And what really gets me is the guilty-until-proven-innocent method. I think I have gone on, and will no doubt go on, on other occasions about this quite enough, so will leave it there.

In the meantime, I wonder if we could ask the British Chiropractice Association a few questions under the Freedom of Information Act?

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