Bloggers get back at the back doctors

July 30, 2009 at 7:11 pm (blogging, Free Speech, Rosie B, truth)

Further to Max’s post on Simon Singh, here’s a terrific and inspiring article by Ben Goldacre about how the British Chiropractic Association may have kicked an own goal in suing Simon Singh:-

Today the Australian magazine Cosmos, along with a vast number of other blogs and publications, reprinted an article by Simon Singh, in slightly tweaked form, in an act of solidarity. The British Chiropractic Association has been suing Singh personally for the past 15 months, over a piece in the Guardian where he criticised the BCA for claiming that its members could treat children for colic, ear infections, asthma, prolonged crying, and sleeping and feeding conditions by manipulating their spines.
.  .
An international petition against the BCA has been signed by professors, journalists, celebrities and more, with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry alongside the previous head of the Medical Research Council and the last government chief scientific adviser. There have been public meetings, with stickers and badges. But it is a ragged band of science bloggers who has done the most detailed work. Fifteen months after the case began, the BCA finally released the academic evidence it was using to support specific claims. Within 24 hours this was taken apart meticulously by bloggers, referencing primary research papers, and looking in every corner.

Professor David Colquhoun of UCL pointed out, on infant colic, that the BCA cited weak evidence in its favour, while ignoring strong evidence contradicting its claims. He posted the evidence and explained it. LayScience flagged up the BCA selectively quoting a Cochrane review. Every stone was turned by Quackometer, APGaylard, Gimpyblog, EvidenceMatters, Dr Petra Boynton, MinistryofTruth, Holfordwatch, legal blogger Jack of Kent, and many more. At every turn they have taken the opportunity to explain a different principle of evidence based medicine – the sin of cherry-picking results, the ways a clinical trial can be unfair by design – to an engaged lay audience, with clarity as well as swagger.
. . .

We could go on, but there are lessons from this debacle – beyond the ethical concerns over suing in the field of science and medicine – and they are clear. First, if you have reputation and superficial plausibility more than evidence to support your activities, then it may be wise to keep under the radar, rather than start expensive fights. But more interestingly than that, a ragged band of bloggers from all walks of life has, to my mind, done a better job of subjecting an entire industry’s claims to meaningful, public, scientific scrutiny than the media, the industry itself, and even its own regulator. It’s strange this task has fallen to them, but I’m glad someone is doing it, and they do it very, very well indeed.

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Recession Prolemockery

July 30, 2009 at 2:44 pm (Max Dunbar, media, Tory scum)

The Daily Mail goes to Poundland:

There is a floating frog pondlight that is as far from a Wow Deal! as imaginable and something that I thought were Star Wars light sabres, but are actually plastic solar lights. I’m not the only shopper to be confused by them.

‘Solar lights? Wot for? For night-time?’ one woman asks another.

‘No, they are for day.’ ‘Why do you need a light in your garden in the daytime?’

‘Well, you can only use them if you are in a sunny country, anyway.’

Speaking of the night, you know those gangs of girls who plague our city centres on hen outings? Now I know where they buy their stuff.

Poundland is the kind of shop that can supply all your hen night needs, from a white net veil with two pink shot glasses on the side and a sign saying ‘I’m Tying The Knot, Buy Me A Shot’ to a Husband Control whistle, a Fluffy L Plate, pink cowboy hats and pairs of pink fluffy gloves, complete with very precise instructions on how to put them on the hands.

I found that last detail rather poignant; as if the manufacturers were worried the girls might put them on their feet.

Read the whole thing, if you can stand it.

We know the Tory press has a contempt for the common man. But it’s rare to see this expressed so explicitly.


(Thanks: Anton Vowl and Edmund Standing. Image via Septicisle)

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Beware the spinal trap

July 30, 2009 at 1:04 pm (anonymous, censorship, Max Dunbar, science)

sciencelibelYou might have heard about this. You may not. A writer named Simon Singh is getting sued by the British Chiropractic Association, for criticising its practices in a Guardian article. A number of editors and bloggers have republished his article out of solidarity. I reproduce it below.

You can learn more at the Sense About Science website and sign the petition.

Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that ‘99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae’. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: ‘Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.’

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher. If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

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Jeremy C*******

July 27, 2009 at 4:29 pm (comedy, Jim D, Tory scum, twat)

Letter in today’s Graun; can’t improve on it:

It is truly outrageous that you have printed the C-word on the front page of  this normally distinguished newspaper (Clarkson crashes into trouble with C-word attack on PM, 25 July). I am all in favour of free speech, and, I must admit, I have used the C-word myself on occassions when I want to truly insult someone given that the word is totally offensive to many decent, civilised people and is a way of ensuring that the recipient of the insult knows that I regard them with the utmost contempt.  But, when I do so, I at least try to ensure that when I am referring to someone as a right “clarkson”, it is done with a degree of discretion.

Alan Payling


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Harry Patch – the last link broken

July 26, 2009 at 10:53 pm (Champagne Charlie, hell, history)

The death of Harry Patch  – the last  surviving “Tommy” to have served in the trenches of WW1 – breaks an important link for us children of the twentieth century: the last survivor of the first “modern” war has gone.

There has always been something terribly sad about the First World War: a useless, worthless enterprise, entered into by German and British imperialism at the price of millions of working class lives. The Second World War could at least be justified on the grounds of opposition to Hitler’s genocidal plan for world domination.

Harry, from what we can gather, hated war, and called it “organised murder, and nothing less.” (Independent on Sunday, 26th July 2009).

He may, or may not have been a pacifist:

“Field”, a commentator at Harry’s Place, makes a fair point:

As is the way in our culture the obvious was glossed over.

The media wanted him to be a symbol but the bloke had his own ideas and views delivered in his delightful Somerset burr.

It was quite clear to me on the basis of the words he spoke that he was a pacifist. On the basis of his experience he objected to any war. No war justified the loss of even one life. Not world war 2, not the Falklands, not Iraq, not Afghanistan.

Just because he was 100 plus when he said this doesn’t mean we should patronise him in my view. His words rather make a mockery of what one might call the British Legion orthodox position (as exemplified by David T here): that war is hell, that sacrifice is noble, that soldiers don’t evaluate the worth of war but they do what their country asks of them.

Personally I think his pacifism wrong-headed and full of contradictions. Understandable of course but not right because it is understandable.

So rather than try and make of him a symbol, I would rather say there was a man who suffered, who saw his friends suffer terribly but who had his views as a result of his experience. I don’t agree with those views. But I respect them and I think that’s what many of his friends died for and he fought for – a society where people can disagree without rancour.

We don’t know what Harry thought about the war in Afghanistan, and it’s rather distasteful for the Independent on Sunday to assume that he would oppose it. We don’t know this  dead man’s specific opinions, and we should not try to co-opt them to our chosen causes. Many of his recorded sayings are, as you’d expect, anti-war, and he may well have been a pacifist.

On the other hand, he also said:

The first world war, if you boil it down, what was it? Nothing but a family row. That’s what caused it. The second world war…Hitler wanted to govern Europe, nothing to it. I would have taken the Kaiser, his son, Hitler, and the people on his side and bloody shot them. Out the way and saved millions of lives. T’isn’t worth it.”

BBC interview, 2007

Whatever his precise views, we know he hated war. And, like all civilised persons, he thought it should be avoided if at all possible. That should be good enough for anyone.

We salute him.

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Vestas: Unite in the graveyard

July 25, 2009 at 3:54 pm (Champagne Charlie, unions, workers)

According to reports that have reached me today, the Vestas workers, presently occupying their factory in the Isle of Wight, have been signed up to membersip of the RMT. This is because RMT general secretary Bob Crow visited the occupation, promised and delivered practical support and publicly championed the occupation. The majority of Vestas workers were not previously in a union, but those that were, were in Unite. Unite did virtually nothing to support the occupation. Unite’s assistant general secretary Les Bayliss (presently being touted by the soft-left ‘Workers Uniting’ grouping within Unite  -Derek Simpson’s loyalists – as  general secretary candidate next year) reputedly said of the Vestas membership, “they’re just twenty members”.  Bob Crow is a bullshitting Stalinist with some quite filthy politics, and the RMT’s record of trying to poach London Underground cleaners from the T&G/Unite has been opportunist and counter-productive for the cleaners. But at Vestas, in the face of Unite’s inaction who can blame him? Or blame the workers for signing up with the RMT?

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Captain Pugwash, Master Bates & Co

July 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm (Art and design, BBC, Catholicism, comedy, Guardian, Jim D, media)

The death a couple of days ago of John Ryan, creator of Captain Pugwash (and other children’s TV series, such as Mary, Mungo and Midge), brings to mind an enduring urban myth.

It is still widely believed that Captain Pugwash was, in reality, a risque  sexual satire that included such characters as Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy.

In fact, these “characters” never existed.

To the best of my knowledge, this falsehood was a harmless piece of  mildly subversive playfulness put about by the humourist Victor Lewis-Smith, who never expected it to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, Ryan (a deeply religious Catholic) didn’t appreciate the joke and took legal action against the Guardian and the Sunday Correspondent  for promulgating Lewis-Smith’s little jape.

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Context and solidarity

July 23, 2009 at 3:22 pm (Feminism, immigration, islamism, Max Dunbar, religion)

One more thing about the burqa and then I’ll let this go.

Ophelia has been chatting with George Eaton of the New Statesman:


What was your reaction to President Sarkozy’s support for legislation banning the burka? And how do you respond to Muslim women who argue they have reappropriated the garment as a feminist symbol?


Very, very ambivalent. All over the place. I hate the idea of making special new laws on dress, and all the more so when the laws can’t help targeting immigrants or any other vulnerable minority. I also realise that Sarkozy’s motives may be very suspect, or at least a mixture of suspect and defensible. And yet, I could not help (and that’s what it was like, I had a lot of inner resistance) being pleased that he said ‘The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience.’ I would much rather hear it from someone else, but I certainly do want to hear it, because it’s true. That doesn’t mean I flat-out approve of the idea of a ban – but I don’t flat-out oppose it either. I’m torn. I’m glad it’s not up to me to decide.

One reason I don’t flat-out oppose it is because community pressure can force other women and girls to wear the hijab or the burqa, and from that point of view a ban is like any other law that creates a level playing field. If no one can wear the burqa on the street, then no one will be forced to wear it on the street. This is hard on women and girls who want to wear it but good for women and girls who don’t want to. If I have to choose which should be helped, I choose the latter.

I respond with great weariness to Muslim women who claim they have reappropriated the garment. Given the reality of what happens to women who try not to wear it in Afghanistan, I think it’s simply grotesque to think it can be any kind of feminist symbol. I get the point about freedom from the male gaze, and believe me, I wish women around here would stop reappropriating stiletto heels and plunging necklines as ‘feminist symbols,’ but a stifling face-covering tent is not a feminist symbol.

I think this is a healthy reaction. There is a tendency to downplay, or deny completely, the issue of coercion in religious dress. Given the context of such coercion, arguing for the burqa as expression of sartorial liberty is, well, kind of tasteless, and only tells half the story.

David T quotes a recent judgment from the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal on the case of a Palestinian refugee:

She was writing about women’s issues and social topics before she left. A woman with her views would be seen as strongly anti-Hamas. She has studied for a long time in the West and has appreciated life there, especially as far as equality between men and women are concerned. Gazan women are told that they are to be killed if they refuse to follow the Islamic expectation that women cover up. Foreign journalists bow to this expectation for the limited period they are there. However, the Appellant would be there permanently and would not have a choice. Originally she intended to return to Gaza at the end of her studies and also intended not to wear a hijab. However, given the resurgence of Hamas in the region which take a hard and uncompromising line, she would be required to wear a hijab or face severe punishment resulting in serious harm to her.

Presently, she does not believe there will be peace while Hamas are in power. She cannot return and live a safe life. Whilst living there, her father was still alive and supported her. Such support is no longer available. Her refusal to requests to wear the hijab would ultimately result in punishment which would be wholly disproportionate to the ‘crime’ committed.

With regard to the recent conflict, she asserts that Hamas has managed to strengthen its grasp over Gaza. She recalled the early years of the establishment of Hamas and how acid was used to terrorise women and force them to wear the hijab. Many were beaten and abused because they refused to conform. She believes that the war could have been avoided had Hamas considered the lethal impact of conflict with Israel. However, Hamas was determined to defend its control, regardless of the price. Hamas is now viewed as a strong force against Israel. It is now characterised on a par with Hezbollah and Iran. She is not only against the political nature of Hamas but also the patriarchal component of its ideology. Even before it took power, Hamas used its presence in mosques to provoke people against changes in the criminal law in 2003. At that time, the Appellant wrote about this topic and sought to explain the moderate effect of the bill.

She stated in evidence that it was one thing to oppose their stance when they were in opposition. However, it would not be possible for her to express her views in such a manner today without drawing attention and a risk of serious harm to herself. She believes that Islam can be understood and interpreted in different ways. Muslim women have usually been the victims of patriarchal understanding and interpretation of Islam. To promote women’s rights against this understanding is dangerous.

She previously wrote about wearing the veil. This occurred when female supporters of Hamas and their members’ wives and relatives contributed to the phenomenon of wearing the veil. She criticised this phenomenon. She was even then blamed and taunted for doing so. She campaigned and wrote about a fairer, modern family law in Gaza. She took her campaign a step further in a case involving a woman demanding the right to divorce her husband. The conventional understanding in Islam was that divorce is the absolute right for men. Hamas still adopts the traditional interpretation of Islam.

The Appellant asserts that during the last few years, Hamas has been more rigid and fundamentalist than ever. Wearing the hijab is universally implemented in secondary schools. It is even widely spread in elementary schools. Girls as young as seven wear it. She believes that imposing a law compelling the wearing of a hijab degrades those women who do not want to conform to the code. She asserts that she stands for what she believes in and does not want to have to compromise her views. Her refusal to wear a hijab is a further ‘core issue’ on her return as she would be spotted as a non-conformist Palestinian woman. She will be confronted by men and asked to cover up. She will be bound to be questioned about her family. Her family would be disgraced and would face pressure. She faces the intolerable choice therefore of conforming, which is unacceptable to her, or an endless cycle of violence which has no limit or end.

I’m happy to add that this woman won her case and can stay.

(Also, see Rahila Gupta)

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Vestas: occupying for jobs – and the environment

July 22, 2009 at 5:42 pm (class, climate change, environment, Jim D, unions, workers)

Workers have occupied the Vestas St Cross factory in Newport, Isle of Wight. Vestas is England’s only manufacturer of wind turbines, and made a profit of over £350 million last year.The decision to occupy has been taken due to the consistent failure of Vestas Blades and the government to face up to their responsibilities in the necessary challenge of fighting climate change and maintaining  jobs. 

Due to management attempting to intimidate the workers who have been
organising themselves in preparation for a fight, plans to move on the
factory were accelerated and a team of workers occupied the plant
at 7:45 on Monday evening as a result.

Now more than ever Vestas workers need our support. The island does
not have a history of workers taking control – this could be the first
of many victories where workers take control of their industries and
demand that the bosses and government put people before profit, the environment before opportunism. Send messages of support to:

and have a look at the campaigns’s excellent website:

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Malik versus migration doomsayer

July 19, 2009 at 6:25 pm (immigration, Islam, Max Dunbar, multiculturalism)

Kenan Malik, author of the phenomenal From Fatwa to Jihad, takes on Christopher Caldwell’s book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and Europe – evidently a more sophisticated version of the ‘Muslims! Everywhere! EVERYWHERE!’ nonsense we get from Mark Steyn and Melanie Phillips.

Malik’s piece is an excellent point-by-point refutation of the claims made by migration scaremongers.

Key para:

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is trenchantly written and robustly argued. It is complex and often subtle. It is also fundamentally wrong in both premise and conclusion.  

Read the whole thing.

(Via Butterflies and Wheels)

Update: More debunking via David T:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care. There is no Europewide data available, but one study says fertility rates among Turkish-born women in the Netherlands fell from 3.2 in 1990 to 1.9 in 2005, barely above the figure for native-born Dutch. Over the same period, the equivalent figure for Moroccan-born women in the Netherlands dropped from 4.9 to 2.9. Also, fertility rates are edging upward in some Northern European countries, which would offset some of the Muslim growth. Bottom line: given the number of variables, demographers are loath to make predictions about the number of Muslims in Europe in the years to come. ‘You would almost have to make it up,’ says Carl Haub, the senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington. And the idea of a Muslim majority any time soon? ‘Absolutely absurd.’

In areas of personal morality, attitudes vary markedly, too. One recent Gallup poll found that more than 30 percent of French Muslims were ready to accept homosexuality, compared with zero in Britain. Almost half of French Muslims believed sex between unmarried people was morally acceptable, compared with 27 percent of German Muslims. And violent zealotry is for the tiny minority: polls repeatedly reaffirm that Muslims overwhelmingly disapprove of terrorism. In some countries, the mood is broadly secular. ‘The majority of Muslims in France are, in fact, decoupled from their religion. They just blend into an amorphous mass of brown or black people,’ says Ali Allawi, the former Iraqi defense minister and author of the The Crisis of Islamic Civilization. Jochen Hippler, a German political scientist at the University of Duisburg-Essen, says he has had young Turks come up to him to ask what Islam is all about.’They have lost any connection with the religion of their parents and grandparents,’ he says. A recent government survey showed that 40 percent of Iranians living in Germany identified themselves as having no religion, as did 23 percent of North Africans. In the Netherlands, the proportion of Muslims who regularly attend the mosque—27 percent—is lower than the proportion of Protestants who go to church.

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