Archive for the ‘Back-cracking’ Category

Podcast plug – Dr Aust live (ish)

September 30, 2010

In which Dr Aust does some heavy breathing into a headset.

A week or so back, thanks to the wonders of internet-based communication technology (aka Skype) I joined the guys from Greater Manchester Skeptics for their podcast Just Skeptics (Episode 12, apparently). It is now out – if you’re interested, you can listen to it here, or here, or even download it (free, of course) from the iTunes store.

You’ll have to excuse the heavy breathing, which I’m embarrassed to say was me. I’d never used a microphone headset before – I’d only installed Skype a day or two earlier – and I think the microphone distance needs adjusting. Or perhaps I’m just a heavy breather.

Anyway, if you do fancy checking it out, you can first hear us talking about “Charity mugging”, the phenomenon whereby you can’t walk twenty metres in a British town centre in the daytime without being accosted by someone trying to sign you up as a charity (direct debit) donor. Until the podcast I hadn’t heard that these “Chuggers” are often out-of-work actors.

We also discuss mad chemists, that hardy stereotype of the man in the white coat with the mad staring eyes. This was inspired by the UK Government’s “Crazy Chemist” anti-drug campaign – the one that got the Royal Society of Chemistry so hot under the collar.

And finally, at 24 minutes in, you can hear me having my “Soapbox” where I poke fun at Alternative Medicine. It’s not terribly original stuff, and will probably be fairly familiar to regular readers, but hopefully you might find some of it amusing.  This segment is followed by a discussion of similar themes, which runs for most of the rest of the podcast. It  concludes with the Richard Feynman reflexology story that you may remember from here.

Anyway, let me know what you think, especially if you stick it out all the way through.

PS Listening to the podcast I now notice a couple of minor factual inaccuracies on my part, notably giving the wrong name for something… ah well. Shows that talking off the cuff is not as easy as one might think. Try to spot the slip(s), if you like.


Poetry corner – subluxation special

May 15, 2010

In which Dr Aust mourns the loss of an old (imaginary) friend.

Today Zeno’s excellent blog alerts me to the sad loss of the Chiropractic Subluxation, printing an extended and most informative Obituary.

This follows a lengthy investigation by Zeno and other interested parties, notably the Skeptic Barista, into claims that the Subluxation had, in fact, been deceased for many years.

Or, indeed, that it had never existed in the first place – except, perhaps, as a metaphor.

The Chiropractic Subluxation,  you may remember, is the mysterious “functional lesion” (no non-subjective test will actually find it, but chiropractors have insisted it is there) in the vertebral column which chiropractors claim to find, “diagnose” and correct.

Well – they did used to claim this.

That, however,  may be about to change.

The Skeptic Barista informs us that the UK’s General Chiropractic Council has now declared that:

“There is no clinical research base to support claims that the chiropractic vertebral subluxation complex is the cause of disease or health concerns.”

Advice to chiropractors about whether they can continue to make claims for the subluxation complex being:-

“the cause of disease or health concerns”

– and hence, of course, something you should consider paying a chiropractor to correct – is likely to follow shortly.

In the meantime, and following the acclaim for our resident bard’s  recent Memorial Poem on the demise of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, he has been persuaded to pen something suitable on this new, and solemn, occasion.



In Memoriam
The Chiropractic Subluxation

So. Farewell
Then. The Chiropractic

A complicated Word
For something that
Does not

Or perhaps for what
Was just
A Metaphor.

Or rather –
A Metaphor
Wrapped up inside
An Enigma
Wrapped up inside
A Paradox.
Wrapped up inside
A Huge Invoice.

Which last
Chiropractors have been
Presenting for
At least
A Century

Very Tricky

As a member of
The Public
You would probably
Need X-ray
Get to the
Of All This.

Or at least to make
Sure you
Were not being

They think it’s all over – it is now – BCA drop lawsuit against Simon Singh

April 15, 2010

In which Dr Aust wonders if the BCA’s PR people are “channeling” his thoughts.

The blogosphere (and indeed the mainstream news media) is aflame with the news that the British Chiropractic Association has dropped their libel claim against Simon Singh. They served a “Notice of Discontinuance” this morning.

Though the financial situation is still to be revealed/resolved, it seems likely that the BCA will have to meet most of Simon Singh’s legal costs, which may well run into a couple of hundred grand.

Over the last couple of weeks bloggers had been speculating about what the BCA would do after the Court of Appeal’s landmark judgement. Dr Aust had even laid out a likely course of action for the BCA were they to decide to bail out. I thought it might be interesting to show you this, and then what the BCA have actually said today.

Here is Dr Aust’s prediction, from a week or two back (April 7th)  of a likely “Exit Stategy”, taken from the comments thread under Jack of Kent’s “Open Letter to the BCA”:


If the BCA’s PR agency were any good – and they certainly seem to get paid plenty of money – then they could easily try and “spin” pulling the plug as follows:

(i) we genuinely thought Simon Singh had accused us of being dishonest, which we took MOST SERIOUSLY

(ii) we still think this was meaning the original words conveyed, BUT we reluctantly accept Appeal Court’s view… and we are MOST GRATIFIED Singh has stated publicly that he didn’t mean we were dishonest (quote Simon’s public statements to this effect)

(iii) given protracted nature of legal proceedings… we are persuaded that the financial burden on our members… need the money to do important work promoting chiropractic… etc etc.

All done by press release w/out taking questions.

Arguably outside the Skeptosphere it will all be a storm in a teacup.

Of course, notwithstanding their large tab, the BCA’s PR team seem thus far to be as sharp in their judgement as the BCA’s lawyers.


So that was the prediction.

And here, hot from their website, is the BCA’s press statement:



Having carefully considered its position in the light of the judgment of the Court of Appeal (1st April 2010), the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has decided to discontinue its libel action against Simon Singh.

As previously made clear, the BCA brought the claim because it considered that Simon Singh had made a serious allegation against its reputation, namely, that the BCA promoted treatments that it knew to be “bogus”. The Honourable Mr Justice Eady, the UK’s most experienced defamation judge, agreed with the BCA’s interpretation of the article and ruled that it made a serious factual allegation of dishonesty.

The Court of Appeal, in its recent judgment, has taken a very different view of the article. On its interpretation, the article did not make any factual allegation against the BCA at all; it was no more than an expression of ‘honest opinion’ by Simon Singh. While it still considers that the article was defamatory of the BCA, the decision provides Dr Singh with a defence such that the BCA has taken the view that it should withdraw to avoid further legal costs being incurred by either side.

As those who have followed the publicity surrounding this case will know, Simon Singh has said publicly that he had never intended to suggest that the BCA had been dishonest. The BCA accepts this statement, which goes some way to vindicating its position.

The BCA takes seriously its duty and responsibilities to members and to chiropractic patients. The BCA has considered seeking leave to take this matter to the Supreme Court and has been advised there are strong grounds for appeal against the Court of Appeal judgment. However, while it was right to bring this claim at the outset, the BCA now feels that the time is right for the matter to draw to a close.

More media information from Carl Courtney on 07785 397321 but no new information will be given.


Now, I will make no claims for my own future-predicting powers, or PR wizardry, as the likely structure of the retreat was pretty obvious to anyone who has been following the case.

I, will, however, quote another of my lines from the same Jack of Kent thread:

“Of course…the BCA…could have taken broadly the course of action I recommend nigh-on two years ago and likely saved themselves several hundred grand.”

But more than that, the BCA have now made it more, not less, likely that overreaching claims by alternative therapists will be publicly challenged in blunt terms from here on out.

This is because the legal result of the BCA’s suit has been to leave us with a judgement from the Court of Appeal’s senior Justices that makes very clear their view that scientific debates should not be settled in the courts.

While how much of this view is “legally binding” is open to discussion (which inevitably will probably be discussion by highly paid lawyers), the net result in practise seems certain to be that chiropractors, and other alternative medicine types, are less likely to try suing critics to silence them in future.

It bears saying, yet again, that had Simon Singh not had the guts to put his own money on the line when the BCA sued him personally, we would not be at this point today. As I wrote on yet another of Jack of Kent’s threads:

We know Simon [Singh] is prepared to lose his own money on a point of principle. We know [this] since he kept going after Eady’s initial ruling, when his lawyers almost certainly advised him that he was now highly likely to lose the case at trial, that the appeal on meaning was a long shot, and that the “percentage” choice would be to cut his losses and offer a limited apology.

And all scientists, and indeed everyone who opposed libel being used to silence criticism, owes him a debt.

Simon, we salute you.

Stop Press: Simon Singh wins Appeal Court ruling on meaning

April 1, 2010

Wonderful news from the Court of Appeal this morning.

Simon Singh has won his “appeal on meaning”. He will now be allowed to argue, in defence of the libel claim brought against him personally by the British Chiropractic Association, that his remarks were “fair comment”.

Jack of Kent’s Twitter feed is the go-to source for the details. He has given a few selected lines from the judgement, which I will repeat here:

“[Singh’s phrase] “not a jot of evidence”…[is] a statement of opinion, and one backed by reasons”


“[the word] “bogus”…[is] more emphatic than assertive”

– referring, of course, to the much debated b-word;

“Once..”jot” [is perceived] a value judgment…[the use of the word] “happily” loses its sting…[giving it a meaning approximating] blithely”

(recall that the main phrase the BCA and Eady J found libellous in Singh’s article was:  “The BCA… happily… promotes bogus treatments”)

The Appeal Justices also commented that the BCA’s bringing and pursuit of the case gave the

“Unhappy impression… [of an] endeavour by BCA to silence one of its critics”

Which, of course, has been the opinion of pretty much everyone, excepting chiropractors and a few other alternative medicine types, right from Day One.

And which, since we are back to talking about “Fair Comment”, gives me an excuse to plug my first extended dissertation on the case, written way back in August 2008.

Back in the Bunker, meanwhile, it appears that the BCA are now considering whether to attempt to appeal today’s ruling on meaning, according to a statement they have issued.

Anyway, we are promised the full ruling on Jack of Kent’s website ASAP.  Since Jack tells us it quotes Milton and George Orwell, I am rather looking forward to it. (Since I started writing this, Index on Censorship have uploaded the PDF version of the whole judgement).

[Update: the full ruling is now online in a more easily readable form here. It is well worth a read. The Justices are clearly men of classical education, as apart from Orwell and Milton, Galileo gets a mention. This is particularly apt as it is a regular gambit of Alt Medicine types to liken themselves to Galileo, a tactic which has been termed “The Galileo Gambit” – see also here.]

One of the final paragraphs of the judgement, paragraph 34, bears specifically on the question of scientific issues in the courts, and is worth re-typing in full:


34. We would respecfully adopt what Judge Easterbrook, now Chief Judge of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, said in a libel action over a scientific controversy. Underwager v Salter 22 Fed 3d 730 (1994):

“Plaintiffs cannot, by simply filing suit and crying “character assassination!”, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. …More papers, more discussion, better data and more satisfactory models – not larger awards of damages – mark the path towards superior understanding of the world around us”


…And I certainly can’t think of many (any?) scientists who would disagree with that.



Since no self-respecting blogger misses a chance of a bit of “Self-Biggin'”, here are links to the full collection of my coverage of the Singh case, right from the beginning:

Back Quack crack attack – it’ s a legal matter baby – detailed amateur legal analysis from August 2008, plus some musing on libel tourism.

It’s Quiet – too quiet – an end-of-2008 round up, wondering what had become of the case and discussing Singh’s proposed defence and the nature of CAM belief.

Truly Much Bogosity – some thoughts on the Eady ruling on meaning of May last year, the much-debated word “bogus”, and the chilling effect of English Libel Law.

Back Crack Quack Attack – the song – sadly as yet unrecorded, though it did gain me the scorn of a rather serious person styling themself “Cochrane Reviewer” over at Science Punk.

BCA say they want scientific debate – bears eschew woods for proper flush toilets and soft toilet paper – Dr Aust’s lower mandible almost dislocates under the jaw-dropping effect of a startling BCA press release in June 2009.

Stop Press – Simon Singh granted leave to appeal Oct 14th 2009 – Dr Aust enjoys the excellent news – with various updates through the day.

BCA v Singh – (unexploded?) literary devices – Dr Aust muses whether Simon Singh might have simply got his paragraphs the wrong way round.  “You stand accused, Mr Singh, of the Reckless and Dangerous Use of Rhetorical Devices– also from last October.

Chiropraktischer Untergang – updated with added Sturm und Drang – A bit of pre-Christmas fun. Dr Aust has a good laugh as someone does the inevitable chiropractic Downfall parody.