Tuesday, July 21, 2009


This post is a three pronged effort. The distortature is by Jef, and we have some words from me (Theo) and my old mate Ben.
Austalian political commentator Bob Ellis recently attended the Festival of Ideas and heard a talk by Simon Singh on alternative medicine. He was not impressed with Simon's views on Chiropractors:

"I’ve been going to chiropractors for 37 years, and it seems to me they've cured not only back pain but energy loss, memory loss and, lately, impotence. And I need to know what the difference is between a real cure of impotence and a perceived cure of impotence".

I also noted my dog Oompa was cured by the same chiropractor, Anton, of back pain and limping, and asked how a dog could suffer "a placebo effect". ...

I came away very angry at him and his kind. They have added immeasurably to needless human suffering on the planet, and needless animal suffering too. ...

Simon Singh reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld, another torture denier. Sleeplessness isn’t torture. Standing up for twelve hours isn't torture. I said so. Simon says the pain chiropractors cure is imaginary pain. And Simon is an honourable man.

Hit the link to read the entire ignorant and scientifically illiterate rant. Ben and I just had to reply.

Ben :

21 Jul 2009 12:41:10pm

Sorry Bob,

So many alt-woo fallacies in one place... where to begin?

Chiro is based on pre-scientific (i.e. magical) thinking (hint: Google "vertebral subluxation"). There is no clinical evidence (and I repeat, no clinical evidence) that it is a useful treatment for ANYTHING apart from a specific type of lower back pain (which is just as effectively treated by a good massage).

If you understood the principles of evidence-based medicine, you would realise that the plural of anecdote is not data. Controlled, double-blind studies are the only reliable way to determine whether a treatment is effective or not (i.e. whether the treatment is any better than a placebo).

You have also been less than transparent about Simon Singh's involvement is all this. Like the fact that he is currently being sued by the British Chiropractors Association for libel for publicly calling them on their bullshit claims about chiro being able to cure asthma, colds and influenza, amongst other things, with SPINAL MANIPULATION.

As for the comparison with Rumsfeld and torture, what are you? A five year old? I'm surprised you didn't manage to find way to get Hitler and the Nazis involved too.

Then there's the ridiculous alt-med canard about how many people die as a result of "conventional medicine". Well guess what, Bob? People die and sometimes there's nothing you can do. When a treatment ACTUALLY involves a physical effect, there is ALWAYS a risk involved, even if it is tiny. Unlike alt-med, conventional medicine attempts to quantify those risks and minimise them.

I'll bet your friend Anton has never once mentioned to any of his customers that there is a small risk that his neck manipulations will a) give them a stroke; b) fracture their neck vertebrae; or c) sever their spinal chord.

And that is the essential difference here, Bob. There is a risk involved in having chiro done, but the benefit is negligible. So why do it?

Theo :

21 Jul 2009 1:49:43pm

Hey Bob - the dog can probably have some placebo from the extra care and attention. But more importantly - the observer of the dog - you - has what's called "observer/confirmation bias". This is psychology 101 stuff, and the reason experiments are blinded. Google it.

Before you go off on an angry rant, perhaps you should investigate the science - or lack thereof - behind chiropractic. Anecdotes from people who "swear by it" are the lowest type of evidence because people have these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

That's why good science attempts to eliminate these errors. Studies of chiropractic that manage to do this show it's only somewhat effective for back problems. But that's it - not asthma and some of the other things chiropractors claim. Studies that eliminate these errors with homeopathy show it is entirely placebo.

Perhaps Simon and "his kind" just want to find out what is true and what isn't - and make sure the public are not misled about medical claims.

Ps - anyone ever been cured by a chiropractor - or do you always keep having to go back for a "tune up".

Pps - anyone ever gone to a chiro that's said: "Hey, there's nothing wrong with you. You're fine..."

Bob should probably stick to politics. His reasoning and understanding of what counts as evidence and a fallacy free argument in politics is little better than his understanding of science - but at least politics isn't that important...