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Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Good Day in Court

Simon Singh (appellant/defendant) v
British Chiropractic Association
(respondent/claimant)

Court of Appeal, 23 February 2010
Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Sedley



It was an interesting and very enjoyable day to be in court, especially given what happened after lunch: the British Chiropractic Association's case received a sustained battering by three of the most senior appeal judges in England, all of whom made favourable reference to the need for scientific debate.

But before we get carried away, please note that this is a case which Simon Singh can still lose - and for the reasons I set out below.

And please also be careful to read the "Health Warning" at the end of this blogpost.


Before the Trial

So to begin with the court room was packed.

There were the great and the good of the skeptic world: Wendy Grossman, Professor Richard Wiseman, Dr Evan Harris MP, and so on. The press bench was full, including Nick Cohen and Padraig Reidy; there were famous bloggers and activists, such as Crispian Jago and Alan Henness. And then there were dozens and dozens more, just coming in and crowding in at the back. The usher even found 'deck' chairs for people to sit in the side aisle, and one bench usually reserved for lawyers and clients was made over to the public.

It would normally take a major multiple murder trial, one lawyer told me, to have this many members of the public at a court hearing.

For me, all this had the rather surreal feel of a Skeptic in a Pub meeting transported suddenly into the designated court of the Master of the Rolls.

Sadly, those standing all had to exit the court, including a family from Leicester who had travelled down especially: but there was no more room.

There was a heartening atmosphere in the court room, even before the hearing began. And this positive though anxious atmosphere remained throughout what became a rather exciting day.

The hearing was estimated to last one day, and the lawyers agreed that Simon's QC spoke before lunch (for it was his appeal), with the BCA QC speaking after lunch; Simon's QC would have an opportunity to then briefly reply.


Simon's case

Simon's QC set out the basis of the appeal.

The judge at the High Court had been wrong in principle; the wrong tests had been applied; even if there was an allegation of dishonesty then there should still be a comment defence in certain circumstances; Simon was not alleging dishonesty anyway; the article as a whole should be considered as providing a context, especially the reference to bogus in the paragraph which followed the statement in question; but in any case the meaning of the "words complained of" was plainly clear: it was a comment - an evaluative judgment - on a matter of public interest.

The judges were relatively restrained before lunch. There were a couple of quite amusing exchanges about the "average Guardian reader" (and indeed whether he or she would speak French, as one potential alternative of "happily" in this context - I missed the exact word - was canvassed). Simon's QC settled on "blithely" as being what should meant by "happily" in the article.


What happened after lunch

The consensus in the Knights Templar pub during lunch was that the morning seemed to have gone well. Simon's QC had not been seemingly thrown by any of the incisive questions. We trooped back to an only slightly emptier courtroom.

And then the fun really began, and the BCA QC was on her feet.

The Lord Chief Justice - although careful to say that his comments would not influence the appeal before him - said he was "surprised" that the BCA had not taken advantage of the right to reply offered to them by The Guardian. Why did they not publish an article in response saying that Simon's contentions were a load of rubbish?

The BCA QC tried to deflect the blame onto Simon for not apologising or making any of the requested public statements.

The Lord Chief Justice did not seem impressed by this.

The BCA QC then listed various ECHR judgments which showed that it is not necessarily unfair to force a defendant to prove various matters of fact: this was a rather dry period, not unlike an Alistair Darling budget.

But then she moved on to the Guardian article.

The judges questioned the BCA QC repeatedly on the statement in dispute, trying to understand what it was which actually upset the BCA.

One question - "would happily promoting treatments which had not a jot of evidence be considered by your client to be defamatory?" - was met by a lengthy silence and (in my view) a non-answer.

But it was another question which may prove devastating to the BCA.

"What if Simon Singh had said there was no reliable evidence?"

"We wouldn't be here today."

But, responded the judge, isn't that what "evidence" means, especially in a scientific context? Is that not how medicine and science develops? Is that not what a reader of the Guardian article would understood the statements to have meant?

The judges then moved on to the following paragraph in Simon's article.

Is this not where he sets out what he means by bogus? He refers to some seventy trials which showed no evidence. Is it not clear what he meant by "not a jot"?

The BCA QC struggled on: not a jot, she argued, meant literally none whatsoever. But, said a judge, surely science doesn't work like that: when a scientist says there is not a jot of evidence, doesn't he mean there is not a jot of reliable evidence?

And then the BCA QC made what seemed to be a tactical mistake.

She compared herself with the BCA, saying that if she was accused as a barrister of promoting a bogus case without a jot of evidence, it would be open to someone to verify whether there was any evidence.

This did not seem to go down well as a serious point.

We can tell whether a case is bogus, responded one judge, we are judges. We can evaluate whether there is an evidence, just as a scientist can evaluate whether there is evidence, and if a scientist says there is not a jot of evidence, surely he means there is not a jot of reliable evidence?

And questions continued relentlessly along this line.

It was becoming painful.

It was not going well for the BCA.

The Lord Chief Justice then added - again stating that this was not influential to the outcome of this particular appeal - that he was "baffled" as to how this case had got this far, and at what must be considerable expense to the parties.

He described the "artificiality" of the case: if the BCA could rebut the contention that there was no evidence, why didn't they simply publish it?

As before, the BCA sought to deflect the blame onto Simon for not apologising or making any other public statement, but the question just hung there.

The BCA QC's submissions came to an end.


A devastating reply?

Simon's QC rose in reply.

She first noted in passing that the BCA's claims were no longer on their website.

She then, wonderfully, quoted from a US law report:-

"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 toward superior understanding of the world around us."

Underwager v Salter, 22 F.3d 730

The judges seemed impressed - they had been clearly sympathetic during the whole hearing as to the importance of scientific debate, and this final quote seemed (to me) to articulate the views of three judges in the court.

The hearing then came to an end; the Lord Chief Justice said they will reserve judgment; it will be handed down in due course.


Aftermath

I just sat there on a high.

It had been thrilling to watch three of the country's senior judges tear into the BCA case, even though it was sad that it had come this far.

As Professor Richard Wiseman tweeted just after the hearing, the "Appeal made me ashamed & proud of being British. Ashamed it was happening & proud judges made BCA look like petty fools".

That was a fair comment.


Nonetheless, Simon may still lose: the Court of Appeal could decide that even if the High Court ruling is incorrect, it is not so incorrect that they should disturb the judgment.

There is also the chance that they could hold that Simon should have followed a "Reynolds" type process before publication, even though this was a comment piece and not the result of investigative journalism.

Even if the judges seemed sympathetic in the hearing, any lawyer will tell you that does not indicate that they will decide in your favour.

So we must wait for the judgment.

But, caveats aside: it was a good day in court.



Health Warning: the above is based on my recollections and notes; any reported speech not in quotation marks is my paraphrase; I am also biased, as a supporter of Simon Singh. Do not take anything here as indicating how the Court of Appeal will determine any of the points before it; and any legal observations are entirely subject to the final published judgment.


COMMENTS MODERATION

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90 comments:

Chris Kavanagh said...

Excellent write up!

Sounds like a very different day in court than that first hearing many moons ago!

Extremely unhappy to be stuck in Oxford reading about what is happening but still very glad to get such clear reports.

Thanks again!

Now I just wonder what tomorrow will bring...

teekblog said...

wonderful to read your thoughts on the day - despite the caveats and disclaimers, it does seem like a positive outcome is possible - all the more so given that under some seemingly heavy questioning the BCA QC wavered.

Judgement awaited with baited breath :-)

Jo said...

I would love to have been there - thank you for writing (and double checking) this after what must have been a tiring, though enjoyable, day.

Can I ask if there was any mention of the unusual 14 October statement?

Phil said...

A pity I was one of those who was left standing and had to leave (although I wisely used my booked day off in the library) - sounds like I missed a treat.

No worries tho - it's good to have such an engaging and level-headed account of proceedings. I never knew law could be so much fun!

Tony Lloyd said...

This may be an impossible question to answer, but what sort of timescale ("ball park", or whatever cliche you like) are we talking about for the court to give a decision?

Rob said...

There were a couple of quite amusing exchanges about the "average Guardian reader" (and indeed whether he or she would speak French, as one potential alternative of "happily" in this context - I missed the exact word - was canvassed).

"Insouciantly".

Le Canard Noir said...

The soothsayer in me wishes to say that before the child of Singh reaches its first Moon then the Wizards of Spinal Cracking will be humbled.

Felix said...

Thanks for the report! I have been checking back here throughout the day for some word.

I will try not to be too optimistic.
As WoolyMindedLiberal says in a comment here http://heresycorner.blogspot.com/2010/02/simons-big-day.html:

"The English judiciary have a clever trick of appearing to giving a hard time to the side they have already decided for so that when they deliver their findings they can portray themselves as having been terribly fair and even handed."

To put it another way - when buying a 2nd hand car you may give it a particularly thorough going over if you are about to buy it, but hardly give it a glance if you have decided not too.

Any idea as to a reasonable estimate of how long the judgment will take to arrive?

Keep up the good work!

Dr Aust said...

Sounds like an almost Gandalf-ian "surprised" from the Lord Chief Justice. I wonder if he really is?

I presume their Lordships can construe as well as anyone else the BCA's motive as widely perceived in the Skeptoverse: namely to stick Simons's head on a pole "as a warning to the others."

Jack: is it possible for the High Court to find for the complainant in a libel action but NOT to award any costs? That is, to leave each side bearing all it's own legal bills? It would seem an obvious way to give one side a "Pyrrhic Victory", if it was really felt to be a case that should never have been brought.

Dave Cole said...

Jack,

Thankyou for the write-up; I wish I could have made it.

For the legally challenged amongst us, does this mean that the defence is saying both that it was fair comment and was factually correct, or am I mistaken?

How is Simon doing?

xD.

Dave Cole said...

On a related note, what are the possible outcomes of when the judgement is released?

xD.

Rob Heywood said...

Like Felix, I too have been awaiting your considered evaluation of todays proceedings. I do hope that common sense prevails and that the judges verdict is the right one for Simon.
Excellent blogpost as usual, thanks!

Tony Lloyd said...

@ those who couldn't make it.

I popped in for ten minutes. It was utterly tedious and totally incomprehensible. Jack's comments are neither. I'm now firmly in the "leave it to the lawyers" camp!

@Jack

What does happen if (as Dr Aust almost suggested) it is eventually decided that the BCA was libelled, but not very much? If the right-to-reply is held to be adequate recompense? In the only (civil) court case I have had experience of the question of who got costs depended on who got most of what they were after. That is to say if you sued for £X and got £(X/2) - 1p then you had to pay all the costs. If you got £(X/2) + 1p then the other side paid all the costs.

Does the same work for libel?

I wonder how much the joint costs are? I would (informed guess, looking at the BCA 2008 accounts) estimate that £500k would render the BCA technically insolvent.

SVETLANA PERTSOVICH said...

"So we must wait for the judgment."

Certainly.

When??..

Jeff Parks said...

@Tony Lloyd

"what sort of timescale ("ball park", or whatever cliche you like) are we talking about for the court to give a decision?"

The Court of Appeal aims to give judgments within a maximum of three months - though it could be much sooner.

peterwn said...

It makes me wonder why BCA is persisting. A result either way is not exactly going to promote the cause of chiropractic, BCA should be asking itself what is the best form of 'damage control' given the current situation, this is unlikely to be persisting with the law suit. Has no one learned from McLibel?

EvanH said...

Excellent account - thanks David. I was there for the first hour, then had to dash back to the House.
Was very pleased to hear that the judges made the point that "no evidence" can be - in scientific terms - a reasonable way to express that an overview of the "evidence" (ie trial data) showed "no evidence of an effect of the trial treatment compared to the control".
I was scribbling that very point to a bemused Mrs Singh next to me during the morning session!
Interestingly only yesterday the Commons S & T Committee published a report (on Homeopathy) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/45/4504.htm#a6 (paras 19-25) which for the first time ever in Hansard set out a summary of how to interpret the evidecne base when faced with a plethora of trails and even a large number of (alleged) systematic reviews. We stressed the need the seprate out the good trials from the flawed and to place more reliance on systematic reviews which themselves were methodologically sound. This appraoch led us to conclude that there is "no evidence that homeopathy works better than placebo" [paraphrase].

I spoke to Simon this evening and he was rightly very pleased. I have been told that the ruling will take 2 weeks. It will not directly itself decide the case just determine meaning and whether SS has a defence of (Fair) Comment open to him.

skepticat said...

The best bit for me was sitting directly behind the three BCA people and watching the muscles in their neck get tense and their ears turn red as they helplessly watched their brief get the battering. Hopefully our comments and sniggers will have pissed them off too. :-)

skepticnj@yahoo.com said...

Good job, Allen. Go Simon! Get this thing wrapped up and then come on over to the States and help us to start dismantling the chiro-woo-woos here.

- Arnold Rosner
Hamilton Square, New Jersey, USA

Botogol said...

I think this is the first opportunity that Simon Singh has had to explain what his words did mean.

He claimed that 'happily' meant 'blithely'

Hmmm, blithely explicitly means UNknowingly (and not caring to know) and so Singh's defence seems to me to rest on the precarious platform: "I didn't mean what I said"


He said 'happily'
He wishes he had said 'blithely'

I bet he does.
If he had said blithely there would have been no lawsuit.


I can understand why Singh has retreated from what he wrote, and I don't blame him, but still it's a shame, for the BCA IMO did happily promote these treatments

Pedro Homero said...

Oh, i was so sure that victory was at hand, but these comments have brought me down to reality. Let's wait and see then.

Greetings from Portugal, and good luck to Simon!

(I rarely comment, but your blog is on my rss reader and i follow it with much interest).

Alice said...

Wish I could have come, tedious and incomprehensible or not - there must have been many delightful moments! Thank you so much for this write-up, Jack. I feel sorry for the people who travelled a long way to be there but then had to leave. I love the idea of the deck chairs. I guess when the REAL trial takes place, as many people as possible could bring a folding chair (as small as possible)?

I can't wait to see what the judges will rule.

Mike Fowler said...

I just posted this over at Ausstin Elliot's blog on Nature Network, but thought Allen might be able to offer some useful insight here:

It all sounds promising, but then, I’m a scientist, and likely to interpret events in a manner that support my view anyway.

One thing concerns me in all this, and doesn’t seem to have been mentioned yet. The question of where scientific debate takes place.

Will the judges decide that what Singh published would not be actionable if it appeared in a peer-reviewed scientific journal? Therefore, they could conclude that he’s strung himself up by trying to promote a scientific discussion in a daily newspaper?

Jack of Kent said...

I think Rob is correct. The French word was "Insouciantly".

Shane said...

Not "insouicanteux"? Or "avec insouicance"? ;-)

Required reading, I think, should be Harry Frankfurt's little philosophical masterpiece "On Bullshit". I think this has a bearing on both the "happily" and the "bogus" aspects.

Essentially Frankfurt's argument is that between truth and lies there is a shady limbo of Bullshit, where the bullshitter is engaged in pure rhetoric, and really has no care for whether his or her claims are true or not. He or she believes/accepts them, and the objective is not to subject them to rational analysis, but to bamboozle people into accepting their veracity. It is a powerful concept, and this slim (and elegant) monograph is well worth a read - it seems to perfectly capture the Chiropractic mindset, and indeed the mindset of many verbal thinkers, from creationists to homeopaths.

I wonder should it be submitted as evidential material..?

May justice prevail.

Colin said...

Excellent work (as usual)!

It seems like such a rout that I'm wondering whether anyone has read anything written by the BCA's proponents about the case: I'd be interested to hear what they made of it...?

Dr Aust said...

Heh. I do like the idea of sundry Lords Justice sitting in the train on their commute reading Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit. One can only hope...

UK Expat said...

Many thanks for the informative and entertaining write-up.

ivan said...

Why might the BCA persist? Perhaps because under Britain's mad libel laws, where winning your case can feel like losing, losing your case can be nearly as good as winning. What losing a libel case can do is tell people that saying things about you which you don't like can be very expensive, even when they don't constitute a libel.

I suspect Desmond was cheerful about losing his libel case because he knew it would make publishers very wary about publishing Bower's book on him. And somehow I doubt we will see it unless the libel laws are changed.

Of course losing a libel case didn't work well for Neil Hamilton, Guy Snowden or Oscar Wilde. I suspect it won't work well for the BCA either. But it might just be better than capitulating.

Botogol said...

A thought
- doesn't 'not a jot of evidence' sound like a statement of fact, 'no reliable evidence' one of opinion ?
- could that be what the judges were exploring

MikeL said...

Surely the test as to meaning, as I understand it, is the meaning that would be reached by the 'ordinary reader on the Clapham omnibus'.
If so the words would seem to suggest to me that Mr. Singh alleged that the BCA knew there was no evidence to support its claims yet continued to do so happily.
The BCA have disclosed evidence in support of their treatments and arguing about what Mr. Singh meant by 'happily', defeats the purpose of the above test as he would not have been on the 'bus' so to speak to explain this to the reader.
Also why did he not apologise when he had the chance and then publish the same article but with a slightly amended paragraph confirming what he actually meant.

skepticat said...

@bogotol. Simon hasn't retreated from what he wrote. His QC submitted that 'happily' does not imply 'knowingly' - and indeed it doesn't. Think of all the bogus medical treatments that have been 'happily' prescribed for the last few thousand years. Do you think the doctors who happily prescribed leeches and blood letting that harmed and killed countless patients did so 'blithely' or 'knowingly'?

Simon is not responsible for what the BCA chose to infer from the article in their efforts to shut him up.

Derek said...

I was fortunate enough to be there yesterday. What a day.

Jack mentions that the BCA's barrister got herself in a tangle when she ruminated upon what the position would be if she was accused of happily taking on libel cases even when there is not a jot of evidence to support them. What he did not add was Lord Justice Sedley's (possibly) tongue in cheek response. "The trouble with that, Miss Russell, is that 50% of the population think that's true"

And another enjoyable moment for me was when the Master of the Rolls asked the BCA QC - in the context of what constitues evidence that a treatment works -if five or six people, or perhaps even more, come away from chiropractors feeling better, does that constitute evidence? I was sitting next to skepticat, right behind the BCA team. At that point their QC turned round, for the only time all day, and looked one of the BCA people in the eye. She said nothing, but I fancied a look of exasperation flashed across her face, as though she was saying "I told you it would come to this".

Neil said...

Hi Jack

I was wondering whether the scope of the appeal on Tuesday was limited to overturning the inadmissability of the fair comment defence or if the aim was also to overturn the bizarre implied meanings of the Eady ruling?

I thought that it was interesting that the BCA QC appeared to imply that 'not a jot' was the critical aspect of the defamation whereas Eady's ruling suggested that 'bogus' and 'happily' were the offending terms.

Is it the BCA's contention, or just Eady's, that happily promoting bogus treatments is an accusation of knowing dishonesty?

If the offending word is 'happily' then it is completely untenable to insist that this is a statement of fact. If I write about someone and state that they do something with a particular attitude, that, of course, is my opinion.

Eady equated bogus remedies with remedies that are 'dishonestly presented to the public'. Was there any review of this interpretation at the hearing? I understand that everyone knows that this is the case, which was a bit of a shocker for me. Why didn't anyone tell me? I was probably confused by Simons explaination of what he meant by bogus in the subsequent paragraph.

As for the silly (in my entirely subjective opinion) comments from Botogol above, I would like to point out that when one is asked to explain the meaning of a sentence, then it is not very productive to repeat the sentence verbatim. Yes, he said 'happily'. No, he didn't say 'blithely'. Or 'knowingly'. Or 'dishonestly'. To say that Simon is retreating from what he wrote, by offering a synonym for one of the words, is, in my opinion, to happily promote bogus arguments.

truthspeaker said...

MikeL said...

The BCA have disclosed evidence in support of their treatments...


Actually they have not, despite the Guardian offering to publish any evidence in a rebuttal article.

Tony Lloyd said...

The "not a jot" has re-reared it's head. So I've written a short piece on what I think "not a jot of evidence" means:

http://tiny.cc/WQ6nz

Steve Page said...

truthspeaker, the BCA did disclose evidence - a "plethora" of evidence, indeed - which Edzard Ernst ripped apart superbly. http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/07/bmj-plethora-has-been-demolished.html

amie said...

Derek: It's Rogers QC, not Russel. You picked up on her apparent exasperation. I wondered if the embarrassed sounding little laugh which punctuated her address throughout is a general mannerism, or reflected her predicament in this hearing. I was surprised that in her analysis of the offending passages, arguing that they were assertions of fact, she resorted to recruiting the words "in fact" in the extract "..in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas.." as support for her argument. I found that pretty feeble; barrel scraping, in fact, (ahem) and tending to weaken her case for the more arguable fact/comment phrases.

BillyJoe said...

skepticat said: "@bogotol. Simon hasn't retreated from what he wrote."

He has been told this but he just continues to make that statement. Either that or he doesn't bother to look for responses to his comments.

Arieh said...

Is it possible to see a transcript of the proceedings online?

Botogol said...

@Neil - but my point is that I don't think blithely is synonym for happily in that sentence.
I think blithely carries a different meaning.

In the context of that sentence

-happily implies knowingly
- blithely implies not caring to know

The reality of the situation is that happily is (IMO) closer to the truth. I am sure that the BCA are acutely aware of the published and evidence into the efficacy of their treatments. How could they possibly not be?

So I think happily was justified, but dangerous. Blithely is watered down and safer.

Botogol said...

@skepticat

Of course, the word 'happily' is not a synonym for 'knowingly' and can only be interpeted in the context of the sentence, which was

"The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."

- IMO that sentence implies knowingly
- in Eady's opinion also
- I have also done some informal testing - showing the sentence to people unfamiliar with the case (I would recommend people try it. the results are surprising)

The key thing at this stage is the opinion of Tuesday's judges, and tha is yet to be seen.
I predict that they will also decide that 'knowingly' was implied.

@BillyJoe - actually I do look for responses to my comments, but both you and skepticat spelt my name wrong, so I didn't find them..

Neil said...

@Botogol

According to the thesaurus, blithely is a synonym for happily, whereas knowingly is not. The way I read the sentence is that the adjective happily could, at a stretch, be replaced with heedlessly or carelessly ... the implication is that the BCA did not take sufficient heed of the lack of evidence for their assertions.
If I say that 'the boy jumped happily into the pool; the shoal of piranah waited hungrily', I use 'happily' to emphasise the boy's ignorance of the true state of affairs. Happily, used in conjuncture with some unhappy circumstance, implies that the circumstance is unknown or not taken account of.

Shane said...

@bogotol, the evidence that in the case of the BCA "happily" can be substituted with "blithely" or "insouicantly" actually resides *precisely* in the nature of the "plethora" of evidence they submitted. The danger for the BCA is that if *that* is what they are calling evidence, they are either "blithe" or frankly dishonest.

So, does the context of Simon's comment imply that they are nefarious fraudmeisters, scheming to twist the backs of small children for sadistic pleasure (I think not) or clueless numpties dilsying through a strange wonderland where they neither know nor care what is really going on? I would suggest the latter, and I would have felt that was fair comment.

Botogol said...

@Neil - a word has different meanings in different contexts, there's no point discussing what 'happily' means in other sentences, it's what it meant in THAT sentence that counts.

@Shane - I agree that Singh's comment was fair (and I hope he wins his case). I think that what Singh SAID was that the BCA promote treatments that they know have no proper evidence to support them. I think the BCA do do that.

(BTW I have no doubt that the BCA truly believe that these treatment work work, despite lack of evidence that they are aware of)

Tony Lloyd said...

On this happily/knowingly business.

Let us take it, for the sake of argument, that the treatments are bogus. I can think of at least three different things they could have known that would fit with "happily", only one would fit with "knowingly":

1. They knew that they were promoting the treatments.

2. They knew that the treatments were bogus.

3. They knew that they didn't know that the treatments were proven effective. That there was a fair possibility that they were bogus.

"1" This would arise if the BCA had been shown loads of fraudelent evidence that really convinced them that the treatments were effective. In a situation like this you would expect the BCA themselves to use "happily": "We happily promoted these treatments whilst you b*st**ds knew all along they were bogus".

"2" Fits with "knowingly"

"3" would mean that they promoted treatments they knew had a fair chance of being bogus and didn't care.. This is certainly not "knowingly", but it is "happily" ("hey, what do we care"). "Blithely" seems a better alternative. But then I would think that, of all alternatives, "happily" is best.

"1" is clearly not the meaning of Simon's words. Between "2" and "3"we could continue arguing. I would argue that "happily" is the best word for situation 3 but "knowingly" is the best word for situation 2. As Simon used "happily" I would assume that he meant something that "happily" would be the best word for: they didn't know and they didn't care.

You may disagree, but just the existence of that disagreement proves a point: it is not, in the least, established that the words used should be taken to mean "knowingly"

amie said...

The defence case as argued this week was as far as my notes are correct, that happily in this context incorporates recklessly, but not knowingly. But, argues the defence, this is a comment, a point of view. It depends on the reader's point of view, Ms Page argued: it is not irresponsible unless you also think that disregarding 70 trials is irresponsible. Page wished firmly to distinguish between the paraphrase "happy to" and what was actually written, namely "happily". She contended they did not have the same meaning.Happily she argued is consistent with faith and belief. One of the judges suggested to Page that she was arguing that happily does not connote bad faith, and that she did not need to go so far as having to argue it connoted good faith. Page accepted this suggestion. Was this a hint to her from the judge?

Neil said...

@Botogol

Your 'BTW' indicates that we are at cross purposes.

Eady's ruling stated that the use of the term 'happily' meant that Singh accuses the BCA of 'with their eyes open' presenting 'what are known to be bogus treatments as useful and effective'.

This doesn't just say that the BCA knew that evidence for the efficacy of these treatments was insufficient or lacking, it interprets the article as saying that the BCA knew that the treatments were ineffective for the conditions in question, but promoted them anyway.

I do not see this implication in the article, however hard I try.

skepticat said...

@bogotol

"- IMO that sentence implies knowingly
- in Eady's opinion also
- I have also done some informal testing - showing the sentence to people unfamiliar with the case (I would recommend people try it. the results are surprising)

The key thing at this stage is the opinion of Tuesday's judges, and tha is yet to be seen.I predict that they will also decide that 'knowingly' was implied."


Why should they, if 'happily' is not a synonym for 'knowingly'? Simon's QC argued at some length that there needs to be a distinction between what is inferred by a reader and what is implied by an author. In this case there is clearly more than one inference possible. Miss Page argued that, in the context of the rest of the article, the inference here should be "at most" irresponsibility rather than dishonestly. (As Amie says, she also argued that even if he'd meant 'knowingly', there was still a defence in law in that it was 'comment'. However, I don't really understand all that legal stuff).

It may well be that the judges uphold Eady's meaning. My main objection to your first comment is simply that you make the completely unfair and unfounded accusation that Simon's defence rests "on the precarious platform: "I didn't mean what I said" and that he "has retreated from what he wrote."

It doesn't and he hasn't.

Botogol said...

@Tony Lloyd

'bogus' is a very loaded word,
A bogus treatment is very different from an 'ineffective' treatment: 'bogus' caries clear connotations of dishonesty, which of course - especially in combination with the word 'happily' is what got Singh into trouble

@Neil -
I think SS said that BCA were promoting bogis remedies even though they knew that there is no evidence for them. Your point that Eady may have stretched this even further is a good point.

@skepticat -
the word 'happily' in isolation is capable of many shades of meaning. Yor are investing too much significance into one (important) word. My judgement of the whole sentence that Singh wrote is that 'knowingly' is implied.

So (whether he meant to or not) he wrote a sentence that implies 'knowingly'. And now he is saying 'no, that's not what I meant'

maybe it's not what he meant, but it's what he wrote (FWIW I think it is what he meant, it was quite a pugnacious article, and it's probably the truth)

Jack of Kent said...

I am so glad so many of you are happily posting comments, even though others here may well think you are making bogus points without a jot of evidence.

Botogol said...

they started it.

Tony Lloyd said...

"maybe it's not what he meant, but it's what he wrote"

If we take "what he wrote" to mean "just the words on the page, no more, no less" then the words on the page do not imply any dishonesty. It would be true to say "the BCA happily promoted bogus remedies" if:

1. The remedies were bogus
2. The BCA happily promoted them

No one is suggesting that the BCA were unhappy to promote them or that they were indifferent. No doubt they sent out the "Happy Families" leaflet with a certin amount of satisfaction of a job well done. From the words on the page there is no necessity that the BCA acted dishonestly. To get to that you have to add meaning, judge context etc.

The term "bogus" may have implications of dishonesty but that still does not imply that the BCA were dishonest. From Eady's own judgement a remedy is bogus if it is promoted dishonestly. That is if anyone promotes it dishonestly: that "anyone" need not be the BCA.

Again to draw the conclusion that the words "mean" that the BCA were being deliberately dishonest you have to alter the base written meanings of the words.

Shane said...

The remedies do appear to be "bogus", but that is not the same as saying the BCA promoted these with bogosity aforethought. Merely "happily". If they *aren't* bogus, where is the evidence that they are effective? That's right - not a jot.

If I happily promote a treatment that actually works, but I promote it for bogus reasons, that does not make the TREATMENT bogus. But if I happily (blithely, insouicantly) promote a treatment that itself is bogus (i.e. does not work), is that dishonesty on my part?

Really the BCA should drop this case *now*, pay Simon his costs, and cut their losses.

GoodOldBoy said...

@ Derek’s last post

Maybe I’m misunderstanding something here, but to the average reader of a national newspaper (Simon Singh’s target audience?), five or six people (with the same presenting complaint) coming away from a chiropractor feeling better surely would constitute ‘evidence’(in the context of that lay person's understanding). Particularly if they were the seventh patient of the day (again with the same presenting complaint), and had spoken to the previous five or six on their way out and asked how they felt. To suggest to them that this constituted ‘not a jot’ of evidence that the chiropractor may be able to help them with their problem would be perceived as daft. (Note- I’ve used the word ‘may’ here. Did the offending BCA leaflet make a statement of certainty? I don’t know.)
The readership of a scientific journal may well have a different take on the ‘evidence’ word, but that’s not the audience Simon Singh was addressing.
Irrespective of your feelings towards the BCA, don’t you think he made a serious gaff in writing something so totally ambiguous, the evidence of which is truly clear to see from this ongoing debate?

Neil said...

@GoodOldBoy

The article clearly states the kind of evidence 'not a jot' was referring to...

"Ernst[..]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."

BillyJoe said...

Goodoldboy,

"To suggest to them that this constituted ‘not a jot’ of evidence"

A series of anecdotes is not evidence.

In any case, what we need to consider is the following:

Given all the available evidence, a reasonable and informed person would have “not a jot” of belief that chiropractic is a remedy for asthma.
(blatantly stolen from Tony Lloyd)

GoodOldBoy said...

@ BillyJoe

“A series of anecdotes is not evidence.”

……relative to your particular chosen terms of reference.

I do take your (scientific) point, but the point I was making is that the average person’s terms of reference are most likely very different to yours, and many of the other people contributing to this site. If you stated to the seventh patient in my scenario that the feedback from the previous patients was totally meaningless your sanity would most likely be questioned……..unless of course he / she was a staunch scientist, in which case he / she wouldn’t be there anyway! (Although you’d be surprised at how many scientific / medical types go to chiropractors).

Again, I do believe there has been some disparity between chosen wording and target audience, and the unfortunate ambiguity is undeniable.

Dr Aust said...

Not just the average person, in the specific case of BCA vs. Singh. Shouldn't we be talking about the average Guardian reader?

Actually I'm not sure whether that makes things better or worse...

GoodOldBoy said...

Again @ BillyJoe

Given all the available evidence in 1916, a reasonable and informed person would have “not a jot” of belief in Einstein’s recently published general theory of relativity.

I should point out that I’m pretty neutral about this whole BCA V Singh affair. It just troubles me when people present themselves as guardians of ‘truth’, when truth is not an absolute, any more than time and space. It is indeed all relative…….in this case to your own chosen beliefs.

Shane said...

GoodOldBoy, the conflation of that sort of nice wee story with "evidence" is *precisely* why the light needs shone on pseudoscientific nonsense. If people are unable to rationally appraise whether something actually works or not (and this is sadly often the case), they are vulnerable to exploitation by all sorts of charlatans. Should we be happy about that (as in blithe or insouicant)?

I rather think not.

The enlightenment really only got going when we decided that the plural of anecdote was not "data"; when "evidence" ceased meaning the same thing as "on the say-so of Jimbo up the road". The fact that many people are confused on this is to be lamented and changed (if possible), not simply accepted as a legitimate viewpoint which we should meekly accommodate.

If the question is: does X *work*, then the experience of a bunch of people is merely evidence that a bunch of people felt such-and-such after a session with an X practitioner, and has no bearing on whether or not X itself has any effect whatsoever.

Which, incidentally, is why even "harmless" therapies like homeopathy CAN very much cause harm. Ignorance is not just bliss or blithe insouicance - it is *dangerous*.

That was all comment btw, OK? ;-)

GoodOldBoy said...

Again @ BillyJoe

And……given all the available evidence in 1916, a reasonable and informed person would have had “not a jot” of belief in Einstein’s recently published general theory of relativity.

I should point out that I’m pretty neutral about this whole BCA V Singh affair. It just troubles me when people present themselves as guardians of ‘truth’, when truth is not an absolute, any more than time and space. It is indeed all relative…….in this case to your own chosen beliefs (in mainstream science or otherwise).

Tony Lloyd said...

@ GoodOleBoy

I'm sorry, but I simply cannot make sense of what you're saying.

If we hold that truth is relative then what right have the BCA to impose their beliefs on Simon?

A consistent relativist stance would surely end in complete freedom of opinion. Simon would say "chiropractic is junk", the BCA would say "chiropractic is fab", both would be right and no one would try and shut the other up.

(BTW I do not agree that truth is relative. Knowledge may be relative: I would say that all relativism stems from a confusion of "known" or "established" truth and truth per se)

Dr Aust said...

"...in this case to your own chosen beliefs (in mainstream science or otherwise)."

There is a difference between:

(i) a belief (i.e. something you consider to be true) which can be tested empirically - and:

(ii) a belief which is simply "justified by faith".

Since beliefs based in science can be tested - see (i) above - I view science itself as being "testable" as a way of interrogating and understanding the world.

Contrast beliefs in alternative medicine which, it is increasingly clear to me the more I have to do with it and its practitioners, fall largely into category (ii).

skepticat said...

@ Botogol

I see the QC's argument is lost on you so I won't bother repeating it. However, I am not 'investing meaning' in anything. You are investing the sentence with a meaning that was not intended. It is for the court to decide whether that meaning was implicit in the sentence or whether inferring it as you have done is unjust.

What you infer and your mates infer from a sentence probably isn't a good premise from which to predict what the top legal brains in the land with a wealth of case law at their disposal will decide.

@GoodOldBoy

It was argued in court that Simon was writing as a scientist and the context of the article makes it clear that the evidence he was referring to was scientific evidence. (He specifies in the piece that his co-author Professor Ernst had reviewed 70 studies and found none that chiropractic to treat those ailments.) Their Lordships seemed very sympathetic to the argument.

Botogol said...

OK, frustrated with making my arguments out of a series of fragmented comments on Jack's blog, I have written a post of my own - The Singh Bandwagon, Skeptical about Skeptics. Hopefully my view will seem more coherent now it's brought together in one place.

Everyone is warmly invited to come and write rude comments to me over there :-)

Fred said...

@Shane & @Tony Lloyd

[I am sympathetic to SS's case, by the way. Joining this late so apologies if this is discussed elsewhere]

What about the implications of the first half of the 'bogus treatments' sentence, i.e. "This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession"?

My impression is that the phrase 'respectable face of...' is normally understood to mean that something dishonest or bad exists behind the face. Indeed, having googled "respectable face", the first twenty entries all have dishonest or at least disreputable connotations: the r. f. of fascism, of evil, of the BNP, of corporate lobbying, of ticket touting, of espionage [the only possible counterexample refers to Jay-Z as the 'respectable face of rap', but this is not an expression used in the article itself http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2009/sep/06/profile-jay-z-beyonce]

Another example demonstrates the point: 'the respectable face of homeopathy' [http://www.zenosblog.com/2010/01/the-respectable-face-of-homeopathy/] seems to be influenced by SS and talks about homeopaths having no scruples, fooling the layman and there are some general comments about snakeoil salesmen.

Do people accept that dishonesty is a normal implication of 'respectable face', and if so, shouldn't it feature more in discussions of whether the whole sentence implies dishonesty?

TK said...

This is probably a dumb question and I apologise if someone has asked it before but there are rather a lot of comments to wade through.

Who decides which judges hear a case? And on what basis?

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Fred

I don't disagree that SS was accusing the BCA of being dishonest. But that SS was accusing the BCA of dishonesty does not establish the "knowingly" interpretation.

To "blithely" promote treatments, especially if you're the professional body, is just as dishonest as "knowingly" promoting them. Indeed Frankfurt (see Shane's comment above) has a reasonable argument that the bullshitter is worse than the liar.

(Which is one (more) thing about this case I can't understand. If SS can establish that the BCA acted just as appalingly as if they had "knowingly" issued the leaflet how can the BCA bring a case? If I said that Jack had killed two women and a man, when in fact he'd killed two men and a woman would I have defamed him?)

BillyJoe said...

Fred,

"My impression is that the phrase 'respectable face of...' is normally understood to mean that something dishonest or bad exists behind the face. Indeed, having googled "respectable face", the first twenty entries all have dishonest or at least disreputable connotations"

So you think they ARE respectable?
Let me get this right. There is no evidence to support the use of chiropractic for those conditions mentioned by Simon Singh. Right? At the time of his article, the BCA were promoting these treatments. Right? So where is the respect? There are several possibilites here: they did not know there was no evidence; they did not consider whether or not there was evidence; they did not know how to evaluate the evidence; they thought the anecdotal evidence of chiropractors was sufficient evidence. None of these possibilities deserve your respect, and any one of them should serve to lower their reputation.

Helge said...

This blogg is the respectable face of Jack of kent and yet it happily promotes bogus writings."



Helge

Fred said...

BillyJoe,

I'm not saying whether the BCA is respectable or not. In the whole of this thread, the argument about dishonesty has turned on the second half of the sentence, and especially the meaning of the words 'happily' and 'bogus'. I am simply trying to draw the whole sentence into the discussion.

Fred said...

Hi Tony,

I was responding to your argument at 25 Feb 16:05, where you say: "If we take "what he wrote" to mean "just the words on the page, no more, no less" then the words on the page do not imply any dishonesty".

I think if you take the whole sentence into account (not just the second half), then dishonesty is clearly implied in the words on the page, especially because the expression 'respectable face of' normally implies dishonesty.

I agree with you about 'blithely/knowingly' (though I think the 'knowingly' argument is a red herring).

Shane said...

@GoodOldBoy, there are standards by which we assess whether a hypothesis is supported or not. If someone makes a statement that implies that chiropractic (how I hate that stupid ugly pseudoscientific word!) is an effective treatment for eczema, THAT is a claim of fact. There is *not a jot* of evidence in favour of that claim when you actually look at it.

If Einstein's website had had a quote from Eddington along the lines of "This is a well cool theory - I love it - it changed my life!" you would be bonkers to regard that as evidence, and in science we *don't*.

The claims of the chiroquactors are not *really* claims that these treatments actually work in the real world - they are pitches for market share.

But back to the point - the word "bogus" refers to the *treatments*, not the salesmen. "Happily" refers to the salesmen. So Singh's contention (not unreasonably) is that the treatments are bogus. This would seem to be a matter of fact - I am not aware that anyone - even the chiroquactors - seriously suggests any more that asthma or colic are ameliorated by "chiropractic".

This is not an attempt to muddy the waters - in the view of very very many people (and supported by the evidence), Simon Singh's *comment* is on the mark. It is a *disgrace* that alternative medicine hawkers are not held up to the same evidential standards as anyone else, and that you can say what you like about a politician or party in a commentary article, but you dare not imply that a "professional" body making quack claims is anything other than a bastion of truth, justice and best practice.

So, like many, I *do* feel strongly about this case, as I think it is a line in the sand for free speech and civilised discourse. The BCA crossed that line; it remains to be seen what the outcome will be, but if they win, they will find it a pyrrhic victory.

Aldousk said...

It seems to me that if the court does not decide in favour of the BCA, then, because of the wide publicity and interest that the case has generated, and because the entire purpose for the existence of the BCA and the practice of its members hangs on the outcome, chiropractic in the UK will be more or less destroyed. Many members of the BCA, and most other non-member chiropractors, if any, would be likely find their livelihood severely reduced or entirely curtailed. It is no exaggeration to view the case as a life-and-death struggle for the BCA and its members, one in which they must engage their entire being. The court will not be unmindful of this consequence. This case provides an opportunity for the court either to advance medical practice by assisting the elimination of unproven, and perhaps unhelpful remedies or maintaining the profession and well-being of a substantial body of citizens.

Shane said...

The wise thing for the BCA to do, therefore, would be to drop the case and pay Simon Singh's costs now.

Dr Aust said...

I don't think they would even have to offer to pay Simon's costs, Shane (would they have to legally? I would have thought not, though perhaps a legal reader can clarify). I suspect Simon would feel his spending has been in a good cause, and recovering it from the BCA would not be a settle/not settle issue. He has said from day one that it is not about the money, except in the sense that the cost of defending libel actions is part of what makes the law unjust.

But I doubt it will happen, because I think Aldousk is right; the BCA (and chiropractic in the UK generally) have so much "capital" (in all senses of the word) invested in the suit that they cannot easily let go without some resolution that they can portray as "vindication". Though that might change if the Appeal Court rules (in effect) to allow some kind of defence of comment (since at that point I think the BCA's chances of victory would be slim).

But really, the BCA, have, while winning the initial tactical skirmishes thanks to Sir David E, been strategic losers on a vast scale. Which was, indeed, widely predicted in the blogosphere, notably by Jack, when the case first got close to reaching the courts.

I forget precisely who originally made the remark, but the line I recall from some earlier JoK thread is:

"Any competent libel lawyer can tell you whether you have a case for libel; a good libel lawyer can tell you whether you should actually go to court to fight it".

GoodOldBoy said...

@ Tony Lloyd

‘If we hold that truth is relative then what right have the BCA to impose their beliefs on Simon?’

Absolutely none, and it works both ways…

‘A consistent relativist stance would surely end in complete freedom of opinion. Simon would say "chiropractic is junk", the BCA would say "chiropractic is fab", both would be right and no one would try and shut the other up.’

Absolutley. One could be right, the other wrong, or both right and wrong…..it just depends on your own chosen (consciously or otherwise) version of reality.
There are people in this world who think it’s perfectly justifiable to fly commercial airplanes into tall buildings. Are they wrong? I believe so, but they would fervently disagree.
I would however encourage a healthy, open-minded SS/BCA debate, based around an appropriate / agreed vehicle, and concur that legal recourse should only be a last resort in any area of life.

@ Dr Aust

Doesn’t ‘empirical’ also encompass observation? But might somebody else’s (e.g. the seventh patient in my scenario above) interpretation of what constitutes valid observation be different to yours?

If your scientific criteria for the justification of anything comprises solely objective, measurable factors (which is in itself a comparative / relative concept?), how do you rationalize the subjectivity that dominates most of the decisions in your life? Are the love you feel for your partner, the clothes you chose to wear, the hobbies you pursue, all invalid? And isn’t faith the power that motivates millions, and cements your relationship and commitment to your mate?

@ Shane

I have an engineering / scientific background, and can fully appreciate where your arguments are coming from. I’m just not as sure as you are of the invalidity (as any kind of evidence) of a positive subjective outcome from a visit to a chiropractor.
I would have no objection to any CAM practitioner saying that based on their subjective experience they may be able to help with my problem, but that it would be important to review progress on an ongoing basis and cease / seek further opinion if it was failing to help (obviously after ruling out any contraindications to the treatment in the first place). If they made a definite claim to the efficacy of their treatment that couldn’t be supported, however, then I would be rightly concerned.

BillyJoe said...

Goodolboy,

"Absolutley. One could be right, the other wrong, or both right and wrong…..it just depends on your own chosen (consciously or otherwise) version of reality."

And, as someone once said, you are entitled to your opinions but not to your facts.
You cannot just "choose" your reality. You can believe as hard as you like that you can fly like a bird but, if you jump out that window you're going to hit the concrete.

"There are people in this world who think it’s perfectly justifiable to fly commercial airplanes into tall buildings. Are they wrong? I believe so, but they would fervently disagree."

They are wrong. We can follow their reasoning and we can see that their reasoning is based on a false interpretation of the facts or a denial of the facts.
The objective facts trump any person's subjective belief about them.

"I have an engineering / scientific background, and can fully appreciate where your arguments are coming from. I’m just not as sure as you are of the invalidity (as any kind of evidence) of a positive subjective outcome from a visit to a chiropractor."

The objective reality is that chiropractic does not work for non-spinal conditions. The subjective impression that it does work is the result of failing to consider factors such as the natural history of the conditions treated, the regression to the mean, the placebo effect.

You are an engineer. Do you build bridges according to what subjectively feels right to you or do you build bridges according to the objective physical facts about bridge building and design?

GoodOldBoy said...

@ BillyJoe

‘You cannot just "choose" your reality. You can believe as hard as you like that you can fly like a bird but, if you jump out that window you're going to hit the concrete.’

An obvious response……..

‘They are wrong. We can follow their reasoning and we can see that their reasoning is based on a false interpretation of the facts or a denial of the facts.
The objective facts trump any person's subjective belief about them.’

Please support this statement, without resorting to opinion…….

‘The objective reality is that chiropractic does not work for non-spinal conditions. The subjective impression that it does work is the result of failing to consider factors such as the natural history of the conditions treated, the regression to the mean, the placebo effect.’

There may be no current evidence to support the efficacy of chiropractic for non-spinal conditions, just as there may be no current evidence for what may develop in science, tomorrow, next week, next year………. Again, your absolute certainty is disturbing.
Your comment about the invalidity of a subjective impression is in itself subjective…….or can you indeed quantify it? Can you take a patient, and measure the individual components you so assuredly mention?

‘You are an engineer. Do you build bridges according to what subjectively feels right to you or do you build bridges according to the objective physical facts about bridge building and design?’

Is there no subjective, artistic component involved in the design of a bridge? Are all bridges the same? Does imagination play no part in engineering development? Have we not moved on at all since the days of Brunel? If we have, how did that happen?

Tony Lloyd said...

Four questions to GoodOleBoy:

1. "truth is not an absolute" Is that an assertion of an absolute or relative nature?

2. "An obvious response…….. " I don't think BillyJoe was seeking after originality but rather to criticise your assertions. What is your response to the criticism?

3. "Is there no subjective, artistic component involved in the design of a bridge?" Ok, BillyJoe brought in the dichotomy but does your logic not allow that some aspects of a bridge can be objective and some can be subjective? Are you really holding to the idea that the existence of subjective aspects of the design falsifies the existence of objective contstraints?

4. Why are you bothered? If it is all subjective/relative/constructed then there is no cogent objection. Not even an "I don't like it" objection: just construct a reality without it.

GoodOldBoy said...

Four answers for Tony…

1. Could I claim to make an absolute assertion about a statement that would deny its very existence? Truth is relative…

2. That gravity will play a part is undeniable, as may be the consequences…….and there endeth a discussion of BillyJoe’s contribution. However, your own interpretation of such an event? I once saw a dreadful video (not by choice!) of a poor chap throwing himself off a cliff. I was horrified and appalled. The person next to me laughed. Same event, different interpretation. So, a question for you, Tony. Who’s response was ‘right’, and why, again without resorting to opinion?

3. The design of a bridge is of course a product of the two, and the (then current) objective engineering constraints will clearly be the overriding determining factor. However, would you deny that the boundaries of the objective are (productively) challenged by the subjective?

4. I’m not bothered, simply enjoying the debate!

BillyJoe said...

"An obvious response……"

Yes...

"Please support this statement, without resorting to opinion……"

You're kidding right?
Well, let's start at the very beginning:
Show me evidence that God exists.
No? What, then, does that say about your suicide bomber's grounding in reality.

"There may be no current evidence to support the efficacy of chiropractic for non-spinal conditions.."

The efficacy of chiropractic in non-spinal conditions is non-existent. Sorry, end of story. It doesn't work.

"Again, your absolute certainty is disturbing."

Oh, I'm sorry, you wanted me to post a long list of qualifiers. Sorry to disappoint.
The long list of qualifiers add up to zero.
Oh, I'm sorry, you wanted me to say "effectively, and for all intents and purposes" zero
Again, sorry to disappoint.
Next you'll be asking me to make concessions to homoeopathy!

"Your comment about the invalidity of a subjective impression is in itself subjective"

It is not.
It has been demonstrated in clinical trials that chiropractic does not work for non-spinal conditions. There is also no mechanism by which it could possibly work.
That is the objective evidence that the subjective impressions of the chiropractic patient that chiropractic does work for these conditions is invalid
To explain why the chiropractic patient subjectively feels that way, we also have the objective evidence: the natural history of these conditions, regression to the mean, and the placebo effect to name just a few.

"Can you take a patient, and measure the individual components you so assuredly mention? "

Nice try..
Please allow me my own methods to debunk your claim.

"Is there no subjective, artistic component involved in the design of a bridge?"

As long as you use physics to ensure my bridge doesn't fall down, I will allow you your frilly bits.

GoodOldBoy said...

Response to BillyJoe…

‘Show me evidence that God exists.’

The fantastic complexity of the human nervous system.

Maybe not evidence of ‘God’, whatever your interpretation of that concept, but possibly of an influence we don’t yet understand? And in anticipation of yet another obvious response, are you definitely able to substantiate your belief that natural evolution was the only factor here?

‘What, then, does that say about your suicide bomber's grounding in reality.’

It clearly indicates that his / her take on reality is different to mine….

Your next reactive contribution (based on only a selected part of my sentence), again portraying an absolute certainty, merely serves to illustrate what a poor scientist you would be. It takes peripheral vision, an open and enquiring mind, imagination, ambition, intuition………..all those ‘frilly’ things you so castigate, to make significant breakthroughs in any field. Unless you actively embrace this side of things you will always be a follower…..

‘There is also no mechanism by which it could possibly work. ‘

Yet another bold and absolute statement, with complete disregard (or ignorance?) to the obvious physical proximity between the spine and a significant part of the central nervous system. Is there really no possibility that one may exert an adverse influence on the function of the other?

‘..the natural history of these conditions, regression to the mean, and the placebo effect to name just a few.’

I don’t for one minute dispute that these things play a part, but again, can you measure / quantify them in an individual?

‘Nice try..
Please allow me my own methods to debunk your claim.’

To what specific claim are you referring?

‘As long as you use physics to ensure my bridge doesn't fall down, I will allow you your frilly bits.’

……..and you’ll be most welcome to cross my bridge any time you like!!

Shane said...

@GOB,
I can't for definite say that pixies were not involved in making the milk for my cornflakes this morning, but I have no need to invoke them, because we have an adequate theory. Similarly for the human nervous system. COmplexity is not a marker for intelligence - if anything, *parsimony* is.

There is not a jot of evidence for intelligent design.

Please stop happily promoting bogus claims :-)

BillyJoe said...

BillyJoe: "Show me evidence that God exists."
Goodolboy: "The fantastic complexity of the human nervous system."

Yeah, that must be it.
But tell me, is that the first time you've explained something complex by something even more complex, or do you reserve that for special occasions like this one?

"And in anticipation of yet another obvious response, are you definitely able to substantiate your belief that natural evolution was the only factor here?"

Well, at least it has the advantage of starting off from a position of simplicity. I would count that as something of a bonus at this point, what do you think?
But, hey, what happened to our suicide bomber?

"It clearly indicates that [the suicide bomber's] take on reality is different to mine…"

Oh, here he is...
You mean his UNreality - seeing as it's grounded in a mythical creature related to the Easter Bunny and his close friend the Tooth Faery.

"It takes peripheral vision, an open and enquiring mind, imagination, ambition, intuition………to make significant breakthroughs in any field."

Yes, congratulations, you have the starting point.
Left at that, though, your knowledge remains at about where it started - zero. But apply the scientific method to confirm or disconfirm your intuituion and you're on your way to something real.

"Is there really no possibility that one may exert an adverse influence on the function of the other?"

Congratulations, you have a winner.
I must have been distracted by my own homoeopathy reference. Oh well....

"I don’t for one minute dispute that these things play a part, but again, can you measure / quantify them in an individual? "

No. Fail. Clinical trials with n=1 are very unreliable. As unreliable in fact as "personal experience". But, guess what? You can add "patients on the waiting list" as a control group in any clinical trial.

"To what specific claim are you referring?"

Oh, you've lost track. Well then let me help you out a little: You wanted me to carve up the chiropractic patient's brain to see what made him believe he was being helped by chiropractic. I had a better idea if you remember.
...um...you do remember dont't you, or am I just wasting my time here?

"and you’ll be most welcome to cross my bridge any time you like!"

Er...I think you might have the wrong idea here. I mean you sound like a really nice guy but...

GoodOldBoy said...

@ Shane

‘Please stop happily promoting bogus claims :-)’

Were I to be foolish enough to make it, would a claim that you are possibly not the possessor of all knowledge (past, present and future) be bogus? :-)


@ BillyJoe

‘……or am I just wasting my time here?’

I’m happy to let the other readers of this thread formulate their own opinions about the value of your various contributions…...

(Oh, and BillyJoe, apologies if you are a very ‘good’ scientist, are at the cutting edge of research and have contributed significantly to the current body of knowledge that is ‘science’…….seriously! I’m fully aware that I’m punching above my weight with some of the people on this site, and that I probably value their opinion more than they value mine :-))

GoodOldBoy said...

@ Shane

‘Please stop happily promoting bogus claims :-)’

Were I to be so bold, would a claim that you are possibly not the possessor of all knowledge (past, present and future) be bogus? :-)


@ BillyJoe

‘……or am I just wasting my time here?’

I’m happy to let the other readers of this thread formulate their own opinions about the value of your various contributions :-)


Okay, that’s it. It’s bye from me. Thanks for posting my comments, Jack, and I like your blog. You clearly state your bias (where necessary), but still seem able to provide objective comment that I think would be of value to either side of the SS / BCA debate. Good luck to all……..

Shane said...

@GOB, sorry you have to leave so soon, but I do not have to be the possessor of all knowledge to know that your claim was "bogus" (and I mean that in a humourous way, of course). You were asked for evidence of god, and you came back with the amazing complexity of the human central nervous system. That this is not evidence of god is a simple matter of logic. Not a biggie.

BillyJoe said...

Goodolboy,

What a shame.
I was just beginning to warm to this interchange as I thought were you.
Your decision to quit the discussion took me completely by surprise.
Oh well...now I'll have to go out and kick the cat instead.