Why are they trying to gag a top British science writer?
When chiropractors drag a top science writer into the libel courts,
the country has lost its backbone
This week, Simon Singh, one of Britain's best science writers, will
decide whether to carry on playing a devilish version of Who Wants to
be a Millionaire? He has already lost £100,000 defending his right to
speak frankly. He could walk away. No one would think the worse of him
if he did. Or he could go on and risk losing the full million by
ensnaring himself in the rapacious world of an English judiciary that
seems ever eager to bow to the demands of Saudi oil billionaires,
Russian oligarchs and the friends of Saddam Hussein to censor critics
and punish them with staggering damages and legal fees.
It seems no choice at all. Any friend Singh phoned would tell him to
cut his losses and run. But if he were to turn to the audience, he
would hear scientists all but screaming at him to go to the Court of
Appeal and challenge a judgment that threatens the robust discussions
open societies depend on. A national defence campaign is ready to roll
on his command. At a preliminary support meeting, a cheering crowd
acclaimed him as a free-speech champion.
In truth, he makes an unlikely warrior. Singh is a serious and amiable
man, whose accounts of the solving of Fermat's last theorem and code
breaking won high praise and provoked no controversy. Last year, he
published Trick or Treatment? with Professor Edzard Ernst on the
reliability of "alternative medicine", and devoted a chapter to the
strange history of chiropractic treatments. One Daniel David Palmer
invented the therapy in Davenport, Iowa, in 1895, when he convinced
himself that he had cured a janitor's deafness by "racking" his back.
Inspired by this miracle, Palmer developed the theory that "95% of all
diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae", rather than, say, the
germs that so bothered conventional doctors of the time. Chiropractic
therapy was a new religion, Palmer declared, and he was a successor to
Christ, Muhammad and Martin Luther. At home, he practised vigorous
racking on his children.
His son, Bartlett, described how he beat them with "straps until we
carried welts, for which Father was often arrested and spent nights in
jail". Bartlett bought the first car Davenport had seen and paid his
father back by running him down on the day of the Palmer School of
Chiropractic Homecoming Parade.
Palmer died of his injuries a few weeks later, but his ideas lived on.
In 2008, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) announced that its
members could help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding
problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying.
Writing in the Guardian, Singh said the claim was "bogus".
Chiropractic treatments may help relieve back pain, but Professor
Ernst had examined 70 trials and found no evidence that they could
relieve other conditions.
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