The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

Study by “Independent Climate Skeptics” Actually Confirms Global Warming

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 24, 2011

[**Update (10-30-11): It seems the deniers have already started to respond to this news.  One interesting response is apparently to accuse Prof Richard Muller, the skeptical physicist behind the Berkeley Earth Project, of a Climategate-like scandal (I guess the deniers now view him as a "traitor"): http://news.yahoo.com/skeptic-finds-now-agrees-global-warming-real-142616605.html ]

In a bit of news which kind of goes into the “truth is stranger than fiction” category, I wanted to share with you all the latest in the ongoing drama that is the “Climategate” fiasco.  (If you need to get up to speed on the whole “Climategate” thing, just see some of my earlier blog posts here, here, and here)

To date, there have been multiple investigations into the allegations that the worldwide community of climate scientists is somehow conspiring to cover up “the truth” that global warming is really just a hoax, and all of these investigations have shown the exact opposite.  However, in true conspiracy theorist fashion, many ideologically-driven climate change deniers (I refuse to call them “skeptics”, because they are not skeptical in the positive sense of that word) have clung to the idea that somehow there is a vast plan on the part of scientists all over the planet to deceive the rest of us into believing that the Earth is warming and that humans are contributing significantly to it.

As such, it seems that there was an effort by many of these deniers to prop up their conspiracy theory by performing their own independent analysis of the climate data.  However, in an interesting twist, it seems that upon completing their analysis, the researchers tapped by the deniers actually concluded the opposite of what they had hoped: global warming is indeed real!  It’s all outlined in this recent BBC article…

Global warming ‘confirmed’ by independent study

The Earth’s surface really is getting warmer, a new analysis by a US scientific group set up in the wake of the “Climategate” affair has concluded.

The Berkeley Earth Project has used new methods and some new data, but finds the same warming trend seen by groups such as the UK Met Office and Nasa.

The project received funds from sources that back organisations lobbying against action on climate change. …

That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it?  The climate change deniers decide that all the science on the topic isn’t trustworthy, so they hire a group of their own investigators to look at the data, and they end up getting exactly the same conclusions as has been stated for years by the international climate science community.  It gets better…

… The project was established by University of California physics professor Richard Muller, who was concerned by claims that established teams of climate researchers had not been entirely open with their data.

He gathered a team of 10 scientists, mostly physicists, including such luminaries as Saul Perlmutter, winner of this year’s Nobel Physics Prize for research showing the Universe’s expansion is accelerating.

Funding came from a number of sources, including charitable foundations maintained by the Koch brothers, the billionaire US industrialists, who have also donated large sums to organisations lobbying against acceptance of man-made global warming.

“I was deeply concerned that the group [at UEA] had concealed discordant data,” Prof Muller told BBC News.

“Science is best done when the problems with the analysis are candidly shared.”

The group’s work also examined claims from “sceptical” bloggers that temperature data from weather stations did not show a true global warming trend.

The claim was that many stations have registered warming because they are located in or near cities, and those cities have been growing – the urban heat island effect.

The Berkeley group found about 40,000 weather stations around the world whose output has been recorded and stored in digital form.

It developed a new way of analysing the data to plot the global temperature trend over land since 1800.

What came out was a graph remarkably similar to those produced by the world’s three most important and established groups, whose work had been decried as unreliable and shoddy in climate sceptic circles. [emphasis added]

In fact, below is a copy of that graph: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Investigation: NOAA Scientists Did NOT Manipulate Climate Data

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 5, 2011

In the latest update from the Climate Science Wars, it has been shown – once again and for the fourth time - through an independent investigation that climate scientists did NOT manipulate data on global warming, as some global warming denialists & conspiracy theorists have claimed.

In the now infamous Climategate fiasco, it was claimed that scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit had manipulated and even fabricated data to make human-caused global warming seem real or worse than it really was.  Of course, we now know that such claims on the part of the deniers & conspiracy mongers are nothing more than so much hot air. However, what many people don’t know is that these anti-science ideologues did not just level their charges at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit; they also attempted to smear climate scientists working for the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But now, just as with Climategate, a detailed, independent investigation has shown that there is no evidence of scientific fraud, manipulation, or fabrication regarding the climate data

Scientists Are Cleared of Misuse of Data

An inquiry by a federal watchdog agency found no evidence that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manipulated climate data to buttress the evidence in support of global warming, officials said on Thursday.

The inquiry, by the Commerce Department’s inspector general, focused on e-mail messages between climate scientists that were stolen and circulated on the Internet in late 2009 (NOAA is part of the Commerce Department). Some of the e-mails involved scientists from NOAA.

Climate change skeptics contended that the correspondence showed that scientists were manipulating or withholding information to advance the theory that the earth is warming as a result of human activity.

In a report dated Feb. 18 and circulated by the Obama administration on Thursday, the inspector general said, “We did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data.”

Nor did the report fault Jane Lubchenco, NOAA’s top official, for testifying to Congress that the correspondence did not undermine climate science. …

Of course, that won’t stop the ideologues from pursuing their politically or ideologically-driven agenda to misrepresent the science…

… The inquiry into NOAA’s conduct was requested last May by Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who has challenged the science underlying human-induced climate change. Mr. Inhofe was acting in response to the controversy over the e-mail messages, which were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England, a major hub of climate research.

Mr. Inhofe asked the inspector general of the Commerce Department to investigate how NOAA scientists responded internally to the leaked e-mails. Of 1,073 messages, 289 were exchanges with NOAA scientists. …

… NOAA welcomed the report, saying that it emphasized the soundness of its scientific procedures and the peer review process. “None of the investigations have found any evidence to question the ethics of our scientists or raise doubts about NOAA’s understanding of climate change science,” Mary Glackin, the agency’s deputy undersecretary for operations, said in a statement.

But Mr. Inhofe said the report was far from a clean bill of health for the agency and that contrary to its executive summary, showed that the scientists “engaged in data manipulation.” [emphasis added]

So, because the independent investigation showed that there was NO EVIDENCE of inappropriate data manipulation, Senator Inhofe says that it showed there WAS evidence of such manipulation.  Excuse me?!!  What’s next, Senator: Are you going to claim day is night or that up is down?  What kind of Bizzarro World is this guy living in?

The reaction of Senator Inhofe and other climate change deniers clearly shows the frustration in dealing with people who do not allow evidence & the scientific process to guide their thinking.  They come up with a conclusion first, and then disregard any evidence to the contrary – even going so far as to publicly state the exact opposite of what the evidence actually shows, as the Senator so stupidly did above.  They, sadly, have deluded themselves into thinking that the universe will somehow – magically – change itself to adhere to what they think it should be like, instead of see the world as it really is on its own terms.  These people revel in their ignorance, it seems.

The irony here is that the people claiming that the climate science data are manipulated are themselves the ones guilty of manipulation.  It would be a pretty good joke if it weren’t so true & if the potential consequences weren’t so serious.

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Third Independent Inquiry into “Climategate” Vindicates the Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 14, 2010

As I’ve posted in the past, the so-called “Climategate” which supposedly threw the science behind global warming into doubt seems to have been little more than hot air, an apparent propaganda campaign by climate science deniers to sow confusion on the whole issue.

Well, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, there have been a series of three (count ‘em – THREE) independent investigations into whether or not the scientific data behind the climate science consensus are sound.  The conclusions of the first two investigations (here and here) were clear: there was nothing in the extensive investigation & analysis of the data to show the scientific community’s conclusions on human-influenced global warming to be in doubt.  In short, the science (and related conclusions) are trustworthy.

Now here’s the money shot: the verdict from the third independent investigation is in, and it is consistent with the first two – the climate science data are sound. In a moment of excellent media win, I was quite pleased to see that this news made headlines in a major media outlet over at MSNBC…

An independent report into the leak of hundreds of e-mails from one of the world’s leading climate research centers on Wednesday largely vindicated the scientists involved, saying they acted honestly and that their research was reliable. …

… The panel’s report said the e-mails contained nothing to overturn the case for man-made global warming put forward by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “We did not find any evidence of behavior that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC,” it stated.

This points out to me the power of the scientific endeavor – while some deniers of climate science will still try to make some kind of hay out of these reports (probably by harping upon the less-than-glamorous language & behavior exhibited in the leaked emails, which shows that scientific researchers are, like the rest of us, human – duh), it should be apparent to any objective observer that the science behind the consensus on human-influenced global warming is now vindicated.  Far from attempting to engage in a cover up, the scientists & institutions involved readily submitted to the necessary investigations – as they should when big questions & controversies come up – and I think as a result the science is stronger than before.

But that won’t stop those with an ideological bone to pick with the climate science community – for them, such as with other science deniers (like creationists in regards to their mind-boggling denial of evolution), they will likely downplay or ignore the findings of these independent investigations in an attempt to cloud the science further.  Some may even go so far as to imply a vast conspiracy in a lame attempt to rationalize away the results.

On the plus side, as I said, the results of these investigations should put some spine in the backs of researchers within the climate science community.  In addition, they should carefully heed the lessons of the “Climategate” debacle in order to, in the future, protect themselves from those who would attempt to tear them down.

Posted in global warming denial, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

International Panel & Royal Society Find No Fraud in “Climategate”

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 16, 2010

I blogged recently about the conclusion of one of three independent investigations into the so-called Climategate concerning claims of fraud and cover-up of climate science data.  As I mentioned in that first entry (titled “Climategate Ends With a Fizzle”), that investigation found absolutely no evidence of fraud. Now the second investigation, conducted by an international panel of experts in conjunction with the Royal Society, has come to similar conclusions.

Here is the entire report from the Royal Society.

And here are a few key findings…

The Panel was set up by the University in consultation with the Royal Society to assess the integrity of the research published by the Climatic Research Unit in the light of various external assertions. …

We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal. …

We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians. Indeed there would be mutual benefit if there were closer collaboration and interaction between CRU and a much wider scientific group outside the relatively small international circle of temperature specialists. …

It was not the immediate concern of the Panel, but we observed that there were important and unresolved questions that related to the availability of environmental data sets. It was pointed out that since UK government adopted a policy that resulted in charging for access to data sets collected by government agencies, other countries have followed suit impeding the flow of processed and raw data to and between researchers. This is unfortunate and seems inconsistent with policies of open access to data promoted elsewhere in government. …

A host of important unresolved questions also arises from the application of Freedom of Information legislation in an academic context. We agree with the CRU view that the authority for releasing unpublished raw data to third parties should stay with those who collected it. …

Now that’s two separate, independent investigations which have cleared the CRU and Dr. Jones of the outlandish claims of various global warming deniers. To date, the response I’ve seen from the deniers tends to be along the lines of…

Posted in conspiracy theories, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Simon Singh Wins Against the British Chiropractic Association!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 16, 2010

Good news!  It seems that the BCA has dropped its libel case against Simon Singh – this is a huge win for skepticism & free inquiry!  Here are the details… :)

The British Chiropractic Association has dropped its libel case against Simon Singh. Read Simon’s, our and some of our supporters’ reactions to the news here: www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/478 Keep an eye out for coverage about this today – there has already been lots, I’ll include a few links below.

We are so pleased for Simon that the BCA has dropped the case but the campaign is far from over. Until we have a public interest defence that can protect discussion and comment about evidence and research, scientists, commentators, bloggers, forum users, authors and NGOs will continue to be bullied into silence, and cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst is still fighting to defend his right to speak out about a medical device clinical trial.

With your support the Coalition for Libel Reform has secured manifesto commitments from all the major parties. But we need to continue to put pressure on politicians to make sure these promises are turned into meaningful reform once the new government is in place. We are organising a Free Speech General Election Hustings where you can come and question politicians on their commitment to libel reform for Wednesday 21st April in London. Check http://www.libelreform.org/ for more details about this soon.

The campaign reached 50,000 signatures of support last night. We really need to double this to keep the pressure up and make sure the politicians are aware of how serious the need for libel reform is. Please do all you can to help us reach our target by encouraging people to sign up at http://www.libelreform.org/

Best

Síle

Times Online Science writer Simon Singh wins bitter libel battle

BBC News Case dropped against Simon Singh

The Guardian Simon Singh libel case dropped

For an updated list of coverage see www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/478

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Update from Simon Singh & the Campaign for Libel Reform

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2010

I just wanted to pass along to you a quick update concerning the ongoing United Kingdom court battle of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association (my earlier blog posts on this matter are here and here).  In fact, Simon just recently received some very good news regarding the whole situation…

Sorry for the silence, but it has been a ridiculously hectic (and happy) time since last week’s victory at the Court of Appeal. However, I urgently wanted to get in touch to update you on the status of my case, the latest news on libel reform and what you can do today to push libel reform up the political agenda.

BCA v Singh

April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.

Libel Reform Campaign

This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.

The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.

What you can do today to pressure politicians

I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at www.libelreform.org/sign

The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!

You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and Twitter about it. In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.

You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to www.libelreform.org/sign. Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.

Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.

Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.

Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.

Simon Singh

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Climategate Ends With a Fizzle

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 7, 2010

If you’ve paid any attention to the issue of climate change in the past few months, you’ve no doubt heard about the so-called “Climategate”. Without getting into the history of the “gate” too much (if you’re really hardcore, read about the entire sordid tale here), the allegation on the part of global-warming deniers goes something like this:

Hackers have broken into the database of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit – and put the files they stole on the Internet. The 1079 emails and 72 documents seem indeed evidence of a scandal involving scientists pushing the man-made warming theory, suggesting conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

In other words, the deniers were claiming that there was a vast conspiracy on the part of the climate science community to conceal that global-warming was a hoax.  There’s a quick, one-word answer to that charge:  FAIL


And how do I know this?  Very simple, really… a thorough public investigation has been conducted in the United Kingdom about the actions of Dr. Phil Jones and the Climate Research Unit (CRU). And it is worth noting that genuine skeptics, like me, were actually calling for just such an investigation back when the hacked emails were originally leaked – hell, if there was some kind of cover-up, I sure wanted to know about it.  And if there was nothing to the allegations, I firmly believed that the science would only be strengthened by an investigation.

But that isn’t what the global-warming deniers seemed to want.  All they ever seemed interested in was simply ranting & screaming about The Conspiracy – it was almost as if they were afraid that an investigation would discover that their ranting claims were, pardon the pun, so much hot air.  And you know what?  That’s exactly what happened.

Read on to see the conclusions of the investigation… (and, btw, you can get the full House of Commons report here)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in conspiracy theories, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Update on the “Sense About Science” Campaign

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 14, 2009

As some of the regular readers of this blog may recall, there is currently a case pending in the United Kingdom which could have potentially far-reaching consequences regarding issues of free speech & skepticism.  Of course, I’m referring to the now-famous case of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association and the associated grass-roots effort by our friends over at Sense About Science to reform the libel laws in the UK.  Since I last blogged about it, there have been some interesting developments.  I wanted to pass along the latest update I’ve received on this issue, so here goes…

Dear Friends

A message from Simon Singh:

“It has been 18 months since I was sued for libel after publishing my article on chiropractic. I am continuing to fight my case and am prepared to defend my article for another 18 months or more if necessary. The ongoing libel case has been distracting, draining and frustrating, but it has always been heartening to receive so much support, particularly from people who realise that English libel laws need to be reformed in order to allow robust discussion of matters of public interest. Over twenty thousand people signed the statement to Keep Libel Laws out of Science, but now we need you to sign up again and add your name to the new statement.

The new statement is necessary because the campaign for libel reform is stepping up a gear and will be working on much broader base. Sense About Science has joined forces with Index on Censorship and English PEN and their goal is to reach 100,000 or more signatories in order to help politicians appreciate the level of public support for libel reform. We have already met several leading figures from all three main parties and they have all showed signs of interest. Now, however, we need a final push in order to persuade them to commit to libel reform.

Finally, I would like to make three points. First, I will stress again – please take the time to reinforce your support for libel reform by signing up at www.libelreform.org. Second, please spread the word by blogging, twittering, Facebooking and emailing in order to encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Third, for those supporters who live overseas, please also add your name to the petition and encourage others to do the same; unfortunately and embarrassingly, English libel laws impact writers in the rest of the world, but now you can help change those laws by showing your support for libel reform. While I fight in my own libel battle, I hope that you will fight the bigger battle of libel reform.”

And from me, Síle:

The campaign for libel reform was launched by Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN on Wednesday 9th December. You can read about it in the following articles:

BBC NEWS Comic Dara O Briain says libel laws ‘quash dissent’

The Times Scientists urge reform of ‘lethal’ libel law

The Independent Comic Dara O Briain lambasts ‘bully’ libel law

The Mirror Dara O Briain wants libel reform

THE UCL provost: libel law is stifling academic freedoms

New Scientist blog Campaign to reform English libel law launched

Press Gazette‘Libel can kill – reform it now’

The Press AssociationDara O Briain wants libel reform

To read the background of this campaign see www.senseaboutscience.org/freedebate. We still need your support. Add your voice at www.libelreform.org and help us reach our fundraising target at www.justgiving.com/bookfund.

Best

Síle

Síle Lane
Public Liaison
Sense About Science
25 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 7EG
Reg. Charity No. 1101114
Tel: +44 (0)20 7478 4380
www.senseaboutscience.org

Sense About Science is a small charity that equips people to make sense of science and evidence. We depend on donations, large and small, from people who support our work. You can donate, or find out more, at www.senseaboutscience.org/donate

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Update on Simon Singh vs. British Chiropractic Association: Singh Wins Leave to Appeal

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 15, 2009

Good news!  :) Here’s a quick update of the situation in the ongoing trial of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association.  It seems that Singh has been granted a leave to appeal the court’s earlier decision against him…

*Note: for some background on this issue, see my earlier blog post – Silencing Skepticism: The Case of Simon Singh

Simon Singh wins leave to appeal in BCA libel case

14 Oct 2009

singhA court ruling today affirmed science writer Simon Singh’s right to free expression. It grants him leave to appeal Mr Justice Eady’s ruling against him in a libel action brought by the British Chiropractic Association, reports Padraig Reidy

Popular science writer Simon Singh has been granted leave to appeal in the libel action brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association.

In a scathing rebuttal of Mr Justice Eady’s previous judgement in the case, Lord Justice Laws said Eady had risked swinging the balance of rights too far in favour of the right to reputation and against the right to free expression. Lord Justice Laws described Eady’s judgement, centred on Singh’s use of the word “bogus” in an article published by the Guardian newspaper, as “legally erroneous”.

Laws also pointed out that Eady’s judgement had conflated two issues — the meaning of the phrases complained of, and the issue of whether the article was presented as fact or fair comment.

Laws said there was “no question” of the “good faith” of Singh in writing the article, as the matter was “clearly in the public interest”.

Speaking after the judgement, Singh told Index on Censorship this was the “best possible result”.

“But I try not to get my hopes up,” he continued. “We have only won leave to appeal. Now we must convince the court of appeal on the issue of meaning. There is a long battle ahead. Reform of English libel laws, particularly the right to a public interest defence and a fairer costs structure, are vital.”

The BCA was not represented at this morning’s hearing.

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Beware the Spinal Trap” by Simon Singh

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2009

In the ongoing campaign to hold the British Chiropractic Association accountable for their attempts to shut down criticism by skeptics, I want to share the following with you all.  This article is copied in its entirety from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s (CSI) website, with the following explanation:

On 29th July a number of magazines and websites are going to be publishing Simon Singh’s Guardian article on chiropractic from April 2008, with the part the BCA sued him for removed.

They are reprinting it, following the lead of Wilson da Silva at COSMOS magazine, because they think the public should have access to the evidence and the arguments in it that were lost when the Guardian withdrew the article after the British Chiropractic Association sued for libel.

We want as many people as possible around the world to print it or put it live on the internet at the same time to make an interesting story and prove that threatening libel or bringing a libel case against a science writer won’t necessarily shut down the debate.

Beware the Spinal Trap
by Simon Singh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

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