As previously mentioned in Croakey, the British science journalist Simon Singh – who has become a cause célèbre since being sued by chiropractors for having the temerity to question the evidence base for their practices – is visiting Australia.
Last night he gave a public lecture in Sydney, which was attended by Croakey contributor and proud skeptic, Dr Peter Arnold, who has filed this report:
Singh’s latest book, ‘Trick or Treatment’, co-written with Professor Edzard Ernst, Chair of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, is unfortunately not available here in any quantity. His previous book ‘Big Bang’ has been available since release in 2004.
Singh took the audience on a trip from the exposure of Chinese heart surgery, allegedly done ‘under acupuncture anaesthesia’, through a discussion of the rationale of controlled trials of purported remedies, whether ‘natural’ or discovered by pharmaceutical companies.
Reviewing the history of homeopathy, he demonstrated the need for properly conducted trials, even of the seemingly craziest theories. He illustrated one of these by referring to Fritz Zwicky, thought to be a real ‘nutter’ when he suggested the existence of dark matter, but since proven to have been correct.
Singh argued strongly against giving patients with serious illnesses false hope about possible cures, when the remedies were totally unproven.
Simon argued forcefully for the same rigorous testing to be applied to any proposed remedy, regardless of its source.
He then explained the background to his being sued by the British Chiropractic Association.
Unfortunately for all of us, even here in Australia, it seems that a libel action could be mounted in the UK for what we say or write downunder – the British courts have a global jurisdiction in these matters.
And the onus of proof is on the defendant!
Simon alluded to the campaign being mounted in the UK to have the law changed.
He concluded the evening answering questions about the practice of alternative therapies by some registered medical practitioners, justifying themselves on the grounds that it can’t hurt the patient and might just work.
The irony that people in the UK must be trained as vets to treat animals, but need not be trained as doctors to treat humans was not lost on the audience.
Our lonely homeopath, initially cheered on for her courage in coming forward, clearly had no understanding of the meaning of the concept of ‘meta-analysis’.
Quite failing to comprehend what this entails, she finally earned the derision of the audience as her ignorance unfolded through her interminable ‘question’ to Simon.
Chairman Professor David Day, Dean of Science, thankfully stepped up to the mike and put a stop to the rowdy exchange which had ensued.
The meeting concluded with (almost) unanimous acclamation for Simon.”