“Torontonamo Bay”

Toronto just finished hosting the G20 Summit, which literally lasted about eight hours in our city. The meeting got started at around 9am on Sunday and by 5pm leaders were already on their way out of town. An eight-hour meeting sure cost a whole lot and wreaked a whole lot of havoc.

I was glued to live news coverage on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday I skipped out on plans and watched the news from about 5pm until midnight. On Sunday, after participating in the completely peaceful, happy, and fun bike rally protest for a couple of hours, I was glued to the TV again from about 5:30pm until 11pm. I want to say that CP24 did an amazing job…for those two days…covering the vandalizing and police standoffs. It would have been nice if they had also provided wall-to-wall, commercial-free coverage of the demonstrations that took place all week—thousands of people in the days before the summit peacefully demonstrating on the streets of Toronto, getting their message out. That wasn’t so interesting, you see, because there were no assholes lighting police cars on fire.

Where were the media for the “Shout Out For Global Justice,” which took place at Massey Hall and featured Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, and Maude Barlow (among others)? And when Naomi Klein led the entire audience on a peaceful walk to the temporary “tent city” at Allen Gardens in solidarity with the homeless, where were the media? And when Allen Gardens became a peaceful dance party? That wasn’t so interesting to the media since there were no assholes smashing store windows.

What occurred this past weekend in Toronto was nothing short of a clusterfuck. These meetings should not be held in densely populated urban settings. They should not cost, for two days, what the United Nations spends in an entire year. They should be held in places that are already fortified and secure enough to protect the heads of state that reside in them—the White House, Parliament Hill, Downing Street, the Palace…or the freakin’ UN! And they should not pick the pockets of cities, small-business owners, and residents when it’s the federal government making the decisions.

There’s a lot to say about the G20, the politics, and what happened in Toronto on the weekend. There is a vast echo chamber now and there’s little chance I’ll say something that hasn’t already been said. Except for one thing.

Yesterday there was another demonstration, an extremely peaceful and massive “jail solidarity” demo for the 900+ people who were arrested and detained in the makeshift detention centre. I heard two or three people who were interviewed on the news refer to the detainment facility as “Torontonamo Bay.” And today I read the report of Cameron Fenton, a 24-year-old who was arrested and detained for 17 hours; he referred to the detention centre as “tantamount to torture.”

No one is denying that the conditions at the detention facility were bad—they probably were terrible. I would have been miserable if I had had to stay there for even 3 hours, let alone 24. I would likely be complaining about it to anyone who would listen. I might even be seeking legal representation. But let’s be reasonable and respectful. There are innocent people at Guantanamo Bay and other detention facilities overseas who have been held—without charges, without lawyers, without habeas corpus—for many, many years. There are innocent people in these facilities (and some who are likely not innocent) who have been tortured. Truly tortured. To compare your treatment for 12, 17, or 24 hours at a makeshift detainment facility in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to a military-run torture centre that exists in a legal no-man’s land is completely ignorant. It’s akin to comparing Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, or anyone besides Hitler, to Hitler. It’s like Gretchen Carlson comparing her job as a talk-show host to that of the President of the United States.

People who have been held in a legal abyss and who have truly been tortured would likely have a thing or two to say about your experience versus theirs. So no more of this “Torontonamo Bay” and “tantamount to torture” bullshit. If you want to have your issues taken seriously, then be serious.

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Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association

Simon Singh is a science writer in London, England and co-author Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. Singh published an article in The Guardian newspaper that exposed the fraudulent claims of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) that chiropractic can be used to cure anything, including common childhood illnesses such as colic, ear infections, and asthma. The BCA is now suing Singh for libel.

The libel laws in England are much different than in Canada and the U.S. (and much stupider). There, the burden of proof is on the defendants to prove that their statements are true, rather than on the accuser to prove that they are false (in this case, the BCA does not have to prove that chiropractic can cure anything). The result of this, sadly, is the muzzling of authors, journalists, and speakers, and the restriction of their free speech unless they have the money to defend themselves in costly libel law suits.

The English libel laws are so sad that a phrase has been coined—“libel tourism”—which describes how individuals and corporations take their libel law suits to England to take advantage of their lax libel laws. No matter who you are or where you’ve published, someone can arrange to sue you for libel in England where the laws are much more favourable to them.

The United Nations has said that the English libel law violates human rights.

So, Simon Singh rightly and truthfully condemned spurious or fraudulent claims by the British Chiropractic Association, and they retaliated by trying to intimidate him with a law suit. Note that they did not sue The Guardian, which is a corporation with money, but Singh personally.

Nonetheless, Singh is not backing down.

Singh is committed to fighting this all the way, and he has the support of much of the blogosphere and mainstream press, including scientists, skeptics, critical thinkers, free speech defenders, and even celebrities like Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry, Penn and Teller, Jo Brand, and Harry Hill. Among the prominent scientists backing Singh are biologist Richard Dawkins, former British government Chief Scientist Sir David King, geneticist Steve Jones, and astronomer Jocelyn Bell.
Sense About Science has started a petition to keep libel laws out of science. See who has signed it and sign it yourself here.

If you’re interested, you can read Singh’s entire account of this story here.

Now that the British Chiropractic Association failed to intimidate Singh with its law suit and the case will go to court, now that the public and mainstream media are talking about this, now that prominent scientists and celebrities are backing Singh, chiropractors are running scared. The British Chiropractic Association, McTimoney Chiropractic Association, and the United Chiropractic Association have all sent letters to their members advising them to remove any spurious claims from their web sites and printed materials. The McTimoney Chiropractic Association blanked its own web site and advised its members to do the same. Sadly, they don’t seem to understand how the internet works nor how much people care about real, honest, evidence-based science and medicine, because folks had already made copies of all of their web sites.

Here is the letter the British Chiropractic Association sent to their members:

4 June 2009

The BCA would remind members of their obligations under the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) section 50 (relating to Health & Beauty Products and Therapies: see

Members are strongly encouraged to review their current marketing materials (whether they are paper- or web-based) to ensure that they are compliant with both ASA and GCC requirements. Note that the ASA has no jurisdiction over editorial materials placed on members’ own websites.

When reviewing your materials it may be helpful to consider the following:

1. Are there any claims made that cannot be justified by reference to evidence? Remember, the GCC requires chiropractors to practice evidence based care, which is defined as “clinical practice that incorporates the best available evidence from research, the preferences of the patient and the expertise of practitioners (which includes the individual chiropractor himself).

2. Be mindful of making promises that you cannot be sure of delivering on;

3. Be wary of listing conditions that are controversial and away from mainstream chiropractic care e.g. dyslexia/dyspraxia unless you have research to back this up. If you have made references to prolonged crying, sleep and feeding problems, breathing difficulties and frequent infections, as these are symptoms rather than condition specific, we suggest you remove these references.

4. Do not refer to yourself as a specialist in any particular form of chiropractic;

5. Do not use unfamiliar words for common conditions;

6. Do not unjustly criticise other healthcare professionals;

7. If you refer to subluxations, provide information to explain what they are.

8. Take care in the use of the Doctor title. Ensure that there is no way there can be any doubt that you are a chiropractor, and not a registered medical practitioner. Do not use the doctor title in paper advertising without explicitly stating that you are a chiropractor.

It’s pretty amusing.

And now blogs around the world are re-posting Simon Singh’s original article criticizing the BCA. Well, sort of. Bloggers have been advised to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits by posting the a version if the article edited by lawyers.

But….

Orac has posted the entire article in its original form here, and has even bolded the sentences that the lawyers removed or altered. Huzzah!

And now, without further ado, is the lawyered-up version of Simon Singh’s original article. If you’re a blogger, please post it as well.

Beware the Spinal Trap,  by Simon Singh

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says 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.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

On apartheid

I am only going to say two things about the recent kerfuffle regarding CUPE, Ignatieff, and Israel Apartheid Week:

1) I don’t think it is ever right to restrict academic freedom. Nor free speech. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall (often mis-attributed to Voltaire).

2) I’m growing increasingly frustrated by people arguing about what “apartheid” means and whether or not it’s a fair term to use outside of South Africa. It is a word and it has a definition. It seems fairly simple to seek out the definition and end the inanity, but clearly that’s too much to ask. After a fruitless search of the UN web site, I finally sighed and typed “UN definition of apartheid” into Google and found this as the second link: www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/11.htm (see Article II), which states:

For the purpose of the present Convention, the term “the crime of apartheid”, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them:

(a) Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person:

(i) By murder of members of a racial group or groups;

(ii) By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

(iii) By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;

(b) Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;

(c) Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;

d) Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;

(e) Exploitation of the labour of the members of a racial group or groups, in particular by submitting them to forced labour;

(f) Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.

Now stop arguing about what the definition of “is” is, especially when you can just look it up.