The McTimoney advice to its members has to have been the worst advice in chiropractic history.
20 Jun 2009:
A chiropractic association has told its members to remove websites and withdraw patient leaflets or risk prosecution. Why the panic, wonders Chris French
who is a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and heads the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. He edits The Skeptic magazine.
On 10 June a revealing letter from the McTimoney Chiropractic Association was published on Andy Lewis’s excellent website, The Quackometer. The strongly worded letter from the MCA advises all its members to take down their websites immediately or risk prosecution. The letter refers to "a witch hunt against chiropractors" with campaigners targeting "any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research".
The use of the phrase "witch hunt" brings to mind visions of the Salem witch trials or the worst excesses of the McCarthy era, with innocent people being unjustly persecuted by those in power. Challenging unsubstantiated treatment claims does not seem to me to qualify as a witch hunt.
The letter goes on to advise members to "REMOVE all the blue MCA patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic" and, "If you use business cards or other stationery using the ‘doctor’ title and it does not clearly state that you are a doctor of chiropractic or that you are not a registered medical practitioner, STOP USING THEM immediately."
They were also warned to "Be wary of ‘mystery shopper’ phone calls and ‘drop ins’ to your practice, especially if they start asking about your care of children, or whiplash, or your evidence base for practice."
The letter concludes: "Finally, we strongly suggest you do NOT discuss this with others, especially patients. Firstly it would not be ethical to burden patients with this, though if they ask we hope you now have information with which you can respond." It is reassuring to see that the MCA takes its ethical responsibilities so seriously.
Just in case any of its members had not got the message, the MCA letter states: "IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, YOU MAY BE AT RISK FROM PROSECUTION."
What caused the MCA to react with such panic? As most readers will already know, the lack of good clinical evidence relating to the use of chiropractic for treating a range of disorders with no direct link to problems of the spine has come under the spotlight as never before following the decision of the British Chiropractic Association to sue science writer Simon Singh.
In an article in the Guardian last year he criticised the BCA for claiming that its members could use spinal manipulation to treat children with colic, ear infections, asthma, sleeping and feeding conditions, and prolonged crying. Singh described the treatments as "bogus" and based on insufficient evidence, and criticised the BCA for "happily promoting" them. At a preliminary hearing last month to decide the meaning of the article, a judge ruled that Singh had implied that the BCA was being consciously dishonest.
Could this explain the MCA’s apocalyptic letter to its members? Apparently so. When the Guardian approached the association to check the authenticity of the leaked letter, it responded with a statement:
Following the High Court decision and in what one can only speculate was a spirit of retribution, a number of Dr Singh’s supporters decided to launch, in their own words, a "blitzkrieg" against the chiropractic profession. This has centred on trawling the websites of chiropractors and one individual, Alan Henness, has made complaints against over 500 individual chiropractors to the Statutory Regulator for chiropractors, the General Chiropractic Council (GCC).
For a chiropractor, having a complaint made against you to the GCC is a very serious matter. The process of having a complaint investigated by the GCC is a very stressful, protracted and ultimately expensive process for the chiropractor, however minor or serious the misdemeanour, regardless of the eventual outcome … As soon as the MCA became aware of the actions of the ‘skeptics’, as they like to call themselves, we advised our members to withdraw their web sites as a precautionary measure in light of what was considered to be a vexatious campaign against the profession.
And in conclusion:
The MCA has nothing to hide – and it is our belief that our members have not intentionally breached any rules regarding the content of their websites. The MCA was not alone in advising such precautions; indeed at least two other chiropractic associations have given similar advice to their members.
The BCA’s use of the perverse English libel laws in an attempt to silence Singh has caused outrage and concern in equal measure among scientists, journalists, and indeed anyone who values free speech and honest debate. Detailed coverage of the case can be found at Jack of Kent’s superb blog
Good discussion in comments.