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Oh man, a fantastic video clip from Dara O’Briain. He pulls no punches when it comes to Complementary and Alternative Medical (CAM) practitioners, people who, in former times, would have been known as “quacks”.

My favourite line: ‘They say “well science doesn’t know everything”. Well science knows it doesn’t know everything. Otherwise, it would stop.’

Colourful language, if you are listening to it in work.

via Bad Astronomy

Today, bloggers all around the world are re-publishing an edited version of Simon Singh’s article that lead him to be sued by the British Chiropractic Association. I’m happy to reproduce the article here. The world should know what chiropractic is all about.

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.


I’m back from a three day sojourn in south Kerry, walking 71 km in aid of cancer research. The format of the event this year was different from previous years, in that we were based in the same location for the whole weekend, with all walks terminating in Kenmare. We were brought to our starting point by bus from Kenmare each morning. (Kenmare is a smashing little town in south Kerry, a short distance from some of the most superb scenery in the country. If you are thinking about a trip to Ireland, it is an absolute must-see).

Moll's Gap

Moll's Gap

On Friday we travelled from Moll’s Gap to Kenmare. It was a relatively easy road walk, with the final few kilometers trudging through the hills above Kenmare. The distance was 17km, so it wasn’t too difficult. Conditions on the hills were very wet (no surprise given the rain of the last few weeks).

Lauragh to Kenmare

Lauragh to Kenmare

Saturday was the most challenging walk. We started out from Lauragh in the Beara Peninsula, and we had to overcome two hills and a long road-walk before we arrived, exhausted and footsore, into Kenmare about 8 hours later. The conditions were quite challenging, in that the ground underneath was either rocky, or very loose or sodden wet. Nevertheless the scenery was spectacular, the temperature was just right and the rain stayed away.

IMG_3322 - Old Road 1

Old Kenmare Road

Sunday was the last of the walks, from Torc Waterfall outside Killarney to Kenmare along the Old Road. This is an absolutely fantastic walk, although not for the faint-hearted. It’s a trek of about 21 km, but at times the scenery looks like something out of Disneyland. The most challenging part of the route was the end – a steep incline then decline on hard road, when my feet were shouting at me “no more”! Sunday was our wettest day. In Kerry they don’t get the kind of rain we are used to. They don’t do drizzle, or moist weather, or soft days. No, in Kerry it’s the Real Thing. From dry to drenched in 0.6 milliseconds.

IMG_3328 - Silver Bullets

All in all, a fantastic three days. I feel great from the walk, the company was great and I have to say that the organisation was fantastic throughout. I’ve had enough bananas and flapjacks to last me a lifetime.

If you would like to do something big for charity in 2010, or you just want a weekend to remember, this is the thing to do!

Ah yes, advertising. The crude oil powering the engines of modern media. It pays the bills of television, radio, newspapers and the Internet, and as such it is a necessary evil. Most of it, of course, is godawful: woefully wide of the mark, superlatively irritating and completely absent of even the slightest smidgen of creativity.

Nevertheless, there are some real gems out there, and I’ve just discovered a blog that brings us the best of them.

Like this, using red paint to emphasise an important message:

bleedingbillboardcolens

bleedingbillboardcolens2-412x289

Or this, demonstrating the braking ability of a Mercedes..

mercedesbrake1-412x179

mercedesbrake2-412x179

mercedesbrake3-412x180

Or this one, from Amnesty International

amnestynooo

This is very powerful stuff.

stoning

DERMOT AHERN: Tommy Tiernan, son of Deuteronomy of Gath.

TOMMY TIERNAN: Do I say ‘yes’?

SEAN ARDAGH, BOBBY AYLWARD, THOMAS BYRNE, SEAN CONNICK, BRENDAN KENNEALLY, DARRAGH O’BRIEN, NOEL TREACY : Yes.

TOMMY: Yes.

DERMOT: You have been found guilty by the elders of the town of uttering the name of our Lord, and so, as a blasphemer,…

CROWD: Ooooh!

DERMOT: …you are to be stoned to death.

CROWD: Ahh!

TOMMY: Look. I– I’d had a lovely gig, and all I said to my audience was, ‘That piece of legislation would make Jehovah piss himself laughing.’

CROWD: Oooooh!

DERMOT: Blasphemy! He’s said it again!

CROWD: Yes! Yes, he did! He did!…

DERMOT: Did you hear him?!

CROWD: Yes! Yes, we did! We did!…

WOMAN #1: Really!

[silence]

DERMOT: Are there any women here today?

CROWD: No. No. No. No…

DERMOT: Very well. By virtue of the authority vested in me under the 2009 Defamation Act

[NUN stones TOMMY]

TOMMY: Oww! Lay off! We haven’t started yet!

DERMOT: Come on! Who threw that? Who threw that stone? Was it you Senator Norris? Come on.

CROWD: She did! She did! He did! He! He. He. Him. Him. Him. Him. He did.

NUN: Sorry. I thought we’d started.

DERMOT: Go to the back.

NUN: Oh, dear.

DERMOT: Always one, isn’t there? Now, where were we?

TOMMY: Look. I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy, just saying ‘Jehovah’.

CROWD: Oooh! He said it again! Oooh!…

DERMOT: You’re only making it worse for yourself!

TOMMMY: Making it worse?! How could it be worse?! Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah!

CROWD: Oooooh!…

DERMOT: I’m warning you. If you say ‘Jehovah’ once more– [MR. A MATTHEWS stones DERMOT]

DERMOT: Right. Who threw that?

[silence]

DERMOT: Come on. Who threw that?

CROWD: She did! It was her! He! He. Him. Him. Him. Him. Him. Him.

DERMOT: Was it you?

MR A. MATTHEWS (wearing a false beard): Yes.

DERMOT: Right!

MR. A. MATTHEWS: Well, you did say ‘Jehovah’.

CROWD: Ah! Ooooh!…

[CROWD stones MR. A. MATTHEWS]

DERMOT: Stop! Stop, will you?! Stop that! Stop it! Now, look! No one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle! Do you understand?! Even, and I want to make this absolutely clear, even if they do say ‘Jehovah’.

CROWD: Ooooooh!…

[CROWD stones DERMOT]

WOMAN #1: Good shot!

[clap clap clap]

(via Monty Python’s Life of Brian)

Image via Uniform Velocity

Image via Uniform Velocity

According to the Irish Times today, 42% of men in Ireland never use sun protection.

This is madness. We shouldn’t take the sun for granted. It is a killer, as 5,000 Irish people are finding out each year. All it takes is one small mole on your body to go a different colour or shape, and you could be in big trouble. Once a cancerous mole reaches the lower layers of the skin, the cancer can quickly spread around the body, virtually guaranteeing your early demise.

Most of us Irish have the wrong skin. It’s doesn’t tan, it burns. It’s replete with vulnerable moles and other blemishes. And, after prolonged exposure, it can kill you.

The answer? Stay out of the sun as much as possible and wear high factor sunscreen. Oh yeah, and have someone check out the moles on your skin. You might thank them one day for saving your life.

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