Archive for July, 2009

Singh’s chiropractic article

Sense About Science is coordinating a mass posting of Simon Singh’s deleted Guardian article about chiropractic, which was the subject of bogus libel action by the egregious British Chiropractic Association.

Most of the reprints, including this one, have excised the two sentences which the BCA complained about:

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

Here is the article, without the allegedly libelous material:

Beware the spinal trap
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.

Baron Cohen threatened for mocking terrorist


Satirist Sacha Baron Cohen has had to step up security because of threats received by a Palestinian terrorist organisation who he mocked in his latest film Brüno.

With a blend of humorlessness and self-obsession typical of the religiously committed, an al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades spokesman said of the clip,

We reserve the right to respond in the way we find suitable against this man. The movie was part of a conspiracy against the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

That’s right al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the whole film was just a set up to make you and you alone look stupid.

Abu Akta, who features in the clip, claims he is no longer involved in the terrorist organisation. He looks magnificently miffed when Bruno advises the Brigade to “lose the beards”

Because your king Osama looks like a kind of dirty wizard or homeless Santa

Dirty wizard indeed!

BBC’s “satirical tirade” provokes Christian complaints

Christian Concern for our Nation are probably wishing they lived in Ireland right now. In their latest mailshot they urge readers to complain to the BBC about “blasphemy” on Radio 4’s Now Show:

The BBC Radio 4’s Now Show has allowed a blasphemous satirical tirade against the Lord Jesus and the Word of God. We urge you to complain to the BBC (click here) at the offence caused to Christians and the corrupting effect of this kind of behaviour on a vulnerable audience.

They also helpfully provide a pdf transcript of Marcus Brigstock’s tirade, in which he opines uncontroversially that the Bible contains

acts of wanton genocide, infanticide, fratricide, straight murder, rape, pedophilia, enslavement, brutality and frankly, a level of sexism that would make John McCririck go “woo steady, now give the little ladies a break”

Perhaps what gave the pious pearl-clutchers of CCFON the vapours was the likening of Almighty God to “a paranoid menopausal housewife with an adulterous husband”, owing to his using up the first 4 of ten commandments to bolster his own fragile ego.

Anyway, you can hear the whole thing, suitably illustrated, on YouTube. Provided you aren’t vulnerable, that is. We wouldn’t want you to get corrupted.

Oh, and why not take CCFON’s advice and write to the BBC. They deserve a bit of praise every now and again.

UPDATE: (27 July) This is priceless. The CCFON’s next mailshot – sent out the day after the one containing the Brigstock complaint – is about the perils of the government’s Equal Treatment Directive. It is a dodgy bit of legislation to be sure, but CCFON’s objections to it are quite breathtaking in their hypocrisy.

The Directive extents discrimination law, introducing the concept of “harassment” which it defines as conduct with “the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

Here’s what CCFON are saying about it:

“Harassment,” as defined in the Directive however, allows an individual to accuse someone of discrimination merely for expressing something the individual allegedly perceives as offensive.

Individuals can easily alleged offence from a discussion about faith or sexual ethics…
The freedom to speak freely about one’s religious beliefs should not be considered “harassment”, but should remain a fundamental right in a democratic society.
Giving people the right to sue someone because they allege that they feel offended is extremely dangerous for freedom of speech
Adopting a provision covering harassment on the grounds of religion or belief or sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services creates a massive chilling effect on freedom of speech and the free exercise of conscience by religious people.

One wonders if even their supporters take these clowns seriously. One day they are squealing about how offended they are, and the next they are pontificating about how taking offence shouldn’t interfere with the “fundamental right” of free speech.

They really do seem to think that freedom of speech should only apply to them.

Muslim model to be beaten with canes for drinking a beer


(Oh, and what a surprise – she’s a woman!)

The Freethinker has reported on a case in Malaysia which should have you all gasping with feigned shock.

It seems part-time model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 32, found herself in a Sharia court after Islamic authorities raided a hotel nightclub in August 2008.  She pleaded guilty to drinking a beer and was sentenced on Monday to suffer six lashes from a rattan cane and to pay a fine of 5,000 ringgit (around £850).

The punishment “is aimed at making the accused repent and serves as a lesson to Muslims,” the New Straits Times quoted Judge Abdul Rahman Yunus as saying.

Consuming alcohol is a religious offense for Muslims.  Muslims, who make up nearly two-thirds of the population of Malaysia, are forbidden from drinking alcohol although the sale of alcohol to non-Muslims is permitted.  Most offenders are fined, but the law also provides for a three-year prison term and caning.

Goddammit: Irish blasphemy law signed in

Well, it’s official.  While refusing to do your job in favour of protecting an ugly stump in the likeness of the Virgin Mary is still positively encouraged, remarking “Well if she looked like THAT, no wonder she’s a virgin” might actually now land you in prison.  President Mary McAleese has this morning signed the Defamation Bill into law.  The Defamation Bill updates Ireland’s defamation law, renewing the (formerly outdated) offence of blasphemous libel.  The Irish Times describes the bill as “aim[ing] to encourage quicker apologies from publishers”.

The extent of this ruling remains to be seen.  While the term ‘blasphemous libel’ suggests that publicly making a claim about Jesus which is later proven to be untrue could land you in trouble, it is unlikely we will see members of the church arrested for making exaggerated claims, such as the (potentially insulting) claim that Jesus died a virgin and later returned as a zombie – or simply that he was homophobic.  However if any Irish readers get the chance to see if the law works both ways, I strongly endorse suing your local clergyman for blasphemous libel should they dare to utter such atrocities.

Of course, it is far more likely that this law will be used to constrict free speech, particularly in the media.  Once cases of prosecution start to occur as a result of this law we will be sure to report more on this issue.

I would speculate more on this topic, but for fear of imprisonment (not to mention eternal damnation) the offensive tone of this post will stop here.




Atheist Ireland: Campaign to Repeal the Blasphemy Law

Facebook Group: Blasphemy Ireland

New Humanist: Blasphemy in the Christian World

And, just to show our respect:

Irish atheists challenge blasphemy law constitutionality

Atheist Ireland has sent a letter to the President, Mary McAleese, on the day before she is due to decide whether or not to refer the blasphemy bill to the Council of State.

The letter makes the following points:

– The law is contrary to the guarantees of equality under the law enshrined in Article 40.1 of the Irish Constitution, and of freedom of conscience and religion enshrined in Article 44.2.
– The law is contrary to Article 44.2.3 of the Irish Constitution, which says that the State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.
– The law shifts the burden of proof to the defendant in contravention of Article 38 of the Constitution, and of Schedule 1, Article 6, 2. and 3(a) of the European Convention on Human Rights Act, 2003.
– The law does not meet the standard of prevention of imminent public disorder that made the old English blasphemy law compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.
– The definitions in the law are too vague to allow citizens to regulate their conduct, and it could make it unlawful for a religious citizen to inform his co-religionists about a statement he believes to be blasphemous.

What with all this, plus the fact that it is a patently stupid law, can we afford to feel a little bit optimistic?

UPDATE (22 July) Law lecturer Eoin O’Dell (of has an article in The Irish Times which also challenges the blasphemy law on constitutional grounds.

UPDATE: (23 July) Twitter says the president has just signed the bill into law!

UPDATE: Yup. It’s in The Irish Times

Mail film critic slates film he hasn’t seen

The Daily Mail’s Christopher Hart writes a scathing review of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. Not only does he admit to never having seen the film, but he thinks nobody else should be allowed to see it.

Without a trace of irony or self-awareness, Hart says:

Now the anonymous moral guardians of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), in their infinite wisdom, have passed this foul film for general consumption

What exactly is Hart promoting if not his own moral-guardianship? The BBFC have decided that only adults may see this film, but Hart apparently thinks that the average adult in the UK needs to be protected by his moral superiors. He would do well to heed the words of John Beyer, the soon-to-retire anti-smut warrior of Mediawatch-UK:

The BBFC no longer ‘cuts bits out of films’ but provides information about films so that members of the public can make up their own minds about what films they want to see or avoid.

Well said, Mr Beyer.

Here is what Hart says about the film he’s never seen:

A film which plumbs new depths of sexual explicitness, excruciating violence and degradation
Antichrist is presumably intended to shock. In fact, it doesn’t shock, it merely nauseates. 
sick, pretentious trash, fully confirming our jihadist enemies’ view of us as a society in the last stages of corruption and decay.
The world of Antichrist, by contrast, is blatantly amoral, without any sense of justice or retribution whatever.
In artistic terms, it is the equivalent of food poisoning

Where does he get this almost supernatural ability to discern an unseen film’s quality? Maybe God talks to him. He did write a breathless review of The Genesis Enigma – a preposterous book which claims the Book of Genesis fortold the theory of evolution 3,000 years before Darwin. So he is obviously a cretin.

(Tip: Nobody’s Business)

UPDATE (16:40) Michael Nimmo in the comments points out that the top six comments on Hart’s review are highly critical – another example a growing phenomenon, when the Mail’s internet readers show themselves to be considerably saner than its contributors:

How could anyone possibly judge a film that they had not seen?!
This is beyond ridiculous!
People can make thier own choice as to weather they want to watch it or not.
– Rebecca, Surrey, UK, 20/7/2009 11:30
Rating 789

You pride yourself on being broad-minded? I think perhaps you need to be slightly less proud of yourself today. That was a classic piece of closed minded criticism, of a film you haven’t seen, giving it a context you don’t fully understand, and claiming a lack of morality which you couldn’t possibly know – because you haven’t watched the film!

It was a hysterical read – and I mean that in the least complimentary way possible.
– Duncan, Edinburgh, Scotland, 20/7/2009 11:30
Rating 733

With free sensational advertising like this article, the film will be a guaranteed success …
– B. Colley, Betws-y-Coed, 20/7/2009 11:34
Rating 675

“I haven’t seen it myself…” I stopped reading there.
– Laura, London, 20/7/2009 10:58
Rating 476

How can any person speaking in a public forum, especially a film critic possibly make judgement over any film that they have not seen. Your job is to give us the detail rather than spew your moralistic, religious based ideals. Religious ideals that have no more right to a truth save for the fact we are told it as truth, than the plot of this movie.

Do your job and be professional and don’t bore us with your own personal afflictions.
– John Potter, Newbury, England, 20/7/2009 10:58
Rating 426

If you haven’t seen the film What gives you the right to comment on it??? You’re as bad as those hypocrits that banned The Life of Brian all those years ago!

I’d have been prepared for your side of the story if you’d watched it but as you haven’t I’ll watch it myself and make up my own mind!!
– Trevor, Perth, 19/7/2009 21:51
Rating 398

Irish Blasphemy law – a step back from the brink?

The protests and the ridicule may be having an effect.

From The Official Website of the President of Ireland:

President McAleese has decided to convene a meeting of the Council of State, under Article 26 of the Constitution, to be held at Áras an Uachtaráin on Wednesday 22nd July at 6:30pm, for the purpose of consulting with the Council regarding the Defamation Bill 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009.

To put this in perspective, this will be only the 27th time a Council of State has been convened since the Constitution of Ireland came into force at the end of 1937. The last time was in 2007.

Paragraph 1.1 of Article 26 of the Constitution states:

The President may, after consultation with the Council of State, refer any Bill to which this Article applies to the Supreme Court for a decision on the question as to whether such Bill or any specified provision or provisions of such Bill is or are repugnant to this Constitution or to any provision thereof.

Ireland may yet be saved from a return to the Dark Ages!

(Tip: Mick Nugent on Twitter)

UPDATE: (18 July), the blog of Trinity College law lecturer Dr Eoin O’Dell, has an interesting analysis of the prospects. Basically, it will come down to how much influence the European Convention of Human Rights, which enshrines freedom of expression, has over the Irish Constitution, which says blasphemy should be punished. Whether the Council decides the bill is unconstitutional, or it is passed and challenged at the first attempt to get a prosecution under it, he concludes

the blasphemy provisions of the Defamation Bill will get their day in court

Jewel of Medina withdrawn from Amazon

The Brussels Journal carries without comment an email sent from to a would-be purchaser of Sherry Jones’ burka-ripper, The Jewel of Medina:

Dear Customer,

We are contacting you regarding your order which included the following:

ISBN-10: 1906142408

“The Jewel of Medina”

This item has been removed from sale due to a legal reasons.

We have cancelled your order for this item and can confirm that you have not been charged for it.

We apologise for the inconvenience caused.

We look forward to serving you again in the future.

Warmest regards,

Customer Service Department

“Legal reasons”? As far as we are aware, there are no legal reasons for not to sell this book. If you know otherwise, please get in touch.

The book is still available from

Challenging the Irish blasphemy law – first shot across the bow

While we are waiting for Atheist Ireland to come out with its official challenge to Ireland’s shiny new blasphemy law (branded by Richard Dawkins as “a wretched, backward, uncivilised regression to the middle ages”), columnist Ian O’Doherty has had bash at it himself in the Irish Independent:

So, here we go — Catholicism is a cannibal cult which eats its leader, Jews who believe that God wants them to settle in the Holy Land are deranged lunatics, Muslims who want to install Islamic law are nothing but fascist terrorists and Scientologists are nothing but a bunch of brainwashed weirdos who have been suckered by the malicious rantings of a failed science-fiction writer.

Alright lads, I’ll see you in court.

Well, it’s more like defamation than blasphemy – apart from the Catholic clause it attacks believers rather than their beliefs – but it’s a start.

Let’s hope that Atheist Ireland do a better job. They should be able to, provided they don’t get bogged down with concerns about dismaying “normal believers,” in which case they are doomed to fail.