Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Beware The Spinal Trap

Hello, I’m at work, right now so I’ll have to keep this short (and update links etc when I get in late tonight) but if you didn’t already know, the BCA (British Chiropractic Association) are suing Dr Simon Singh over an unedited version of the article below. A cache copy of the original article can be found here [link to follow soon, when I get home!] along with my zingy analysis here [once again, link to follow]. You can also follow Sense About Science on Twitter here [sorry guys, I will do this]. All the cool people in the world are posting this article on their blogs. My mum is a massage therapist – luckily for her, she gets a small fee each time a chiropractor messes up her patient’s back, as she is the one who has to fix it. Despite this financial gain on her part, it annoys her when people have back problems. By default, that annoys me (because she is a very lovely lady and is very rarely in a bad mood, I should know: I test her patience often!) but all that aside, they are stifling free speech – the original article was in the “Comments” section of the Guardian newspaper.


I don’t want to receive any nasty emails from people who say chiropractic works. It might work for your lower back problem, but it does not cure asthma. Let me repeat that in capital letters to demonstrate the appropriate level of angst I feel when I read nasty emails from merchants of woo: CHIROPRACTIC DOES NOT CURE ASTHMA.


Anyway, here it is for your delight…:



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.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Angry rant about stuff because it's wot "Teh Internets" are for, got it?

Urgh. I'm pretty angry about stuff right now. It's not really like me to get angry - generally I'm fairly easy-going (at least I like to think so) and I tend not to get riled up about petty stupidities.

Today, for some reason, is different.

Firstly, I met a very nice man yesterday, with whom I was flirting, but I had to leave quite sharpish to catch the last train home. Correspondence with a friend has revealed that he is in a relationship. Damn. That was a bit annoying.

I hadn't been drinking last night as I'd started to hear my liver weeping for the last few nights I'd been out. It might have all been in my head, but either way it's not good. So I replaced alcohol with diet coke, and then I couldn't get to sleep until about 2am. When my alarm went off at 6am, I was pretty miffed.

Then I was in the shower and someone - SOMEONE - decided that they needed to switch the dishwasher on. WHILE I WAS IN THE SHOWER.

I did my best to not be angry, but afterwards when I was getting dressed, I discovered a hole in my favourite new dress! I can mend it, no problem, but I was gonna be late for work so I put on something that didn't need ironing and headed straight to the train station.

About 10 minutes into my walk to the train station, I realised that I'd left my iPhone at home! For the love of all that is good and proper in the world, I was fuming, and it was only 7.30 in the a-m.

I eventually got to Vauxhall, stressed, angry, slightly sweaty. I made my way into Tesco's to get my lunch. I picked up one of those Innocent Veggie Pots, the sort of minty Moroccan one, it's pretty good, got lentils and peas and aubergine in it as well, I was really looking forward to it. Spent the morning working/reading the internet. Got to 12pm to find that I'd bought the wrong veggie pot! So I had to walk all the way back to Tesco's (a good 15 minutes) to get some microwave rice or bread or something, anything to go with it.

On the way back from Tesco's I saw, quite possibly, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. I doubt very much I will ever see something so incredible, so life affirming, so amazing again. Ever.

I witnessed someone slip on a banana skin.

This is no joke, it really happened. I couldn't laugh, I couldn't cry, all I could do was stand there in complete bewilderment at this most excellent spectacle. I was standing on the other side of the road outside my office, and I'd seen the banana skin on the floor on my way to Tesco's but didn't think much of it, other than "I'm fairly sure it's next to impossible to slip on a banana skin, no-one will ever do that unless it's got honey or maple syrup underneath it". How wrong could I be.

What happened was someone had (at some earlier point in time, before I'd gotten into work) opened a banana, eaten about half of it, and then dropped it on the floor. The way in which it fell made it look as though it had been finished. Today was a rather hot day in London, and the remainder of the banana had melted into the pavement. Some unsuspecting simpleton, clearly not paying attention to their surroundings, had discovered this unbelievable opportunity and inadvertently siezed it for my pleasure! I rushed for my phone, so that I could Tweet a photo of the aftermath, but alas, I had left it on the chair next to my bed. That squashed banana will be gone by tomorrow morning. Some diligent roadsweeper will have cleaned the evidence of this beautiful tragedy away. Lost forever in all but memory...

Blah blah blah, got to going home time, and there were CHILDREN and HAPPY COUPLES on my train SPEAKING LOUDLY. Bastards. As if the train isn't packed enough when the little darlings are at school. Christ, happy people annoy me. Especially today. Especially when I'm in a cantankerous mood. I was so annoyed that I rushed for a seat on the train, even though I was only going one stop. Take that commuting wankers. Sadly though, when I got off the train, I did feel sort of guilty about that. I was only going one stop. The tiny rush of superiority didn't last long at all, and it definitely wasn't worth it.

Being in a bad mood sucks. If I'd just had a few beers last night instead of all that diet coke, none of this would have happened.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Peter Joyce (a.k.a. Freaky Pete): Rest In Peace

Today, I was informed that a dear friend of mine has died of a suspected overdose. It’s the sort of news that doesn’t exactly sink in properly immediately.


When I was about 18, I was participating in an open mic night at The Black Sheep Bar in Croydon. A scruffy young gentleman wielding a saxophone approached me about halfway into my set and asked if he could play the next song with me. I’d never done a duet in such a manner before but I hesitantly agreed. The song was called “When I Wish” and it is my mum’s favourite song that I’ve written. I’ve never recorded it as it always sounds best with Pete’s sax. In a selfish way, it saddens me greatly that I will never get to hear it in all its glory again.


After the gig, Pete and I were chatting, when Bob (another mate of ours, also playing at that same gig) introduced him as “Freaky Pete”, because he’s freaky on the sax. Pete and I subsequently did a fair few gigs together (there was even a brief spell when I was in a band with him and Bob, and Bob’s cousin Jon, playing Irish folk music!).


When I came back from uni, I’d heard the details of some of the problems he’d had with depression, but that he sought help for it and he had the support of all his friends and family, so I guess it never troubled me. I only ever knew Pete as a really wonderful guy, great to hang out with, very snappy sense of humour, and excellent musician.


My first thought, and the main thought that has been circling round my head all afternoon is “Pete, you fucking idiot”. I’m really angry that he chose to get a grip on his life by removing himself from it completely, and if I’m honest, part of that anger is directed at myself for not being there when he needed someone the most.


As clichéd as it sounds, I will only remember the good times, because between Pete and I there were only good times. I hope that wherever he is, they have a saxophone and spare reeds.


Pete, I’m really going to miss you.


Lots of love,


Carmen x x x

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Croydon is a shit hole. I have anecdotal evidence.


I've been posting a lot for the last couple of days as I've discovered I have about 15 readers of my little blog. It's very encouraging, and I thank you all for reading this.

I went out clubbing this evening in Croydon.

Before I continue, I'd like to say that not all of Croydon is a shit hole, just the bits that everyone tends to hang out in.

Anyway, went to the Loop Bar for a Drum and Bass night. I'm not usually into DnB but I thought I'd give it a go. I used to go raving a lot, how different could it be?

The difference was that this time I was in Croydon.

A rotund young gentleman in a white Ben Sherman shirt with spiky hair (no stereotype Danny Dyer wannabe *at all*) grabbed my posterior. I turned around as his hand was still on my behind for him to say:

"It wasn't me, I'd never touch your arse, you're a fat fucking paki"


Then his girlfriend turned up, who proceeded to ask me what happened. I retold the story, expecting her to be sympathetic, or laugh and say he does it all the time, I look like a friend of his or something, but she pushed me over and called me a liar!

A friend posted a tweet up just today saying he's sick of people saying how shite Croydon is. I've lived here my whole life and in that time I've been mugged, sexually assaulted (twice), and verbally abused too many times to recount.

Despite all this, I live here because there are great places to hang out, like the Black Sheep Bar, The Green Dragon, The Dog and Bull, The Brief, The Oval, and The Ship. I think from now on, as I usually do, I'll stick to these places...

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Rant on Homophobia

Morning all,

This rant has been partly inspired by a blog post by the wonderful PZ Myers, but also because it's something very important to me. I have a few gay friends, not to enhance my SATC credentials - they are just friends of mine who happen to be gay - and it pisses me off when I read shite like this.

I was raised a Catholic, in a deeply religious family. As a child, I used to vounteer to read at mass. When I was older I led the church choir and taught Sunday school. To me, Jesus always seemed like a really cool guy. He talked about loving and respecting people, regardless of their past misdemeanors or place of birth or status in society.

Somehow, I cannot imagine Jesus approaching an openly gay couple, telling them that god does not love them, or that they are going to hell. Sites like this just don't sit in with Jesus' general "Live and let live" ethos, surely?

Why is the sexuality of others so offensive? I am not a christian any more (because I was sick of the hypocrisy and inequality that the church talked about a lot, but did very little to help) but I reckon Jesus would rip the piss out of any one of these nutjobs preaching hatred towards other human beings. Let's not forget here, that it was in this Bronze Age manual (John 8:7?) where Jesus openly criticised the hypocrites? Correct me if I'm wrong.

Friday, 3 July 2009

A hint to nerdy boys
Are nerdy girls (like me) really this predictable? We must be, as I agree with pretty much everything she said.
I’d just like to add one more though –
If you don’t communicate at all, they will never know you care. It seems so obvious, and yet rarely happens.
It doesn’t matter if it’s on a train, in a pub, queuing for the loos at Victoria station at 1am on a Wednesday night (you know who you are). The worst she can do is tell you to fuck off, right? And then you can make her feel really guilty by saying something like
 “Oh… sorry, you’re just quite pretty, and you look like quite a cool person. I must have got the wrong impression of you.”

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Fringing is, like, SO July 2009

I love London Sceptics in the Pub - it’s like a collection of the greatest people in the world, but just in London . Some hairy, some pretty, some absolutely gorgeous, all wonderful.

Wednesday 1st July saw yet another gathering of these fine fastidious folk for a “Troublemakers Fringe” in the Penderel’s Oak, championed by the voracity-inducing Vaughan Bell, the delectable Dr Petra Boynton, and the bête noir of penis jokes, Ben Goldacre (follow him on Twitter if you don’t believe me).

I took the trouble of recording the event on my trusty dictaphone, but as luck would have it, you can find a synopsis by two of the legends themselves here and here. For Ben Goldacre’s talk, I strongly recommend you buy his book or borrow it off an uber-cool mate, or read it straight away if it’s gathering dust somewhere. If you’re about next Friday, you may even be able to get it signed.

Vaughan Bell’s talk was educational and informative, but in a good way. Did you know that when philosophers started using allegories as a teaching aid, some people thought it might corrupt the minds of the youth? He chuckled a bit when picturing schoolboys behind the bike sheds swapping dirty allegories, like we all did in school. As an adult, I’m still constantly sharing allegories with my mates, but on secret blogs that no-one will ever read… *cough*

Pretty much every single new form of media/communication has been met with derision by some. Eventually, of course, it becomes the norm (books, radio, and television to name a few) but the internet is somehow seen as different. For example, I take issue with the notion that social networking sites damage ones ability to interact with people face to face (Porn will find you lol). Through social networking, I am able to be popular not just because of my incredibly toned, feminely muscular body, but because of my vast intellect, and above average sense of humour. The internets might cause cancer, but then a lot of things cause cancer and some things are more proven to cause cancer than Facebook.

It’s a shame there wasn’t enough time for Q&As as I had a couple of questions:

1) How long do these cycles of technophobia usually last? Is it until a newer technology comes in? I, for one, cannot wait until the days of Quantum Facebook. I don’t even think my imagination can cope with the possibility of it without breaking out into song… where’s my ukulele when I need it?

2) Why are people so afraid of technology? I hope I didn’t miss the point here, but the gist I took home with me was “Argh! Writing! Evil!…. Oh noes! Allegory! Stories of Satannnn!…. Chutzpah! Radio! Decline of family values Grrr…..” et cetera, et cetera.

I, like most people, cried like a child at the end of Terminator 2, another very scary film. (I am young enough to have actually been a child when I saw it, and let me assure you it scared the hell out of me. I’ve never gotten over my fear of Caucasian policemen, to the point where I now make awkward jokes around them about doughnuts or if they’ve ever considered commissioning their own theme tune. I’m not socially inept or anything, just nervous around the fuzz.)

The point I’m trying to make is why aren’t there more psychologically damaged kids out there (who have probably all seen The Exorcist, let’s be realistic here) and why doesn’t your average reader of papers read these papers and think to themselves “I’m on Facebook and yet I’m not a knuckle dragging socially incompetent fucktard”, instead of buying into this idea that new=bad? One of my cousins was shocked when I told her I had a Facebook AND a Myspace, her reaction was “ohnothatisjustsoawfulsomeonecouldstealyouridentity!” Not bloody likely, my darling, no-one wants my crippling debt.

Perhaps I will pose these questions to him via the medium of Twitter, as it’s the 21st Century and it’s the thing to do. It’ll also come across less “TMI” (as my mother likes to say). Anyway...

The talk smoothly sauntered over to Petra Boynton, who is even better looking in the flesh than in the photo on her blog. I joke a lot about switching over to the lesbian end of the spectrum, but for her, I just might. She was fucking hilarious, and made some damn good points at the same time, all of which can be found here.

In the UK , we have one of the highest (if not the highest) rates of teen pregnancy. VDs are rife. 27 year olds don’t know even how to shag. These are serious problems (all except the last one, which isn’t true for all 27 year olds, just ones I have casual grudges against) and yet we’re a country that is rich enough to be able to educate young people on shagging and how to do it responsibly (and well, although that might be a bit progressive for school children in 2009). Sex education is a bit of a taboo, especially for parents worried about their kids being handed out condoms and dildos before they’ve learnt their 3x tables. Unfortunately for these children, our beloved media prints headlines like these which are really amusing if you have no invested interest in the welfare of the UK’s population, and don’t care about the wider consequences/implications of irresponsible journalism, but for the rest of us they’re quite annoying.

She made seven other really great points but this was the one that really got to me. I went to catholic schools whilst growing up, and we had one PSE lesson in eleven years. That’s not good enough. Please read her article, it’s spot on.

The ravishing Ben Goldacre’s talk was his usual charismatic fast-paced format. Buy his book and read it in a charmingly emphatic sort of way, wearing an afro wig. It’s pretty much the same experience. Failing that, attend one if his excellent talks, details of which can be found here. If you buy one of his t-shirts, he’ll probably stare at your boobs, or better yet, take a photo of them (sadly, after *literally* 25 minutes of searching through my re-tweets dating back to March 2009, I found the source of the photo, but it had expired. If anyone knows how I can recover this - please let me know! I also managed to embarrass myself by asking Ben Goldacre about his photos and then sort of implied that I was a stalker. Initially I assumed he’d see the funny side of it but pseudo self deprecating humour doesn’t transcribe so well through my iPhone. I’m sure there’s an App for that somewhere).

Peace out Sceptics x