Thanks to investigative blogger gimpy I was made aware of an article published in an alternative medical journal a few days back by Lionel R. Milgrom, a prominent British homeopath. Gimpy will be producing a more detailed analysis 0f the lunacy in this article and the failures it represents in the (near?) future and when he does I’ll post a link to it (here it is) but until then I couldn’t let the sheer forehead slapping stupidity of this article pass without offering some comment.
Milgrom is no stranger to the skeptic community having featured in the Horizon homeopathy episode with James Randi, in several debates with David Colquhoun (not to mention throwing a fair amount of unfounded accusations at him) and bizarrely accusing Ben Goldacre of not attending a talk which he commented on when there was actual video footage (which Ben posted) of him sitting on the stage throughout the talk. The Goldacre fiasco should make it clear that Milgrom is not necessarily the most perceptive punter out there but just to seal the deal his most recent article is reporting, and I quote:
The British Chiropractic Association recently won a libel case against the science writer and CAM ‘skeptic’ Dr Simon Singh for publishing an article in a British newspaper in which he accused them of promoting ‘bogus’ treatments.
This is news to all of us following the case who seem to have missed several rather significant facts reported by Milgrom namely that the case has finished, a verdict has been handed down and the BCA have won. Someone should alert Simon, the BCA and the courts because they all seem to be acting under the impression that the case is in fact still ongoing and no verdict has yet been reached. The fact that Simon has just recently won permission to appeal Eady’s decision on meaning from the preliminary hearing would seem to support this interpretation but I can’t help thinking that there must be some mistake…
If someone was going to write an article, for publication in a journal, about an ongoing legal case which they felt very strongly about, wouldn’t they at very least bother to check whether an actual verdict had been reached? Wouldn’t they at least take a few minutes to read the short and straightforward legal summaries on the Jack-of-Kent blog, even if just to know what their opponents were saying? Wouldn’t they contact the BCA and double check if they had actually won?
If the author in question is one Lionel Milgrom then the answer is no, apparently not. Instead of doing any of the above all Milgrom seems to have referred to is a BCA press release from over 4 months ago. Even this doesn’t explain his error though as although misleading and full of silliness none of the BCA’s press releases have gone so far (yet) as to claim that they have won the case before it is concluded.
And there lies an all too clear illustration of one of the major shortcomings of the CAM community- a lack of thorough research combined with no sincere engagement with critics or their arguments. Lionel Milgrom isn’t a marginal figure in the UK alternative medicine scene, he is a former director of the Society of Homeopaths and he has featured in a variety of documentaries, interviews and news stories relating to alternative medicine. As such his failure to check whether the case was concluded or not before declaring it in an article is inexcusable as a simple mistake.
The Guardian health editor Sarah Bosley and possibly a headline writer made an analogous error earlier in the week when she reported in her column that Eady’s decision had been ‘struck down’ by Justice Law. This reflects a similar lack of thorough research and/or familiarity with the case and also deserves criticism as it could have easily been avoided. However, it is also more understandable given that Bosley was writing a short column on the very same day as the decision was handed out and likely had little exposure to the case prior to writing this column. Milgrom on the other hand has been writing or at least researching his article on the specific topic of Simon’s case and its implications for months (judging from the dates he last accessed references).
An even more pertinent distinction is that Bosley’s article has, in fact, already been corrected with a notation added to the original article and in the ‘corrections and clarifications’ section. Maybe Milgrom’s article will end up being edited too and if it does it is certainly a step in the right direction but the inescapable fact will still remain that a single hour of decent research into the case would have made it abundantly clear that no overall verdict has been reached and the case is still ongoing. That Milgrom missed such basic facts suggests that he did very little research and/or he did not understand what he read.
Either way it isn’t a great reflection on the BCA that its defenders are not seemingly of the calibre of research whereby they can tell whether a case has already finished or not.
A final point I’d like to make relates to the short twitter exchange between gimpy and the former editor of the Skeptic magazine Wendy Grossman discussing the topic. After gimpy labelled Milgrom’s error as libel Wendy questioned what made it libel and not an innocent “mistake in the status of court proceedings”. Gimpy’s reply was straightforward and quite compelling:
because it’s not true and to accuse somebody of being guilty of libel when they aren’t is an attack on their reputation?
However, despite the logic of gimpy’s position, I can’t help feeling that thanks in large part to the BCA and other litigious CAM folk accusations of libel are starting to become uncomfortably pervasive in debates surrounding CAM. Fortunately, skeptics don’t seem to be particularly bothered about pursuing libel cases unless it is truly warranted and as such I agree with Wendy that we shouldn’t be so quick to call ‘libel’ just because our opponents do!
I do however disagree that Milgrom’s error is as insignificant as Wendy’s comments seem to suggest as I think it is a significant error indicative of a serious lack of rigour in research when a fully referenced article is published in a CAM journal after months of research and the author does not even appear to know that a verdict has not been reached on the case his article is based around!
UPDATE: Jack of Kent has now blogged on Milgrom’s article too!
It really beggars belief that anyone could make such simple, yet fundamental errors of fact – facts that are so easily verified with the minimum of effort. You have to wonder whether it was incompetence or a deliberate ploy to further misinform the AltMed community.
I’m just some chump in Western Australia with a passing, blogging, interest in the case and it turns out I know more about it than someone who can get an article about it published in a journal. It seems I missed my calling.
Will this case ever cease to offer up quality comedy?