British Chiropractors Retreating from Publicity

This is shocking.

A chiropractic association in the UK has taken the very unusual step of contacting all of its members and recommending they take down their websites, apparently because of the risk that those websites contain unsubstantiated claims about chiropractic’s ability to treat certain conditions.

This blog entry on DC’s Improbable Science blog — The McTimoney Chiropractic Association would seem to believe that chiropractic is “bogus” — has a copy of the letter. It reads, in part:

The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is as follows.

  1. If you have a website, take it down NOW.

When you have done that, please let us know preferably by email or by phone. This will save our valuable time chasing you to see whether it has been done.

  1. 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 or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice. The MCA are working on an interim replacement leaflet which will be sent to you shortly.

The “campaigners” referred to in the website are individuals — mostly skeptical bloggers, from what I understand — who’ve taken on the task of emailing chiropractors and saying, basically, “your website says you can treat X…can you provide any credible evidence for that claim?”

Many commentators think this letter is a smoking gun, proving that chiropractors themselves know how little evidence there is that their practices are effective. (My non-expert understanding from what I’ve read is that there is some evidence for the effectiveness of chiropractic treatments for certain kinds of back pain, but little beyond that.) In fairness, it’s worth pointing out that MCA explicitly denies that its letter is an admission of anything. Their letter says: “This advice is given to you solely to protect you from what we believe is a concerted campaign, and does not imply any wrongdoing on your part or the part of the Association. “

Now, I want to set aside entirely the debate over chiropractic in general. What interests me, here, is the move by this professional association — a kind of business association, in effect — to tell its members not to publicize the details of the services they offer. This means that all communications is now going on behind closed doors. This is clearly a dangerous move. It means that consumers now can’t see in advance what ailments a various chiropractor offers to help with. It also means that (some) chiropractors are now going to be doing business in a way that’s insulated from public scrutiny. That sort of behaviour is surely beneath what we expect of people who claim the title of ‘health professional.’

(FYI…Here’s the strikingly brief website for the McTimoney Chiropractic Association itself. Essentially, they’ve deleted all content. But here, thanks to the Internet Archive (which archives websites) is what the McTimoney Chiropractic Association website looked like on February 2008.)

Please note: I will not be approving comments that try to engage the general question of evidence for/against the effectiveness of chiropractic. Please limit comments to the specific issue at hand. Thanks.

6 comments so far

  1. Andy on

    It’s an interesting publicity problem. Clients searching for information on the web will see either missing pages or pages stripped of detailed information.

    If chiros follow the instructions in the email then people phoning for information may be greeted with a strange response. Similarly, those genuine clients calling in to the practise might find themselves looked on with suspicion.

    From the outside (I’m not in the UK), it would seem the BCA’s libel action has done more damage to UK chiropractic that the original Simon Singh article could ever have achieved. Thousands more people – around the world – have now read the “offending” paragraph and this latest campaign just pushes the knife a little deeper.

    Oh to be a fly on the wall at the next meeting BCA has with its lawyers.

  2. Kevin Goodman on

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    That sounds like a HUGE and important problem. Can a professions entire culture be corrupted? Not to take it too far but I feel that professional and organizational ethics are best facilitated by culture. If the umbrella professional organization is pursuing a policy against transparency then that seems to be a good indication that the profession’s ethical culture is threatened.

    Furthermore, I expect professional organizations to lean more towards the consumer than the practitioner. The organization has to protect the profession as a whole by ensuring standards that put the consumer first – at least that’s how I would presume a long term strategy in sustenance ‘should be’.

    At any rate I agree with Andy – Poor PR

  3. DarryleHuffman on

    I am working on an Ethics Masters degree at Duquesne. As I was reading the post the thought came to mind about how ethical was it to make a statement when you cant prove you can actually help the problem. For example when they develop a new medicine for treatment they have protocols they follow to make sure the treatment works before giving it to the public to purchase.What they made the Chiros do was perfectly ethical because thier wasn’t any kind of research to show what they were doing actually helped the problem.

  4. Chris MacDonald on


    Thanks for your comment.

    I think I agree with you, in substance. But note that “they” are an association of Chiropractors…it wasn’t (for example) a government authority. It was the association recommending to its own members that they take down their websites. If the concern was over the lack of evidence, you’d think the association could just say “stop making unjustified claims” or “stop making controversial claims” or something like that.


  5. DarryleHuffman on

    If the Association had not done something to police thier membership then Goverment intervention may have come through regulations. Thier would have been probes into the problem and would have led to major problem for the Chiros. Investgations by any Government usually means that the association could not or would not police thier membership and therefore the Government would have had to remedy the situation to protects the consumer.

  6. […] British Chiropractors Retreating from Publicity (June 10, 2009) […]

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