a rather strange decision

A fellow blogger drew my attention to a recent decision by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.  It seems that Dr Shaun Holt, a medical doctor who appears regularly on TV1’s Breakfast show, has been slated by the BSA over some comments he made (several months back now) concerning chiropractic. The BSA found that the show – & by extension Dr Holt – had breached standards of accuracy, impartiality & objectiveness, & that the coverage was neither fair nor balanced.

Before I get on with the story – while the media like to present ‘both sides of a story’, sometimes there really aren’t two sides. Think of evolution & creationism, for example. One’s science, & one’s not, & a story about evolution most emphatically does not require ‘balance’ by adding a segment on creationism. The same could be said for vaccinations; contrary to what can be found on far too many websites, to date any number of well-designed scientific studies have found no link between autism (for example), so an item on vaccination does not need ‘balance’ by reporting claims that such a link exists…

OK, I’ll get off my soapbox…

Anyway, I can see where the ‘impartiality’ thing came from. Dr Holt has an interest in a firm that tests prescription medicines & CAM remedies, & because this wasn’t declared he could be said to have a conflict of interest in commenting unfavourably on chiropractic. But the BSA also decided that Dr Holt’s comments represented personal opinion & that he had made a number of strong, unqualified statements about what scientific research had to say about chiropractic treatment. Well, you can find a clip of the interview on YouTube (isn’t the internet wonderful?).



I watched it this evening. Dr Holt does indeed make some statements of opinion, but he also makes it clear that this is what he’s doing (what he would do for back pain, for example). But he also refers to scientific studies looking at the benefits & risks of chiropractic. (You can find reviews & protocols for meta-analyses of this work in the Cochrane system – here, for example. For more general commentary, Ben Goldacre has a fairly extensive set of links to such work here, as does David Colquhoun on his blog.) And TV1 gave equal time to a chiropractic spokesman, so it’s hard to see how a finding of ‘unfair’ could arise.

It would also have been nice to see the inclusion of a scientist on a panel that was making decisions about the scientific accuracy of what was being said, but alas! this was not the case. As I commented a little while back in relation to debate around adding folic acid to bread – for questions where questions of science are involved, we really should be hearing the voice of science in there somewhere.

4 thoughts on “a rather strange decision”

  • Hi Alison,
    Its just time wasting. You backing up Dr Holt efforts and myself a chiropractor angry and steaming after what he said on national TV. I’m biased and so are you(I say that because of your profile and you are on his support blog). Thats why third parties are designed to act from a neutral prospective and act in a professional manner, imagine if there were a chiropractor amonst them, Dr Holt would lose hair over it!! One just needs to visit his naturalremediesthatwork.blogspot.com. He’s not keen on this chiropractic thing
    The bottom line, I think Dr Holt is alright. He is confident and his new book is interesting. His ‘personal comments’ on national TV were unprofessional by his standard but those comments are heard everywhere. Also ‘everywhere’ are people getting better with chiropractic,its growing rapidly, what that all about? Is it due to a lack of evidence and strokes?

  • Alison Campbell says:

    Hi Frank, thanks for dropping by 🙂 I guess we will probably have to agree to disagree on this one. My concern with the BSA decision was that this body appeared to be making decisions on matters of science (where Dr Holt made it clear he was referring to published studies) when there was not a scientist among them. This seems to be a common feature of commentary in NZ (eg televised discussions about the addition of folate to bread) and it’s unfortunate, I feel, to see it slipping into public decision-making as well. Yes, of course Dr Holt would rightly have conniptions if a chiroprator sat on the BSA, & the same would be true if someone close to Dr Holt was present. But it would surely be possible to find someone independent & with a strong background in science able to assess the scientific validity of what was being said.
    On the issue of whether people are getting better with chiropractic (data please?) – there is some evidence that it works in the area of back pain (particularly lower back pain). But some of the claims made by various practitioners (eg that it can cure asthma) simply don’t stack up – nor is the mechanism by which it might work, as proposed by the developer of chiropractic, anything more than magical thinking (‘vital forces’, for example, with no explanation of what these are or how they have anything at all to do with the spinal cord). Matty (one of the other commenters in this thread) has just provided a link to a blog post on this very subject 🙂

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