The extraordinary research of the BCA

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and you think it's a duck, then maybe you're just not being open-minded enough. Photo (cc) RealEstateZebra

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and you think it’s a duck, then maybe you’re just not being open-minded enough. Photo (cc) RealEstateZebra

I sent an email to the British Chiropractic Association’s enquir­ies email account recently.

Dear BCA,

I read with interest that the use of manip­u­la­tion is doc­u­mented ‘as far back as 2700–1500 BC in China and Greece.’ Could you point me to the doc­u­ment­a­tion for Greece? I’m research­ing the use of ancient his­tory in jus­ti­fic­a­tions for com­pli­ment­ary medi­cine and I’m not famil­iar with any such doc­u­ments. It would be help­ful to know about them in my search for other med­ical texts.

Yours,

Alun Salt

I got a reply. There’s not a lot of evidence.

One pos­sib­il­ity is that a fourth cen­tury BC tab­let from Piraeus might show chiropractic-style treat­ment. The BCA’s enquiry per­son kindly linked to a page show­ing the tab­let, which you can find lis­ted as Votive relief to Asclepius, Piraeus Museum, cata­logue num­ber 405. As for doc­u­ment­a­tion, I’ll quote: “Greek doc­u­ments on manip­u­la­tion from pre-Hippocratic times are more dif­fi­cult — I don’t know of any (but that does not mean that they do not exist).”

This is inter­est­ing because the British Chiropractic Association have quietly announced the ancient his­tory story of the dec­ade. This even beats the Antikythera Mechanism as major news. Here’s the line:

The use of manip­u­la­tion is doc­u­mented as far back as 2700–1500 BC in China and Greece.

I’m not an expert on Chinese writ­ing. I thought there was some nation­al­ist vying with the Egyptians as to who had the old­est writ­ing. The books I’ve found give dates of 1200 BC (Bagley 2004, p. 190) or The 14th to 11th cen­tur­ies BC, with a pos­sible pre­de­cessor around the 17th cen­tury BC (Norman 1988 p. 58). It would seem that the BCA have access to some pre­vi­ously unknown examples of Chinese writ­ing, but that’s not even half the news.

They also have doc­u­ment­a­tion from Greece in this 2700 BC to 1500 BC band. I don’t know of any 2700 BC writ­ing from Greece, but there’s cer­tainly a script known from around 1800 BC-ish. It’s not actu­ally Greek script. That doesn’t really make an appear­ance till around the 8th cen­tury BC. Earlier than that you have Linear B. Linear B dates from the Mycenaean era. Deciphering Linear B is one of the great stor­ies in ancient his­tory, the bulk of it was done by the math­em­atician Michael Ventris in the early 1950s. But Linear B dates from the 15th cen­tury BC at the very old­est. That’s the 1400s BC, so it can’t be that the British Chiropractic Association is refer­ring to. Still older, there’s Linear A.

Linear A is asso­ci­ated with the Minoan civil­isa­tion on Crete. It uses sim­ilar sym­bols to Linear B, but if the sym­bols have the same sounds, then it is a record of a lan­guage unlike any known lan­guage. If you want to be a big name ancient his­tory then you could decipher it. Unless you’re too late, because this is what is so stag­ger­ing about the British Chiropractic Association’s claim. It’s not simply that they may have dis­covered pre­vi­ously unknown writ­ing in China. It’s the fact they’re able to decipher what these ancient texts means. Often early texts are tax records or sim­ilar which only exist in frag­ments. That these unknown texts should describe skilled med­ical treat­ments is stun­ning. Finding claims like cas­u­ally announced on the BCA’s web­site is as amaz­ing as dis­cov­er­ing your neigh­bour has built a time machine in her garden shed.

An altern­at­ive, and I hes­it­ate to bring this up because the British Chiropractic Association are notori­ously liti­gi­ous, is that their claim is non­sense. I’m not say­ing that it is because there are few organ­isa­tions with the repu­ta­tion for upright sci­entific beha­viour enjoyed by the British Chiropractic Association. But purely hypo­thet­ic­ally, let’s say that these texts didn’t exist. How would those claims get onto the web­site? The only way I could see would be if someone made them up. Now I’ll admit the word bogus is sail­ing into view. Such a claim would not be bogus, under English law, because it wouldn’t be inten­tion­ally dis­hon­est. It could be writ­ten by someone entirely indif­fer­ent as to whether or not they were honest.

No, to find a bogus claim, what you’d have to send an email to their organ­isa­tion, say­ing that they’re mak­ing an odd claim, have a reply back say­ing they don’t know of any evid­ence for what they claim and then find they’re still mak­ing the same claim on their webpage. That might be bogus because that would mean they are aware it’s a false claim, but still state it any­way. An exact legal opin­ion on the claim’s bogos­ity could vary depend­ing on how expens­ive your law­yer is.

BUT — we know the BCA don’t make bogus claims, there’s a big court case going on defend­ing their repu­ta­tion. That’s how we know that the BCA must be sit­ting on one of the biggest archae­olo­gical and his­tor­ical stor­ies of the century.

If you’re inter­ested in what is or is not a bogus claim, you might like to search for Simon Singh on Jack of Kent’s web­log.

ReferencesISBN links take you to Worldcat.

Bagley, R.W. (2004) ‘Anyang Writing and the Origin of the Chinese writ­ing sys­tem’ in S.D. Houston (editor) The first writ­ing: script inven­tion as his­tory and pro­cess. Cambridge University Press . pp 190–249. ISBN 0521838614

Norman, J. (1988) Chinese. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521296536

Alun

When he's not tired, ill or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

15 Responses

  1. Gav says:

    Alun it’s not bogus — it’s “BCA BOGUS™”!

  2. Tony Lloyd says:

    Make sure Simon and his team are aware of this. Jack’s your man for the legal stuff but I would have thought that this would lower the BCA’s repu­ta­tion for non-bogosity.

  3. Chris says:

    Should the BCA wish to learn more about the decipher­ment of Linear B and the his­tor­ical devel­op­ment of Greek script around this period, I can recom­mend a book to them: ‘The Code Book’, by one S. Singh, devotes almost a whole chapter to this story.

  4. alun says:

    That has to be com­ment of the month! Applause!

  5. zeno001 says:

    I just love it when someone who knows what they are talk­ing about utterly demol­ishes claims of the quack­ers! Excellent.

    Chris: Brilliant sug­ges­tion — I’ll ask Simon if he’d like to pass on an auto­graphed copy of his book to the BCA

  6. Simon Perry says:

    Genius!

    It’s been a good month for bait­ing mor­ons in areas other than sci­ence. Jack of Kent first did it with a homeopath’s legal know­ledge, now the BCA on history.

    This post is not com­plete without an excerpt from Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”.

    It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bull­shit requires no such con­vic­tion. A per­son who lies is thereby respond­ing to the truth, and he is to that extent respect­ful of it. When an hon­est man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is cor­res­pond­ingly indis­pens­able that he con­siders his state­ments to be false. For the bull­shit­ter, how­ever, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the hon­est man and of the liar are, except inso­far as they may be per­tin­ent to his interest in get­ting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe real­ity cor­rectly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

    Sums it up perfectly.

  7. alun says:

    As a note, one of the prob­lems about writ­ing a post about the edge of libel law is that it sits on the edge of libel law. That means I can’t have com­ments which cross over the line. I couldn’t if I lived in the USA, because of the ridicu­lous reach of the English libel laws. I doubly can’t see­ing as I actu­ally live in the UK. This is why I’ve had to delete a comment.

    I’m sorry if any­one doesn’t like where I’m put­ting that line, but if it is a prob­lem then I’d recom­mend set­ting up an account at word​press​.com.

  8. alun says:

    As a note, one of the prob­lems about writ­ing a post about the edge of libel law is that it sits on the edge of libel law. That means I can’t have com­ments which cross over the line. I couldn’t if I lived in the USA, because of the ridicu­lous reach of the English libel laws. I doubly can’t see­ing as I actu­ally live in the UK. This is why I’ve had to delete a comment.

    I’m sorry if any­one doesn’t like where I’m put­ting that line, but if it is a prob­lem then I’d recom­mend set­ting up an account at word​press​.com.

  9. Rodney says:

    Alan, I can offer a little more inform­a­tion about this: it’s a story that has grown in the telling, because the people who repeat it lack basic crit­ical skills. Many chiro­practic sites repeat the claim, without cita­tion, that the prac­tice dates back to 2700 BCE. Some how­ever are a little more accur­ate: “One of the earli­est indic­a­tions of soft tis­sue manip­u­la­tion is demon­strated by the ancient Chinese Kong Fou Document writ­ten about 2700 B.C., which was brought to the Western World by mis­sion­ar­ies.” (http://​www​.chiro​health​.org/​a​b​o​u​t​c​h​i​r​o​p​r​a​c​t​i​c​.​htm) Of course soft tis­sue manip­u­la­tion is mas­sage, not chiro­practic. The doc­u­ment referred to dates to the time of the legendary emperor Huangdi. But the mis­sion­ar­ies simply repeated what they had been told. Modern schol­ars believe the doc­u­ment was actu­ally writ­ten around 200 BCE or later. And it does not even men­tion mas­sage — the French mis­sion­ary, Pierre Martial Cibot (1727–1780), refers else­where to mas­sage as some­thing he has seen done (though there is little doubt that it was already long prac­tised by then). The Chinese texts may well have been based on earlier ones, but then again there was a prac­tice of append­ing new texts to older ones. (see Robert Noah Calvert, The his­tory of mas­sage: an illus­trated sur­vey from around the world, pages 35–36) The story is, dare I say, bogus.

  10. alun says:

    Thanks, that’s help­ful if a bit dis­ap­point­ing. I didn’t ser­i­ously think they’d uncovered rad­ic­ally earlier writ­ings, but I thought they could have found some mater­ial that was 1500 years old (rather than 1500 BC) that I didn’t know about. Oh well, it’s not like I’m short of things to look at, so I can spend time look­ing at some­thing more productive. :)

  1. October 26, 2009

    […] Salt has done a little research, and it turns out the BCA seem to believe that they have dis­covered and trans­lated ground-breaking […]

  2. October 27, 2009

    […] Simon Perry made the com­ment below (in red) after an amus­ing post­ing on Alun Salts […]

  3. October 27, 2009

    Social com­ments and ana­lyt­ics for this post…

    This post was men­tioned on Twitter by alun: Re: The extraordin­ary research of the BCA http://​ff​.im/​-​a​c​fYA

  4. October 31, 2009

    […] The BCA has been hold­ing out on historians! […]