The extraordinary research of the BCA

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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

15 thoughts on “The extraordinary research of the BCA

  1. Tony Lloyd

    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.

  2. Chris

    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.

  3. zeno001

    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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Rodney

    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.

  8. 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. :)

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