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.


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

Cliopatria Awards 2008: Best Series of Posts


Here we’re mov­ing out of my depth slightly. I haven’t been fol­low­ing enough blogs that intently to men­tion more than a couple of series of posts.

So instead of a com­pre­hens­ive over­view, I’m going to grab the ‘high­light work that oth­ers might not have seen’ baton and point to Le Site d’Irna as my nom­in­a­tion for Best Series of Posts. I’m nom­in­at­ing with mixed feel­ings, because I’m not really inter­ested in giv­ing the sub­ject any more pub­li­city. So the write-up is oblique to try and avoid a cer­tain phrase and draw­ing in more vis­it­ors who get angry when you rule out alien inter­ven­tion as an explan­a­tion for archae­olo­gical remains, purely due to lack of evid­ence. To a large extent the world is bored. It’s old news. Yet still he keeps dig­ging and des­troy­ing more and more of the irre­place­able past. Irna with her series of posts has kept a chron­icle of what has been going in the Balkans (clue if you don’t know what I’m talk­ing about). It’s a thank­less task, at least for now but I’m entirely ser­i­ous when I say her posts are of his­toric import­ance. This will be valu­able mater­ial when someone wants to talk about the ‘equal valid­ity of dif­fer­ent ways of know­ing.’ It’s the only place I know of where the extra-terrestrial hunt­ing pseudoar­chae­olo­gists have been given carte blanche on a site of archae­olo­gical importance.

The posts are:

It’s a shame she’s had to write them, but she has writ­ten them well and they deserve recognition.

Question Two: What exactly do you mean by ‘accurate’?


Astrology Poll results

I’m busy till the end of the month, so I won’t be blog­ging about these res­ults yet. The irony is that the Aztec cal­en­dar was far, far more accur­ate than the clas­sical Greek cal­en­dar which would only be accur­ate to plus or minus a month or two.

What do the Creationists want with you?


’Christians’ show­ing the love. Photo (cc) Jordan Thevenow-Harrison

Ed Darrell has set a tough prob­lem. How do you solve the Texan edu­ca­tion crisis? If you haven’t been fol­low­ing this, the Texas Education Authority has forced an employee to resign because she sent round details of a talk debunk­ing Intelligent Design. The TEA has stated it’s neut­ral on whether or not chil­dren should have good edu­ca­tion. It’s the latest round of what, in the­ory, is the argu­ment between Science and Intelligent Design. It isn’t really. Everyone knows that Intelligent Design is second-rate Creationism. However I don’t think the argu­ment is between Science and Creationism either. If it was then the debate would be as dead as phlogiston.

Even the pre­tence of a debate plays into the Creationists’ hands. This allows them to frame the argu­ment as Science against Christianity. Yet if you look at the argu­ments it’s clear that this isn’t about Science. It’s about power. It won’t be power over sci­ent­ists — they’re con­strained by real­ity. It’s power over Christians that’s the issue. Answers in Genesis is quite open about this. Creation mat­ters because it’s about evangelism.

That has to be a prob­lem, because it’s not evan­gel­ism to gen­eric Christianity. There are no gen­eric Christians. There are Orthodox Christians, Catholics and vari­ous minor sects. In the case of AiG it’s evan­gel­ism for a very spe­cific fun­da­ment­al­ist form of Christianity. They state:

The 66 books of the Bible are the writ­ten Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerr­ant through­out. Its asser­tions are fac­tu­ally true in all the ori­ginal auto­graphs. It is the supreme author­ity in everything it teaches.

Yes, accord­ing AiG, the Sun doesn’t cause day­light and could come out at night if God thought it would be use­ful. There’s a lot said about the inerr­ancy of the Bible. Sadly there’s noth­ing about the fal­lib­il­ity of those who read it. Now you may be infal­lible and know the mind of God. Congratulations if this is the case, but it makes you part of a minor­ity. A few minutes con­ver­sa­tion will reveal that most other people don’t have the clar­ity of under­stand­ing that you do.

Indeed, a lot of Christians accept they don’t have all the answers. Most of the com­mit­ted Christians I’ve met are as hon­est, decent and char­it­able as any­one else. Their reac­tion to the uni­verse is one of awe and humil­ity rather than cer­tainty. I think they make a mis­take nam­ing that awe ‘God’, but they seem to con­sider the mind of God unknow­able. When Creationists take the label ‘Christians’ for them­selves they pre­sume to speak on behalf of these people. That reveals amaz­ing arrog­ance, but they have it in good sup­ply.

So how do you debate these people? I strongly sus­pect you can’t debate them with sci­entific or his­tor­ical facts. You can’t debate them using basic logic. They’ve been immunised.

The way I would choose to debate this is to tackle what the cre­ation­ists plan to do if they win. See the place Sherri Shepherd makes for people who think dates in BC refer to the time before Christ? That is the same space she has for people who don’t share her spe­cific off­shoot of Christianity. Will tran­sub­stan­ti­ation be taught as fact in Chemistry? It has exactly the same amount of evid­ence as Creationism, so if not why not? It’s not a frivol­ous ques­tion. What Catholics call Christ’s blood, the sec­u­lar law of Ireland calls alco­hol, and it could lead to drink-driving. It’s not just a gen­eric God that’s being put into classes, exactly whose God is it? What role will this God have in the local gov­ern­ment and in the law?

The Creationists know exactly what role their God will have in Texas. They know how they plan to deal with any­one who doesn’t share their view of God. The real debate is about who will be allowed to ques­tion Authority in Texas. There’s noth­ing spe­cial about sci­ent­ists, it just hap­pens that they’re at the top of the list as their jobs are based on ques­tion­ing Authority. The best response for sci­ent­ists to cre­ation­ists is to make clear that sci­entific debate is impossible because cre­ation­ists have noth­ing to debate with.

Despite the claims of cre­ation­ists and the wishes of some athe­ists, Darwin didn’t prove that God didn’t exist, but what he did do was show that God was not neces­sary to explain the vari­ety of life. That opens up a lot of ques­tions. Darwin showed that everything could be ques­tioned, includ­ing the reas­ons for the exist­ence of everything liv­ing. He showed that the world was not static and there was no neces­sity to believe in a world where the places of rich and poor were divinely ordained. Despite the recent attempts of an actor front­ing a titanic ‘exposé’ of evol­u­tion to smear him, he opposed slavery. His work has polit­ical implic­a­tions. It requires a ques­tion­ing atti­tude, and that’s not accept­able to people who don’t want to be ques­tioned. That’s why they offer noth­ing to ques­tion and that’s why they want to encour­age chil­dren to know when to stop ask­ing awk­ward questions.

If you know what the Creationists want with you, you’ll know why Darwin matters.

An ethical Homeopathic puzzle


Oscillococcinum is a remark­able sub­stance. It’s a homeo­pathic rem­edy which fights the Oscillococcus bac­terium. Now some scep­tics will balk at that and ask how a homeo­pathic medi­cine can fight any­thing. That’s not a prob­lem in this case as Oscillococcus prob­ably doesn’t exist. That’s a dis­trac­tion. What’s inter­est­ing is Oscillococcinum itself.

Oscillococcinum is made from the extract of heart and liver of a Muscovy duck. This is diluted to 200CK. The K refers to the method of dilu­tion. You fill a glass with a solu­tion and then empty it. Then you refill the still damp glass with 100ml of fresh pure water. This method assumes you’ve just diluted your solu­tion by one part in a hun­dred. The C is the bit that tells you it’s one part in a hun­dred. So in this case 1ml of heart and liver extract is diluted in 10 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 litres of water. If you took a drop of heart and liver extract and mixed it with all the water in all the oceans on the Earth, it still wouldn’t be any­where near as diluted as Oscillococcinum.

Once I saw that one ques­tion lodged in my mind: “Is it suit­able for veget­ari­ans?“
Continue read­ing

Good Homeopaths found!


Hurrah! I can close the week­end on an upbeat note. Shpalman has had a look at his area and did not find homeo­paths who claim to cure can­cer, mal­aria, AIDS or scrofula. It would seem that at in at least some areas homeo­paths do all stick to their Code of Ethics. It’s nicer to think of them as people who may be a bit incom­pet­ent rather than evil. How incom­pet­ent? Well Shpalman did find this quote from Oakleigh Homeopathy.

Homeopathic Remedies are pos­sibly the safest form of medi­cine I have come across, an aspect very import­ant to me then, in the care of my small chil­dren, and now in the care of my patients. If the rem­ed­ies are not care­fully matched they simply won’t work, a point born out acci­dent­ally by my chil­dren who dur­ing a lapse of atten­tion man­aged to eat whole bottles full of the rem­ed­ies and had no ill effects whatsoever!

Yes, someone who believes the pills could have a major effect on a person’s health dis­covered they were safe after she let her chil­dren eat bottles of the stuff.

It’s back to archae­ology and ancient his­tory tomorrow.