The BCA “Plethora of evidence”: The Fallon Paper

After a long, long wait, the BCA published its list of ‘evidence’ on the Simon Singh case. There was one paper that no-one could find for a while that has finally emerged into public view, and it doesn’t look good. For those of you who haven’t been following the BCA-Simon Singh libel case, I recommend Sense About Science, who also run a petition that you should definitely sign; Jack Of Kent for the legal side; and the Lay Scientist and Gimpy for their ongoing coverage. This post investigates the conflicts of interest in the paper by Joan M Fallon D.C. F.I.C.C.P., and is taken from my regular blog at Blue-Genes. Click here to view the original (it’s prettier).

Subscribe to Blue-Genes.netThe Lay Scientist has a great appraisal of the general quality of the BCA evidence. The Fallon paper that has just emerged was supposed to show “a strong correlation between the chiropractic adjustment and the resolution of otitis media for the children in this study”, according to the BCA press release. A copy (google cached version) finally emerged on the 2nd July.

I figure that the leading bloggers of the bad science community will do the paper’s criticism more justice than I would be able to (especially seeing as I don’t currently have institutional access to journal articles). Gimpy has already pointed out that he was entirely correct when he judged it according to the abstract (the main point being the lack of a control group) and also pointed out some simple errors in data handling that demonstrate the clear lack of a rigorous approach to science.

I note that there’s no statement about a conflict of interest – I guess the Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics (JCCP) can’t really have a conflict of interest statement, as it is a journal published by the International Chiropractors Association (ICA) Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics (CCP), one of whose stated goals is that “the Council endeavors to educate the public about the safety, efficacy,and appropriateness of chiropractic care from infants to adolescents.” (grammatical error is not mine). The parent organisation, the ICA, was set up explicitly to lobby for the adoption of chiropractic – not exactly a balanced scientific organisation.

It all seems quite incestuous to me: according to this notice from the Palmer College of Chiropractic (where she got her Doctor of Chiropractic – D.C.) Fallon is a co-founder of the ICACCP who then published her landmark paper in her own journal. She was chair of the ICACCP at some point, although I don’t know whether this was at the time that she did her ‘study’. She is also listed as one of the most important sponsors of the ICACCP.

While I was looking around I found some reports that she had written a book called “The Textbook of Chiropractic and Pregnancy” (also mentioned in the Palmer College notice above) before writing the infamous paper. If true then that represents a possible further conflict of interest (although I guess the rules are a little stretched here). Interestingly, I couldn’t find the book listed anywhere on the internet (although it recieved plenty of mentions on various chiropractic websites). It also isn’t listed in the Cambridge University Library’s catalogue which, to my knowledge, has a copy of close to every book published in English. I have sent them an email to check this, and will update as soon as I get a reply. The other book mentioned in the Palmer College notice was also mysteriously absent.

This brings me to another point: a PubMed search for “Joan Fallon” returns only one article titled “Could one of the most widely prescribed antibiotics amoxicillin/clavulanate “augmentin” be a risk factor for autism?”. At the top of the page is a note saying that the article was commented upon later in the same journal. The title of the comment is “Antibiotic not linked to autism.”. Unfortunately, I can’t read any further because I don’t have institutional access for the next two weeks.

Joan Fallon is frequently described as having done lots of important research in the field of chiropractic, although she seems to have moved to other areas recently, but her only PubMed result is something unrelated. Where on earth was all this research published?

I apologise for this ad hominem attack, but it strikes me that she may have published this paper in her own journal, further undermining the quality of its science.

ResearchBlogging.orgJOAN M. FALLON, D.C., F.I.C.C.P. (1997). The Role of the Chiropractic Adjustment in the Care and Treatment of 332 Children with Otitis Media Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics


My apologies, it turns out that the textbook does exist: the Cambridge University Library doesn’t have a copy because “the publishers, the International Chiropractors Association, is an American body, so we it is unlikely that we would have been able to acquire it under copyright.”. Published in 1994 (three years before the study), this book would presumably have increased sales if more people think chiropractic works.

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