S is for “Straw man”, T is for Troll.

Our recent noijam post, What is the difference between cancer and whiplash despite almost universal agreement and support, got trolled pretty hard on Twitter and has had a great big straw man built up and torn down by a Mr Alan J Taylor of the University of Nottingham.

Rather than ignoring what has occurred, we’ve decided to respond for two reasons- to defend against the unprovoked attack, as well as to highlight the potential of social media to get ugly, unprofessional, personal and hurtful.

The “straw man” argument is a classic logical fallacy that involves misrepresenting another’s position (that is, build a ‘straw man’) and then attacking this misrepresentation. The straw man trick “creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition and then refuting or defeating that false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the original proposition”

An internet troll, or just “troll” for short is defined as “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion”. (Importantly, this characterisation is based on behaviour, not necessarily anything to do with the person themselves)


Here is how the attack on our post started:Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.21.46 am

Shortly followed by the beginnings of the straw manScreen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.22.04 am

In internet parlance, if you “feed the troll” the troll grows:

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.22.37 am

And grows

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.23.35 am
Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.22.17 am
Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.35.38 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.35.29 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.35.20 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.34.30 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.37.33 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.34.22 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.35.29 pm

And keeps growing…

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.38.35 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.37.08 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.38.50 pm Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.41.21 pm

And  here is how trolling behaviour becomes sinister – the initial linking of noigroup to a convicted paedophile is utterly offensive to all, even worse is the retweeting of this abhorrent link. We wonder if the University of Nottingham is aware of such staff behavior.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 5.44.29 pm

There’s more if anyone out there cares to check, but we think you have the idea.

Mr Taylor then took to his own blog for a further rant:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 10.02.07 am

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 10.23.58 am


Below is our detailed response to Mr Taylor’s post (Mr Taylor’s words are in italics)

What is the difference between cancer & whiplash?… Here’s what!

“When I first read this post and the reaction on Twitter, I was initially surprised by the fawning sycophantic compliments of self proclaimed skeptics… so I read it again and frankly I was appalled (at many levels).” (Emphasis added)

Right off the bat, Mr Taylor starts with a sweeping Ad hominem (personal attack) to ensure that anyone with a different viewpoint to his can be dismissed as a fawning sycophant.

Then, in amongst many changing fonts, colours, YELLING and cartoons, Mr Taylor claims to make three points:

1. The analogy ‘Cancer-Whiplash’ is meaningless and badly chosen…

“Whilst sympathising entirely with the authors’ stated proximity to the subject (cancer), this cannot allow us to stray into emotional territory … lets keep it as factual as possible.

Cancer is acquired insidiously – Whiplash associated disorder (WAD) results from trauma.”

Agreed, whiplash and associated disorders result from trauma, generally to the neck, caused by motor vehicle accidents, generally at speed, often leading to (frequently missed or ignored) irritation of neural structures in the neck and upper limbs .

The choice of cancer and whiplash as comparators is clearly explained in the post and despite Mr Taylor’s attempt to build a straw man, there was never any suggestion that whiplash and cancer share anything other than both being experiences had by human beings.

“Cancer may lead to death – WAD rarely (to avoid that unwanted complication see here)”

 Correctly stating the obvious, but missing the point of the post.

 “Cancer is easy to diagnose – WAD diagnosis is in its infancy”

Cancer is not easy to diagnose; this particular cancer was not diagnosed despite two years of symptoms, and the hubris of this sweeping statement is an affront to oncologists and cancer sufferers.

“Cancer has clear care pathways and the ‘management process can be mapped out with confidence’ – WAD is both difficult to diagnose and little is known about the most effective treatments.”

Some cancers (definitely not all) have clear pathways – this was one of the key points of the original post that contrasted cancer and whiplash- the other point was that WAD has been difficult to treat because it has been loaded with bullshit – initial ignorance of basic pain science is possibly excused, ongoing willful denial of up to date and readily available pain science is not.

“Cancer research is MASSIVELY funded all over the World – WAD has pockets of minor funding.”

Yes, there is a huge disparity in funding for chronic pain given it’s dubious honour as the worlds most costly health issue and a key point of the original post is that the funding that whiplash has attracted has been wasted on paradigms that have lacked scientific plausibility from the outset (see Time for Motor Freedom). Given that the noigroup has for decades contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the proceeds of courses and product sales to pain research around the world, Mr Taylor’s very personal, sarcastic and acrimonious attack carries a sad irony.

“In oncology, clinicians are able to be very clear about the diagnosis management and prognosis – In WAD sadly not so.”

This is repetition of a further point above, but again the point of the post was contrasting cancer and whiplash.


2. We don’t need another bullshit acronym!

“Then I began to laugh again, this time with tears rolling down my cheeks (see below).”

Mr Taylor seems to have forgotten his instruction to his readers to remain factual and not get emotional.

“Physiotherapy as a profession, has been beset with a plethora of ever changing, confusing acronyms since its inception … ANT changed to AND … Mmmmm!

ULTT1 (UK) is also BPPT (Aus) … even better! 

In the perceived wisdom of the ‘noijam group’ we should be adopting SNSNI … Oh, wait a minute, can’t we lever in some MORE LETTERS?

‘SNASWFNI’ is surely a lot catchier … The (Welsh) medics will really take to that??

Maybe NOIgroup (note the acronym) can hype it a little …?”

With the appeal to emotion in this section aside, there was never any suggestion in the post that Sprained Neck at Speed with frequent Neural Irritation be adopted as an acronym to replace whiplash. The original post was NOT a post about whiplash mechanisms or recommendations for treatment. This is Mr Taylor building a straw man, with the only purpose, it would seem, to attack the author.

Notwithstanding this, Mr Taylor provides no argument against the descriptive accuracy of the notion of SNSNI. Injuries traditionally labelled as whiplash, while heterogenous, are generally soft tissue injuries (sprains/strains) that have occurred through high speed trauma, that involve frequent irritation of neck and upper limb neural structures. We contend that a skilled therapist, with up to date pain science knowledge, could use this understanding of neck injury and pain after motor vehicle accident to educate a patient and de-threaten the entire experience, rather than leave them with the erroneous but powerful metaphor of “whip”-“lash”

There was no directive that this acronym be used when dealing with patients, despite Mr Taylor’s fanciful attempt to represent a therapist-patient interaction.

Mr Taylor, continuing with his straw man attack then asks of his false use of SNSNI

“Is that just THE SCARIEST description you have ever heard??”

The scariest thing we have ever heard is Mr Taylor’s ‘formula’ for physiotherapy

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 10.05.33 am

More, shouted Ad hominem

“Shame on you Noijam … You’re promoting the very thing you asked us all to STOP! (sorry…)”

We will leave it to our readers to decide for themselves the truthfulness of this statement.

For Mr Taylor’s third point, he suggests that

3. There IS no sectarian war …!

“Or if there is, it is self promulgated, self promoted and self fuelled by nonsense and evangelical hype.”

More personal attack with no basis for this argument, however Mr Taylor’s vehement vitriol lends great support to the original statement in the post that “so many professions want to help SNSNI in so many different ways that there is almost a sectarian war in the rehab world, held only in place because all participants are currently reasonably well fed” (Emphasis added)

“Yes, there IS an on-going ‘guru’ culture in PT, but any perceived ‘war’ is of the protagonists own making. What we have in PT, is a young profession (this is not medicine), struggling gamely to make sense of the ever changing science and the BRILLIANT work done by folk in many fields … see here and here and here for some examples in WAD.

Let’s all try and help physiotherapy to change together, with a little less of the NONSENSE & HYPE!”

We would agree with Mr Taylor that less nonsense and hype is a good thing and we would seriously ask Mr Taylor how he considers his unprovoked trolling and his rancorous and sarcastic blog to not be prime examples of both.

But why hasn’t the brilliant work mentioned by Mr Taylor led to some sense of consensus on the treatment of whiplash? Could it be, as suggested in the post, that the various players in the rehabilitation industry that has developed around whiplash – including physiotherapists, researchers, academics, chiropractors, massage therapists, exercise professionals, acupuncturists, dry needlers, motor controllers and so on and so on, have each staked a claim in this now lucrative market and with the ongoing desire to differentiate themselves in order to protect and grow their market share, clung desperately to implausible, and even disproven, treatment paradigms, and in so-doing held back real progress in the area?

Mr Taylor doesn’t seem to think so, simultaneously calling for change while maintaining the mediocrity (and cash flow?) of the current situation stuck in the mire of the middle ground

“It is a time to reflect, a time to change, a balancing act … and it may be easier to balance on the middle ground(Emphasis and link added…..text quoted verbatim)”

 Mr Taylor finished his post with further accusations, this time of sycophantic censorship.

“P.S. This post was was submitted to the NOIgroup in response to their BLOG … Can you see it?

‘the comment is awaiting moderation’ …”

And took to Twitter again for further trolling

Mr Taylor’s “comment” was moderated and deleted; as are all comments that attempt to link out to the commenter’s personal websites or blogs. As most blogs do, we consider attempts to promote personal websites or blogs in the comments section of our site spam.

We wrote a polite letter to Mr Taylor, as we do to all those whom we are able to contact:

Comment on noijam email

Mr Taylor did not reply to the email, but updated his post with

“UPDATE (03.07.14) – Deleted …. they said it was the link!

Just the sycophants (WITH hyperlinks…) remain .. Quelle surprise!?”

Again, the personal attack, with the suggestion that others were allowed to post links in comments. There is a solitary link in the comments to this post this was allowed as it adds to the discussion and promotes further reading and thinking.

Mr Taylor’s accusation that only comments from sycophants are allowed is further proved maliciously insincere in our previous post Time for Motor Freedom. Mr Taylor’s University of Nottingham colleague, Mr Roger Kerry commented on this post, questioning the accuracy, and the very premise of the post- Mr Kerry’s comment was approved and responded to by the post’s author.

We awaited Mr Taylor’s acceptance of our invitation to contribute meaningfully, he instead elected  to resort to further dissembling and attack.

GURUlike screenshot

We stand by our post and we stand by our calling-out trolling behaviour when we see and experience it. It is disappointing to observe this behaviour from a member of the physiotherapy academic world, but can attest that it is in no way indicative of our many other dealings with the University of Nottingham staff.


While eventually even Mr Taylor’s original supporters had enough

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 9.56.07 amOur invitation stands and we await a cogent, rational, reasoned and meaningful contribution to this discussion from Mr Taylor.


David Butler, Tim Cocks and the noigroup.

11 Responses to “S is for “Straw man”, T is for Troll.”

  1. Gerry Daly

    Seems the original blog, and issues raised, have entered a state of ‘chronic touchiness’. Doesn’t that just belittle the original intention, despite the perceived reputational threat ? Isn’t it just ‘lowering the bar’ to only respond to the least meaningful blog response ?

    • John Barbis

      Dear David et al.

      Passion often makes us feel wise. All to often, passion makes us just the fool. As someone who has been edited once or twice on this site, I want to say thank you. Too often passion made me the fool. I am glad wiser heads are there to observe. Take care. JohnB

  2. Ian Stevens

    I think the discussion raised here is important ……Emotive subject, emotive replies and unpleasant forms of communication . I attended the annual BPS meeting (philosophy /ethics meet) and there was a talk on ‘tweeting’ and internet communication . Although I am interested in the net for sharing information soundbites seldom if ever fit the bill (other than commenting on what you eat or drank in the pub) .This seems to be the level of discourse here . Strange to me that it applies in a university level context but you live and learn.
    I would think reading Guy Claxtons hare brain /tortoise mind might help …….The hare brain of a tweet might not be such a good thing on the net, maybe ok if you are texting and its private (unless you are famous !) Some points in the ‘discussion’ might be appropriate for more formal analysis perhaps and when the heat dies down a bit may indeed help communication . I was thinking of the accusations of ‘fawning’ behaviour , dismissal or trivialisation of ‘serious’ injury perhaps , the ideas around comparing one ‘legitimate’ problem, cancer with another WAD ……..The ideas that highly specialist clinicians are seeing and interpreting caseloads differently and perhaps ‘better’ than generalists in normal settings ?
    To me Dave’s initial post was slightly tongue in cheek with his ‘new’ diagnosis …thats the way i read it. We don’t refer to a person with gross oa who slips off a high kerb and jars their neck as having whiplash but their sensitisation ‘injury’ may be far worse …they seldom get ‘treated’ or investigated either …….
    My colleague was driven off a mountain road here in Scotland by a ‘Ned’ (a driver of a vehicle with dice/wide exhaust /stereo etc ) . Within an hour of this episode in the ambulance he was contacted god knows how by an insurance company and followed up months later by a private Dr via insurance . My friend said nothing to this Dr about his background or knowledge and was assessed and told he had so much wrong with him structurally …..once he questioned the Dr as to how he knew this he completely back tracked …….he had nothing wrong with him …….This scenario would seldom happen to any other disorder that I know of …its a lesson in abject iatrogenic disability propagation ……….This was covered well here by Louis and as far as I have experienced made next to no difference to clinical practice http://www.achesandpainsonline.com/tip1.php?Group=Books&Subgroup=Tip1
    WAD disorders are a lesson in industrial iatrogenic behaviour by the medical care industry . Its right to question the whole paradigm . Its correct in my opinion to try and simplify MSK disorders –pain and people are complex –much more so than apparent tissue or structural problems.
    Anyway, I am certainly not into fawning behaviour but the personal comments and level of debate are worth reflecting on.

  3. ericpt

    I need to repost my comment as there are serious grammar/spelling errors that occurred when I wrote the previous post on my phone.

    It is simply hard to make sense what Alan Taylor was ranting against. Was it an acronym or the relation between two human experiences of suffering (whiplash and cancer).

    I actually recently used cancer to help my patient understand how their nervous system may be latently sensitive. The fact that it is sensitive is not the fault of the conscious patient. I explained that there are processes that we have control of and others we do not. I don’t think we in medicine and PT know how to have tough conversations with our patients about pain. Instead of having these conversations we insist on providing them with endless hope of relief. We should be really just be helping people understand that their are pain processes occurring that are out of anyone’s control and then help them cope and accept this fact.

    We may debate the mechanisms at play when pain processes go out of control but the fact remains that pain will persist in some. This is a much bigger issue for all subtypes of suffering whiplash, lbp, crps etc than the neural mechanisms. Essentially some part of our humanity is lost when we treat patients with endless hope of relief. We need to figure out how bring humanity and humility back to care of complex and persistent pain. It is for these reasons that cancer is very apropos of pain.

  4. The Sports Physio

    As I have been quoted in this brouhaha I feel I should to add my two penneth on this rather disappointing debacle.

    Firstly my comment at the end of this peice ie ‘leave it Al’ has been used totally out of context and no way implies what has been suggested as me ‘having had enough’, instead it was merely some light hearted banter between colleagues!

    I retweeted David’s original blog as it was a thought provoking piece, and I did the same with Alan’s response as I thought it was also provoking!

    It’s clear to me that Alan’s response is tounge in cheek and I do feel he makes some valid points in that some may misconstrue Davids associations and acronyms as literal.

    I am however more concerned and disheartened at NOI groups negative and castrophising comments about twitter as a professional learning medium and it’s role in professional debate and discussion.

    As a ‘seasoned’ twitter user having had more than my fair share of online discourse, debates, mis understandings, mis communications, a gamete of ad hom attacks and even personal threats, I am still more than ever a strong advocate for its enormous potential as a gateway and medium for learning, development and information dissemination and see it as an essential tool for the progress of this profession of ours.

    I feel the negativity a group of your influence and standing has cast upon twitter is poor, and the way it has handled some strong opinion is disappointing. I fear it may put off other therapists using it to its full potential by engaging in debate in the future for fear of harsh rebuke if they voice a different opinion, I feel NOI group have an obligation to lead by example and be the first to understand that strong views and opinion will always produce strong comments and responses

    Despite all my negative experiences I have had with twitter they all pale into insignificance against the positive effects and influences it has had on my own development and education as a physio and even as a human being, and as a winging pom you would think I would be the first to complain, so come on Aussies, take a leaf out of your own book, relax, have a cold one and stroll on…

    Keep up with the great work!

    Kind regards

    Adam Meakins

    The Sports Physio

  5. davidboltononoi

    Altruistic behaviour leaves one vulnerable to acts of envy and jealousy, two very powerful dark emotions. Altruistic behaviour can back fire and create such negative sensations in the other. The NOI is an altruistic establishment experiencing a psychotic breakdown of the “Differance of opinion” of the other who feels inadequate, vulnerable and fearful of change. Fortunately the NOI is humble enough and generous enough to reach out and offer the hand of knowledge. Will the suffering parties accept, or continue down the road of ignorance, created by fear of change, to the detriment of the sufferer, who should be the centre of our World ……?
    DB London

    • The Sports Physio

      Hi David

      I just don’t see Alan’s post like that at all, and before people assume incorrectly that he is a personal friend and that I’m taking sides I am not, I have only met Alan once for a coffee and a chat at a conference otherwise I have only spoken to him online, and through this I have found him to be a thoughtful educated and humble person!

      As I said I view his response differently, to me it is light hearted and tongue in cheek, and does raise some interesting points just in a different style.

      The more personal, informal style of blog writing does leave the interpretation of the writers tone to be viewed differently by different readers, but that’s the beauty of it, I know this again from personal experience, many, many have mistaken my ramblings in blogs.

      The right to reply and debate is essential and I hope that common ground and misunderstandings are resolved soon, but as I said in my original comment please, please don’t blame social media or cast it in a negative light for others, it is in my opinion an essential tool for information dissemination, education and learning



  6. Efwef Gwerb

    For mine, NOI has the right approach to the whole online education thing. You can say pretty much anything you like as long as it’s not hurtful. Moderation of posts does need to be done by someone with a mature and fair outlook, and I reckon Tim is pretty good at that. The last thing you want is some Gestapo figure belittling or filtering out everything that clashes with his/her view of the world. The most incredulous ideas of today may become tomorrow’s accepted truth, and I think we need to remain open to that.


  7. Efwef Gwerb


    Adam, I think under normal circumstances, NOI would have just let this slide. Dave is under a great stress at the moment and I’m not sure that’s been properly considered in all this. Stress makes you feel vulnerable, and when you feel vulnerable and someone is hurtful or rude, you bite back. That’s quite ok in my book. Alan could have been more sensitive to this. Rebuttals, arguments and off hand remarks aren’t things that would normally bother him too much. I know this because in the past I have sent him a few emails questioning things he says or does in a fairly abrupt way, and he always replies with good humour. He’s well aware I’m no sycophant!


  8. Heidi Allen

    Nicely handled noigroup. This is your site and your comments policy is very clear as to reasons why some comments may not get posted. Maybe it would be worth having your comments policy appear on individual blog pages as well such as this one (and not just in about Noijam).
    Whatever the case – abusive comments and those that are not constructive have no place here or anywhere!
    I loved your blog post -and so did the BiM readers – you had lots of likes and thumbs up on the BiM facebook page!


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