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)
In internet parlance, if you “feed the troll” the troll grows:
And keeps growing…
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.
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:
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
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:
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.
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
Our 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.