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Simon Singh is appealing! PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Phil Plait   

sas-libelIn a recent Swift post, guest blogger Naomi Baker wrote about friend of the JREF (and TAM London speaker) Simon Singh, a skeptic and journalist who literally wrote the book on "alternative" medicine. Simon also writes for the UK newspaper The Guardian, and in a recent article he said that the British Chiropractic Association made claims that were "bogus".

The BCA was not happy with this, of course. But instead of providing any evidence that what they claim is not bogus - evidence, in this case, which does not exist for reasons you can probably figure out yourself - they decided to sue Simon.

In the UK, when someone is sued for libel, it's up to the defendant to prove their innocence, rather than up to the claimant to prove harm was done. The effect of this is one of chilling any potential criticism; it can be dangerous for media to call to task an organization like the BCA (or any pseudoscientific claimants) because of the chance of getting sued. This has put quite a lot of pressure on Simon, as you can imagine.

Worse, a judge in a prelimary hearing ruled for the BCA, saying that Simon's use of the word "bogus" indicated fraud (that is, intentional deception) on the part of the BCA, when it's clear from the original article that is not what Simon meant; he meant simply that the BCA was wrong, not acting fraudulently.

But here's the very interesting bit: Simon is appealing the ruling.

This is a very brave decision on Simon's part, as this could be a drawn-out, expensive, and emotionally draining exercise. However, it's the right thing to do.

We at the JREF support Simon's decision, and at a recent support meeting for him we issued the following statement:

We at the JREF support Simon in his quest for justice. It's clear from his writing that his intent was not to claim that the BCA knowingly commits acts of fraud, but that the BCA is nonetheless incorrect in their claims of the efficacy of chiropractic. Simon is, of course, correct. Furthermore, the ruling, as it stands, would produce a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to question the claims of anyone, including pseudoscientists. Whatever path Simon chooses over this issue, the JREF will be there, and to the best of our ability we'll have his back.

Many other people feel the same way. In fact, the UK science outreach group Sense About Science is helping Simon considerably, and have created a page called Keep the Libel Laws out of Science, which has a list of other supporters, as well as statement of support for Simon signed by many luminaries in the fields of science and journalism. They also have a button you can download to display on your blog or website, too.

Show your support: tell people you know about this, write about it, and use the social networks (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, what have you) to let others know. Simon needs our help, and a strong public showing is a good place to start. There will be more info on how you can help on the Sense About Science website as well.

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Cents about Science
written by Michael K Gray, June 03, 2009
I understand that the Pommy libel "laws" have arcane (bogus?) restrictions upon 3rd party funding of defendents' cases, but if it can be arranged, I trust that the JREF will keep the skeptical community informed, (at least in a second-hand way), as to how the world's truth-seekers may contribute financially to this vital cause?
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We must support Simon Singh
written by RobbieD, June 04, 2009
It is an utter disgrace - the Judge's ruling seems to be on the basis that the BCA were 'deluded' in thinking they were treating illnesses, and therefore did not intend to defraud. There is apparently some legal precedent set that says the word 'bogus' involves an intent to defraud. My Nuttall's dictionary says it is something 'spurious or counterfeit' which seems to be what Singh meant. We must oppose this travesty based on legal semantics. Mr Justice Eady, who made this decision, is becoming an increasingly controversial figure here in the UK, as he dominates the libel cases that come to court and has given some outrageous decisions, and this adds one more.
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...
written by Marcus Aurelius, June 04, 2009
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't he being sued over something he wrote in a newspaper article, rather than something he wrote in a scientific journal?
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this justifies suing him; however, in my view, "keep libel laws out of science" does not entirely seem to apply to this case. He didn't keep this debate in the scientific circles but brought it out to the public. And of course that's commendable, the public needs to know this, but it does mean that this lawsuit is aimed at a public debate about science, and not at a debate in science.
They're not trying to stifle research or prevent its publication (or at least, this case doesn't give cause to say that). This in contrast to examples I know of from the field of cryptography, where companies sue research groups to prevent them publishing or presenting work about how insecure their products really are (e.g. how easy it is to hack the rfid chips in certain transport cards).

I fully support keeping libel laws (and similar) out of science; but I think this case needs a different slogan. I guess "Keep libel laws from stopping accurately reflecting scientific consensus in the public forum" is a bit long.
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I hope he wins but...
written by BillyJoe, June 04, 2009
The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.
Take out the middle bit and it essentially says:
The British Chiropractic Association ... happily promotes bogus treatments.
Given his time again, I think he would leave out the word "happily" and rephrase it slightly to read:
The British Chiropractic Association ... promotes treatments that have been shown to be bogus.



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And I don't think this helps:
written by BillyJoe, June 04, 2009
The following paragraph is supposed to help his case...
I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.
...but I don't think it does.
It backs up the fact that the treatments are bogus but it doesn't support his contention that he wasn't saying that the chiropractors are bogus.
(Again, I don't think that he actually was saying that)

BJ
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Maybe, but then again...
written by AndyD, June 04, 2009
You have a point Billy Joe, and you're certainly not alone in that thought, but is there some suggestion the BCA are not happy promoting chiropractic? I imagine it pleases them immensely.

So we have:

1> Simon has opined that the BCA happily promote chiropractic. (Is that in dispute?)

2> He's also opined that chiropractic is "bogus". (Is that in dispute?)

He's then condensed these two opinions into a single sentence which it might be argued could be misunderstood - but since when does someone's misunderstanding constitute libel, especially when the "defendant" explicitly refutes the libelous interpretation and states clearly that he does not believe the plaintiff intentionally deceives?
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Britain's Libel Laws
written by GusGus, June 04, 2009

It is my understanding that Britain's libel laws legislate against harming someone by one's words. Whether the words are true or not!!! That is, even if it can be shown that Mr. Singh is 100% truthful in what he said, he can still be required to pay a substantial settlement. The United States has its own stupid laws, but this law is the stooopidest I have ever heard of!
.
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written by BillyJoe, June 04, 2009
1> Simon has opined that the BCA happily promote chiropractic.

Not quite. He said "The British Chiropractic Association ... happily promotes bogus treatments". That is the problem. The "happily" and "bogus treatments" in the same sentence does seem to imply that the chiropractors know that their treatments are bogus but (happily) promote them anyway.

He's then condensed these two opinions into a single sentence which it might be argued could be misunderstood - but since when does someone's misunderstanding constitute libel, especially when the "defendant" explicitly refutes the libelous interpretation and states clearly that he does not believe the plaintiff intentionally deceives?
Essentially, I think this will be his line in the appeals process. I hope it works.
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@ GusGus
written by BillyJoe, June 04, 2009
It is my understanding that Britain's libel laws legislate against harming someone by one's words. Whether the words are true or not!!! That is, even if it can be shown that Mr. Singh is 100% truthful in what he said, he can still be required to pay a substantial settlement.
Your understanding is actually wrong.

The BCA does not have to prove harm.
Harm does not come into it.
Simon Singh has to prove that the "BCA happily promote bogus remedies" - using the judge's determination of the meaning of that sentence.

BJ
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written by BillyJoe, June 04, 2009
... I meant in the original libel case. In the appeals case, my understanding is that he will be challenging the judge's determination of what that sentence actually means.
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written by Trez, June 04, 2009
I believe that the appeal is against the judges interpretation of the word "bogus"

Essentially the dictionary definition that the judge used was one that included the term "fraudulent". Therefore, Mr Singh was required to prove that the BCA deliberately and promote the practice with the intention of gaining money from others using deceit.

Everyone (and Im sure that includes the BCA) knows that was not the intention of the comment, but thats the way the judge has interpreted it, so the BCA very very happy because there no way that he could prove that they're deliberately trying to defraud people

So he's going back to try to get the judges decision over-turned as to what the interpretation of "bogus" should be
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If not happily bogus then what?
written by rosie, June 04, 2009
Stupid, is the answer. In its argument for this case the BCA is not claiming that chiropractic is efficacious to combat the disputed afflictions. It is claiming that - in spite of the wealth of evidence to the contrary - it honestly believes they are. Yeah, right.
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written by BillyJoe, June 04, 2009
Trez,

I'm not sure that you have got this quite right.

It's not exactly about the meaning of the word "bogus" but whether the sentence in which that word appears implies that the chiropractors knowingly promote bogus remedies. Because knowingly promoting bogus remedies is what would make their behaviour fraudulent.

The judge says that Simon Singh was implying that Chiropractors knowingly promote bogus remedies and therefore engage in fraud, whereas Simon says he was not implying fraud on the part of chiropractors but that he was merely describing their treatments as bogus.

BJ
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Patient survey shows that chiropractic is favored over other modalities
written by garyg, June 04, 2009
Alas: http://tinyurl.com/o9byuy

(from the Washington Post)

The bigger problem, IMHO, is that chiropractic claims to be efficacious for
many other ailments
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It's on my blog
written by scuno, June 04, 2009
Per Phil's urging us to pass the word along, I have pasted this article into my blog. Here it is if you care check it out: http://www.responseagency.com/blog/
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written by Steel Rat, June 05, 2009
I think the BCA should be sued for being bogus and knowingly extolling bogus treatments. They know the treatments are bogus, there's no way they couldn't.
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written by BillyJoe, June 05, 2009
No, they really do believe this $#!+.
I mean are there aren't exactly no other examples of widely held beliefs that are false
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