Feb 24 2010

Simon Singh Update

I have been following the story of the crazy libel laws in England, brought to public attention by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) suing journalist Simon Singh because he dared to (correctly) state that many of their treatments are “bogus.”

In England (if I understand correctly, these laws apply only to England and not to all of the UK) when someone is sued for libel they bear the burden of proof that what they said was true. Further, the process is so expensive that it is easy for deep pockets to intimidate those with fewer resources into silence merely by the threat of suit.

Simon has bravely stuck with his suit, at great personal expense, largely to use it as a platform to lobby for rational libel reform.

There has been a positive update in the case itself. Originally it was judged that when Simon wrote that the BCA happily promotes treatments that are bogus, what he meant was that the BCA knows that their treatments are bogus. Therefore Simon has to prove that the BCA as an institution, and all of its members, believe their own treatments to be fake and ineffective.

This is an impossible standard, and clearly the case would be hopeless on those grounds. Simon was eventually granted the right to appeal that decision, and this appeal case is now ongoing.

As an aside, the BCA did a good job supporting Simon’s case when they defended themselves by providing evidence for their treatments. What they provided was a cherry-picked list of weak or irrelevant studies, showing all the more that their treatments are bogus. And by ignoring negative studies, one could reasonably make the argument that they know what they are doing – that they know their treatments are bogus.

In any case, We now learn from Jack of Kent ( a UK blogging attorney) that Simon has had a good day in court, and the judges seemed very favorably disposed toward his position. However, English courts are very conservative in that, even if the judges disagree with the previous decision, they may still be reluctant to overturn the lower court. They have yet to make their final decision.

Jack wrote of the case:

It had been thrilling to watch three of the country’s senior judges tear into the BCA case, even though it was sad that it had come this far.

Cranks rarely impress experienced judges, who understand something about the rules of evidence and logic (the Dover vs Kitzmiller trial is an excellent example of this).

I’llĀ  keep you updated as the trial proceeds. The bigger story, of course, is the attempts to reform English libel law. This is a free speech issue, and one that every skeptic and scientist should be concerned with.

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