Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Simon Singh´s libel appeal

I've talked about the UK libel laws before here (which is relevant to this case) and here and how they need to be changed to preserve freedom of speech in the scientific community.

Today was the day that Simon Singh had his appeal before the High Courts. As you may, or may not know, Simon Singh is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractors Association. They are suing him for mentioning the fact that they do not have any evidence to back up their claims of being able to 'help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma'.
There is no evidence, or at least the BCA won't supply it. So they went to the courts instead to try and silence him.

The case isn't decided yet and science and reason can still lose the battle against oppressive laws.My opinion hasn't changed, I still believe in freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas and scientific critique and we can just hope that the judges rule in favour of Simon.
Read more about the judges comments here Judge ‘baffled’ by Simon Singh chiropractic case.

Overall the judges seemed to be in favour of science and the way scientist makes claims compared to how pseudo-scientists do, which is very comforting. The ruling will take 6-8 weeks according to the judges.

Important points made
The judges made some very good comments about the case and the more general libel lawsuit issue.

The case itself should never have come to the court.
'Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said he was “troubled” by the “artificiality” of the case.
“The opportunities to put this right have not been taken,” Lord Judge said.
He continued: “At the end of this someone will pay an enormous amount of money, whether it be from Dr Singh’s funds or the funds of BCA subscribers.”'

Commenting on the lack of reply by the BCA (they had an opportunity to give their side of the story to The Guardian and present the evidence they claim exists).
'“I’m just baffled. If there is reliable evidence, why hasn’t someone published it?”'

The turning point of the libel suit is Singh's use of the word 'bogus', which was commented with:
'Lord Chief Justice put it to the BCA’s QC that this paragraph clearly defines bogus as meaning ineffective as a result examining the evidence with Professor Ernst rather than being deliberately dishonest.'

At least to me, this seems like the case should never have been. BCA should have replied to Singh and presented their evidence, or just accept the fact that their claims are bogus.

Extensive coverage of the day (with comments and opinions)
For a more thorough coverage of the complete trial you really should read the following two blogposts by Crispian Jago and Jack of Kent. They were present at the court and they always know what they are talking about.
Science, Reason and Critical Thinking: Singh BCA Appeal 23rd Feb 2010
Jack of Kent: A Good Day in Court.

Updates for the rest of us
A lot of people were present at the courts, including Richard Wiseman, Jack of Kent and Crispian Jago.
And they helped the rest of us follow the case by (paraphrasing) it on twitter (giving both information and laughs):

  • Judge to BCA lawyer: "why the fuck didn't you accept the Guardians offer of right to reply". I paraphrase as usual
  • Judge (after being corrected for woo mixing): "Homeopathy. Chiropratic. Yeah. Whatever"
  • Judge to BCA lawyer: "this dumbass case will cost some poor bastard a shitload of money 

  • Just been at Simon singh's appeal. Great moment when judge confused homeopathy and chiropractic.
  • Simon singh's court appeal made me ashamed & proud of being British.Ashamed it was happening & proud judges made bca look like petty fools.

Sign the petition
It is never too late to sign the libel reform petition here so this doesn't happen again.