Friday 5 June 2009

Simon Singh to appeal

It's great news that Simon Singh is to appeal the nonsensical ruling in the libel case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association. We know that quack-merchants often resort to law when challenged, rather than produce evidence to support their claims. This diversionary tactic needs to be exposed.

English libel law is not an appropriate tool in such disputes, but I wonder if perhaps it has been unfairly mis-characterised. Some maintain that Singh is being asked to prove a negative, when all sceptics know that the burden of proof rests on those making the claim. But in this case Singh did make a public claim, that the BCA "happily promotes bogus treatments" - and the BCA has demanded, in a court of law, that he prove his claim. That the BCA would have difficulty in proving their own claims for the efficacy of chiropractic is a separate issue - strictly it's not their claims that are under examination here.

Singh's claim, however, is clearly justified: the treatments to which he refers are promoted by the BCA (and presumably they wouldn't promote these treatments if they weren't "happy" with such promotion), and plenty of trials, studies and surveys have shown that these specific treatments are indeed "bogus" - that is, "not genuine or true" (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, eleventh edition). The BCA may dispute the plethora of evidence that their treatments are bogus, and as a result may sincerely believe in the efficacy of the treatments, but bogus they remain. Contrary to the judge's interpretation, Singh made no claim in his Guardian article as to whether or not the BCA was knowingly promoting treatments that don't work.

free debate

It will be a scandal if Singh loses this appeal, because such a result would reinforce the erroneous idea that libel law is an appropriate instrument for quashing dissent and scientific scrutiny.

I think Simon Singh has a good case for defence - but I am not a lawyer. For comprehensive insight from someone who his, check out Jack of Kent. To sign the statement of support, go to Sense About Science.