Saturday 10 October 2009

Simon Singh at TAM London

Simon Singh, bastion of journalistic integrity with his stand against an apparently vexatious libel suit brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association, talked initially about the Bible Code, which is the idea that holy scripture contains hidden references to modern events — or in other words predictions — and therefore must be the true Word of God. This, apparently, is nonsense and has been shown to be such by applying the same "decoding" techniques to other literature. For instance, Herman Melville's Moby Dick can be shown to contain hidden references to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

This was but preamble to what I think most of us in the audience wanted to hear: the story so far regarding the libel suit. Singh then told us the story, explaining why he decided not to back down, and illustrated how his stand has raised two related but separate issues: the threat to freedom of speech, where essential and legitimate criticism of bogus practices is suppressed — often by journalists' self-censorship for fear of being sued; and the absurdly inflated costs of defending a libel case in England — to the point where aggrieved plaintiffs go out of their way to sue in this country because they know that in most cases a defendant cannot afford to win, let alone lose. Another reason he cited for not backing down, "Because I'm right," elicited spontaneous applause from the TAM London audience.

Singh explained all this without once uttering the "contentious" phrase that apparently triggered the BCA's action. That was left to the blogger "Jack of Kent" (aka lawyer David Allen Green) who during the Q & A read the offending paragraph from Singh's Guardian article. I was pleased to meet the notorious Jack of Kent the previous evening at the Penderel's Oak in Holborn, where several of those attending the "secret" George Hrab gig gravitated afterwards. Jack of Kent explained during conversation on Friday evening that as a lawyer he's able to say stuff others can't, because he knows just how far he can go without being sued.

Simon Singh thanked all those who continue to support him in the stand he's taking, singling out satirical blogger Crispian Jago for lightening his spirit.

For our part, the TAM London audience gave Simon Singh a standing ovation.