Simon Singh – the journalist who has been sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association for having the temerity to write that they happily promote bogus remedies — has won a big victory in the UK: he has the right to argue that his statement was opinion, and not a statement narrowly (and, in my opinion, incorrectly) defined by a judge.
Rebecca has the lowdown at Skepchick (some NSFW, but totally funny, language there), as does Steve at Neurologia. While this doesn’t mean Simon has won the case, it does mean he can continue his arguments, when before he had been stopped cold by a judge.
The BCA is looking ever-more ridiculous, mean, and venal in this case. We already know that many of the claims made by chiropractors and by the BCA specifically are totally wrong. The heat is on these guys. Now we can hope that the BCA will be handed their heads in this case… and if we really grab the brass ring, the UK’s awful libel laws will get reformed, too.
We’re on the verge of a huge, huge win here. It hasn’t happened yet, and there is much to do. But the light is there, on the horizon.
Simon Singh is one of my (very few) heroes. He is a journalist who has been fighting not just the British Chiropractic Association (who is suing Simon for libel) but also the awful UK libel laws themselves. You can catch up with all this here.
The fight is actually going well on both fronts, but, sadly, it’s claimed Simon as a victim: it’s eating up so much of his time that he can no longer write his monthly column for The Guardian. This is a shame. He’s a great writer and a voice that definitely needs to be heard. He fights the quacks, the antireality brigade, the poor thinkers, and the out-and-out frauds that occupy every crevice of medical altmeddery.
Still, he is pushing for libel reform, and I know his voice overall will not be silenced. Nor will ours. Give your support for libel reform, and make sure the forces of darkness don’t win.
Tip o’ the subluxation to Tony Piro.
Skeptic and journalist Simon Singh appeared before the High Court today in a hearing about accusations of libel. This case is critical for journalism, medicine, science, and skepticism, and you can get the background info on it in an earlier post I wrote. But basically, Simon was sued by the British Chiropractic Association over an article he wrote in The Guardian, and Simon has appealed, which is what today’s case was about.
His lawyer and that of the BCA presented their cases in front of three judges. According to reports by Jack of Kent and Crispian Jago (NSFW language in the latter), things went pretty well, though of course we can’t know until the judges actually rule. According to both reports, though, the judges seemed far more sympathetic to Simon’s arguments than to the BCA’s.
However, as Jack of Kent wrote:
Nonetheless, Simon may still lose: the Court of Appeal may decide that even if the High Court ruling is incorrect, it is not so incorrect that they should disturb the judgment.
In other words, it seems that they may disagree with the original ruling, but may feel it wasn’t so wrong that it’s worth the effort to overturn.
I of course hope they do. And once this case is won, we can then move on to the far, far bigger picture: reforming the UK’s horrible and draconian libel laws, which are unfair, and I think reasonable to characterize as backward and medieval. The way it’s set up, the burden of proof is on the accused to show what they said was not libel, rather than on the accuser to show that it is libel. That’s ridiculous, and what it winds up doing is making it hard for journalists to fairly write about many issues, because they may be scared of being sued and having to spend literally millions of dollars in defense.
That’s why I strongly support the reform effort.
I’ll be keeping my eyes on this, and you can stay on it as well by checking in on the blogs of Jack of Kent and Crispian Jago as well.
If you’re a regular reader, you know that the libel laws in the UK are truly awful. Instead of the burden of proof being on the accuser, as it should be, in the UK the burden is on the accused. So if I decide to sue you for something you wrote about me, it’s up to you to prove there was no malicious intent on your part. And it can cost you literally millions of dollars to defend yourself.
That, to be blunt, sucks. And it’s bad for freedom of expression, because it means that criticism of a claim can be substantially suppressed; who would want to speak out against, say, quacks, if they can sue you and cost you time and money?
And we know this is the case because skeptic Simon Singh is being sued under these draconian laws by the British Chiropractic Association for saying they happily promote "bogus" therapies. I’ve written about this many times.
That’s why I’m asking you to go to The Libel Reform Campaign website and sign their petition. They want 100,000 signatures by tomorrow so they can show it to Jack Straw, a Member of Parliament, and get some action started on this. These laws affect everyone on the planet (if you write something on the Internet, it’s entirely possible to be sued in the UK for it; this is called libel tourism and is a serious issue), so it doesn’t matter if you’re a UK citizen or not.
Please sign the petition. I did. And do it soon, so that we can make an impact on free speech everywhere.
This seems to be the decade of "I don’t like what you say, so instead of refuting it with evidence I’ll sue you to shut you up!" for the alt-medders.
First, it was Simon Singh being sued by the British Chiropractic Association, and now it’s Barbara Loe Fischer from the ironically named National Vaccine Information Center, who is suing writer Amy Wallace and vaccine researcher Paul Offit about an article Wallace wrote in Wired magazine. The article is one of those rare ones that actually uses facts and evidence rather than anecdotes and hearsay, so of course shines a very ill-received spotlight on the antivaxxers, showing them for what they are: a public health menace.
As usual, Orac has the details. One thing that Orac notes is that Fischer chose to file her suit in Virginia which does not have SLAPP laws, designed to prevent lawsuits intended to silence critics. So it really really looks like she is suing simply to silence critics. Others think so too.
That is enough for an interesting story all by itself, of course. But the thing about people who deny reality, though, is that eventually they find themselves having to believe seven different things before breakfast, and at some point the irony meter can get pegged as they twist and spin. In this case, Ms. Fischer blows the gauge because she is asking for a "fearless" discussion about vaccines in 2010.
Yes, you read that correctly. She wants this because open and fearless conversation is so well-supported by libel lawsuits tossed around specifically to silence your opponents.
And people wonder why I think the mouthpieces for the antivax movement are so awful.
Skeptic Rebecca Watson agrees. Here’s what she has to say about this:
You can read Ms. Fischer’s complete statements on the NVIC website, but I’d make sure you clean your computer with bleach afterwards; who knows what you might catch from going there. You might want to protect your brain, too, since she somehow manages to link vaccines with terrorism and 9/11. When it comes to terrorism, I think the antivax movement fits better than vaccines, since fear is something they use all-too-well to scare parents into not vaccinating their kids.
Of course, if they used such things as evidence and scientific research, they’d have no movement at all.
The best thing we can do is keep shining this light on the hypocrisy and distortions of the antivax movement. They will continue to push garbage like this, and we have to make sure that the public sees it. The only alternative is to wait for kids to start dying from measles, pertussis, HiB, and other preventable illnesses in greater numbers than they already are… an event which, tragically, is already underway due in part to the antivaxxers.