Most of the time, so-called "alternative medicine" is treated very gently by television news. I don’t know if that’s because they don’t want to tick off their viewers, or the reporters don’t look into it properly, or if they believe in it themselves. But no matter the reason, it’s always refreshing to see a show really tear into something like homeopathy. That’s precisely what the Australian program "Today Tonight" did recently:
The report featured such noted skeptics as Simon Singh, Richard Saunders, and James Randi, and made it very clear that homeopathy is just very expensive nonsense. I’m glad they didn’t make the report "balanced" by giving a lot of time to promoters of homeopathy; that’s not balance any more than giving time to someone who believes in storks delivering babies in a segment about infant health care.
American authors, journalists, and bloggers can breathe a sigh of relief: with broad bipartisan support, a short time ago President Obama signed a bill into law that makes sure that the awful and regressive libel laws in the UK cannot be enforced here in the United States.
I’ve written about this issue many times; skeptic and journalist Simon Singh was sued for libel by a UK chiropractors group for saying they "happily promote bogus remedies". In the UK, when sued, you have to prove the claim is false, the opposite of the way it works in most of the rest of the world, including the US. It should be up to the prosecution to prove the claim is true. So in the UK this puts undue burden on the person accused, an almost guilty-until-proven-innocent situation.
WooHOO! My huge and hearty CONGRATS to Simon!
The British Chiropractic Association, an umbrella organization for chiropractors in Britain, had sued Simon for libel because he had written in a newspaper article that they "happily promote bogus remedies".
They said this was defamatory, and that Singh meant they knew that they were lying about the remedies. If you read what Simon wrote that’s clearly not true; he was obviously saying that they were happy to promote remedies that happened to be bogus, not that they necessarily knew what they were promoting was bogus. What Simon certainly was saying is that a lot of the so-called "remedies" chiropractors claim to work simply don’t, and have no evidence at all to support them. But he never said the BCA was knowingly lying to the public to promote quackery.
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.
If you’ve been paying attention here the past few months, you already know that the British Chiropractic Association is suing Simon Singh because he dared tell the truth about them in a newspaper article.
After the BCA aimed, cocked, and shot themselves in the foot, a lot of collateral damage has taken place as well. You may remember what I called Chiropocalypse, where a lot of other UK chiropractors suddenly found themselves in hot water, making claims on their websites they couldn’t back up… and instead of backing up their claims with evidence, chose instead to take their sites down.
Well, it looks like those chickens have come home to roost. According to an article in the Guardian, one out of every four chiropractors in Britain is under investigation for false claims.
Let’s see, what are the words I’m looking for? Ah yes: this.
Even better, it looks like this happened because skeptics stepped up the pressure in direct response to the BCA suing Simon. This is basically a case of The Streisand Effect, and a happier outcome is hard to imagine. Unless, of course, that ratio rises to 100% of all chiropractors making false claims.
Tip o’ the herniated disk to Nigel Gomm.
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.
I’ve written about the horrible state of libel laws in the UK before, but there are a couple of new developments:
1) Simon Singh wrote about the issue for the JREF’s Swift blog. He asks people to sign the online petition for reform, and it helps even if you’re not a UK citizen. In general I don’t support online petitions, but in this case it will have a real and important impact; they can present it personally to people who make the laws and show them this is an important issue. I signed. You should too.
2) Simon’s libel case goes before the Court of Appeal in London on Tuesday, February 23 (today for most folks reading this). No doubt the major media will be covering it, as it’s a big story. I’ll try to post something here if and when I hear anything.
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.
The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is one of my favorite podcasts. It’s funny, informative, goofy, but most importantly goes right to the heart of a lot of issues important to the critical thinker.
I’ve done a lot of interviews with them, and sometimes they call me at the last minute when there’s some breaking astronomy news. So a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t too surprised when Steve Novella sent me a note asking if I could record with them that evening for their annual year-end wrapup episode.
What did surprise me is why they wanted me on: the SGU listeners had voted for me as Skeptic of the Year!
Well, wow! I was really floored when they told me this during the interview. It was totally unexpected, and quite an honor. I made some jokes about it in the interview, but now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I want to reiterate how honored I am. It was a great year for skepticism and skeptics themselves, with Simon Singh publicly defending himself from craven chiropractors who tried to sue him into silence, Amy Wallace writing about antivaxxers in Wired magazine, the Australian Skeptics heroically taking on (and being attacked by) the awful antivax guru Meryl Dorey, Randi publicly fighting his cancer with medical science, and so many more.
In that company, I stand paradoxically humbled and proud. My sincere thanks to everyone who cast their vote my way on the SGU forums.
I always really like the SGU year-end wrapup; it’s fun to listen in on the rogues reminiscing on the past year. This one in particular is a great episode. Here’s a direct link to the MP3 of the show, and if you don’t already subscribe to SGU, then go do it now!