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Simon Singh Talks With Wired About His Libel Battle

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  • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:5, Informative)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:51PM (#33476898)

    The cost isn't a signifier of importance. It is a repudiation of a self-serving system of law that punishes innocent people by forcing them to outlay large sums of money to protect themselves from rapacious litigants. When faced by a wealthy opposition, those of lesser means very often have to cave in and accept defeat simply because they have no means of defending themselves. Hopefully the loser-pays rules will be put to effect here but that doesn't justify the need to pay so much upfront for protection from the law.

    FWIW. I knew who Singh was before this case came up.

  • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:5, Informative)

    by cgenman (325138) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:55PM (#33476920) Homepage

    If nothing else, the story is that it costs $200,000 to defend against false libel claims in British courts. Remember, this isn't the criminal justice system where you have the choice of a state-appointed lawyer or spending the money on your own. If he hadn't spent the $200,000, he would have needed to bow down to every ridiculous demand of the the British Chiropractic Association, despite being obviously correct in what he says. Freedom of Speech doesn't mean freedom to lie arbitrarily about people. But it does need to include the freedom to critique. In England, that right does not exist.

    We actually have laws on the books now in America specifically to protect Americans from being sued under the UK's ridiculous libel laws. It's a terrible system, and it has to change. That is the story.

  • by cgenman (325138) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:25PM (#33477082) Homepage

    Amusingly enough, the US actually has laws protecting US Citizens [bbc.co.uk] from UK libel laws. IANAL, but in the US you need to show that the defendant was malicious or reckless, and the claimant has to prove that the claim is false. In the UK, it is on the defendant to prove that the claim is true.

    So while the problem of buying justice in civil actions is true across the board, the UK is particularly egregious in this respect. Supposedly the UK government will propose a libel reform in March of next year, though details have not been forthcoming.

  • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:57PM (#33477298)

    Singh won his appeal (on the meaning of the words he used) and the BCA withdrew their claim. The issue of the libel itself was never settled by the court. Singh has said previously that he's not getting his money back so I would guess the BCA did a deal with him: we'll withdraw if you don't pursue us for costs.

    The fundamental problem is that English libel actions are (literally) orders of magnitude more expensive than in other European countries.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:03PM (#33477330)
    Thanks for bringing up Global Cooling so quickly, so I know that you are either ignorant or choose not to pay attention to facts. [realclimate.org]
  • Re:Great Quote (Score:3, Informative)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:10PM (#33477376) Homepage Journal

    The two claims that the article says Dr. Singh refuted were treatment of childhood asthma and colic. So the limited credit you seem to be giving Chiropractors doesn't really apply.

    Like I tell my friends, if there's something wrong with your skeleton see an orthopedist!

    -Peter

  • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:38PM (#33477516)

    Simon Singh is an idiot if he thinks he can make libellous comments about the BCA

    Except that he didn't. You must have missed the part where they had a trial and found him not guilty.

    There is the concrete defence against libel cases in the UK - be able to prove what you say. Simple.

    It was simple, except for the part where it put him out of work for over a year, cost him over $200,000, and had a chilling effect on press reporting of Chiropractic.

    His "libelous" statement?

    "The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."

    The BCA claimed that "happily promotes" implied that they were being consciously dishonest, and explicitly malicious in promoting chiropractic.

    BTW. "Simon Singh is an idiot" is a very libelous statement, at least as libelous of what Singh was put in for ... but I assume that you can produce proof that he meets the current psychiatric definition "idiot". Simple.

  • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:5, Informative)

    by vectorious (1307695) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:44PM (#33477544)
    He did have the proof to back up what he said - that the treatments were bogus. I.e. there is plenty of evidence that they did not work (more accurately no evidence that they do better than a placebo). The original judge decided that "bogus" meant that the supplier was dishonestly lying about it too, and that was the libellous claim, and that is the appeal he won. In any case he probably could have won the argument as he could have shown that the Chiropracters ought to have known about the studies that showed the lack of effect, and if they did not they were negligent, and if they did they were dishonest. This however was a much tougher argument, with room for scope of argument on "dishonest". Notably the BCA had to issue warnings to members to remove claims from websites and literature as there were many making claims that could not be backed up.This suggests that he probably had a point anyway. The effect is now that many people will not speak out against treatments without any medical value and dodgy medical claims for fear of being sued - even if they win they lose a few years of their life and earnings.
  • by fantomas (94850) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @06:06PM (#33477644)

    Minor correction for you - be careful not to mix up "England" and "Britain", they are different things. There are "English" courts and English law but there are no such things as "British courts" or "British law". In Scotland, which is part of Britain, Scottish courts and Scots law prevails, a different legal structure exists. So we're talking about the situation in England here, not Britain.

    cheers!

  • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:5, Informative)

    by timbo234 (833667) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @06:13PM (#33477692) Journal

    Simon Singh is an idiot if he thinks he can make libellous comments about the BCA *without having the proof to back up what he says*. There is the concrete defence against libel cases in the UK - be able to prove what you say. Simple.

    1) The judges ruled that Sing's comments fell under 'fair comment', an expression of his opinion that was allowed under freedom of expression, whether or not what he said was actually true. See http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2010/350.html [bailii.org]

    2) The BCA was asked to show the evidence it had that Sing was wrong - ie. that chiropractors could treat common childhood illnesses. The evidence was examined in the British Medical Journal and found to be a load of crap - half the studies they cited had nothing to do with chiropractic, they misrepresented the conclusions of others and the remaining had basic methodological errors making them invalid: http://www.bmj.com/content/339/bmj.b2766.full?view=long&pmid=19589818 [bmj.com]

    So far from being an idiot Sing was proven completely right - not only he can make 'libellous' comments against chiropractic because of free speech laws but those comments were actually proven to be correct.

  • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2010 @06:21PM (#33477736)

    FWIW. I knew who Singh was before this case came up.

    Indeed, he wrote The Code Book [amazon.com] (which has a place of honor on my bookshelf). It's a great (and easy to digest) book on the history of cryptography. He also wrote Fermat's Enigma [amazon.com] which I believe is/was quite popular (I haven't read it). That's where I personally know Singh from. I had no idea he was involved in a libel suit.

  • Re:Great Quote (Score:2, Informative)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Saturday September 04, 2010 @07:40PM (#33478126) Homepage Journal

    I object to your characterization of my comments as "bashing".

    I'm pleased you found relief, but post hoc ergo propter hoc does not Science make.

    I hope you'll consider reading Dr. Singh's (co-written by Dr. Ernst, former Professor of Complementary Medicine) book, Trick or Treatment [amazon.com].

    Just to make one key point that you seem to be unclear on, the thesis isn't that symptoms such as yours can't resolve after Chiropractic treatment. The book is a survey of clinical trials and, more convincingly, meta-analysis of clinical trials.

    The fact is that any number of variables changed in your life between onset and resolution. You can't draw a reliable conclusion for or against any treatment based on an anecdote.

    It is also notable that Dr. Singh is not an M.D. He's a Particle Physicist. His involvement with the book isn't as a defender of the Medical establishment, but as a Scientist applying the Scientific method to try to reveal the truth about the physical world. They extensively discuss the sort of human flaws that lead us to the wrong conclusions when the Scientific Method isn't applied with adequate rigor.

    Their conclusion was that properly designed, properly executed, properly controlled studies show that Chiropractic treatments aren't effective at treating this sort of problem. I am interested, as I'm sure they would be, in Scientifically valid data in your possession to the contrary.

    -Peter

  • by vadim_t (324782) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @07:57PM (#33478198) Homepage

    1) yes, the data indicates so
    2) yes, the data indicates so
    3) yes, if we're doing it, we certainly can stop doing it. There's the question of whether we started a runwaway effect or not, but in that case we still could slow things down. And in this case, the speed at which it happens is most important.

    Until you can explain the equally obvious global warming on Mars at present as somehow caused by human activity don't ask me to destroy my lifestyle over something I can't actually affect anyway.

    Two things:

    First, the current consensus seems to be against [livescience.com] the idea of global warming on Mars, and on the Sun causing it.

    Second, your lifestyle doesn't have a damn thing to do with global warming. It either exist or it doesn't, no matter how convenient or inconvenient would that be for you, me, or anybody else.

  • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:4, Informative)

    by pmc (40532) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @05:47PM (#33483668) Homepage

    This for some reason is at 5 interesting despite being completely wrong.

    What happened was that at the original pretrial hearings the Judge struck out the defence of honest opinion, which would have been a defence against the BCA's claim of libel (not an absolute defence - if the BCA could establish that the opinion was based on malice then it could prevail).

    What Simon Singh did win was the appeal against this judgement. Faced with the extemely strong likelyhood that Singh had a suitable defence the BCA withdrew.

    He had an earlier win as well by winning the rigth to appeal after having it rejected twice.

There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman? -- Woody Allen

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