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Simon Singh Talks With Wired About His Libel Battle 239

smellsofbikes writes "Wired has a short but pithy interview with Simon Singh about his defense against a libel suit brought by the British Chiropractic Association, in which he spent more than $200,000 and emerged victorious."
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Simon Singh Talks With Wired About His Libel Battle

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  • by Dragon Bait (997809) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @02:30PM (#33476782)
    It would seem that if he emerged victorious, the other side should have to cover the $200K -- plus something for his time.
  • 200,000 dollars (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Sorry... I hate seeing numbers thrown around as if it somehow makes this case more important than others. I'm glad to see that Simon Singh stood up for his comments and also that he is now extremely famous and has furthered his career by this episode.

    Also, can someone enlighten me if British law allows him to sue for his defense cost?
    • Re:200,000 dollars (Score:5, Informative)

      by wiredlogic (135348) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @02:51PM (#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: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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.

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

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:25PM (#33477456)

        Singh didn't actually win, the BCA dropped their case when they could see mounting pressure from the public, high profile intellectual celebrities and politicians. A huge difference in law. The last thing the fraudsters within the BCA want is a valid examination of their cure-all claims. The only good from this case is its high profile nature and possible UK libel law reform.

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

          by pmc (40532) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @04:47PM (#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.

      • Indeed, the court system does seem to favor the wealthy (unless you are the deep pockets being sued), but even loser pay rules struck me as unfair.

        It would seem that at the beginning of the trial, if both the plaintiff and defendant would throw the sum total of funds to be spent into a common pot (to be split equally among them for their court cost), then the amount paid would be the cost at arriving at a _judgement_ instead of paying more to win the case.

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

          by whoever57 (658626) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:32PM (#33477808) Journal

          Indeed, the court system does seem to favor the wealthy (unless you are the deep pockets being sued), but even loser pay rules struck me as unfair.

          Loser pays in the UK is not quite as simple as many people think. The definition of "loser" is usually based on whether any award was more or less than what was previously offered (and paid into the court) by the defendant. For example if the defendant offered to settle for 100k pounds and the judge awards damages of 99k pounds (less than was offered), then the plaintiff is considered the loser and has to pay the defendant's legal costs even though he was awarded 99k.

          Furthermore, legal costs include the cost of the lawyers' time, unlike the USA.

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

      by cgenman (325138) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @02:55PM (#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 fantomas (94850) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:06PM (#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.


      • by Phat_Tony (661117)
        Exactly. In fact, the summary has the story exactly wrong:

        he spent more than $200,000 and emerged victorious

        When someone publishes a book with their objective findings on a subject, and their findings run counter to someone else's interests, giving the author an option between paying $200,000 or paying a fine and issuing a retraction means that they've already lost. Which of those two options they choose is much less important than the fact that either option is an intolerable affront to justice, more in line with The Spanish Inquisition or the Salem Witc

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @08:17PM (#33478668) Journal
        It's kind of a historical thing. Historically, Britons favor respect and propriety over the truth. Even if everyone knows the king is cheating on his wife, you don't say it in public, for example. As long as no one is getting hurt, there's no reason to make waves by pointing it out. Thus their historical custom is codified into law.

        Here in America we're a bunch of redneck hicks who know nothing about respect and propriety. If we know some dirt about someone, we're going to say it, and we're going to say it loud. And our laws protect us.

        Whether one way or the other is better is debatable, of course I prefer the American way, but there is an argument to be made for the British way as well.
    • by jimicus (737525)

      British law is "loser pays", there's usually no need to sue for defence cost.

      (IANAL. There may be some nuances here of which I am unaware).

      • by BitterOak (537666)

        British law is "loser pays", there's usually no need to sue for defence cost.

        (IANAL. There may be some nuances here of which I am unaware).

        Yes, but from what I understand, the British Chiropractic Association did not actually lose the case, but rather they withdrew their suit after losing a judgment on a point in the case regarding interpretation of Singh's statements. Do they still have to pay the legal costs he had accumulated up to that point, including his appeal costs on that particular ruling? I couldn't find in any documentation any information regarding who has to foot the $200K bill, so I am assuming Dr Singh had to pay.

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

      by soliptic (665417) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:23PM (#33477446) Journal

      Sorry... I hate seeing numbers thrown around as if it somehow makes this case more important than others. I'm glad to see that Simon Singh stood up for his comments and also that he is now extremely famous and has furthered his career by this episode.

      You have that spectacularly backwards.

      The number isn't thrown around to suggest this figure / this case is unusual, it's thrown around to suggest this is usual. Want to defend yourself? That'll cost you ~5 years of a typical wage, then. Suddenly caving in and "apologising" looks quite attractive after all, regardless of how strong you thought your principles were.

      The whole reason he could afford to stick the course defending this is that he was already "rich and famous". By the time this kicked off he already had several best-selling books, a BAFTA award, Emmy nomination, an MBE and a fairly high profile career in print, radio and TV. I understand he may not be a familiar name across the pond, but within this country I struggle to think of many people in his field (science journalism / popular science) with a higher profile over the last couple of decades. Maybe Brian Cox, Patrick Moore, Ben Goldacre... it's really not a long list at any rate.

      That's the whole point. If some fresh-out-of-grad-school science-interested junior journalist on £18k p.a. had written this, been sued, and faced a £100k bill, they would almost certainly have had to fold: science 0, legal bullies 1.

      This man could have just retracted it and bought a Porsche but instead he used his "fame" and wealth to fight the case as a matter of moral principle, legal precedent, and a platform to explicitly draw attention to the general campaign for libel law reform. Snide insinuations he used the lawsuit for personal promotion are hardly fair.

  • astrology,

    • Re:Next target ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @02:40PM (#33476834) Homepage
      You forgot economics.
      • by cgenman (325138)

        Weather Forecasting.

        • Re:Next target ... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by thrawn_aj (1073100) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:29PM (#33477098)

          Weather forecasting seems to work most of the time (at least well enough that I know what to wear and whether to carry an umbrella that day). Back when I lived in Cleveland, the snow predictions were eerily (and unfortunately) accurate to a reasonable enough degree. Since the arrival of doppler radar, it's become even more useful.

          Considering that it's based on probabilistic models and no one is stupid enough to insist that it's based on magical crystal balls that always work :p, I'd say people are far too harsh on the poor ol' weatherman :p. And no, I'm about as far removed from the profession as anyone could possibly be - just stating facts.

          Oh, and here's the obligatory "ha ha, that's funny" to forestall the inevitable "whoosh" from some drive-by moron (gawd those cretins are annoying :p).

          • It's probably a reference to how poor forecasts any more can a few days ahead can be.

            1 and 2 day forecasts tend to be pretty good.

            • by hedwards (940851)
              Forecasting the weather is really hard to do. Especially around here in the Pacific Northwest. Where on most days you can find the weather you want, there's some limitations in that finding snow falling in the summer is tough and finding hot during winter isn't going to happen, but apart from that you can find the weather you want pretty much all year round. You make is sound like they do a poor job of it. But around here at least the science has come a really long way since when I was a kid. Back then we a
              • by shawb (16347)
                And weather forecasting does tend to get the big things pretty well. Exactly what day and how much the temperature is going to swing... that's got some wiggle room. When the giant storm is going to come through that you actually have to plan around and change your life for: the forecasters are pretty dang good about getting that warning out.

                Actually, I have noticed a pretty common trend in the errors on the small stuff where I live. If a weather change is slated for around 2 days to a week out, the ev
    • by pieisgood (841871)

      Fish in a barrel.

    • by schwit1 (797399)

      Faith based medicine
      Lie detectors
      Cell phones cause cancer
      zero point energy

      • zero point energy

        Max Planck is pissed [] and wants a word with you :p.

        Or were you perchance referring to this huckster []? (in which case I agree). I'd like to tell these idiots where to stick their zero-point wands [] :p. Though, I guess, to be fair, they are quite smart. The idiots are the gullible sheep who continue to make them money by the truckload :(

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DavidTC (10147)

          'Zero-point energy' is a confusing term.

          What the GP probably meant is, yes, that idiot and others claiming they are generating power from zero-point energy, or what I guess could be called 'zero-point energy energy'.

          For people here who don't want to spend any time reading up on stupidity, 'zero-point energy' has become the modern way to say 'perpetual motion machine'. "No, this system can't produce power forever with no outside energy, that's a violation of thermodynamics. It's using zero-point energy!"


    • There is a great need to root it all out and the only way that will happen is to finally eschew all faith based beliefs.

      • Unfortunately, the people who swear by faith-based medicine are also the world's biggest hypocrites. They will surreptitiously resort to conventional medicine to cure their hemorrhoids and publicly laud the success of their "crystal-enriched dildo" or whatever new piece of garbage is making the rounds these days :p.

        As a side-effect, this helps keep Darwin's hand at bay and these cancerous beliefs alive and thriving as a festering sore in the face of civilization.

        Yeah, I know. The last line sounded too Flas

        • That's ok. I feel the same way.

        • That's why you can never trust those claims. The proponents will claim 'I got better while taking homeopathic caffeine' or whatever, meanwhile they were also taking real medicine (or the problem just goes away naturally), but guess which one they think worked? The alt-med bullshit. Like in that Hauser case, where that kid's mom took off with hum when the court ordered her to seek real treatment. The tumor got bigger without chemo, smaller when chemo was started again, yet his mom claims it was the herbs

        • by Cederic (9623)

          I sense the need for a new product on the market. I have a friend that sells crystals; wonder if she wants to branch out into a new industry..

  • Great Quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rotide (1015173) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @02:40PM (#33476838)

    I happen to know a few people who are really.. well, they love Jesus more than most. They seem to attack science, not to learn anything, but to merely shoot down their "adversary".

    I really wish those people could understand this quote (last 2 lines of the article): "People start off with a belief and a prejudice—we all do. And the job of science is to set that aside to get to the truth."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by genner (694963)

      I happen to know a few people who are really.. well, they love Jesus more than most. They seem to attack science, not to learn anything, but to merely shoot down their "adversary".

      I really wish those people could understand this quote (last 2 lines of the article): "People start off with a belief and a prejudice—we all do. And the job of science is to set that aside to get to the truth."

      The wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right; for it is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth. Sir Karl Popper

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by loxosceles (580563)

        At some point scientific consensus on issues of public concern has to be used to shape public policy, and that's where being "right" becomes important.

        The interface between science and public policy is very shifty and dangerous. It is very likely that even when good scientific consensus exists on a subject, that public policy designed to address that issue will end up being corrupted by a) special interests, b) politicians pandering to constituents and ignoring the science, and c) politicians who don't und

        • by gtall (79522)

          The real issue is not so much what science does, it is the outlook of politicians. They see everything as a political game. Science, in their minds, is simply something to be used for political ends. Being a suspicious lot, they assume a scientific view at odds with their political view must have been promulgated by the opposition to their political view.

          Writ large, people in general are reluctant to give up their beliefs in response to contravening evidence. What makes things worse is that science, in typi

      • The wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right; for it is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth. Sir Karl Popper

        Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right. -- Isaac Asimov

        One could also say this: "The wrong view of religion betrays itself in the craving to be right; for it is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of faith, but his persistent and recklessly uncritical quest to promote a worldview in diametric opposition of what is."

    • by nido (102070)

      I really wish those people could understand this quote (last 2 lines of the article): "People start off with a belief and a prejudice—we all do. And the job of science is to set that aside to get to the truth."

      The few lines before your quote are much more revealing:

      The commonsense view is what we’re fighting against. So somehow you’ve got to move people away from that with these quite complicated scientific arguments based on even more complicated research. That’s why it’s such an uphill battle. People start off with a belief and a prejudice—we all do. And the job of science is to set that aside to get to the truth.

      Mr. Singh is fighting commonsense. Fascinating. Sometimes the common

      • Re:Great Quote (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Hognoxious (631665) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:48PM (#33477246) Homepage Journal

        sometimes they do help with conditions that, at first glance, aren't related directly to the area being treated.

        And sometimes a sugar pill works. Sometimes prayer works. Sometimes waving a dead chicken works.

        I suspect the percentages are about the same, or he wouldn't have won.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pete-classic (75983)

        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!


      • Going to a chiropractor for physical problems is a bat shit crazy thing to do. These people are not trained to diagnose or correctly recognize medical conditions that need real intervention and can do a lot of damage trying to treat muscle pains that arise from serious biological disease using 'manipulation'.

        Go see an orthopedist and work with a physical therapist.

        You will get far better results and won't put yourself in danger.

        It's also a good idea to read the Wikipedia article on the history of chiropract

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        For example, commonsense dictates that nutrition is important part of health,

        99+% of people agree with that statement. Even scientists. Even *very skeptical* scientists. Don't eat enough fresh vegetables? You'll probably get scurvy. Don't get enough iodine in your food? Goiter. Subsist solely on (non-lye treated) maize? Pellagra.

        but people who fight commonsense think that it doesn't matter, and they sell us drugs to treat what clearly is influenced by nutritional deficiency (for example).

        For providing an example, you are wonderfully vague. What "common sense" nutritional deficiency are you referring to? Chronic fatigue syndrome caused by gluten? Allergies caused by cooked food? Obesity caused by too much animal protein? (Or was that too muc

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Troggie87 (1579051)

        The new era of "common sense thinking" is at the heart of much of the political and social turmoil we see around us. Mr. Singh is absolutely correct in stating that "common sense" is the enemy, and always has been the enemy, of science. Common sense was at the heart of the Ptolemaic system of heavenly motion. Common sense refuted Einstein. Common sense has no place in real science, ever.

        Our modern world has advanced to the point that science, economics, philosophy, and literature are beyond 90% of the p

    • I happen to know a few people who are really.. well, they love Jesus more than most. They seem to attack science, not to learn anything, but to merely shoot down their "adversary".

      I really wish those people could understand this quote (last 2 lines of the article): "People start off with a belief and a prejudice—we all do. And the job of science is to set that aside to get to the truth."

      Hi, let me do some armchair neurolinguistics for you: "belief" is warm and fuzzy; Science want to cast the warm-fuzzy thing away: SCIENCE BAD!

      Because it is very important to them to believe every word their faith holds true, otherwise they won't get their big payoff: Eternal life with all those you love and everything you desire. Science can't offer that, so they stick to the better offer.

  • A Pyrrhic Victory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @02:49PM (#33476888) Homepage

    Yeah - a victory that cost him $200k of his own money - so that he doesn't have to issue a retraction or pay even more of his own money.

    Or, maybe if he is lucky he might get reimbursed some or all of it - quite some time after having spent it. Of course, he won't get any interest on the money or anything like that. Most ordinary people would lose their homes in the process of trying to pay these kinds of fees, and I'm sure courts would not reimburse those costs either.

    That will teach them!

    Europe at least is far better than the US in this regard, but I'd go a step further. I'd envision a system where when a suit is brought a court would require an escrow of funds from the plaintiff if they had greater than a certain amount in assets. Regardless, the attorneys would be paid by the court (for both parties) - it would be illegal for attorneys to receive money from their clients. The fee rate would be set by the court, and the budget for both parties would be the same, and the budget would be based on the nature of the case and the amount at issue. Both parties would then battle it out in court or settle. Individual participants (whether defendents, plaintiffs, witnesses, or jurors) below a certain income level (moderately high) would also be paid by the court a per-diem based on their annual income. In the end the court would assess the loser of the case for the amount of court costs (which now includes all client legal costs and the cost of the time of all parties as well), plus interest sufficient to ensure the government comes out at least even. This would be a public debt that the government would have the power to collect on.

    This would ensure that merely being sued would have no negative financial impact on somebody, and that people will think twice before filing frivolous lawsuits. People who are out time and money also don't have to try to badger the other party to pay - the government would pay them as they incur costs, and now the government can use all its usual methods to recoup its loss just as if the losing party didn't pay their taxes/etc.

    The bottom line is that the court system needs to stop punishing people (effectively) merely for being sued.

    • by blind biker (1066130) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:26PM (#33477084) Journal

      Pyrric victory? I don't think so. If money was his only concern, only then it would be Pyrric. But by winning this court battle, Singh made a huge statement, a huge "Fuck you" to the ignorance of Chiropractice, and the chiropractors that leech on that ignorance.

      Maybe it's because I'm over 40, but for me, money seems less important now, compared to some greater things in life. I feel my end is coming, and I want my life to have meant something. Money is important, but less important than one's life have a meaning.

      • Money is important, but less important than one's life have a meaning.

        In other words, it's nice to know that when you're gone you'll be remembered for something other than "I shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but my God he was a selfish prick."

        Yeah. Priorities change. Well, they do in most of us, I think ... the need to acquire wealth and/or power never dies in some people. Here in the U.S. we call such individuals "CEOs" or "politicians".

        • I don't really care about being remembered. I want to, in a way, be "successful", but "success" for me is not what you might expect: if I can make my son's childhood a happier one than mine was, and if I can make our family a happy, warm, welcoming place for that little kid, make him self-confident, feel good about himself... that stuff would mean, to me, that I was "successful". My son may or may not remember me, after I'm gone (though he very likely would remember me), but that's beside the point: I would

      • The trouble with "Money seems less important now, compared to some greater things in life" is that it goes from being plain good sense to (depending on your position) either being Just Plain Wrong or Epic Stoicism pretty sharply at a certain level, defined by your local costs of living and social safety net, if any. Also, if whatever you have in mind requires purchasing inputs(such as legal time), there exists a point where the project goes from being possible to being impossible.

        Worrying about money, in
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Pyrric victory? I don't think so.

        At it's simplest, a pyrric victory is a victory "at great cost." I think $200,000 is "great cost." You must be a lot richer than me if you don't think so.
        • Isn't it obvious? It is not me who has to pay that money, but Simon Singh, so I don't have to "think" one way or the other, it's Singh's business to decide. But I think he's wealthy enough that the cost was not too great, considering that now the UK chiropractors have to cover their asses like there's no tomorrow. It's been the mother of all Straisand effects.

    • by jimicus (737525)

      Congratulations, you've just invented a system which no half-decent solicitor will touch with a bargepole if they can possibly help it. It'll be left to the newly-qualified still wet behind the ears people who are likely to do more harm than good.

    • Re:A Pyrrhic Victory (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Skapare (16644) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:52PM (#33477268) Homepage

      Requiring money from plaintiffs does not solve the real problem, which is that court systems like those in UK, US, and AU, are fundamentally biased toward people with money, and hence to the positions more of those people hold.

      A truly just system would not require anyone to expend any money whatsoever, to carry out a complete and thorough adjudication of the issues. Since people have to do work to carry that out, someone has to pay for it, and that leaves the state. Of course those anti-big-government people, who generally benefit from the unjust and biased legal systems we do have now, would never go for such a change. I can also understand the concerns, because a state paid system really gets opened up for so much abuse in the economic sense (excessive numbers of cases, too).

      One thing that would help for lots of little cases is for thing otherwise treated as civil now should be treated as criminal (especially if there is a pattern). The state needs to bring cases against banks and big businesses for things that would otherwise require their customers to sue. If the violations are excessive, there needs to be jail time for the perpetrators, and even "death" for the "corporate person" if it keeps on happening. These cases also need to "pierce the veil of incorporation" in the extreme cases and go after those who voted in the bad guys to the board.

      My big point is, that a judicial system where people must pay up front for justice just isn't a just system for those that don't have that financial means, and at best is unfair to those that do, but have to incur that to get justice. Justice should be about setting things straight (including money to those who are were losers by result of the violation, and taking from those who unfairly gained by result of the violation ... after the adjudication properly determine who and what).

      • People don't have to hire a lawyer, it just is generally a good idea the same way it's a good idea to hire a contractor rather than renovate your home yourself.

        The state does already pay someone "to carry out a complete and thorough adjudication of the issues". She is called the judge.

        Your rant about crimes and corporations is extremely ill-considered, but I shall leave that for someone else to discuss. I'll just point out that fraud already is illegal pretty much everywhere.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Skapare (16644)

          For cases like the one that is the subject of this article, and for anything going to appeals, the chance of success by someone going pro se is less than nil. The UK and US legal systems are "adversarial" (as opposed to "inquisitional"). The judge only works with what is presented. The average person won't know if something the other side presents is valid. They won't know how to cross examine. It is only in small claims court where pro se is often seen and can readily work. The judge does not seek out evid

    • by Dare nMc (468959)

      The problem that comes up every time this is proposed, is that it closes the courts to the poor. For example, if mega corp poisons a poor families water through careless activity, and they only learn after their entire family is seriously ill. They can't sue for millions, because they cant come up with thousands to start the case. If they find a lawyler/legal service to foot the bill, those lawyers are then the one taking the largest financial risk, so those lawyers will then require most of the reward,

      • by Mikkeles (698461)

        Any system that depends on the goodwill of an authority is not a good system.

        (Now, if only I could come up with a foolproof solution!)

    • by blind biker (1066130) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:25PM (#33477754) Journal

      Quote from Wikipedia:

      The publicity produced by the libel action has led to a "furious backlash",[2] with formal complaints of false advertising being made against more than 500 individual chiropractors within one 24 hour period,[3][30] with the number later climbing to one quarter of all British chiropractors.[2] It also prompted the McTimoney Chiropractic Association to write in a leaked message to its members advising them to remove leaflets that make claims about whiplash and colic from their practice, to be wary of new patients and telephone inquiries, and telling their members: "If you have a website, take it down NOW." and "Finally, we strongly suggest you do NOT discuss this with others, especially patients."[2][3] One chiropractor is quoted as saying that "Suing Simon was worse than any Streisand effect and chiropractors know it and can do nothing about it."[2]

      Linky. []

  • by Skapare (16644) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:11PM (#33477018) Homepage

    Actually, it is the UK legal system that doesn't work. Neither does the US legal system, or the AU legal system. But for this we can focus on the broken UK legal system.

    Basically, what is broken is that the truth is effectively restricted to people with money and wealth. It's good that we have people like Simon Singh who have enough money to make it work, and make it work the right way. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those with money and wealth also tend to be those who perverse and corrupt the system with lies and untruths. So it is a very biased system, even if it might well be balanced and just when those facing off are well moneyed. In other words, it's not a system for ordinary people. So unless we can find a new system to replace it, or at least supplement it, there is no justice, and no truth, for ordinary people most of the time.

    • by cgenman (325138) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:25PM (#33477082) Homepage

      Amusingly enough, the US actually has laws protecting US Citizens [] 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Skapare (16644)

        Yes, that is a great US law. But it does not change the fact that the US legal system has most of the same issues the UK legal system has, with respect to fairness for those who don't have the means to even spend $5000 on a case, much less $200000. The fact is, these systems are biased towards those with money. And being able to countersue to recover that money (where it can be done) doesn't help very much. It's a good thing that rightful people like Simon Singh do have some money. It's unfair even to him t

  • That seems redundant. But I'll probably get sued for saying it.

  • trust authority? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:11PM (#33477386) Homepage

    Wired: What about nonscientists? How are we supposed to know what's true?

    Simon Singh: Don't come up with a view, find everybody who agrees with it, and then say, "Look at this, I must be right." Start off by saying, "Who do I trust?" On global warming, for example, I happen to trust climate experts, world academies of science, Nobel laureates, and certain science journalists. You have to decide who you trust before you decide what to believe.

    This makes me very uncomfortable. I believe that global warming is real and anthropogenic, but the reason I believe it isn't just that somebody with a Nobel prize said, "global warming is real and anthropogenic." Authoritative scientists told us that margarine was better for us than butter; in that miscegenation laws were necessary for public health; and that electromagnetic waves were not quantized (Bohr's school said this) and that they were vibrations of a luminiferous aether (most textbooks said this, decades after Einstein published relativity). All of those claims turned out to be false. Some of them were extremely harmful to large numbers of people.

    I teach physics at a community college for a living. The hardest thing to get my students to do is to think for themselves. Some come in already doing it, some will do it with encouragement, and others are incapable of doing it. Some will do it and come up with conclusions that I consider incorrect. But despite all these difficulties, we're far better off as a society if 10% of the population can think for themselves than we are if 100% accept authoritative opinions on faith.

    • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:37PM (#33477510)

      I agree that faith and belief in authority are crappy things to base belief on. So now the question is how to decide? Methodological naturalism works great, but most people don't have the capacity to go through that process every time they have to make a decision.

      So then you have to look at sources that have applied methodological naturalism and go with the answer they got. I don't think that's faith, but rather it's a rational basis for making a decision based on the process that was used having a great track record over the past couple of millennia.

    • by Cabriel (803429)

      what you've just said is that everyone should test every assertion ever made. Let's start with you: Did you personally test Anthropogenic Global Warming? 'Cause I'm willing to bet you trusted someone else's assertion. While your point that we should be critical thinkers is valid, your assertion that we shouldn't trust authoratative sources is misdirected. We should test the source, but if they prove to be authoritative, we don't need to distrust everything out-of-hand. If they make mistakes, other authorata

      • by mangu (126918)

        Let's start with you: Did you personally test Anthropogenic Global Warming? 'Cause I'm willing to bet you trusted someone else's assertion.

        As a matter of fact, demonstrating that CO2 is a greenhouse gas is very simple and can be done at home. I've seen a video from some BBC educational program demonstrating this, with a couple of clear plastic bottles, some vinegar and baking soda to generate CO2, and two digital thermometers.

        I repeated the experiment and, yes, it worked. Therefore, I can assert from my own

        • by Cabriel (803429)

          So, no, you did not, in fact, test Anthropogenic Global Warming. All you did was take what someone said, probably someone you consider authoritative, tested one of their assertions, that CO2 can contribute to Global Warming, and then trusted their assertions that both, CO2 does contribute and that Humans are the major cause of Global Warming.

          Thanks for the experimental support of my assertion. :)

      • by bcrowell (177657)

        what you've just said is that everyone should test every assertion ever made.

        No, I didn't say anything that extreme.

        Did you personally test Anthropogenic Global Warming? 'Cause I'm willing to bet you trusted someone else's assertion.

        I never said anything about personally testing it. I just said that I didn't automatically accept it because it was stated by an authority figure.

        We should test the source, but if they prove to be authoritative, we don't need to distrust everything out-of-hand. If they mak

    • by WarlockD (623872)

      I have given up on any newspapers telling me the truth on anything. The reporter doesn't understand most of the context and even scientific journals sometimes use "flair" to get more attention. At best you can email some of the authors of the reports and see if they can tell you in their words what alot of the research means.

      Its why hearsay is not court admissible evidence. Most scientists are either blatantly misquoted or the reporter fills in blanks with bad science. Once the story is out, he goes on

  • I like the last answer given by Singh:

    Science has nothing to do with common sense. I believe it was Einstein who said that common sense is a set of prejudices we form by the age of 18. Inject somebody with some viruses and that's going to keep you from getting sick? That's not common sense. We evolved from single-cell organisms? That's not common sense. By driving my car I'm going to cook Earth? None of this is common sense. The commonsense view is what we're fighting against. So somehow you've got to move

    • by Arimus (198136)

      These days common sense is more correctly called uncommon sense; given the average level of stupidity witnessed every day...

  • GMO (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:05PM (#33477638)

    I'm glad Singh brings up the issue of GMOs in his interview. It's my opinion as well that the vast bulk of the evidence sited by GMO opponents is pseudoscience at best.

    It is high time start recognizing what is going on with the anti-GMO campaign.

    • Re:GMO (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @06:21PM (#33478044)

      Yes. This times a hundred. Times a million. Pseudoscience at best, dishonest [] at worst. I too am really glad he gives genetic engineering it's props, because anti-GMO really is the new anti-vax. Just because you can't be bothered to listen to a valid source doesn't mean that the people who know what the hell they're talking about are in some grand Monsanto/Shadow Government conspiracy to be evil. The scientific evidence is in. It's been it. The idea that they are inherently dangerous to human health is laughable (and growing even less plausible every day), they are a benefit for farmers, and they are a net positive to the environment. Deputing these facts without adequate information to go against them, which is what pretty much every anti-GMO group on the planet does, is not insightful or thought provoking, it's denialism, plain and simple. The modern controversy surrounding GMOs is is no longer a scientific debate, it's a popular one, largely with biologist, horticulturists, botanists, microbiologists, zoologists, toxicologists, geneticists, biochemists, and farmers on one hand, and people who think that an appeal to nature is a valid argument on the other, and even that doesn't make sense considering that we selectively breed crops for various mutations for thousands of years (as anyone who has even a passing understanding of corn genetics will tell you) and that the odds are pretty darn good that every plant we eat has picked viral, bacterial, and fungal DNA at some point, probably insect DNA too. Human DNA is at least 3% virus. We are, in a sense, genetically modified organisms ourselves.

      Here's a good example: A few weeks ago, some anti-science arsonist assholes burned down a GMO grape test field in France. They were government developed, so the claim that they're against corporations doesn't apply. They were virus resistant, so the claim that they're against chemicals was out. They were rootstocks, and since roots don't produce flowers, their claim that they're afraid of cross pollination and wild GMOs is out. The health concerns, even if they had any merit to begin with, are also out, because again, the GMO part was only the root, not the grape. Why are they against them? Because they're GMO. They're against genetic engineering because it's genetic engineering. They've decided that genetic engineering is bad, and base everything else on that decision. They start with the conclusion, and make everything else fit that. Hundreds of studies showing they're wrong is part of the conspiracy, scientific consensus is part of the conspiracy, and every relevant expert who knows what they're talking about is in on it too, and therefore, anything that disagrees with their premise is easily dismissed, knowledge because a vice, ignorance a virtue.

      This topic deserves more publicity than it gets, it really does. I think that this is a truly fascinating area (as a look at my comment history will reveal). I love plants and horticultural science, and I think it is just amazing what we can do with them now, what we might be able to do in the future. We are living in interesting and exciting times. We can increase output, decrease need for inputs, help preserve the soil and the environment. We can help the people who need it most grow more nutritious food. We can lessen or eliminate the problems caused by pests and diseases. Someday I might have a mango or cashew or cacao or coffee or lychee tree here in the northeast US. This is what people are really working on. This isn't sci-fi, it's real, and it is just a shame that we have people with all the intellectual integrity of your average homeopath attacking it and generally trying to influence the general population with cheap scare tactics. And it's almost funny, these people think they're being insightful when all they're going is displaying their own ignorance. It would be like someone claiming that the moon must be hollo

On a paper submitted by a physicist colleague: "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong." -- Wolfgang Pauli