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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 @03:30PM (#33476782)
    It would seem that if he emerged victorious, the other side should have to cover the $200K -- plus something for his time.
  • Re:Next target ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:40PM (#33476834) Homepage
    You forgot economics.
  • Great Quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @03:40PM (#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:Great Quote (Score:3, Insightful)

    by loxosceles ( 580563 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:16PM (#33477030)

    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 understand the issue and inadvertently render corrective legislation ineffective.

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

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

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

  • Re:Great Quote (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:31PM (#33477118)

    It's called bigotry and you're right it happens a lot all over. As per your example go to any android article and it's full of iPhone user's comments, quick to jump in and defend their favourite product even though it's not at all relevant to the story at hand.

    Same thing with Ubuntu news here. Check out the latest news still on the front page, there's always someone that has to come and start talking about OSX or Windows, etc..

  • Re:Great Quote (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:34PM (#33477136)

    Although most of what you wrote is correct and I agree with you, I have a small pedantic comment: The job of science is to take a specific belief/prejudice and attempt to disprove it. Science works by making prediction and then organizing experiments that follow these predictions. If the experiments do not agree with what the theory predicted, then the theory is flawed. If the experiment and the theory/prediction are in agreement, then the theory is strengthened, but it can never be proven.

  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:40PM (#33477190) Homepage

    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 that he has to spend all that (I hope he has a means to recover it). But at least he was in a position to get some of the fairness at some point that most other people would never be able to get.

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

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:48PM (#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.

  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:55PM (#33477280)
    Unfortunately, that's not exactly the way it works. He lost a year of work, for which he'll get nothing. He had 200,000 pounds costs of which it seems that he'll only get 70% back. He's definitely a hero and if someone has a few thousand of pounds spare, there would be worse ways to spend it than donating it to him.
  • trust authority? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:11PM (#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.

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

    by soliptic ( 665417 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:23PM (#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.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @05:37PM (#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.

  • GMO (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @06:05PM (#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:Great Quote (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 04, 2010 @06:15PM (#33477708)

    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 much carbohydrates - I keep mixing up whether it's "obvious" from our dental patterns we're meat eaters, or it's "obvious" from our intestines that we're not.)

    I've never heard of *any* medical condition where it was "obvious" or "commonsense" that it was due to a nutritional deficiency. What does a swollen throat have to do with iodine? What part of having your nails and hair fall out make it "obvious" that you haven't eaten enough vegetables? How is it "common sense" that abdominal pain and cramping is caused by wheat*? We have to discover these things through trial and error (e.g. the scientific method) - you only think it's "commonsense" because it matches whatever particular set of (mis)information you've already been taught. Are eggs good or bad for you? They have a balanced set of amino acids, so it's commonsense they're a good protein source. No wait, they're high in cholesterol, which is bad for you, so commonsense dictates that they're bad. No, wait, dietary cholesterol doesn't affect serum cholesterol in the majority of healthy patients, so "commonsense" says ...

    All to often "commonsense" tends to be another way of saying "confirmation bias".

    *(I'm referring to actual celiac disease here.)

  • Re:Great Quote (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Troggie87 ( 1579051 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @06:44PM (#33477860)

    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 population. The sheer amount of information required to fully understand any one of those subjects makes it impossible for a "normal" person working 40-50 hours a week with a family and a simple hobby (working on cars, poker, whatever) to grasp them. I cant pretend to be an expert in all aspects of all of them, and I spend vast amounts of time trying to understand them.

    In an ideal world, we would have clear experts we could trust to tell us the reality in any of those fields. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the public has recoiled against that, preferring instead to use "common sense" to try and solve problems that inherently cant be solved with common sense. The backlash against science is part of this. Movements like the Tea Party also reflect this idea that "the everyman should take back society" (not to say that allegations of government corruption are unfounded, I don't much care to have that debate).

    I truthfully think its a fear reaction. And its understandable. But we as scientists cannot yield to it. The problems we face are too great, and the discoveries too grand, to allow "common sense" (and often superstition in its guise) to hold us back.

  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @06:50PM (#33477906)

    And one last point. Despite claims to the contrary, we do not have wonderfully accurate temperature records over the last 100 years. This is my field and I know how even the most modern temperature sensors in common use are often biased and surprisingly inaccurate.

    That's what statistics are for. Every single measurement needs not be wonderfully accurate. In the same way that we define a certain height as "sea level" when the surface of the sea isn't level, we can talk about average temperatures when we lack precise measurements at each point.

    Unless you can demonstrate that this bias in thermometers has a trend towards showing higher temperatures as time goes by, you cannot say global warming is an artifact of measurement error.

  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @07:32PM (#33478082) Homepage

    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 evidence.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer