Simon Singh wins appeal

April 1, 2010 • 5:27 am

I haven’t posted anything on this, as it’s been amply covered on other websites, but I’ve followed it keenly.  Two years ago, science writer Simon Singh was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association for having written a Guardian column in which he asserted that chiropractic “happily promotes bogus treatments” for ailments like asthma, colic, and ear infections.  Last May, a judge ruled that Singh intended the “bogus treatments” characterization as “statement of fact,” which implied that the BCA was being deliberately and knowingly dishonest in promoting some treatments.  Singh, with the support of many scientists and the English PEN, appealed this judgment.

Today, Singh won his appeal. A British justice ruled that Singh’s statement was not a statement of fact but “fair comment”:

. . the material words, however one represents or paraphrases their meaning, are in our judgment expressions of opinion.  The opinion may be mistaken, but to allow the party which has been denounced on the basis of it to compel its author to prove in court what he has asserted by way of argument is to incite the court to become an Orwellian ministry of truth.

Singh isn’t out of the woods yet, but this goes a long way towards extricating him from the forest of insanity that is British libel law.  And it’s a great victory for freedom of speech in the UK, especially the freedom to question quackery and pseudoscience.

If you’ve followed this case, you’ll want to read the full judgment (10 pages) here.

h/t: Ray Moscow

23 thoughts on “Simon Singh wins appeal

    1. And that reminds me to buy copies of any of his books that I don’t already own (I think there are two). Simon took on a huge burden to fight this thing.

  1. I dont see this so significant.Maybe in the UK. The significant would be that the BCA was asked to show that their claims hold water. I would like to see that happening here,of course, including all the drugs that dont work: infamous cases surfacing (cholesterol, diabetes, bone among others)

      1. Think hard: what has changed?, This is what has changed: The BCA has gotten a lot of free publicity and Mr Singh is short of 200,000 pounds (reported legal cost). Do you know how many people see Chiropractors in the US? (even atheists do)

        1. I think the publicity for the BCA and chiropractry in general has been very negative, and thanks to this ruling at least Singh won’t be on the hook for the costs of the claimants (BCA) in bringing the suit.

          Going back the comments on Jack on Kent’s blog, Singh might be able to recover some of his own costs as well, though apparently not all of them.

          Unfortunately the libel laws have not been changed, and so this sort of thing can happen again anytime. But this case has raised awareness in Parliament that the laws should be reviewed and perhaps changed.

          1. Ok. Lets make predictions: I predict that the number of chiropractors’ “patients” in England will not diminish, in the next year, unless some of the practices are banned.

          2. Actually, the decision of the Court of Appeal does change the law in Britain. Assuming the BCA does not appeal to the Supreme Court (and they’d have to seek leave to appeal and the odds of them getting it in a case of a unanimous decision by three such senior judges are anorexically slim), this decision is precedent which binds English and Welsh courts in the future.

            There is still scope for legislative change, particularly in terms of how English courts deal with costs, but the need for legislative change is not as pressing as it would have been had the decision gone the other way.

          3. I didnt see anything in the news I read that indicate any laws have changed-havent read tge ruling.-yet-if. In fact, many claim the ruling doesnt go far enough. BBC: “The case has become a cause celebre for the science community and led to calls for defamation law to be rewritten so it does not interfere with scientific debates”

        2. Do you know how many people see Chiropractors in the US? (even atheists do)

          Chiropractors do help some people with back problems (especially lower back). The problem are those who also claim that they can help for asthma or diseases or other kind of nonsense claims. I won’t go see one but chiropractic practice is not all bad.

          1. Thank you nb, tell me: how is this essentially different from say, a bone reabsorption drug that doesnt work, heavily advertised on tv and killing the lady as a side effect? I am more pointing to our lack of consistency in quackery denouncing behaviour. The whole deal was about the right of Singh to write about it rather than the claim of quackery itself. No wonder there are quacks all around.

          2. No, there really is a subset of spinal manipulations that have similar results to traction and physical therapy. And some chiropractors even get certified as practicing that kind and actively disavow the woo in order to get such certification.

    1. I wish I could share your..well..chivalrous optimism, but I yield to the evidence that we live in the Supremacy of the Quack Age-the Quackternary- Fake claims about almost anything? Wall Street?, Climate Change? black holes and the LHC, sightings of the Virgin Mary riding naked atop an UFO, fake medicine?..everywhere you look: quack, quack, quack.. It reminds me of Elaine Benes telling Seinfeld, when asked about putative mutual orgasms: fake!, fake,fake and fake.

      1. I may have missed some other comments on costs at Jack of Kent’s blog, but, one commenter wrote:

        Simon will not get all his costs back but he will recover a good proportion of them.

  2. It’s sad, though, that he had to win with a ruling that calling a claim that chiropractic cures asthma, etc. bogus is an “opinion.”

    It would be so much better if the ruling said “If you’re full of crap, and someone says you’re full of crap, well they’re right. Get over it.”

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