Respectful Insolence

Simon Singh will appeal?

About a week ago, I lamented an astoundingly bad ruling in the libel case brought by the British Chiropractic Association against skeptic Simon Singh. The ruling was so bad that many observers are wondering whether it’s possible for Singh to go on or whether he can afford to appeal. Blogger Jack of Kent, who has been following the case with astute obsevations, tells us:

I understand that Simon Singh will announce whether he will appeal on Monday 18 May 2009 at a public support meeting to take place in London at 6.30pm.

The venue will be the Penderels Oak, the usual meeting place of London Skeptics in the Pub.

As well as Simon Singh, the leading UK journalist Nick Cohen will be speaking. Other speakers are currently being confirmed.

(For further updates see the Facebook site and my Twitter.)

Leading me to think that Singh will try to appeal is this:

I understand that a fund is being considered either to support this case (though third party funding of UK litigation is a complex area) or as a distinct legacy fund to support the ongoing scrutiny of the promotion of CAM. A dedicated website on this case, and the issues relating to the promotion of CAM, is also being prepared. More details to follow.

As I said before, I really hope that Singh will appeal, but I understand why he might decide not to. The British Chiropractic Association is nothing more than a bunch of cowards and bullies, hiding behind ridiculously plaintiff-friendly U.K. libel laws because they know they cannot stand on the science. If they win and force a settlement, it will be galling indeed. As I said before, thanks to the insanity that is U.K. libel law, where plaintiffs only have to show that a statement is potentially defamatory, not that it is false, and the defendant has to prove what he wrote was true, the U.K. represents an inhospitable place for skeptics. To all of my London readers, I urge those of you who can attend to attend, and, if there is a defense fund set up, I urge you to contribute. I know I will.

And, even if Singh is forced to settle, try not to be too discouraged.

Comments

  1. #1 daedalus2u
    May 15, 2009

    There was quite a good comment and suggestion on Jack of Kent’s blog, where (paraphrasing) the judge did give Simon Singh a way out. Since the judge in effect put words into his mouth by saying that his statement meant that he was calling the BCA deliberate frauds and liars (which he did not mean) and not simply ignorant, deluded and dangerous fools (which he did mean), that the court had given him no choice but to settle, rather than defend something he never said and does not believe.

    If he can settle under those terms, I think he should. Not giving an inch in the science, but allowing that he never meant to imply that they were deliberate frauds and liars.

    The BCA don’t have the wit to tell the difference (if they did, they wouldn’t be chiropractors). If the BCA then mischaracterizes the settlement as vindicating the “science” of chiropractic, then Simon Singh can sue them for libel.

  2. #2 Paul Browne
    May 15, 2009

    Interesting, I shall have to keep an eye on this.

    In the meantime if Simon singh should care to set up a legal defence fund…

  3. #3 Joseph C.
    May 15, 2009

    Ugh. This makes me ashamed to be flying to London tonight!

  4. #4 Bob O'H
    May 15, 2009

    The Eye has a fund that it uses to support itself when threatened with litigation. I’m sure the London people are aware of this, and will set something up for people to contribute to.

  5. #5 Anthro
    May 15, 2009

    I’m reluctant to jump in and scream about another country’s libel laws without knowing more about why they developed and retain them. I do, however, support Simon Singh in any effort to defend himself and I fail to see why everyone is letting the British chiroquacktors off the skeptical hook by granting them the assumption of lack of deliberate fraud. This goes to a more fundamental problem that Richard Dawkins speaks of, which is our “tolerance” of religion and “belief”. People are free to believe what they want, but it seems it is the duty of the rest of us to do a much better job of science education as well as refusing to confuse the acknowledgement of their right to believe with the fraud of disseminating their beliefs for monetary gain. We lost a lot to the cause of reason when we let the chiros become a so-called legitimate “profession”; even worse when insurance companies started paying them–the same insurance companies that won’t pay for a physical or immunizations!

  6. #6 Jack of Kent
    May 15, 2009

    Thanks for the link, and for your support. You are so right: it is indeed a really tough decision…

  7. #7 Joseph
    May 15, 2009

    The ruling was by Sir David Eady, the presiding judge.

    Wait a minute. Is that the same Judge Eady of Andrew Wakefield vs. Brian Deer?

  8. #8 MrMarcus
    May 15, 2009

    I don’t quite get this:

    If the judge has wrongly attributed words/beliefs to Singh, isn’t that alone grounds for appeal, or even dismissal? Why would he need to settle a suit over something he didn’t say?

    Surely all he needs to do is point to his article and show that the judge got it wrong.

  9. #9 Marcus Ranum
    May 15, 2009

    WTF? BCA are knowing frauds and liars. Or else they have vacuum-bagged themselves in order to protect themselves in a state of pristine stupidity. Which is impossible. It is impossible to research chiropractic to any degree – as someone marketing and promoting it would do – without encountering many clear, obvious, and immediately comprehensible refutations of the entire concept. To knowingly ignore solid arguments against the efficacy of what you sell and promote is the very epitome of “fraud and liar”!

  10. #10 plum grenville
    May 16, 2009

    MrMarcus – As I understand it, the judge made a preliminary ruling in the libel case which determined whether Singh’s statement was defamatory (i.e., damaging to the Chiropractors’ Association, regardless of truth or falsity).

    In doing so, the judge had to decide what the word “bogus” means. He decided that it means ‘deliberately dishonest’, rather than ‘without foundation.’

    It doesn’t matter what Singh actually meant (he says he didn’t mean to imply dishonesty). Defamation is based on the “objective” meaning, not the intended meaning, of what was said.

    The problem with the ruling is that it enormously increases Singh’s burden of proof. Not only does he have to prove that the BCA’s claims about chiropractic are false; he also has to prove that the BCA doesn’t believe what they said (dishonesty).

    Dishonesty is generally hard to prove. Singh would need s smoking gun.

    Singh’s choices now are to a) proceed with the libel trial and try to prove dishonesty as well as falsity; b) appeal the judge’s interpretation of the word ‘bogus’ and hopefully get a narrower and easier-to-prove interpretation and then proceed with the libel trial; c) settle.

    Option (a) is almost hopeless. Option (b) is more promising but still somewhat risky. Option (c) is tempting because a settlement would be cheaper than a damage award (plus litigation costs for both sides, which Singh would have to pay as well if he lost).

  11. #11 Infophile
    May 16, 2009

    WTF? BCA are knowing frauds and liars. Or else they have vacuum-bagged themselves in order to protect themselves in a state of pristine stupidity. Which is impossible. It is impossible to research chiropractic to any degree – as someone marketing and promoting it would do – without encountering many clear, obvious, and immediately comprehensible refutations of the entire concept. To knowingly ignore solid arguments against the efficacy of what you sell and promote is the very epitome of “fraud and liar”!

    Never underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance, Marcus, or of True Believer Syndrome for that matter. Time and again, people have seen incontrovertible evidence against their beliefs, and they just rationalize it away. I remember a story about this very thing happening, though I unfortunately can’t remember where I read it from (perhaps another reader could fill it in):

    A scientist got a group of chiropractors to agree to a randomized, double-blinded test of one of their beliefs, specifically on a use of Applied Kinesiology. The test went through, and the results clearly showed no benefit to the method. One chiropractor came up to the scientist after the test and said, “You see, this is why we never do double-blind tests. They never work.”

    Rather than taking this as proof their methods were flawed, the chiropractors took this as proof the test was flawed. You just can’t sway a true believer.

  12. #12 Joe
    May 17, 2009

    Here is the latest: http://forums.randi.org/showpost.php?p=4721217&postcount=190 The bottom line is that he would like to appeal; but he is undecided.

    If you go to the JREF section http://forums.randi.org/forumdisplay.php?f=5 there are sticky posts at the top. One concerns the legal case, and is the source of the update I linked, above.

  13. #13 Daniel J. Andrews
    May 17, 2009

    Infophile…I had missed that chiropractor example. Good one. Randi also tested dowsers (the video should be on youtube, which is where I caught it a few months ago) who claimed they were 90-100% accurate. He set up several dowsing tests where by they had to detect water flowing through one of 10 pipes, and detect a mineral hidden in one of 10 boxes.

    The dowsers all agreed these tests were fair and even made suggestions on how to set it up for maximum fairness. He did a trial run whereby he told dowsers in which pipe water was flowing, and in which box the mineral was. All dowsers were able to detect water flowing in that pipe, and were able to detect the mineral in the box.

    However, when they went to the double-blind stage it was a different story. The dowsers had an accuracy rate of around 9-12% overall. When he asked which of them still thinks they can accurately locate water they all still put up their hands despite evidence showing their abilities were no better than chance guessing.

    Cognitive dissonance indeed.

  14. #14 artsgraduate
    May 17, 2009

    Infophile, I read that Kinesiology paragraph in John Diamond’s Snake Oil – not sure where he got it from?

  15. #15 Richard Eis
    May 18, 2009

    Oh come on. It can’t be that hard to prove that those practising chiropracty are deliberately lying scumbags.

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