Nick Cohen has a great article in the Observer discussing the British Chiropractic Association’s legal action against science writer and producer Simon Singh:
Reputable medical authorities could test the evidence and decide whether the treatments work or not. Instead of arguing before the court of informed opinion, however, the BCA went to the libel courts and secured a ruling from Mr Justice Eady that made Singh’s desire to test chiropractors’ claims next to impossible. Because Singh used the word “bogus”, the judge said he had to prove that chiropractors knew they were worthless but “dishonestly presented them to a trusting and, in some respects perhaps, vulnerable public”.
The learned judge did not seem to understand that the worst thing about the deluded is that they sincerely believe every word they say. On Eady’s logic, a writer who condemns as “bogus” a neo-Nazi’s claim that a conspiracy of Jews controls American foreign policy could be sued successfully if lawyers jumped up and said neo-Nazis sincerely believed their conspiracy theories to be true.
The consequences of letting the libel law loose on scientific debate are horrendous. Science proceeds by peer review. A researcher’s colleagues must submit his or her ideas to scrutiny without fear of the consequences. If they think they could lose their homes and savings in the libel courts, however, they will back off.