White Coat Underground

Truth under seige in the UK

Libel law in the UK seems very odd to Americans, with our emphasis on free speech. But, hey, we’ve had our own country for two hundred and almost two score years now, and I’m happy to report that, at least over here, we can still call a quack a quack. But in England, you can’t even allude to it. Here’s what happened. Simon Singh, a British reporter who tends to take the side of truth in science wrote the following:

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

For various technical reasons, this last phrase, containing the word “bogus”, is getting him in a world of trouble. Never mind that the chiropractors are disseminating false and harmful medical information; never mind that one should—morally—be free to express an opinion regarding this horrid practice; the law is an ass. And so, apparently, is the judge.

We have a horrible quackery problem in the US, but in our fight against the powers of the De-lightenment we have our pens (and keyboards). It seems as if blogs like this one, Orac’s, and Science-based Medicine wouldn’t have a chance in the UK. Hopefully the English courts won’t extend their idiocy to the internet and our British colleagues can still read what we write. Perhaps we should be paying more attention to what is going on over there.

But there is so much to do here, I can’t see how we can monitor quackery in the UK—-and that’s what it is: legally protected health fraud. The British Chiropractic Association, in claiming to treat these common childhood illnesses, is perpetrating a fraud on the British people. The courts apparently believe that it’s more important to defend the BCA’s right to injure children than to protect its citizens from deliberate harm.

Shame on them.


  1. #1 mxh
    May 10, 2009

    I was about to say that it can’t be libel, if it’s true, but apparently in England and Wales the powdered-wigged idiots don’t care if what you say has any truth in it.

  2. #2 mxh
    May 10, 2009

    I read the law wrong, it’s not libel if it’s true, but the burden of proof lies on the defendant. Even so, I feel like (if the judge was a reasonable person) that Mr. Singh could have provided evidence that what he said was true.

  3. #3 RMM Barrie
    May 10, 2009

    But in England, you can’t even allude to it

    Sure you can, by way of example, of many:

    One of the delights of English life is watching our aging prince scrapping with doctors over integrated, complementary, alternative, or quack medicine (choose the adjective to suit your prejudices).

    Richard Smith, The Guardian UK:

    Aging prince, is the Prince of Wales, next in line to the throne.
    This Richard Smith is not the same person who used to edit BMJ.

    In this instance, BCA got lucky and found a strict conservative constructionist judge, Mr. Justice Eady, who took the quote on its face and erred ( in my non professional opinion ) by ignoring the the previous definition by Simon Singh. However, Singh is a UK writer who should know better, or it was an error on the part of Singh. I am sure Antonin Scalia and Eady would enjoy tea together.

    Since there is reference to Orac in this post by PalMD, there are additional references by me including the law as asinine in the comments.

  4. #4 Infophile
    May 11, 2009

    I read the law wrong, it’s not libel if it’s true, but the burden of proof lies on the defendant. Even so, I feel like (if the judge was a reasonable person) that Mr. Singh could have provided evidence that what he said was true.

    You hit on it right there: “If the judge was a reasonable person.” This judge is anything but. He previous ruled in a libel case that the British courts had jurisdiction over a libel claim over material printed in a book by an American author about a Saudi that was never published in the UK, simply because some British citizens bought the book online and had it shipped to them. Apparently he’s of the belief that he can police the world to play nice.

  5. #5 Joe
    May 12, 2009


    Since you think chiropractic is effective, do you think a spinal adjustment can re-orient the judge?

  6. #6 carla
    May 18, 2009

    LOL Free speech in America LOL

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