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Science writer Simon Singh wins ruling in chiropractic libel battle

In two previous articles, here and here, I talked about author Simon Singh’s battle with the British Chiropractic Association. The Guardian reported yesterday that the initial ruling has been overturned.
From The Guardian:

A science writer who is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association is to fight on after a preliminary judgment against him was overturned on appeal today.

Simon Singh was sued by the BCA after he wrote an article in the Guardian criticising the association for supporting members who claim that chiropractic treatments – which involve manipulation of the spine – can treat children’s colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying.

Singh described the treatments, for which he said there is not a lot of evidence, as “bogus” and criticised the BCA for “happily promoting” them.

In May, Mr Justice Eady in the high court ruled on the meaning of the words, saying they implied the association was being deliberately dishonest. Singh said that interpretation would make it difficult for him to defend himself at a full trial.

Singh was initially refused leave to appeal, but Eady’s interpretation was rejected by Lord Justice Laws, who said Eady had risked swinging the balance of rights too far in favour of the right to reputation and against the right to free expression. Laws described Eady’s judgment as “legally erroneous”.

Many scientists and science writers have rallied to Singh’s support, claiming that the freedom of scientific opinion is at stake.

Speaking after the judgment, Singh said this was the “best possible result”.

“Simon Singh’s battle in this libel case is not only a glaring example of how the law and its interpretation are stifling free expression, it shows how urgent the case for reform has become,” said Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship.

3 comments to Science writer Simon Singh wins ruling in chiropractic libel battle

  • I am not pleased. I agree that writers should have the right to point up the weakness in someone’s argument. However, to characterize case studies as BOGUS, rather than as a weak form of proof, is wrong.

    Here’s some definitions of the word BOGUS:

    fraudulent; having a misleading appearance
    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

    Counterfeit or fake; not genuine; Undesirable or harmful; Incorrect, useless, or broken; a totally fictitious issue printed for collectors, often issued on behalf of a non-existent territory or country; That is based on lies, half-truths, or made-up statistics
    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bogus

    So…would you characterize our whole Research Section as fradulent etc, or is it the best available evidence our profession has been able to generate to date, paid for from own pockets??? You make the call. Do any of those Case Studies misrepresent themselves as randomized trials? Hardly!

    I feel that Mr. Singh KNEW better…isn’t he an esteemed scientific author and wordsmith? And shouldn’t he be held to a higher standard (as are doctors and other professionals) when he makes public statements? Why not, I ask?

    Is it a *chilling* effect on journalism to expect them to use accurate words in their commentary??? I say Guilty As Charged!

  • karl

    I’m all for the freedom of speech but when it comes to health care i feel you need to back your opinions even in opposition. to use the word “bogus” is inflammatory and is an example of negative linguistics(negative framing). to me,( often not always) this indicates an obvious bias and/or agenda. if singh would have nuanced his opinion with reasonable/moderate linguistics it would not have gotten the dramatic response he wanted. it might have indicated that this treatment for colic that needs more research and could be helpful for example but instead he was absolute and indicated it was “bogus” indicating it was not worth considering. this was a reasonable ruling by the court. to me singh did some damage by just getting his opinion printed because it was black and white/dishonest about at best. he was being dishonest about chiropractic practitioners and their intentions to treat the conditions noted in the article. their intentions are alleviate/reduce/end symptoms and conditions not to mislead/cheat the public.

  • Of course “bogus” means deliberately dishonest, and it appears that the writer’s intent was to imply that. Not objective journalism.

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