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Simon Singh setback

In December we noted the case of Simon Singh:

Simon Singh, the highly respected science writer (Fermat’s Last Theorem, etc), is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

(Chiropractic is an alternative/complementary therapy which purports to treat various ailments by manipulation of the spine.)

The BCA are promoting Chiropractic as treatment for children with (potentially serious) ailments such as asthma and frequent ear infections.

Simon Singh criticised this in a Guardian “comment” piece. In particular, he criticised the BCA for doing this without appropriate clinical evidence.

He is now being sued for libel.

Here is some surprising news, or perhaps not depending on your views on British libel law.

The judge, after hearing both lawyers arguments, read what seemed to be a pre-prepared statement, which basically concluded that:

1. Singh’s statements meant that the BCA and Chiropractors in general were aware that their treatments do not work and were thus promoting treatments they knew to be false. The judge also defined a’ bogus treatment’ as not being one which later scientific evidence has shown to be ineffective but instead as one which is known to be false and is meant to intentionally deceive.
2. Singh’s article was intended to be read entirely as fact and was not offered as a critical commentary.

The acoustics in the court weren’t great and the lawyers and the judge spoke very quietly and as a result when the judge was explaining his decision I actually thought I had misheard and he was simply restating the BCA’s case as it seemed incredibly unlikely that he could have reached such a silly verdict. I was wrong. That was his decision.

The effect of this, is that Simon Singh has only two choices 1) to appeal the decision and hope that if the appeal is accepted the next judge is more reasonable or 2) to concede defeat.

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