Thursday, 4 June 2009

Simon Singh announces plan to appeal, as campaign launches to keep libel laws out of science

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Science writer Simon Singh has today announced that he will appeal against Mr Justice Eady's preliminary ruling on the meaning of the word "bogus" in the Guardian article over which is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. In a detailed piece on the Sense About Science website, Singh explains why he was taken this decision:
"I have ... said that my application to the Court of Appeal will probably fail, but applying to the Court of Appeal remains the least worst option, which is why I have decide to choose this option. Let me explain further why I believe it is a path worth pursuing. I would argue at the Court of Appeal that Mr Justice Eady did not pay enough attention to the context of the article. Elsewhere in the article I suggest that some chiropractors have ideas above their station, wacky ideas and are fundamentalists, which implies a community that has deluded and eccentric elements, rather than dishonesty. Even if the English Court of Appeal rejects my application and will not revisit the ruling on meaning then I can take the next step and lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights. This could be the place that ultimately decides on the meaning of the article.

I still believe that my article was reasonable, fair and important in terms of informing parents about the lack of evidence relating to chiropractic treatment for some childhood conditions. While there is still the slightest chance of defending my rights as a journalist then I am determined to continue with this legal battle. Indeed, I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the evidence for chiropractic in court."
To coincide with Singh's decision to appeal, the charity Sense About Science have launched Keep Libel Laws Out of Science, a campaign for an urgent review of Britain's illiberal libel laws to ensure that they can not be used to stifle free scientific debate:
"Freedom to criticise and question in strong terms and without malice is the cornerstone of scientific argument and debate, whether in peer-reviewed journals, on websites or in newspapers, which have a right of reply for complainants. However, the libel laws and cases such as BCA v Singh have a chilling effect, which deters scientists, journalists and science writers from engaging in important disputes about the evidential base supporting products and practices. The libel laws discourage argument and debate and merely encourage the use of the courts to silence critics.

The English law of libel has no place in scientific disputes about evidence; the BCA should discuss the evidence outside of a courtroom. Moreover, the BCA v Singh case shows a wider problem: we urgently need a full review of the way that English libel law affects discussions about scientific and medical evidence."

The campaign has over 100 signatoires from the worlds of science, journalism, publishing, comedy, literature and law. Our editor Caspar Melville has signed on behalf of New Humanist and our parent charity the Rationalist Association, saying:

"What has happened to Simon Singh was all but inevitable given the anachronistic and patently unfair UK libel laws. Reform of British libel law is, or should be, the highest priority for all those who value freedom of expression. The tradition of rigorous debate that has done so much to enrich our public and scientific culture is ill served by a legal framework which favours those with the deepest pockets, and discourages full and frank public debate. With the spirit of reform in the air, free thinkers of all political stripe now have the opportunity to rally round and tackle this unfortunate hangover from Britain's deferential gentleman's club culture."
You can add your name to the campaign at the Sense About Science website – every extra name can make a difference, as SAS explain: "This statement has been sent to the Department for Culture Media and Sport, No 10 and the Department of Justice on Thursday 4th June and with every additional 1000 names we will be sending the statement again to Government until there is a commitment and a timetable from the parties for the necessary legislation."


foolfodder said...

I can't help thinking that the BCA would be much better off if they just dropped the whole thing. Even if they are likely to win the legal case.

Zach said...

I've signed it. I encourage everyone to do the same! Fight the good fight, people!