Applause for Simon Singh April 2, 2010

Applause for Simon Singh

After a long, completely unnecessary battle, Simon Singh has won his appeal (PDF).

The short background of the story: Singh wrote an article in 2008 saying that the British Chiropractic Association “is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.”

The BCA didn’t like that “bogus” was an accurate representation of the junk they promote, so they sued.

Yesterday, Singh won his appeal.

The High Court had said the words were fact not opinion — meaning Dr Singh could not use the fair comment defence.

However, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley ruled High Court judge Mr Justice Eady had “erred in his approach” last May, and allowed Dr Singh’s appeal.

The BCA has responded (PDF) and Rebecca Watson nicely paraphrases their press release:

“We’re not trying to stamp on free speech and scientific debate. We’re just bankrupting Simon Singh until he stops criticizing us and goes away. Yes, The Guardian offered us the opportunity to publicly defend our claims with science, but that’s absurd –- we don’t have any science to defend our claims.

“We know that at this point pretty much everyone thinks we’re a bunch of shit heads, but that’s because we were following our lawyers’ advice! And even though we’ll continue to look like bigger shit heads the longer we keep this charade going, we’re prepared to drag this out for years. After all, if we’re going to singlehandedly destroy the chiropractic industry, we’re going to take Simon Singh down with us. Because that’s exactly the kind of shit heads we are.”

The case isn’t over yet, but the advantage is now with Singh.

Here’s hoping he can win the case in full.

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  • muggle

    I think that Rebecca Watson paraphrases it quite nicely. And accurately.

  • I think the most powerful passage is actually in paragraph 34 where they adopt Judge Easterbrook’s opinion in Underwager v. Salter, 22 F.3d 730 (7th Cir. 1994):

    [A person] cannot, simply by filing suit and crying “character assassination!”, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. More papers, more discussion, better data, and more satisfactory models—not larger awards of damages—mark the path toward superior understanding of the world around us.

    Underwager, 22 F.3d at 736 (internal citations omitted).

    As a sidenote, it looks like the Wakefield in Underwager is not Andrew Wakefield of MMR fame.

  • Matteo Watkins

    I feel for Mr. Singh. I hold a similar (yet unpublished) view on massage therapy, in so far as outlandish claims of toxin cleansing, spiritual centering, you name it… although a great way to unwind, really relax, and possibly enjoy placebo side effects, the science just isn’t there… It always comes up at the end of a massage when the therapist says “now drink lots of water because we released a lot of toxins and you need to flush them out of your system”… to which I reply “really…which toxins are released, and how does that actually work on a cellular level?”…which is when I get “that look” -a sort of sympathetic acknowledgement that says; maybe someday you will be enlightened enough to understand… which incidentally is the same look that religious types give you when they find out you don’t believe in God while silently praying that you might someday find jesus. Thanks to Mr. Singh’s defiance of the Chiropractic titans, I too may find the courage to take on the AMTA.

  • The paraphrase is beautiful. Simon Singh is a superb author and his fight is a just one. The BCA appear to be a right bunch, not least as their “plethora” of evidence just didn’t stand up.

  • Liz

    Well said Matteo, my sentiments exactly, for pretty much all the “alternative” therapies.
    Simon Singh is saying it for all of us and my congratulations to him for this good and long awaited piece of news.

  • maddogdelta


  • ckitching

    Matteo, I’d agree with you on the woo nonsense, however, massage therapy is still safer than chiropractic. Both are effective with some kinds of muscle and back pain, but only one of them can kill you or leave you paralysed.

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