Keep Libel Laws Out of Science

Posted by : Rev. Ouabache | Thursday, July 9, 2009 | Published in

If you follow any other Skeptic's blogs then you have read enough about it by now about the Simon Singh libel case since absolutely everyone has covered it to death by now. Here's a synopsis if you don't want to click all of those links: Simon Singh is a science journalist for the Guardian newspaper. Several months ago he wrote a column about the British Chiropractic Association and some underhanded advertising techniques used by some of their members. Here is a direct quote from the article:
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.
Seems rather tame doesn't it? It can easily be proven that several chiropractors are making claims that they can't back up and that the BCA has done very little about it. Now instead of reprimanding their members for writing checks that their ass can't cash they decided to sue Simon for libel.

In America (and most sane countries) this would get laughed out of court. However, the libel laws in Britain are pure shite. The burden of proof is completely backwards from most other legal systems: the defendant is considered guilty until proven innocent. As you might guess this makes it very easy to squash someone else's freedom of speech. If someone says something about you that you don't like all you have to do is drag them to court and engage them in a long legal battle where they are at a disadvantage before they even walk in the door. With the added advantage of everyone else thinking twice before they criticize you.

Thankfully the Guardian has stood Simon so far and has paid all of his legal fees. He's already lost one cause because the judge decided to completely redefine the word "bogus" to mean "knowingly fraudulent" instead of the dictionary definition of "counterfeit". He's appealing that ruling to a higher court though where he will hopefully have a better judge.

He has also started a campaign called "Keep Libel Laws Out of Science" to help prevent this from happening to anyone else. Maybe something good will come out of this yet.

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