In a recent Swift post, guest blogger Naomi Baker wrote about friend of the JREF (and TAM London speaker) Simon Singh, a skeptic and journalist who literally wrote the book on "alternative" medicine. Simon also writes for the UK newspaper The Guardian, and in a recent article he said that the British Chiropractic Association made claims that were "bogus".The BCA was not happy with this, of course. But instead of providing any evidence that what they claim is not bogus - evidence, in this case, which does not exist for reasons you can probably figure out yourself - they decided to sue Simon.
In the UK, when someone is sued for libel, it's up to the defendant to prove their innocence, rather than up to the claimant to prove harm was done. The effect of this is one of chilling any potential criticism; it can be dangerous for media to call to task an organization like the BCA (or any pseudoscientific claimants) because of the chance of getting sued. This has put quite a lot of pressure on Simon, as you can imagine.
Worse, a judge in a prelimary hearing ruled for the BCA, saying that Simon's use of the word "bogus" indicated fraud (that is, intentional deception) on the part of the BCA, when it's clear from the original article that is not what Simon meant; he meant simply that the BCA was wrong, not acting fraudulently.
But here's the very interesting bit: Simon is appealing the ruling.
This is a very brave decision on Simon's part, as this could be a drawn-out, expensive, and emotionally draining exercise. However, it's the right thing to do.
We at the JREF support Simon's decision, and at a recent support meeting for him we issued the following statement:
We at the JREF support Simon in his quest for justice. It's clear from his writing that his intent was not to claim that the BCA knowingly commits acts of fraud, but that the BCA is nonetheless incorrect in their claims of the efficacy of chiropractic. Simon is, of course, correct. Furthermore, the ruling, as it stands, would produce a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to question the claims of anyone, including pseudoscientists. Whatever path Simon chooses over this issue, the JREF will be there, and to the best of our ability we'll have his back.
Many other people feel the same way. In fact, the UK science outreach group Sense About Science is helping Simon considerably, and have created a page called Keep the Libel Laws out of Science, which has a list of other supporters, as well as statement of support for Simon signed by many luminaries in the fields of science and journalism. They also have a button you can download to display on your blog or website, too.
Show your support: tell people you know about this, write about it, and use the social networks (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, what have you) to let others know. Simon needs our help, and a strong public showing is a good place to start. There will be more info on how you can help on the Sense About Science website as well.