Thursday, 14 May 2009

BCA v Singh: Update and Roundup

I understand that Simon Singh will announce whether he will appeal on Monday 18 May 2009 at a public support meeting to take place in London at 6.30pm.

The venue will be the Penderels Oak, the usual meeting place of London Skeptics in the Pub.

As well as Simon Singh, the leading UK journalist Nick Cohen will be speaking. Other speakers are currently being confirmed.

(For further updates see the Facebook site and my Twitter.)

I understand that a fund is being considered either to support this case (though third party funding of UK litigation is a complex area) or as a distinct legacy fund to support the ongoing scrutiny of the promotion of CAM. A dedicated website on this case, and the issues relating to the promotion of CAM, is also being prepared. More details to follow.

Many thanks indeed to everyone who took the time to make such highly constructive comments and suggestions as to what he should do next. I understand each of these these contributions - including the proposed Heresiarch manoeuvre - have been considered by Simon and his team.

Particular regard should be given to the comment of "Richard Keen" - actually known to me to be a leading libel specialist - that the judge may have been influenced by the word bogus in the context of "happily promote" and that the defamatory passage as a whole needs to be borne in mind.

This story has now been picked up more widely on the web.

Two posts stand out in particular.

The bestselling writer and comedian Dave Gorman powerfully criticises the potential implications of the ruling - see the Second Thing here.

And the psychologist (and excellent blogger) Petra Boynton provides a thoughtful and humane account of the the experience of a writer actually being threatened with such libel actions.

Both posts are - for me - "must reads".

You may also be interested in my own article in this week's New Scientist.

Simon Singh suffered a bad setback a week ago.

However, the attention now being given to the issue of the misconceived promotion of CAM, as well as the real problems of science writing under English libel law, has at least ensured that - in its way - this has also been a Chiropractic Awareness Week.


Perceval said...

Jack, you may want to add the relevant post from Language Log:
Knowing BogosityIt is a fantastic discussion of the linguistic aspects of the case.

chris-coltrane said...

Really great to hear that a fund is being considered. If it goes ahead, I will gladly contribute.

HolfordWatch said...

Donds for the Language Log piece.

Is there any plan to record the meeting as (unfortunately) Monday is not practical but this is an issue that is important to many of us?

Dr Evan Harris MP said...

Thanks for keeping us informed about Simon's travails.

I am an MP who campaigns for science, evidence-nased pollcy and free speech so this case is pulling all my levers.

I met Simon earlier this week. It is vital that this case is not lost because it will chill scientists, journalists, writers and even comedians from criticising the work of others - which is vital component of the scientific method. It will embolden the non-evidence-based (so called "alterntive") health care industry to threaten any critic of their apporoach, work or claims. It will also add credibility to the claims of these organisations.

As Jack says, some of Simon's friends and supporters will be organising a campaign around these issues. Please get involved.

Evan Harris

PrimeNumbers said...

Simon continues to earn my respect, initially through his writings, second for responding to a question I asked him via email about his Code Book, and thirdly through the way he's handled himself in this case against him.

Simon - you have my support.

Sion said...

I'm missing something. I don't get why 'bogus' was the wrong word. It means fake, undesirable or useless. as far as I can see Simon Singh used it perfectly correctly. If the Judge thinks it means something else then surely you just pass him a dictionary and move on.

Mary Anne Moser said...

I think an international community will support Simon in covering the costs of the trial, if he chooses to appeal. I will contribute.

It is worrying to an observer from afar -- there appears to be a striking absence of reason both at the level of the BCA and the courts.

Oh, can I say that? There's a chill suddenly.

Edd said...

I note, having been following new stories appearing on the web, that I am yet to find a single story from a blog or press organisation that takes anything other than either a negative or neutral stance towards the BCA.
There would appear in fact to be not a jot of positive opinion expressed towards the BCA in the stories I have read.
They should have read Jack's blog and taken his advice and I note this quote -
"Libel litigants often suffer a counterproductive impact on their reputations generally, even if they prevail at court."
I hope Jack proves to be quite prophetic.

Owen said...

And also in The Economist:

Les Rose said...

Sadly I shall be out of UK on 18th, or I would be at the meeting. My gut feeling is to fight of course. Eady has deliberately steered the case away from the science that is at its centre, and the only viable course is to get back to that. If Eady says that the BCA is accused of lying, ie knowingly promoting treatments that don't work, then how can that be proven? OK, so what does the science say about the conditions the BCA claims to treat? It says that chiropractic doesn't work. The BCA will trot out anecdotes and not RCTs to support its case (and no doubt a few very poor quality trials), and the judge won't be able to tell the difference unless someone very clever gets him to see the light.

But if by some miracle he did see that light, and agreed that the science doesn't support the claims, what next? He might say to the BCA "Well now, did you not know about these RCTs that say it doesn't work?" Frankly, claiming they didn't know about them would not be credible, and would massively damage their reputation. They will have to say yes they did, but they will still try to say they don't matter and anecdotes do. If the judge sticks to RCTs as evidence, it then becomes clear that the BCA did know about the lack of evidence, and thus knowingly promoted treatments that have been shown to be bogus by the science - and that's a perfectly correct use of the word.

I am really just typing as I think this through so I hope this is reasonably coherent. It still doesn't necessarily mean it's a good strategy so I'll be interested in criticism.

The Heresiarch said...

I like the phrase "Heresiarch manoeuvre". It sounds like a subtle chess tactic.

I've written a new post on Heresy Corner.

Edd makes a very good point about the case possibly backfiring on the BCA. I do hope so.

John Robinson said...

Prof Edzard Ernst has added voiced his opinions on the case and chiropractic in general in his blog, asking if chiropractors are destroying their own reputation