The new year brings both the formal appeal hearing of British Chiropractic Association v Simon Singh and the intensification of the Libel Reform campaign in the run up to the UK general election.
But regardless of the result of the appeal hearing and further hearings, and regardless of the achievements to come of the Libel Reform campaign, it is clear that the activity in and around the BCA v Singh case has already accomplished an impressive amount.
So I would like to set out here my personal and subjective views on who have so far been the heroes of this case: by heroes, I mean people whose exertions have made a substantial and favourable difference to the case and to related issues.
In doing this, I have been lucky in being a close observer of the case from an early stage, and what follows is based on the information known to me. Those listed are in a broadly logical sequence and it is through their contributions that one can piece together the fascinating story so far of this case.
Some of these will be well known to those following the case; others less so, including some unsung heroes.
10. Dave Gorman, Prof Brian Cox, and Evan Harris MP
Back in May 2009, following the dreadfully adverse ruling at the preliminary hearing at the High Court, a support meeting for Simon was organised at the Penderel's Oak in London.
Initially this was going to be addressed by Simon and Nick Cohen (see below); I remember Simon genuinely worrying that hardly any one would turn up.
His worries were misconceived.
Moreover, the celebrities Dave Gorman, Brian Cox, and Evan Harris - all of whom were deeply concerned at the ruling and its implications - agreed also to speak at very short notice.
In part thanks to their contributions, the event turned out to be a tremendous success, and Simon received emphatic and loud support from a packed and enthusiastic audience. It gave the campaign the push which still carries it forward.
Soon after this Simon decided to apply for permission to appeal the adverse ruling.
The speeches at this event, all of whom fully warrant re-watching, are at Crispian Jago's Blog.
If you came along to this event and cheered Simon then count yourself under this heading too!
9. Blue Wode, Mojo, Chris Kavanagh, and Crispian Jago
At a very early stage in this case it became obvious that the effective acquisition and sharing of information was crucial.
Relevant information about the efficacy of chiropractic was diffused and not easy to collect and consider.
Here the internet activists Mojo and Blue Wode (neither of whom really have their own website, though you can follow Mojo best on the JREF Thread on the case and Blue Wode can be followed on Twitter) made invaluable contributions to the case; indeed, contributions which are still ongoing.
Once the case became widely known on the web, then a further problem arose of organising the ever-increasing amount of web-based information. This role was wonderfully performed (until the amount of information became far too much for any one person to sift) by the anthropologist Chris Kavanagh. His site - an extraordinary labour - remains the best source for internet materials up to September 2009.
Another challenge was for the technical side of the case to be explained in straight-forward language. To an extent my own blog sought to this, but it was quickly eclipsed in doing this by the blog of my friend Crispian Jago.
In particular, his case report deftly captured the essence of the permission hearing, and his Ladybird Book of Chiropractic Treatment and English Libel Law is the best single digest of the case so far.
8. Nick Cohen and Padraig Reidy
Nick Cohen was the first and (for some time) only mainstream journalist (other than science journalists) to grasp the free speech implications of the Simon Singh case. He correctly placed the case in the context of a number of illiberal and counter-intuitive libel rulings by the High Court on libel and, more than anyone else, he has ensured that the campaign in support of Simon Singh was harnessed in the direction of addressing the problems of libel law more generally.
The other journalist critical to the case becoming seen as hugely significant in a free speech context is Padraig Reidy, the brilliant News Editor of Index on Censorship. It was following a conversation with Padraig that I sat down and wrote the (now it seems famous) blogpost on the adverse ruling: a blogpost which now has had 18,321 direct hits, and firmly framed the case in terms of its implications for free speech.
7. Ben Goldacre
It is easy to take Ben Goldacre for granted in this campaign; he selflessly attends meeting after meeting to speak on the case and in respect of wider libel reform; and all this on top of a demanding full time post and his prolific journalism.
However, Ben has made a massive contribution in ensuring that as many people as possible realise the awful public health implications of the current libel laws. As he points out, medicine has the potential of doing great harm even when the intention is to do great benefit: accordingly there needs to be frank and uninhibited discussion in the field of public health.
Of course, Ben is here drawing on his own experience of the libel case brought by Matthias Rath; but he is now free of that case (and it would be quite reasonable for him to never hear the word libel again). And so it is to his immense credit that he is using his fame and time campaigning for Simon and libel reform.
6. The "Bad Science" Bloggers: Prof David Colquhoun, Gimpy, Andy Lewis, Dr Aust, Dr Petra Boynton, Martin Robbins, and many others
The case has been extraordinary for the participation of bloggers: it is difficult to think of any legal case which has had such sustained scrutiny by the blogosphere.
The key contribution of the "Bad Science" bloggers was the destruction, in less than twenty-four hours, of the purported plethora of the BCA's supporting evidence.
The tale of this amazing exercise has been best told by Ben Goldacre in a Guardian piece here; but the involvement of bloggers has been striking in the case from the very beginning (for example, see this Quackometer post from back in August 2008, the comments to which are interesting in hindsight).
The "Bad Science" bloggers I mention here are just a selection: they are the ones which come most readily to this non-scientist's mind. That said, a special word must be said for the polymath Dr Aust, whose quasi-legal analyses of the case are excellent.
5. Prof Edzard Ernst
If the Bad Science bloggers destroyed the plethora on the internet, it was Edzard Ernst who fatally undermined it in a more traditional medium: the British Medical Journal.
This review in turn led to a devastating BMJ editorial, which concluded:
"His demolition of the 18 references is, to my mind, complete."
And with that sentence, the scientific and intellectual credibility of the BCA was extinguished, regardless of the "reputation" they are happily litigating to, er, protect.
From this point it was both justifiable and more than fair comment to describe the BCA as "the now discredited British Chiropractic Association", and so I have done so.
4. Alan Henness and Simon Perry
Whilst the interest in the case developed into a broad libel reform campaign, and whilst the BCA undermined their own scientific reputation, two blogger-activists (working independently of each other and anyone else) set out to hold the entire British chiropractic profession to account. I dubbed this "the Quacklash".
Alan Henness and Simon Perry knew that chiropractors themselves had legal and professional duties, both under trading standards and advertising rules, and indeed under the statutory public body, the General Chiropractic Council. Furthermore, complaints of breaches of these obligations would be properly investigated by independent third parties.
This process is still continuing; but the early results show that chiropractors are now being reined in from making misleading and unevidenced claims for their treatments.
If this leads to a permanent shift in how chiropractors portray themselves in the UK, it may well be that Alan Henness and Simon Perry will have achieved more for the better regulation of chiropractic than the profession could have ever done for itself.
3. The Legal Team: Robert Dougans, Adrienne Page QC, and William McCormick
I wondered whether I should include these in this list, which consists primarily of activists and campaigners; but I thought it misleading to miss them out, for without their contribution Simon simply would not have been able to have secured permission to appeal what is (to my mind) a perverse preliminary ruling.
It will be in the hearings yet to come that their input will become more obvious to those following the case. Given their respective reputations, it will make any full trial one of the best tickets in London next summer.
2. Tracey Brown and Síle Lane of Sense About Science
Sense About Science is an independent charitable trust promoting good science and evidence in public debates.
Tracey Brown and Síle Lane of Sense About Science took an internet-based campaign in support of Simon and libel reform, and transformed it into a major and sleek public campaign, launching a petition of over 20,000 signatures (including, remarkably, the Astronomer Royal and the Poet Laureate). It was an incredible and highly-professional piece of campaigning and public relations
They furthermore ensured national media attention when they were instrumental, with Prof Richard Dawkins, in getting the Liberal Democrats to commit to libel reform after a powerful speech by Dawkins at the national conference.
Sense About Science have now joined Index on Censorship and English PEN in a coalition for libel reform: a campaign which, thanks to the skill of Tracey and Síle, has extremely sound foundations.
1. Simon Singh and Anita Anand
At the May campaign meeting, Nick Cohen turned to Simon and (in the manner of Chris Tarrant) asked, "you've already spent £100,000; but are you up to the full million?".
The sheer financial exposure of any libel defendant, and their family, especially when the case may involve detailed examination of lengthy scientific evidence, is terrifying. It is easy for onlookers, activists, and campaigners to be "armchair litigants", safely away from the legal battlefield and protected from any costs risks. However, Simon and his delightful wife, the journalist Anita Anand, face a severe financial hit - even if he wins.
For them to face this with cheerfulness and good spirits is wonderful and inspiring: there is not a single person on this list - or any where else - who would mind if Simon decided to end this case and settle on any terms he could get.
And Simon has done more than just brave the case, he is using it to raise important questions about the role of libel in science and public discourse generally.
The case is at an early stage: there has not yet been a full trial, and Simon could still lose. The campaign for libel reform is only getting started, and it may not succeed. The Quacklash will take some time to have any substantial effects, and ultimately these may be minimal.
However, what has been achieved so far has been significant, and some of it will endure regardless of what now follows.
And so this blogpost is merely a milestone on various journeys: in a year's time it will be interesting to reflect on what will be the heroics of 2010...
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