padawanpooh: DW8 Hug (Default)
padawanpooh ([personal profile] padawanpooh) wrote2009-06-04 07:42 pm
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Sense about Science

A bit of background.

I'm an ex-fundamentalist Christian and now consider myself an agnostic atheist (I'm pretty sure there isn't a god but if overwhelming evidence of a creator comes along I'll look at it). I'm a sceptic and science nut.

I've used many kinds of alternative therapy over the years, both before and after I left the church: Chinese Herbal Medicine, acupuncture, massage, reflexology, osteopathy, yoga and other various relaxation techniques. I benefited from many (although not all) of them, whether due to the therapeutic nature of the treatment or a placebo, I don't know.

Whether you think alt-therapies work or not a very dangerous precedent is set if an institution can sue a scientist to stop discussion of evidence. Double-blind randomised controlled trials are the gold standard by which all medical treatments should be measured: without them we have only anecdotal evidence and that can kill. Example? The number of children dying from measles because their parents listened to the fake claims that immunisations could cause autism.

Simon Singh, a science journalist for the Guardian newspaper is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for asserting that their claims were 'bogus'. He's not saying they're deliberately tricking people but he's saying that the treatment doesn't work.

I don't know if chiropody works or not: I dont know enough about it and I've never had chiropractic treatment but whatever they claim they need to prove them and legitimate enquiry should not be stifled by a lawsuit.

The below succinctly sums up the case and is taken from the James Randi Educational Foundation website (

Written by Phil Plait

"Simon Singh (is a) 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...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.

If you want to read more you can go to Simon Singh's website at -

If you agree with Simon you can sign a statement of support at -

If you don't agree with him specifically but support the principle that libel laws should be kept out of science you can go to -

free debate
brewsternorth: Electric-blue stylized teapot, captioned "Brewster North". (Default)

[personal profile] brewsternorth 2009-06-04 07:56 pm (UTC)(link)
a very dangerous precedent is set if an institution can sue a scientist to stop discussion of evidence.

Agreed with you.

Though Singh himself is a wearing a journalist's hat in this case, the possibility that the BCA is making medical claims that aren't supported by the medical evidence (which would not surprise me considering the outlandish claims made by some American chiros) *should* be addressed - in the interests of public safety. The question is, who by?