For Simon Singh and free speech! (or else “bogus, bogus, bogus”)

Online Free Dictionary definition:

bo·gus (boh-guss), adj.

Counterfeit or fake; not genuine: bogus money; bogus tasks.

And may I add bogus treatments in the list of examples? Or will I get sued for using this simple term -evidently not as simple or innocent as we might have thought. I kid you not (as our beloved Sarah would say at the other side of the Atlantic), you can actually find yourself in deep waters if you say the ‘b’ word. Simon Singh got in a lot of trouble for using it… Thankfully a large number of rational people and supporters of free speech reacted. Jack of Kent being one of them, organized an evening of support for Simon. But let’s pause here and try to take things from the beginning*).

Here is the juice of it: Simon Singh wrote a piece for the Guardian**) criticizing the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for promoting their treatments without providing any solid evidence whatsoever. Under normal circumstances (oh, I don’t know, say like in a proper scientific debate for instance?), BCA would come back with a pile of papers proving the efficacy of their pet treatments. Instead BCA has chosen to sue Simon… Over this piece of writing:

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. 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.

The main focus of the lawsuit is the term “bogus” and what Simon really meant by that. And despite the definition of bogus as something counterfeit or fake, the judge ruled that Simon by using the term in this case implied a “deliberate dishonesty” on the part of BCA -which brings him in a difficult position.

And this brings us to Monday evening. An evening where Simon would announce if he would continue to fight the case or if he would settle. An impressive “cast” of scientists and skeptics was also present, to express their support for Simon and give their views on the subject each one from their own perspective: journalist Nick Cohen discussed the ridiculousness of the English libel law; comedian Dave Gorman… well, entertained us! ; Evan Harris (apparently the MP behind the abolition of the blasphemy law!) opined from a political perspective on what can be done in order to change the libel law; Prof. Chris French, editor of “The Skeptic”, chaired the whole event; and finally Prof. Brian Cox introduced Simon Singh (not that anyone present on Monday really needed any sort of introduction…).

So, without further ado, here is Simon himself explaining the situation from the point when the BCA came knocking on his door:

As you can see, Simon leans towards fighting back and appealing, but he just cannot confirm that yet. We sure hope he does so…

Whatever Simon decides to do eventually, one things is for sure: there will be many of us behind him. As many of the speakers noted, this is a bigger issue that has to do with the stupidity of libel law in England. The time when a science writer cannot criticize an unproven medical treatment under the fear of a lawsuit, is a bad time for free speech indeed.

Please support Simon Singh and free speech in any way you can -by blogging about the case, by writing to the newspapers, by writing to your MPs regarding this obvious case of freedom of speech violation etc.

  1. * (I won’t go into too much detail about the background of this story as you can read about it in various places throughout the blogosphere (for a good account see Jack of Kent and the relevant Facebook group). []
  2. ** (archived over at Svetlana Pertsovich’s website since the Guardian had to remove it… []