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PostPosted: 12 Mar 2010, 20:19 
Grand Poobah
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Location: Buffalo, NY ... bel-reform

Simon Singh: This is goodbye

Being sued for libel is not only ruinously expensive, writes Simon Singh, it takes over your whole life. Which is why this will be his last column

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* Simon Singh
o Simon Singh
o, Friday 12 March 2010 12.28 GMT
o Article history

Science Writer Simon Singh

All other work has been put on hold while Simon Singh fights the British Chiropractic Association in the courts and campaigns for libel reform. Photograph: Corbis

Almost a year after writing my first column for this site, I would like to welcome you to my final article.

At first I was able to deliver my monthly column on time, but my submissions have become increasingly delayed, and this is my first since November. The problem is that I have spent the past two years being sued for libel, which has taken up huge amounts of time. And now all my remaining spare time is being devoted to campaigning for libel reform.

The crippling and prohibitive financial cost of defending a libel case is often highlighted, but the equally terrible cost in terms of time and stress is rarely mentioned.

I recently discussed this with Dr Peter Wilmshurst, the eminent cardiologist who is being sued for libel for commenting on the efficacy of a new heart device. Peter was put under immense stress when he received legal papers on Friday 21 December 2007 at 5.09pm, which was nine minutes after most solicitors closed for their Christmas holiday. It was not until the new year that Peter was able to get any legal advice, so it was an anxious Christmas.

Perhaps it was just as well that Peter was not aware of the full implications of what lay ahead of him, namely at least two years of anxiety, misery and the threat of bankruptcy. Almost all his spare time has been spent on the libel case. When finalising his defence, he took two weeks of annual leave to work on the documents. Moreover, dealing with ongoing legal issues has prevented him from carrying out his usual medical research, and a number of publications have been put on hold.

After chatting to Peter, I decided to count up how much time I had spent defending the article published in the Guardian in April 2008 that led to the British Chiropractic Association suing me for libel. I reckon I have spent 44 solid weeks on the libel action spread across two years.

I am in the very fortunate position of having no employees, being a freelancer, having financial resources and having a very supportive wife. In any other circumstance, I cannot imagine fighting a libel action because of the enormous sacrifices involved.

I should have started writing a new book a year ago, but as yet I cannot even develop proposals and talk to publishers because I have no idea how the next year or so will develop.

The case could easily continue for another two years. If I win then I will not recover all of my legal costs, but (worse still) I will never recover the time I have dedicated to poring over legal documents.

Before saying goodbye, I will urge you once more to sign up to the campaign for libel reform. If you remain unconvinced about the need for libel reform, try visiting the National Enquirer website. If you live in the UK then you will find a blank page except for the words "Page unavailable/under construction".

The reason is that the National Enquirer is so scared of English libel law that it no longer sells magazines in the UK or makes it web content available here.

You might feel that the unavailability of the National Enquirer is not enough to justify changing English law. However, more serious than the National Enquirer's position is the fear that other American publications will follow suit and that some key American magazines, newspapers and websites will be available everywhere in the world except in Britain.

You might feel that I am being alarmist, but major US newspapers, such as the Boston Globe and The New York Times, sent a memo last year to the House of Commons select committee on media, libel and privacy. They warned that they are considering stopping the sale of their publications in Britain due to the threat of libel. The benefits of selling newspapers here in terms of profit are outweighed by the potential losses in libel cases.

If publishers stopped selling hard copies in Britain, they would almost certainly also block their online content, because otherwise the threat of libel would remain.

Thereafter, it would be sensible for everything from academic journals to blogs to follow suit. Very quickly Britain could become an isolated society. In terms of free speech and access to information, our nation would become the European equivalent of China.

That's just one of the reasons you need to sign the petition for libel reform.

Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

PostPosted: 01 Apr 2010, 12:35 
Grand Poobah
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Joined: 18 Sep 2007, 11:26
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Location: Buffalo, NY
nope, he won!

Science writer Simon Singh wins libel appeal

Simon Singh: "The Court of Appeal's made a very wise decision"

A science writer has won the right to rely on the defence of fair comment in a libel action, in a landmark ruling at the Court of Appeal.

Simon Singh was accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association over an article in the Guardian in 2008.

Dr Singh questioned the claims of some chiropractors over the treatment of certain childhood conditions.

The High Court had said the words were fact not opinion - meaning Dr Singh could not use the fair comment defence.

However, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley ruled High Court judge Mr Justice Eady had "erred in his approach" last May, and allowed Dr Singh's appeal.

BBC News science correspondent Pallab Ghosh says that, had Justice Eady's ruling stood, it would have made it difficult for any scientist or science journalist to question claims made by companies or organisations without opening themselves up to a libel action that would be hard to win.

Clive Coleman
Clive Coleman
Legal affairs analyst

In defending a libel action the difference between a statement of verifiable fact and one of opinion can be crucial.

A defendant who has to justify a statement of fact in a case like this would have to prove that the statement was true.

That would involve calling vast amounts of scientific evidence at huge cost.

Defending a statement of opinion, so as long as it is honestly held, is much less onerous and far cheaper.

This judgement strongly endorses the view that scientific controversies should be settled by scientific debate, rather than litigation.

It will make drug companies and organisations providing therapies more cautious in bringing libel actions against those writers and academics who express strong opinion about the efficacy of their drugs and therapies.

Dr Singh described the ruling as "brilliant", but added that the action had cost £200,000 "just to define the meaning of a few words".

"After two years of battling in this libel case, at last we've got a good decision. So instead of battling uphill we're fighting with the wind behind us," he said.

"The Court of Appeal's made a very wise decision, but it just shouldn't be so horrendously expensive for a journalist or an academic journal or a scientist to defend what they mean.

"That's why people back off from saying what they really mean."

The British Chiropractic Association said it was disappointed to lose the appeal but it was "not the end of the road".

BCA president Richard Brown said: "We are considering whether to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and subsequently proceed to trial.

"Our original argument remains that our reputation has been damaged. The BCA brought this claim only to uphold its good name and protect its reputation, honesty and integrity".

In the article in April 2008, Dr Singh suggested there was a lack of evidence for the claims some chiropractors made on treating certain childhood conditions such as colic and asthma.

The BCA alleged that Dr Singh had effectively accused its leaders of knowingly supporting bogus treatments.

The case has become a cause celebre for the science community and led to calls for defamation law to be rewritten so it does not interfere with scientific debates.

April 2008: Publishes blog on Guardian website criticising British Chiropractic Association. It sues for libel
May 2009: High Court rules article's wording implied BCA was being consciously dishonest
February 2010: Challenges ruling at the Court of Appeal, using defence of fair comment
April 2010: Wins appeal on technical point, that the statements can be regarded as comment

His high-profile supporters include Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais and Harry Hill, all from the world of entertainment.

Dr Singh said: "The judges are clearly unhappy on how libel laws can impact on discussion, on how this libel suit has quashed debate about chiropractics to a large extent.

"They're particularly unhappy about the way scientific discussion can be silenced by libel laws. That's a real boost to the libel reform campaign."

Coalition for Libel Reform spokeswoman Tracey Brown said: "This case has brought out of the woodwork the fact that so many other discussions are being killed, from discussions of cardiology to human rights to medicines.

"We're now pushing ahead for bigger changes to the law so that we have the kind of public interest defence that means it wouldn't have taken two years and £200,000 to find out whether Simon can defend himself."

British scientific organisation the Royal Institution welcomed the judgement.

Director of programmes Gail Cardew said: "It will encourage scientists and the public to discuss evidence freely without fear of legal threat."

Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

PostPosted: 08 Apr 2010, 14:19 
Grand Poobah
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Joined: 18 Sep 2007, 11:26
Posts: 5793
Location: Buffalo, NY ... 3008265797

Dear friends,

Sorry for the silence, but it has been a ridiculously hectic (and happy) time since last week’s victory at the Court of Appeal. However, I urgently wanted to get in touch to update you on the status of my case, the latest news on libel reform and what you can do today to push libel reform up the political agenda.

BCA v Singh

April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.

Libel Reform Campaign

This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.

The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.

What you can do today to pressure politicians

I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at

The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!

You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and Twitter about it. In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.

You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.

Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.

Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.

Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.

Simon Singh

Ps. Please spread the word by sending out one, some or all of the following tweets

Pls RT English libel law silences debate, says UN Human Rights Committee. Sign up at & back #libelreform

Pls RT English libel costs 140x more than Europe. We can't afford to defend our words. Sign up at & back #libelreform

Pls RT Two ongoing libel cases involving health. The law should not crush scientific debate. Sign up at & back #libelreform

Pls RT London is notorious for attracting libel tourists who come to UK to silence critics. Sign up at & back #libelreform

PPs. Reasons why we need radical libel reform:

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.

(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (including public health!).

(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (Again, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)

(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.

(e) Two separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and Peter Wilmshurst, and we are both raising concerns about medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns when our libel laws are so brutal and expensive? Our libel laws mean that serious health matters are not necessarily reported, which means that the public is put at risk.

PPPs. I know that I will leave people out of this list, but I owe a huge thanks to:

The 10,000 people who joined the Facebook group “For Simon Singh and Free Speech - Against the BCA Libel Claim”, particularly those who joined when the rest of the world ignored the issue of libel.

The 300 people who packed Penderel’s Oak in May 2009 and who helped launch the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign, particularly the speakers: Nick Cohen, Dave Gorman, Evan Harris MP, Professor Brian Cox, Chris French, Tracey Brown (Sense About Science), Robert Dougans (Bryan Cave) and David Allen Green.

The 20,000 people who then joined the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign.

Jack of Kent and every other blogger who ranted and raved about libel reform when the mainstream media was turning a blind eye.

Everyone in the mainstream media who is now covering the various libel cases and the issue of libel reform.

Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, who formed the Coalition for Libel Reform. And thanks to everyone who has contributed pro bono to the campaign in terms of design, technical support, chivvying support for the EDM and more.

The 46,000 people (i.e. you) who have signed the petition for libel reform, particularly those who have cajoled others to sign up at

All the big names who have spoken out in favour of libel reform, from Professor Richard Dawkins to Derren Brown, from the Astronomer Royal to the Poet Laureate, from the Amazing Randi to Ricky Gervais. Particular thanks go to Dara O Briain, Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin and Robin Ince, who have gone out of their way to step up to the plate when the campaign has needed them. Immense thanks also to the 100+ big names who were the first to sign the petition to keep libel out of science and highlighted the need for libel reform.

Everyone who has emailed and twittered and told me in person that I am not going crazy, and who reassured me that I am doing the right thing by defending my article.

Thanks to Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, for promising to put libel reform in his manifesto. And thanks in advance to Jack Straw (Justice Secretary) and Dominic Grieve (Shadow Justice Secretary), because I know that the Labour and Conservative parties are going to commit to libel law reform. I cannot believe that they will allow more scientists, serious journalists, bloggers, biographers, human rights activists and others to go through the same hell that I have had to endure for last two years.

Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

PostPosted: 18 Apr 2010, 12:16 
Grand Poobah
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Joined: 18 Sep 2007, 11:26
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Location: Buffalo, NY ... ingh-libel

Now charlatans will know to beware the geeks

Simon Singh's historic win is also a triumph for his online allies

A year ago, I went to a London pub to speak at a meeting for the apparently doomed cause of libel reform. Simon Singh had written an article which was true and important about the dangers of the quack therapy of chiropractic healing. Then, like so many authors and publishers before him, he learned English law persecuted rather than protected honest argument and that he was in trouble.

The British Chiropractic Association was suing him for saying that there was "not a jot of evidence" that its members could help sick children by manipulating babies' spines in accordance with the teachings of a more-than-usually nutty American faith healer.

Well-run societies do not defend men who make money from worried parents and, more seriously, fob off their children with bogus "cures". In his wisdom, however, Mr Justice Eady decided that the law would intervene to silence a debate on public health and ruled that it would not be enough for Singh to show that there was no reliable evidence that alleged treatments worked, which Singh would have difficulty in doing because there wasn't. Because he had written that the chiropractic association "happily promotes bogus treatments", the judge said he had to jump the insuperable barrier of proving that the therapists were lying rather than merely deluded and face costs of £500,000 or more if he failed.

I expected a glum affair and did not expect my contribution to raise morale. I described how the judiciary had allowed Robert Maxwell, Roman Polanski, Khalid bin Mahfouz and many another actual or suspected criminals to use a biased and prohibitively expensive law to silence their critics. Far from being depressed, the audience turned into a heaving mass of furious geeks, who roared their anger and vowed that they would not rest until they had brought down the rotten system The "skeptic movement" (always spelt with "k" by the way, to emphasise their distinctiveness) had come to Singh's aid. He was now in the protective custody of men and women, who, with straight faces, introduced themselves by the titles of their blogs: "Hi, I'm Gimpy."

"Jack of Kent, pleased to meet you, love your writing. This is Holford Watch, Zeno, Jago, and I thought I saw the Quackometer getting a round in at the bar."

Unnerved by their determination, I said to Ben Goldacre, demolisher of pseudo-science in all its fraudulent forms: "The nerds are on the march. I wouldn't like to be the one standing in their way." An uncharacteristically mystical look passed over the great debunker's face. "Yes," he said. "Strike us down, we shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

It was only later that I realised this is what Obi-Wan Kenobi says to Darth Vader in Star Wars and that the Skeptics movement's highest cultural reference point was a 1970s' B-movie. I shouldn't have mocked. More to the point, neither should the English establishment.

One year on, the Singh case has led to the Court of Appeal issuing the most ringing defence of freedom of speech in living memory. Senior judges, who previously had not appeared to have known the difference between John Milton and Milton Keynes, quoted from "Areopagitica" as they severely limited the ability of libel lawyers to censor scientific debate. The BCA realised that it could not hope to win and dropped its case. The Lib Dems, Labour and the Tories responded to an outcry which was turning into a popular movement and included commitments to libel reform in their manifestos. We're not there yet, but a hopeless cause has become a national issue.

Credit for moments like this should always be widely spread. Singh deserves the most. Thousands who have confronted the possibility of a libel action have self-censored or backed down.

Singh decided to stay firm and stand by the tradition of British liberty, which has not on the whole been made in revolutions and with bills of rights but by cussed men and women who, when confronted with an injustice, refuse to bow their heads before it. His lawyer, Robert Dougans, produced a brilliant argument which persuaded the senior judiciary to look to the free spirit of American law rather than the more authoritarian traditions of Europe. Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and Pen organised a textbook reform campaign which lobbied Parliament and mobilised concerned academics. And after watching Dara O Briain, Robin Ince and Dave Gorman give their time to the cause selflessly and without complaint, I swore to myself that I would never again bait "luvvies" who got involved in politics.

Yet the energy and novelty behind the campaign came from skeptics connected by the net. Within a day of the chiropractors giving the court their argument that they could help sick children, scientists online had taken it apart brick by brick until nothing was left but a heap of rubble.

Meanwhile, their allies tracked down the web pages of every chiropractor in Britain who was claiming they could treat asthmatic children and reported him or her to their local trading standards officer. Every court hearing and public meeting was packed by people with an unwavering belief in the importance of the scientific method and evidence-based policy. Skeptics are less interested in what people think but in how they think.

There is an overlap with the more assertive atheism which followed 9/11. Like atheists, skeptics treat as patronising and contemptible the cynical modern belief that you should not examine religion or alternative medicines because the simple-minded and uninformed find comfort in them. But you do not have to be an atheist to be a skeptic, merely commit to the free examination of evidence. This modest ambition is surprisingly potent.

Politicians who supported libel reform had a smart and committed network behind them. I suspect that politicians who still want to defend our irrational drugs laws or alternative treatments on the NHS will find that they will face unrelenting scrutiny from equally smart and committed opponents. My hope after Singh's victory is that none but the foolhardy will want a repeat of the drubbing the chiropractors received.

Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

PostPosted: 19 Apr 2010, 14:00 
'Lustrous Potentate
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Joined: 24 Mar 2010, 11:06
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This part:

His lawyer, Robert Dougans, produced a brilliant argument which persuaded the senior judiciary to look to the free spirit of American law rather than the more authoritarian traditions of Europe.

Might cause The Dagda's head to explode, though. :wink:

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