Singh vs. the BCA: A Libel Reform Update

I’ve blogged in the past about the case of Simon Singh who has been sued by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for making the following statement:

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.

Rather than refute Simon’s comments with evidence to substantiate their claims, the BCA decided to sue. When organizations seek to supress debate and discussion about science by using legal means, it causes “libel chill”, where speech is suppressed by fear of legal action. Singh’s case is the impetus to a campaign for libel reform in the United Kingdom, where libel laws are horrendous, putting the onus and the costs solely on the defendant. An initial ruling went against Singh, and he appealed. Yesterday’s ruling was in his favour, and will allow Singh to use a “fair comment” defence in his arguments.

What was very encouraging for Singh, and for all who comment on the legitimacy and credibility of scientific matters, was the following comment from the Court:

’34. We would respectfully adopt what Judge Easterbrook, now Chief Judge of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, said in a libel action over a scientific controversy, Underwager v Salter 22 Fed. 3d 730 (1994):

“[Plaintiffs] cannot, by simply filing suit and crying ‘character assassination!’, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. … More papers, more discussion, better data, and more satisfactory models – not larger awards of damages – mark the path towards superior understanding of the world around us.”‘

You might be asking – What does this case have to do with Science-Based Pharmacy? Quite a bit. It’s essential for health professionals to have the freedom to comment openly about the scientific evidence supporting any drug, treatment or health intervention. Criticizing data (or the lack of data) is fair comment.  Data and evidence should determine which treatments are deemed credible – not legal threats to silence critics.

It’s too early to declare victory, as Singh points out himself  in today’s Guardian column. The BCA could still appeal. But this entire saga has been such a public relations disaster for chiropractors worldwide. As press coverage has grown, so has the scientific and mainstream scrutiny of chiropractic. And it hasn’t been positive.

The battle for free speech and fair comment continues. Sign the petition at www.libelreform.org.

For more comment and discussion on yesterday’s ruling: Kim at Skeptic North; Orac at Respectful Insolence; Jack of Kent.

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2 thoughts on “Singh vs. the BCA: A Libel Reform Update

  1. I jealous.

    Not of the victory, which is great, but of being sued in the first place.

    If only I could get the North American NDs to sue me, so that whole can of worms can be opened!!!

    -r.c.

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