The preliminary hearings in the legal case brought against Simon Singh, by the British Chiropractic Association, took place today, and things did not go Simon’s way. I don’t know much about the details of what happened, or what any of it means legally – I imagine it’s being discussed in far more depth all across the blogosphere and twitterscape this very moment – but it looks like the next step is now the court of appeals.
The full article that landed him in hot water can be read here, and perhaps unsurprisingly I don’t support the court’s decision at all. Apparently Singh’s been told he must demonstrate that the BCA was “deliberately dishonest”, in order to support what he wrote. In particular, his use of the word “bogus” is said to indicate that he was implying this deliberate dishonesty on their part.
I don’t buy it, and arguably it comes down to a fiddly point of semantics. The part of the article in question reads:
This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments… I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst.
I picked up that book yesterday and I’m looking forward to it – but more to the point, it seems to me that Singh is only saying that these treatments themselves do not work in the ways claimed for them. In this, the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly on his side. I don’t at all agree that the honesty of the BCA is being defamed here. Singh, like just about every thorough skeptical critic of the alternative medicine movement that I’m aware of, has pointed out that many, if not most, practitioners of these therapies are well meaning people who believe in what they’re doing. He’s not saying they’re conning anyone, he’s just pointing out that the treatments are bogus. Extensive trials have been performed, and no effect beyond that of a placebo has ever been found. This should not be a controversial thing to declare.
Tsk. Too bad. And on the National Day of Reason, too.
(Hat-tip to The Skeptic: Blog.)
Edit 08/05/09: Thanks to The Skeptic: Blog again for the link. Also, ckavanagh has a much more detailed run-down of what actually happened in court, including descriptions of the arguments made by the lawyers on both sides, as well as the likely legal consequences of the decision reached. See, it’s well informed and neatly and eloquently explained. That’s what blogging’s supposed to be like. I’ll keep trying.