Maybe I’m a latent law geek and never knew it.
I guess it’s possible. I’ve never studied law, or had any reason to look into the possibility of studying it, so it might be a hidden passion that’s entirely eluded my notice all these years. I mean, I love Boston Legal, but I assumed that was mostly because of William Shatner.
Realistically, I don’t think it’s likely. But it’s almost worth considering, given how much of a buzz I’m still getting over the continuing #SinghBCA saga.
Yesterday, all this stuff happened, I’ll assume you’re up to speed. Today, a whole new round of awesome kicked off. Watching this unfold is way more engaging than any soap opera. Even back when Big Brother was new and interesting about eight years ago, I wasn’t into it this much.
So. The (now discredited) British Chiropractic Association issued a press release earlier today. As I type this, it’s still available on their site here (PDF link), but in case it goes anywhere, The Lay Scientist is one of many to have cached a copy (PDF link again). In fact, very soon after it went up, Jack of Kent advised all interested parties to grab a copy of the file and cache it in case it vanished or was changed. This turned out to be extremely prescient advice.
The old version is still up on their site for now, but they link instead to a new version (another PDF), with some important differences.
Before looking at those, I’m going to run through some of the things that occurred to me on looking over the original version.
As the Claimant is not permitted to be represented in a hearing of this nature, the Judge of the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Laws, did not have the benefit of being able to consider all the issues, nor indeed, has he heard any argument from the BCA.
1. That final comma is completely out of place.
2. The impression I got from the reporting on yesterday’s events wasn’t that the BCA weren’t permitted to be represented there. The way I’d understood it was that it had been their choice not to attend. It’s entirely possible that I got the wrong end of the stick there, though. This isn’t something that I’ve seen any skeptical analysts jumping on in the last few hours, so they may be right.
3. He hasn’t heard any argument from the BCA? Really? He’s deciding whether to allow an appeal against the original hearing. You don’t think he would have looked into that hearing a bit, to familiarise himself with the reasoning behind the original decision? You don’t think maybe he would’ve at least skimmed the fucking minutes?
Dr Singh has used this case as a platform to argue that science writers should be immune from the law of libel and free to write what they please.
Bollocks he has. That’s not even close to what I’ve taken from the speeches I’ve heard him give or the articles of his that I’ve read. Simon Singh’s position has never – unless I’ve been seriously missing something – been that libel laws simply shouldn’t apply to science writers. He’s defending himself against exactly one case of libel that was brought against him, which is not the same thing as issuing proclamations on every libel suit every brought against a science writer. On the back of that, he has been spearheading a campaign for libel reform. And if there’s any language in any proposed legislation which is even close to an argument that “science writers should be immune from the law of libel”, then they’ve completely slipped it past me.
…he has engaged in a high profile media campaign to assert that the BCA’s action is a restriction of the freedom of speech. It is nothing of the sort.
“Freedom of speech” might have a technical legal definition that I’m not familiar with, but if it simply means, y’know, speaking freely, then the BCA’s attempts to, y’know, stop him from speaking freely are by definition a “restriction of the freedom of speech”. Again, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t even play one on the internet, but it seems to me like all libel cases are necessarily about restricting people’s freedom of speech. The question would be as to whether restricting the freedom of speech in this way, in this particular case, is justified. Maybe some kinds of defamatory speech should be restricted. Denying that that’s what this is about seems disingenuous.
…the BCA was maliciously attacked by Dr. Singh in the Guardian newspaper.
Now. This didn’t leap out at me at first as being hugely significant, since I’m not so familiar with the legal details that its connotations were obvious. But this is big.
To see why, let’s go back briefly to the phrase from Simon’s original article which kicked all this off. He wrote:
[The BCA] happily promotes bogus treatments.
He goes on to explain why he can “confidently label these treatments as bogus”, because of the research he’s done for the book he co-wrote. And that’s a statement about the treatments themselves, not about the BCA. All he says about the BCA is that they “happily promote” the treatments. The fact that they promote the treatments in question is not in dispute – and as for “happily”, what’s the argument against that? Were the BCA only promoting the treatment of infant colic by spinal manipulation under duress? Were they being miserable bastards, about it and don’t want any rumours getting out that they might be cheerful?
The whole BCA case rests on the idea that Simon was accusing them of being deliberately deceitful, and that “knowingly” can be read into that “happily”. At best, this is a very loose interpretation.
Now go back to the words the BCA have just used in describing Simon. “[M]aliciously attacked”. They are flat-out accusing him of malicious intent, with no ambiguity to their language at all. This is a serious accusation, with potentially dramatic legal consequences. Apparently Simon may be in a position to countersue and demand that the BCA justify their accusation of malice. These exact words no longer exist in the version of the release the BCA are currently using, but it’s out there now. You can’t stop the signal.
And let’s revisit again a comment from Lord Justice Laws only yesterday:
There is no dispute that [Simon’s original article] is in the public interest, with no suspicion of malice and there is no question of good faith [emphasis mine]
Wow. Well played, guys.
Goddamn, I love this shit.
Obviously Jack of Kent is all over this, and has a very interesting reminder of one of Mr Justice Eady’s comments from the original decision, which seems nicely relevant here. Heresy Corner also has some excellent thoughts. The Lay Scientist also got to all this much quicker than I did.
I kinda hope nobody connected with this whole kerfuffle does anything totally insane tomorrow. I have a big Skeptictionary post about therapeutic touch I want to finish polishing and get posted.