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Posts Tagged ‘libel reform’

– You know how religion is one of the main things that organises charity programmes that help those in need, because of how religious faith inspires selflessness and altruism and unconditional generosity? No, me neither.

– Apparently the richer people are, the more money they donate, proportionally, to charities such as health and education organisations, and the less to religious groups. Which is peculiar.

– Related to my main post yesterday, some thoughts on why people might do work even when they’re not being forced to.

– And a potentially juicy scandal with a tax-funded school being cagey on how much cash it’s spent on “Political Lobbying and Media Relations“.

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You know that hideously embarrassing English libel law we’ve been trying to get changed, so that it has a slightly greater fighting chance of actually representing some semblance of justice?

Well, some people have been working on that.

In particular, a draft libel reform bill was published by the government today (PDF link). This will be discussed in parliament, and if all goes well then something like it will pass into law before too long, through methods too arcane and mystical to elaborate on any further here.

David Allen Green’s initial thoughts on the draft bill are encouraging. It’s still just another step on a long road, but a number of the suggestions made by the libel reform campaign are being taken seriously.

And, because I’m not really in the mood for being creative or evocative about legal arguments right now, let’s talk about sex.

You should really be reading The Pervocracy, unless sex just doesn’t interest you, or there’s someone in your life who monitors your internet habits closely and has no sense of fun. This latest post is another good one, about the inherent ambiguity in talking about sex while refusing to actually talk about sex:

You can’t be afraid to ask for what you really mean, and you also can’t be afraid to agree to what you really mean. People who agree to the platinum record, tee hee, nudge nudge, but balk at the explicit mention of sex, but really do want to have sex, are also a big part of the problem here. In a world where saying you want to have sex is a taboo that makes men creepy and women slutty, people have to speak in oblique hints – and not everyone can take a hint.

For reference, anyone who wants to have sex with me should stick with the oblique hints, but make sure they consist primarily of R Kelly lyrics. It’s the only language I understand.

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This might not be the only place you see the following message cropping up. It’s a coordinated thing, and it really is saying something important. It’s in everyone’s interest to establish a good libel law which actually defends people against being wronged, without being open to abuse.

If you happen to be against the idea of having years of your life derailed by legal proceedings that will cost you more than everything you own, simply because you said something true which someone rich didn’t like, then please sign the petition at the link below.


This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at http://www.libelreform.org/sign

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at http://www.libelreform.org/sign

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While I certainly enjoyed myself at TAM London this year, not everyone seems to be a fan.

The most prominent and contentious criticism – not of the particular way things went down at the conference itself, but of the very concept of even holding such an event – seems to be the Champagne Skeptics post from Gimpy. Holding a massive event such as TAM is, to his mind, “too expensive, insular and divisive”, and detrimental to the skeptical movement.

The main worry, which he’s repeatedly expressed on Twitter, seems to be of having one single organisation take over and monopolise the very notion of skepticism, at the expense of more widely accessible grass-roots movements. He’s worried about it turning into an elitist, selective business only available to those with enough money to make it to the occasional back-slapping gathering in a posh hotel.

It all seems very odd to me. Until barely a year ago, The Amaz!ng Meetings were something that had never happened outside Las Vegas, Nevada (except the original gathering of 150 JREF forum members in Florida in 2003), and were attended by a few hundred people exactly once a year. If this lone annual event was capable of somehow dominating the skeptical movement, the movement itself could never have taken off in any way.

It’s true the meetings were exclusive, and attracted big names like smaller local events couldn’t, and had a very high ticket price (it’s a charity fundraiser, after all) – but who has ever had their entire notion of what the skeptical movement is about defined solely by these meetings?

I’d considered myself a part of the skeptical movement for a long time before first attending TAM in London last year, because of my participation in blogs and on Twitter. I met two people at this year’s TAM who I knew, and who knew me, as a result of this online participation. (It could’ve been more if I wasn’t so shy about introducing myself to people strolling by.)

And I hadn’t even gone to a single one of the numerous local meet-ups available, whose total attendance far surpasses TAM collectively. These events are a regular fixture in the calendars of many people I know, TAM attendees included, and a source of just as much fun and inspiration as the occasional massive conference. People are regularly motivated and inspired by the chance to spend some time with like-minded people, on a smaller scale as well.

There have been two new Skeptics in the Pub groups inspired directly by this year’s TAM London (Ealing and Cheltenham & Gloucester, I believe). There were a number of more accessible fringe events associated with the conference, taking place the week of the event, such as a pub quiz costing £2 on the door to get in. It’s rejuvenated people’s excitement about the skeptical movement’s potential, as well as getting some media attention and alerting a greater number of the general public to the fact that gossiping about sciencey stuff in a pub is a thing that other people do.

My point is: how is grassroots skepticism being hurt by one costly event, once a year, happening amidst a flurry of other activity driven solely by personal passion and commitment?

The skeptical movement is all about the grassroots work done by people who feel strongly about something and want to do some good in their own time. James Randi and his organisation have been huge supporters of some of the major skeptical victories of recent times, such as Simon Singh’s libel case, or the ongoing battle to stop the NHS funding homeopathy. These things don’t need TAM or the JREF, but they’re all part of the same picture.

Rhys Morgan has become a skeptical superstar just in the last few months, entirely because of work he’s done off his own back to counter quack medical claims, and his online involvement with the community. At this year’s TAM London, he was given the award for Grassroots Skepticism, and was given the fastest standing ovation I’ve ever seen, but that was barely even relevant to what he’d achieved with the support of the rest of the skeptical movement. TAM recognised and promoted the value of this, and proudly, but the JREF had no direct influence in anything important.

Alom Shaha was somewhat less infuriating on this point, but still doesn’t seem capable of making any important points or offering good advice – like about skeptics engaging directly with schools – without expending far more effort demeaning some of the activities that so many are already finding purpose in.

The problem with this is highlighted acutely in a comment by shockingblu, a newcomer to the skeptical movement, excited to meet people from whom he could learn and with whom he could share ideas, but who’s trying not to be discouraged by all the skeptic-bashing coming from other skeptics, and the “barrage of accusations” about what he’s supposedly doing wrong.

So, I don’t have much time for this rather tedious bashing of what seems to be a positive effort to do something good. And Martin Robbins has rebutted much of it far more eloquently than I have, anyway, in a comment on Gimpy’s posterous; I can’t link to the comment directly, but search the page for ‘Martin Robbins’ and you’ll find it about halfway down.

A rather more interesting critical take was provided by Crispian Jago, who enjoyed much of the event but with some reservations, and some good points are being made in the ensuing comments.

And further worthwhile thoughts arise courtesy of David Allen Green – who was also on great form at the event itself, which I shamefully neglected to mention in my own write-up.

Perhaps the strongest criticism he makes is of the “essentially negative” nature of skepticism itself. It’s worth noting that, if it’s the process which possesses this feature, then this is not a problem with the way the skeptical movement is currently presenting itself. Rather, it’s a factor which the movement should be aware of and account for when deciding how and where to direct its energies.

And in some sense, he’s obviously right. Skepticism tends to be largely about the denial of improbable claims, which is necessarily a negative action, about breaking things down.

But just about everyone I’ve encountered in the skeptical community understands that there can be more to it than this, and there should be if it’s going to be worth participating in things. They don’t gather in pubs or conference centres to talk for hours about how everything’s shit. They’re building friendships, and professional connections, and having fun, and enjoying each other’s company, and launching libel reform campaigns. And often joking (and occasionally ranting) about things that are shit.

Well then. There we are.

Not my most insightful or well constructed piece, if you ask me. The really smart people are probably the ones staying out of all this nonsense and just concentrating on getting shit done.

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The British Chiropractic Association happily promotes bogus treatments.

This morning, one of Simon Singh’s lawyers posted this notice:

The BCA today served a Notice of Discontinuance bringing to an end its ill-fated libel claim against Dr Simon Singh arising out of criticisms he made of its promotion of treatments for childhood ailments.

It’s over. He fucking did it.

Of course, it’s not over over. There’ll no doubt be a certain amount of wrangling about costs yet to get sorted out, but Simon should end up being largely reimbursed for his expenses. The best guess seems to be that he’ll still end up around £20,000 out of pocket, though, not to mention the loss of earnings over the past two years.

And, of course, he’s not the only one to have been screwed over by the sorry state of England’s libel laws. The need for reform is as pronounced as ever, and there’s no better time to join the 50,000 people who have already signed the petition to make it happen.

But, still. He fucking did it.

I’ll be directing you to other, more newsworthy news sources now.

Jack of Kent broke the news, to me at least, and highlights a comment about the relevant civil procedure regarding liability for costs. It bodes well for Simon. He also has some thoughts on the overall significance of this result.

Le Canard Noir has posted what looks like a great analysis at The Quackometer, which I plan to read in full when my brain’s working better.

Sense About Science rounds up some opinions well also.

BBC News got on this pretty quickly, with an interview with Simon. They also link to a statement from the BCA (PDF link), which doesn’t really say anything unexpected or do much to alter their position.

The Guardian are on this too, with some interesting remarks from his legal team. Padraig Ready also has things to say.

And, perhaps most wonderfully of all, the original article is back up on their website. They lost no time in returning it to full view. Published back in 2008’s Chiropractic Awareness Week, almost two years ago to the day, “Beware the spinal trap” is still worth another read. Well done, Simon.

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The British Chiropractic Association happily promotes bogus treatments.

The angry godless diatribe has been postponed once again, in favour of an evening watching the first Steven Soderbergh movie I think I ever actually enjoyed, and finding time to write a quick update on Simon Singh’s libel case.

Last year, the preliminary ruling on meaning did not go well for Simon. Mr Justice Eady ruled that his article discussing chiropractic therapy, which was published in the Guardian, should be classified as a “statement” of fact, not an expression of opinion.

It was also determined that, by declaring that the British Chiropractic Association “happily promotes bogus treatments“, Simon was attributing deliberate dishonesty to the BCA. The position he would have to defend, if he continued to fight the libel charge, was that the BCA were knowingly and dishonestly peddling ineffective medical treatments, even though this wasn’t something he’d meant his article to accuse them of.

That there is “not a jot” of evidence supporting certain claims, such as those regarding spinal manipulation as an effective treatment for infant colic, is entirely supported by the scientific data. Since these are claims that the BCA publicly made, Simon wanted to contribute to this public conversation, and help add to the general public understanding as to the state of affairs regarding these claims.

He requested permission to appeal this ruling on the meaning of his words; was denied it; requested permission to appeal that; was granted it; won the right to appeal; and, this morning, the Court of Appeal overturned Justice Eady’s original ruling. Simon’s claims were ruled, by the Lord Chief Justice, to be “a statement of opinion, and one backed by reasons”, allowing him to pursue a defence of “fair comment”.

So, they still have to argue the actual, y’know, case. But the tide has turned dramatically on where the goalposts are placed. Today was one step of many on a long and costly road, but it was a fantastic result, worth celebrating and rallying around.

Here’s what some cleverer people have had to say about it.

Index on Censorship, who also have a statement from Simon himself. He points out:

It is ridiculous that it has cost £200,000 to establish the meaning of a handful of words… I am still angry that libel is so horrendously expensive. That is just one of the reasons why the battle for libel reform must continue.

Jack of Kent was there, and highlights some of the more interesting aspects of the ruling, ahead of a full report to come this weekend. In particular:

Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation.

Yep.

The JREF rather overreacted – the hard part is still very much to come, I feel. Certainly for libel reform more generally, and probably for Simon’s own case too. But they did bring balloons.

Speaking of which, sign the petition here if you haven’t already. We really need this. I’m going to bed. No connection between those two things. Just didn’t feel like starting a new paragraph.

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– The Amateur Scientist’s Fat Jesus art contest is just the awesomest thing since the last totally awesome thing. I can’t believe I haven’t seen this idea before, it’s so brilliant. Rebecca Watson’s winning, obviously.

– Remember those leaked emails that revealed how all this global warming malarkey was just one big massive hoax conspiracy by dastardly scientists in the pocket of Big Weather? Yeah, not so much. The UK’s Parliamentary Science & Technology Committee have released their report, detailing the findings of their investigation into the “scandal”, and have found “no reason… to challenge the scientific consensus” of anthropogenic climate change. The scary-sounding talk of using a “trick” and “hiding the decline” was people being casual with the language, using colloquial terms that might sound incendiary when removed from all context, and there was no evidence of systematic fraud of any kind. So, shush now. (H/T to PZ.)

– … You know, when I decided to do a quick link round-up and save my latest scathing anti-theistic rant until tomorrow, I was sure I had more than two links to talk about.

– Actually, Jack of Kent is providing some interesting commentary again. The House of Commons Delegated Legislation Committee, which is apparently a thing we have in this country, voted yesterday on a reduction of what are called “conditional fee arrangements” (or CFAs), which (if I’m getting this right) are the bonuses to their fees that lawyers can claim in certain types of “no win, no fee” cases. Mr of Kent is very much in favour of the proposed reduction in CFA uplift, but it was blocked yesterday by a number of MPs, including Tom Watson. Mr Watson has today explained his decision to oppose this particular change, while supporting a reform of the libel laws in general. It seems well thought out and articulate, and I do tend to find it encouraging when people expend this much thought and effort on important decisions.

Jack of Kent is not impressed, however. Specifically, he finds Mr Watson’s claim that the proposed change “could significantly reduce the chances of people receiving justice” to be entirely without supporting evidence. Even though I have only a tenuous grasp of what’s going on, I’m actually quite enjoying all this. Watching these discussions happen on Twitter in real time is sort of like a soap opera, only interesting.

And amidst all this, and with Simon Singh’s big decision tomorrow morning, there’s no better time to sign the libel reform petition, wherever in the world you might be. This is one of those things to actually give a shit about, people.

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– I am an insufficiently funny atheist. This is genius. From that guy who brought you that weird email prank thing with the spider.

– Shock news: loud minority of idiots continued to get unbelievably upset and whiny about a tiny suggested change to the current way of doing things. Specifically, police have been advised to use an alternate term than “Christian name” when referring to someone’s first name, and this is apparently as horrible an infringement on our liberties as if they had BANNED CHRISTMAS FOREVER. Seriously, grow up. You call it a Christian name because you’ve grown up in a society where Christianity is the norm. Why would a Muslim have a Christian name? Or a Hindu, or a Sikh, or any non-Christian? I’m not going to be bothered one way or the other if someone asks me for mine, but… what the fuck is difficult about saying “forename”? Oh god now I’m looking at links to other articles on this site and I’m just going to bail out now for the sake of my blood pressure. (link via @NewHumanist)

– Jack of Kent has posted Jack’s Defamation Challenge, in which he claims to defame some notable public characters, but I don’t think he actually does. You can make up your own mind, though.

– I’m not going to personally be able to join in with lobbying the House of Commons on libel reform, but lots of awesome people will be more than making up for my absence.

– A couple of guys wrote a pretty crappy book about Darwin, and Adam Rutherford was not impressed with the Guardian’s lame reporting on how “everything you’ve been told about evolution is wrong”. It’s probably not. Biology is just an ever-developing branch of science in which we regularly learn new things. This very lengthy book review discusses the problems with What Darwin Got Wrong in what I assume is a brilliant and insightful analysis but I can’t be sure because I haven’t read it because of tired.

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Links! Mostly gathered from Twitter, I’ll be more careful to note down attributions in future.

Could talking to an apple help you become more beautiful? Sometimes the Daily Fail headlines really don’t need any elaboration. People are literally just making stuff up and getting it in the papers. My favourite leap of logic:

When you consider our bodies are approximately 60 per cent water, too, it begins to make sense that positive feelings are going to affect our mind and bodies.

Yes, I can totally see how it begins to make sense to go from the scientific fact to the wishy-washy newage half-idea in a way which somehow ties in to apples decaying faster if you say nasty things to them. It’s slightly worrying that many people really do think we live in a world that works like that.

Robin Ince writes about libel reform and why it’s still important, in the context of his friend Simon’s adventures with the spine-wizards, and the Big Libel Gig that I missed over the weekend. More and more examples of how the libel laws in this country are stifling free expression keep coming in; the Peter Wilmshurst situation is particularly dispiriting. You can and should still sign the petition to get things sorted.

– A Jobcentre have had to apologise to a Jedi for failing to respect his religious rights. Can I just call everyone idiots and move on, for this one?

– Oh yeah, and The Pope is coming. For an official four-day state visit to England and Scotland (suck it, Wales and Northern Ireland, you’re just not Catholic enough). They’re taking donations to fund the trip, even though A) it’s apparently being paid for by a large chunk of UK taxpayer money anyway, and 2) the Catholic Church is pretty fucking loaded.

And if that weren’t enough we’re now hearing that, once he’s here, he’s going to be offering our country moral guidance. Yes, my countryfolk and I are going to be given “guidance on the great moral issues of our day”, by the guy who’s spread disinformation about condoms and AIDS prevention, opposed gay rights and abortion, and covered up cases of child rape. Sorry to keep harping on about that last one but, well, some children got raped and some other people tried to hush it up, so excuse me for occasionally trying to bring it back to the fore.

The National Secular Society aren’t thrilled about this state of affairs, and nor are these guys.

– And on a lighter note, this has nothing to do with skepticism or science but is clearly the most awesome thing on the internet. Night night.

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Today seemed to rather get away with me, so there’s just time for a quick round-up of important Simon Singh news.

If you’re not familiar with the backstory, it shouldn’t be hard to catch up. He’s being sued and it’s all bollocks, basically.

Several of the big names in skepticism were in the court with him today, reporting continuously on the proceedings. The overall gist is that it went very well for Simon, with all three judges on the panel appearing sympathetic to the arguments of his team. Full write-ups have appeared from:

Crispian Jago
The Heresiarch
Jack of Kent
Padraig Ready for Index on Censorship

And, as well as supporting Simon’s personal plight, it’s all being used to help highlight the importance of libel reform in general. Even if you’re not from the UK, you can sign the petition to support that campaign.

So, this is one of my more coldly functional and less sparklingly entertaining days, blog-wise. I’m off to liven up my evening by eating some yoghurt now.

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