Posts Tagged ‘simon singh’

For something that involves so much lying down and making sympathetic faces, looking after a girlfriend with glandular fever can be surprisingly tiring and time-consuming.

So, apologies that I’m still not very present here. However, although I’m not going to comment at length about Sally Morgan today, it’s worth mentioning that Simon Singh is one hell of a gentleman badass.

Is that a thing people say? That should totally be a thing.

Of course Sally Morgan has every right to decline an invitation to any particular event at which certain of her detractors propose to “test” her, especially in a situation which has not been arranged with her and under circumstances with which she may not be familiar or comfortable. But the point Simon Singh and others are making is that she has by no means demonstrated the validity of the numerous grandiose claims she regularly makes, and in which many people become deeply emotionally invested. If she has any interest in the well-being of her fans, or in being intellectually honest, she should really be actively seeking some way to prove her abilities beyond a level which can be replicated by a practised charlatan.

She could also do with cultivating a slightly thicker skin for criticism, if she’s so inclined to send her lawyers after any prominent figure who may be disinclined to accept everything she says at face value.

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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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Men continue to just not get feminism. Not exactly news, but worth a regular reminder. Jezebel’s an awesome site, too. Also, I don’t really know what’s going on here, but I rofled. And holy shit their compilation of Tracy Morgan impressions is incredible.

– There’s a very interesting take on Simon Singh’s recent victory in his libel case up at Heresy Corner. “Right result, wrong reasons” sums up the Heresiarch’s opinion on the Court of Appeal ruling, and the way it’s reasoned through is seriously impressive. One I’m going to read again tomorrow and see if I can decide where my own point of view fits in. Also, Simon’s own comments in the Guardian are obviously worth reading, and contain the encouraging fact that, although he’s had to spend £200,000 of his own money just to get this far, the majority of that is likely to be covered by the BCA. Even so, the personal cost to him will be well into five figures, as well as much of the last two years of his life.

– I had wanted to comment on what seemed like a civil liberties fail, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union, but it turned out it was all over before I could get there. You remember that school that was sued by the ACLU, after it cancelled the prom in some hysterical panicky fit when a girl wanted to take another girl? Well, there were reports that the ACLU had rejected a $20,000 donation to sponsor an alternate prom, supposedly because it came from the American Humanist Association, and that “the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist'”.

Which is unbelievably lame, given the kind of civil liberties the ACLU exists to stand up for in the first place, and the fact that some Mississippians’ tendencies to tremble in terror at words like “lesbian” is what sparked this all off in the first place. But by the time I’ve gotten around to writing it, it seems to have all been straightened out. The ACLU have apologised to the AHA for the misunderstanding, which seems to have been more to do with one ACLU “staff member” going off message than any intrinsic discrimination in the way the ACLU operates.

The Friendly Atheist’s updated post on this has all the latest, and some choice quotes from those involved. Stand down, angry mob.

Wait, no. Get up again. There’s another thing.

– Criticism of the Catholic Church for numerous charges of child rape and the systematic covering-up of child rape is reminiscent of anti-Semitism, says some utter prick called Raniero Cantalamessa (who some choose to address by the honorific ‘Reverend’).

The Vatican, somewhat uncharacteristically, have shown some sliver of self-awareness regarding their public image, and have been quick to point out that this guy doesn’t speak for them. I really don’t see any further need to go into why these comments are contemptible, and why the Church’s response is a lamentably self-serving and tiny fraction of what would be appropriate.

Gawker has a good list of Stuff Catholics Have So Far Blamed for the Church’s Pedophilia Scandal, though I’m pretty sure it’s a longer list than is covered here. (link via @jiminthemorning by way of @DrPetra.)

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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.


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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Between laziness and a trip into London to see another of Robin Ince’s variety shows at the Bloomsbury Theatre last night, I seem to have inadvertently taken a few days off from saying anything here. Let’s get back into it.

“Disposable sleeves” introduced for female Muslim medical staff, for whom baring their forearms is unacceptably immodest. Another of those stories that makes me wary of being part of the immediate, knee-jerk anti-Muslim backlash, but my sympathies are not strongly with the religious camp either. The part that actually matters is that medical staff wash their hands and observe other basic protocols to minimise infection rates. Nobody else is obliged to care about your own personal and irrelevant set of values, so if they compromise safety regulations then your values can fuck off. However, if this is something in which thousands of staff across the country can be relatively easily accommodated, and are capable of doing the jobs to the standards demanded of anyone else in their position, it’s likely harmless enough.

This is what’s wrong with Conservatives in America. Pretty much all of it, extensively researched and referenced. And like the author seems to, I really want to see right-wing politics actually start being about right-wing politics again, not the insane bullshit that’s come to represent it lately. A lot of the responses in the comments thread show a head-deskingly painful tendency to miss the point. There’s not much attempt to repudiate any of the points made; much more common is the argument (and I use that term in the Monty Python sense) that “oh, the Democrats do bad stuff too”. If you want to make a list as comprehensive as this one of examples of left-wing hypocrisy, hyperbole, and hatred, then go ahead – I’d be fascinated to read it. Doesn’t change anything about how irrational and douchetastic the representatives of the GOP have acted in recent years.

– A hearing this Thursday will determine the fate of Simon Singh’s appeal against the preliminary ruling on meaning, in his ongoing legal battle with the British Chiropractic Association. Actually quite nerve-wracking at this point, but there’s a real chance it may go fantastically well. Many of the usual bloggers and activists will be present at the judgment and reporting on the proceedings. I imagine I’ll be reporting on their reporting not too long after.

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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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Yeah, that’s basically the message I want you to take home with you today.

So I have a couple of quick #singhbca thoughts. Not that there’s been any exciting developments, I’m just short on ideas.

There’s one minor thing which has come up a couple of times in the discussion of chiropractic surrounding Simon Singh’s libel case, and which has kinda grated with me. One of the things which has bothered people the most about chiropractic is its alleged ability to treat infant colic. This has caused particular concern from supporters of science-based medicine, because infants’ spines are pretty delicate things, and the idea of someone not fully qualified as a medical doctor manipulating those delicate spines can be pretty worrying. If you try and picture it, it’s sort of hard not to involuntarily imagine bone-chilling crunching noises and something going appallingly wrong.

But see, that itself isn’t a piece of data. The fact that it’s unsettling or horrifying to think about isn’t of any direct scientific value. The fact that you’re scared of something happening isn’t enough to decide that it’s a terror which must be eradicated.

This kind of argument is pretty much all that the anti-vaccinationists have. “Those DOCTORS in their cold, clinical WHITE LAB COATS are injecting CHEMICALS into our CHILDREN!!” they wail, and they expect you to be terrified and realise what an abomination vaccines must be because SCARY CAPITALS OH NOES!! But that’s obviously crap. The science supporting the notion that vaccines save countless lives, and are in no way associated with autism, is vast. They scaremonger, but they don’t have the data.

So, what’s the data on actual damage caused to children by chiropractic manipulation? I don’t know, and even if this wasn’t a brief, thrown-together article I’m putting out before getting an early night, I’d probably be too lethargic to do the research. My point is just that I’ve cringed a few times at hearing people going for the emotional argument and kinda neglecting the science.

Admittedly, even if I don’t have immediately accessible proof that chiropractic is hurting babies, that’s not enough to justify performing a very icky and potentially dangerous procedure on them. I believe Penn Jillette used the phrase “baby-twisting motherfuckers” on the episode of Bullshit! that covered chiropractors, and I find it hard to disagree with the sentiment. And I’m sure everyone I’ve heard talking like this would actually agree, and admit to just not being quite as pedantic in their choice of language as I’m being here. Which is fine – I’m not railing on the whole skeptical community for this. Just thought it was worth noting. The cheap shots don’t always help our case, if they’re overdone. Almost all the #singhbca debate has been based on good science and free speech, which is where we’re awesomest.

Also, I’m going to quote a comment I left earlier today on Jack of Kent’s latest blog post, because I don’t recall if I ever actually made this particular argument on this blog. The discussion got onto the statement at the centre of the British Chiropractic Association’s libel case against Simon Singh – which, if you haven’t heard it ad nauseam by now, was that the BCA “happily promotes bogus treatments”.

Analysing Simon’s contentious statement on a word-by-word basis, I can see nothing libellous about it at all.

– Are “treatments” the matter in question? Nobody’s really arguing that point.
– Are these treatments “bogus”? Well, there’s no good scientific evidence that they’re effective beyond placebo. I don’t know quite what else “bogus” could really mean in the context of a medical treatment that purportedly does have an effect beyond placebo, so this also seems like fair comment.
– Do the BCA “promote” these bogus treatments? Obviously, or there wouldn’t have been of this big hoo-hah from them in the first place.
– Do they do so “happily”? Well, I don’t see anybody twisting their arm about it. They don’t seem to have been wringing their hands and bemoaning their lot, at what a terrible position they’ve been somehow coerced into, that they simply must promote these bogus treatments against their will. That’s just silly. So this seems like a yes as well.

Anything beyond this, like reading “happily” to mean that the BCA knew exactly how bogus the treatments were, is not explicit in Simon’s words, and is at best ambiguous. If the BCA’s agenda had anything to do with the promotion of good science in medicine, then asking Simon to clarify what he meant by this point would have come way before suing for libel on their list of responses.

Not that I think it should, but if it does come down to proving whether the BCA knew the treatments were bogus, the infamous “plethora” must count pretty heavily against them. Though I suppose it could be argued that they were simply too incompetent or untrained to recognise terrible and unconvincing evidence when it was right in front of them. (I’d love to hear them use that argument in their defence.)

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What’s the connection, you ask? Well, they’re both the subject of the blog post you’re reading now.

Yeah, I’m not really tying them together in any way. Actually I’ve just thought of a way I could. When Crispian Jago drank a homeopathic dilution of his own urine, common knowledge states that some small number of the water molecules from his sample had also once been drunk by Adolf Hitler.

And because the most potent homeopathic solutions are the ones containing the least active ingredient, and because the number of Hitler-water molecules he was starting with was statistically very small… Crispian Jago absorbed into his system a potion that was almost 100% essence of Hitler. Holy crap.

I swear that literally just occurred to me as I was typing it. I’m going to have to let that sink in and examine the ramifications more thoroughly at some later time.

For now, I’ll just get on with what I was going to say.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine sounds like a pretty official, mainstream, reputable journal, right? Just going by the title, it doesn’t exactly sound like a wacky fringe part of the Alternative and Complementary Medicine movement. It’s not using all sorts of long-winded buzzwords to try and make itself sound relevant while actually just being churned out by a couple of hacks with access to paper and crayons. It’s a proper journal. It’s the journal for this branch of medicine, with proper peer review and everything.

They also don’t seem to mind publishing utter, undeniable bullshit.

I don’t know who Dr Lionel Milgrom is, but he’s apparently someone people have heard of in the realm of homeopathy. The JACM printed an article of his recently, in which he apparently said this:

The British Chiropractic Association recently won a libel case against the science writer and CAM “skeptic” Dr Simon Singh for publishing an article in a British newspaper in which he accused them of promoting “bogus” treatments.

The judge agreed with this argument, awarding the BCA substantial damages.

Um. No. Neither of those things has happened. Nothing that even sounds like either of those things has happened if you’ve had at least one sensory organ functioning properly and pointed in the general direction of the English courts lately.

I just… it’s bewildering. It’s not even like this is some subtle point of legal technicality which it’s easy to misinterpret. When your fact-checking is this much worse than mine, you have serious problems.

Jack of Kent is all over this one. It’s really funny. I particularly like the bit where Milgrom tries to explain what the libel suit was about, but accidentally ends up arguing part of Simon Singh’s defence for him.

The racism part was going to be about this excellent post looking at the recent tabloid vilification of Nick Griffin and placing it in the context of some of the tabloids’ own recent headlines. Well worth a look, though I’m too lazy to add my own commentary now.

I have no other news, except that I also left another comment on this article earlier, because some idiocy just keeps coming back.

Night night.

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I hope I’m not too late with this.

I was only just alerted to this post by Simon Perry, encouraging UK residents to write to their MP, asking them to get involved in the debate in parliament tomorrow on libel reform. He’s provided a suggested form letter to send; I’ve personalised mine, as shown below. He’s also given a link to this site called WriteToThem, which is designed to make it fantastically easy to write letters to your elected officials, even for incredibly lazy people like me who tend to get quickly put off this kind of thing when I realise it’s likely to involve effort on my part.

If you’re in the UK, this is really worth doing. You don’t need to have a clue who your MP is – I didn’t until half an hour ago – just put your postcode in, and it’ll give you a form with their details where you can say what you want and send it off. Feel free to use as much of mine as you like, though personalising it at least a bit may make it more likely to get noticed.

Hopefully we may hear something useful during the day tomorrow about what happens in the debate, if it moves in any interesting directions. I’ll be Twittering about it as and when I hear anything.

Dear Bob Neill,

Tomorrow there is a debate in parliament on the subject of libel reform.

You may have received a few messages about this already, as there has been a growing campaign in recent months to publicise the matter, and I was inspired to send this message myself based on a campaigner’s suggestion to send on a copy of his form letter to whoever my MP might be. But, as someone who tends to be somewhat cynical about politics (or at least British politics), and about my own chances of being able to effect any significant change, even I’m feeling motivated by this issue to send a personal message, and hope that I’ll find reason to get more involved in our political system in the future, and see it with more generous optimism.

Popular science writer Simon Singh is currently being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. In an article in the Guardian, he discussed the history of chiropractic therapy, pointed out (accurately) that there is “not a jot” of evidence supporting its effectiveness in treating certain conditions, and pointed out that the BCA currently “happily promotes” these “bogus treatments”.

The treatments to which he referred *are* bogus, in that no good controlled clinical trials have shown them to have any effect beyond that of a placebo. The BCA *does* promote them, and they certainly don’t seem to be *un*happy about it. Simon’s criticism seems to be an important and valid part of the public discussion of science-based medicine. The BCA sued him personally for libel, and declined the right of reply they were offered by the Guardian, where they could have publicly put forward their own view and presented any evidence they believe supports their position.

A couple of weeks ago, the front page of the Sunday Express proclaimed that the cervical cancer vaccine was “as deadly as the cancer”. This scare-mongering article entirely misrepresented the views of the scientists quoted, and was far, far more misleading, damaging to the public understanding of medicine, and dangerous to people’s lives and livelihoods, than what Simon Singh’s article said. But nobody’s around to sue the Sunday Express on behalf of reality.

The way English libel laws currently exist, undesirable opinions or dissenting views can so easily be suppressed by the act of simply threatening a lawsuit. It is up to the defendant to prove their innocence in such cases, and the amount this can cost in time and money can be utterly crippling, even if you did nothing wrong and win the case. Medical doctor and journalist Ben Goldacre was recently involved in a libel battle following his criticism of a vitamin salesman, who claimed that anti-retroviral drugs were ineffective in treating AIDS and offered his vitamins as an alternative. Goldacre won the case, his criticism of Matthias Rath’s appalling dishonesty was entirely justified, the scientific facts always supported him entirely, and he was clearly acting in the public interest in trying to counter pseudo-scientific nonsense and help stop snake oil merchants from taking advantage of dying people who need real medicine. He won, and they still came out of it £150,000 poorer.

Given the dismal outcome likely even in the case of an outright victory, many important articles and papers simply aren’t being published due to this fear. Obviously libel laws of some form have a place, but the way it stands now, the English libel system is uniquely repressive, and is becoming a global embarrassment. Our ability to do useful science, and evaluate what medical treatments are of any use in helping people, depends on the kind of debate which our libel laws are presently stifling.

As someone who has been a constituent here for several years, I’m asking you to please help push this issue forward, and help get some laws in place which aren’t so catastrophically detrimental to free expression in this country.


James Norriss

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