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[UPDATE 6-16] Support Simon Singh

UPDATE 6-16-09 from Sense About Science

Dear Friends
In a strangely quiet ten minutes, I’m glad finally to find time to send this quick update on Keep Libel Laws out of Science to all who have signed the statement to support Simon Singh and seek a review of the libel laws.

Today, thanks to all your efforts, we are sending that statement again to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, but now with 10,000 signatures! And still they are pouring in. We’ve also had great comments, examples of similar cases, offers of help, and urgently needed donations for the campaign. Please keep them coming. We’re working through offers of help and ideas as quickly as we can.

Signatories are going up more quickly, thanks to Andy Lewis’ speedy rescue with an automated system and the patient volunteers who have worked long days to help. You can view signatories via a link from the main page on and lots of other related material. If you twitter, you can follow short updates at

Simon’s case and the chilling effects of libel threats have been covered by The Guardian, The Times, Daily Mail, The Independent, Nature, BMJ, The Economist, Times Higher Education, Sunday Times, FT, Wall Street Journal, Private Eye, The Observer, Channel 4, BBC, among others. Links to these and some of the many blogs about the case are on the website. Do tell me if you see more, especially outside the UK. The statement has been translated into French (thanks to Jean-Paul Krivine) and we know of coverage in Sweden, Germany, Spain, India and America, but there may be things we’ve missed. Also, if you write for any publication, can you write about the campaign and the issues raised by Simon Singh’s case?

You can now buy Keep the Libel Laws out of Science T-shirts, mugs, bags, badges and caps online from Spreadshirt. The lovely logo is thanks to Hamish Symington, and thanks also to everyone else who offered design ideas. If you send us photos of you wearing them outside the Royal Courts of Justice, or similarly relevant venue, we’ll put them up!

Keep Libel Laws out of Science got in its Mini and went to the Cheltenham Science Festival. The organisers were really supportive (thank you) and let me roam. It was wonderful to hear all the support for Simon and the campaign, but very difficult to stop the speakers from stealing all my badges! A few pictures are on the website. Dara O’Briain, Robin Ince and Ben Goldacre took part in an event alongside Simon and all stressed the importance of freedom of speech.

Great to see the logo link to the campaign on many websites but there must be hundreds more that should be carrying it. Please cajole and harangue those you use.

On the issue of chiropractic claims, some of you will have seen the cumulative effect of interest in the case on the blogosphere over this past weekend; hundreds of chiropractic websites were taken down following questions by bloggers and urgent instructions from chiropractic organisations to avoid breaking the rules on medical claims for chiropractic. A few other links are on our website; there seems to be a lot happening so do send us links to anything you think relevant.

A note from Simon Singh: “I’ve met so many passionate, supportive people at talks I’ve given, most recently Skeptics in the Pub in Oxford and Cheltenham. The responses, with all the blogs and comments too, suggest this is a campaign gathering the momentum necessary to reform the libel laws. Please continue your support in any way you can, and tell others about it.”

Campaign next steps are commitments and publicity from organizations and publications, finding funds to keep the campaign going (ideas please?) and meetings to discuss a parliamentary timetable and commitments; Simon is out speaking to lots of people (we need a printed banner for the events we are going to – can anyone provide or help with the cost?); and please ask everyone you know who cares about scientific debate and free speech to sign.

I hope to write a less hurried update soon, and let you know more about likely milestones in the court case and in seeking parliamentary review and legal reform, but meantime do check the website (yes, we’d like to sort out RSS feeds - help please?)

All the best


UPDATE: from Simon Singh's mailing list:

1. Court of Appeal and Campaign Launch

I am glad to say that on Monday I will apply to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to overturn the recent negative ruling on meaning in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association.

Also, Sense About Science have launched a campaign linked to my libel case and focussing on the need to overhaul the English libel system, which is deeply flawed and which therefore has a chilling effect on journalism.

The campaign has issued a statement of support, which has already been signed by an incredible list of people, including James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, Sir Martin Rees, Penn & Teller, Stephen Fry, Martin Amis and Steve Jones. It would be terrific if you would also sign up to the statement and (better still) encourage others to sign up. It is conceivable that this campaign could help reform the English libel laws (which unfortunately affect overseas journalists too). Please help us move closer to having a free press.

You can find the statement and sign up at:

2. Fighting Fund

I have had many kind and generous offers of financial help, but at the moment I am able to fund my own legal costs. However, if you would like to help, then please make a donation to Sense About Science, who will need funding to maintain what could be a long battle to reform the libel laws. You can find out how to donate at:

3. Cheltenham and Oxford

I will be speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Saturday 6 June and at Oxford Skeptics in the Pub on Monday. More information at:

And finally, a massive thanks to everyone who has been so supportive over the last month. You have genuinely played a crucial role in my decision to go to the Court of Appeal.


Ps. You can find plenty of press coverage about the libel case at the Sense About Science website, but some highlights include:

PPs. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as
your email will not reach me. Please go via the website and click the contact button. It takes me ages to
answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so
please be patient.

PPPs. To unsubscribe, please send a blank email to For further help with subscribing and unsubscribing, please visit


Sign the statement here

Also see: "Singh the Blues"

The respected science writer Simon Singh is being sued under the British libel laws (which are rapidly becoming an international laughing stock). Despite the setback of a perverse decision by a judge in a preliminary hearing, Simon has taken the courageous decision to fight the case. If he loses, it will be serious for freedom of speech, not only in Britain but throughout the world, because our notoriously fatuous libel laws are threatening to turn Britain into a goldmine for litigious chancers. If Simon wins, it will be a victory for freedom of speech, and for science, everywhere. Support for Simon is being coordinated by the admirable pressure group, ‘Sense about Science’ who have today released the following statement, together with the list of those who signed it, followed by comments from some of them.

Please do all in your power to support Simon Singh in his brave fight. Please CLICK HERE to sign up to the statement of support and encourage others to do the same."

Richard Dawkins

4th June 2009

keep libel laws out of science

The law has no place in scientific disputes

We the undersigned believe that it is inappropriate to use the English libel laws to silence critical discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence.

The British Chiropractic Association has sued Simon Singh for libel. The scientific community would have preferred that it had defended its position about chiropractic for various children's ailments through an open discussion of the peer reviewed medical literature or through debate in the mainstream media.

Singh holds that chiropractic treatments for asthma, ear infections and other infant conditions are not evidence-based. Where medical claims to cure or treat do not appear to be supported by evidence, we should be able to criticise assertions robustly and the public should have access to these views.

English libel law, though, can serve to punish this kind of scrutiny and can severely curtail the right to free speech on a matter of public interest. It is already widely recognised that the law is weighted heavily against writers: among other things, the costs are so high that few defendants can afford to make their case. The ease and success of bringing cases under the English law, including against overseas writers, has led to London being viewed as the “libel capital” of the world.

Freedom to criticise and question in strong terms and without malice is the cornerstone of scientific argument and debate, whether in peer-reviewed journals, on websites or in newspapers, which have a right of reply for complainants. However, the libel laws and cases such as BCA v Singh have a chilling effect, which deters scientists, journalists and science writers from engaging in important disputes about the evidential base supporting products and practices. The libel laws discourage argument and debate and merely encourage the use of the courts to silence critics.

The English law of libel has no place in scientific disputes about evidence; the BCA should discuss the evidence outside of a courtroom. Moreover, the BCA v Singh case shows a wider problem: we urgently need a full review of the way that English libel law affects discussions about scientific and medical evidence.


Everyone below signed as an individual unless otherwise stated


Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE
Professor of Physics and of Public Engagement in Science, University of Surrey

Dr Sabine Bahn
Cambridge Centre for Neuropsychiatric Research, University of Cambridge

Harriet Ball
Voice of Young Science network

Professor Michael Baum MB FRCS ChM MD FRCR
Emeritus Professor of Surgery and Visiting Professor of Medical Humanities, University College London

Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell FRS
University of Oxford and President, The Institute of Physics

Willem Betz
Emeritus Professor, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Chair, SKEPP

Susan Blackmore
Visiting Professor, School of Psychology, University of Plymouth

Professor Colin Blakemore FRS
University of Oxford

Sir Tom Blundell FRS
University of Cambridge and President, The Biochemical Society

Jean Bricmont
Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Louvain and Honorary President, Association Francaise pour l'Information Scientifique

Tracey Brown
Managing Director, Sense About Science

Professor David Colquhoun FRS
University College London

Professor David Cope

Professor Brian Cox
University of Manchester

Dr Tim Crayford MB BS MSc FFPH FRSA
Former President, Association of Directors of Public Health

Professor Richard Dawkins FRS
University of Oxford

Professor Edzard Ernst MD PhD FRCP FRCP (Edin)
Peninsula Medical School, Exeter University

Professor Elizabeth Fisher FMedSci
Institute of Neurology, University College London

Dr Ron Fraser
Chief Executive, The Society for General Microbiology

Carlos Frenk
Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics, Durham University

Diana Garnham
Chief Executive, The Science Council

John Garrow MD PhD FRCP FRCP (Edin)
Emeritus Professor of Clinical Nutrition, University of London and Former Chairman, HealthWatch

Professor David Gordon
President, Association of Medical Schools in Europe

Professor Hugh Griffiths FREng
University College London and Chairman and on behalf of
The Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK

Dr John Haigh
Former Reader in Mathematics, University of Sussex

Professor Martin Humphries
University of Manchester and Chair, The Biochemical Society

Sir Tim Hunt FRS
Cancer Research UK

Roland Jackson
Chief Executive, The British Science Association

Professor Steve Jones
University College London

Dr Stephen Keevil
King’s College London

Professor Sir David King FRS
Former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Director, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford

Dr Chris Kirk
Chief Executive, The Biochemical Society

Professor Sir Peter Lachmann FRS FMedSci
University of Cambridge and Founder President, Academy of Medical Sciences

Jennifer Lardge
Voice of Young Science network

Armand Leroi
Professor of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Imperial College London

Dr Robin Lovell-Badge FRS FMedSci
MRC National Institute for Medical Research

Daniella Muallem
Voice of Young Science network

Professor Dame Bridget Ogilvie FRS FMedSci
Former Director, Wellcome Trust

Professor Clive Orchard
University of Bristol and President, The Physiological Society

Professor Ole H Petersen CBE
University of Liverpool

Lord Rees
Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge

Les Rose
Clinical Science Consultant

Dame Nancy Rothwell FRS
MRC Research Professor and President, Biosciences Federation

Alan Sokal
Professor of Physics, New York University and Professor of Mathematics, University College London

Professor Beda Stadler
University of Bern, Switzerland

Dr John Stevens DMS
President and on behalf of
The Institute of Biomedical Science

Professor Ian Stewart FRS
Mathematician and Science Writer

Professor Raymond Tallis FMedSci
Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine, University of Manchester

Lord Taverne
Chair, Sense About Science

Hazel Thornton
Independent Advocate for Quality in Research and Healthcare

Sir Mark Walport
Director, The Wellcome Trust

Professor Robin A Weiss FRS
University College London and President, The Society for General Microbiology

Tom Wells
Voice of Young Science network

Robin Wilson
Professor of Pure Mathematics, Open University

Richard Wiseman
Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire and Author

Journalism and Publishing

David Aaronovitch
Columnist, The Times and Author

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Journalist and Columnist

Wendy Barnaby
Editor, People and Society

Rosie Boycott
Former Editor, The Independent and Independent on Sunday

Geoffrey Carr
Science Editor, The Economist

Duncan Campbell

Dr Philip Campbell
Editor-in-Chief, Nature

Sir Iain Chalmers
Editor, The James Lind Library

Nick Cohen
Columnist, The Observer

Clive Cookson
Science Editor, Financial Times

Nick Davies
Journalist and Author of Flat Earth News

Kendrick Frazier
Editor, Skeptical Inquirer

Professor Christopher C French
Head, The Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths University and Editor, The Skeptic Magazine

James Gleick
Science Writer and Journalist

Dr Ben Goldacre
Writer, Broadcaster and Medical Doctor

Nigel Hawkes
Director, Straight Statistics and Former Health Editor, The Times

Mark Henderson
Science Editor, The Times

Roger Highfield
Editor, New Scientist

Dr Richard Horton FRS FMedSci
Editor, The Lancet

Alok Jha
Science and Environment Correspondent, The Guardian

Rohit Jaggi
Columnist, Financial Times

Barry Karr
Skeptical Inquirer and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki
Author, Broadcaster and Scientist

Sam Lister
Health Editor, The Times

Brenda Maddox
Journalist and Biographer

Dr Margaret McCartney
Columnist, Financial Times and GP

Robin McKie
Science Correspondent, The Observer

George Monbiot

Andrew Mueller
Journalist and Author

Steven Novella
Editor, Science-Based Medicine; Director of General Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine and Author

Vivienne Parry
Science Writer and Broadcaster

John Rennie
Former Editor-in-Chief, Scientific American

Nick Ross
Journalist and Broadcaster

Ian Sample
Science Correspondent, The Guardian

Ariane Sherine
Comedy, Writer and Journalist

Michael Shermer
Publisher, Skeptic Magazine; Columnist Scientific American and Author of Why People Believe Weird Things

Rebecca Smith
Medical Editor, The Daily Telegraph

Bill Thompson
Technology Journalist

Arts, Humanities and Entertainment

Martin Amis

Joan Bakewell
Broadcaster and Journalist

Antony Beevor

Jo Brand

Derren Brown
Psychological Illusionist

Alain de Botton

Carol Ann Duffy
Poet Laureate

Peter Florence
Director of The Guardian Hay Festival

Stephen Fry
Broadcaster and Author

Ricky Gervais
Writer and Performer

Anthony Grayling
Professor of Philosophy, Birkbeck College University of London

Dave Gorman
Writer and Performer

Harry Hill

Robin Ince

Tim Minchin

Dara O'Briain

Penn Jillette
Illusionist, Juggler and Libertarian

Libby Purves
Broadcaster, Journalist and Author

David Starkey

Illusionist, Juggler and Libertarian

Sandi Toksvig
Broadcaster, Comedian and Author

Dr Richard Vranch
Performer and Ex-physicist

Skeptics and Campaign Groups
Australian Council Against Health Fraud

Australian Skeptics Inc

Peter Bowditch

Neil Denny
Little Atoms podcast

Rachael Dunlop
Reporter, Skeptic Zone podcast

Jonathan Heawood
Director, English PEN

Narisetti Innaiah
Chairman, Center for Inquiry, India

Andy Lewis

Ronald A Lindsay
President and CEO, Center for Inquiry, USA

Simon Perry
Founder, Skeptics in the Pub (Leicester)

Dr Philip Plait
President, James Randi Educational Foundation, USA

James Randi
CEO, James Randi Educational Foundation, USA

Padraig Reidy
Index on Censorship

Sid Rodrigues
Chairman, Skeptics in the Pub (London)

Amardeo Sarma
Chairman, German Skeptics (GWUP)

Eran Segev
President, Australian Skeptics Inc


David Allen Green

Jonathan Morgan
Fellow in Law, University of Cambridge

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Barrister and Labour Member of the House of Lords

Keep the libel laws out of science

Additional Comments

Stephen Fry, Broadcaster and Author:
“It may seem like a small thing to some when claims are made without evidence, but there are those of us who take this kind of thing very seriously because we believe that repeatable evidence-based science is the very foundation of our civilisation. Freedom in politics, in thought and in speech followed the rise of empirical science which refused to take anything on trust, on faith, on hope or even on reason. The simplicity and purity of evidence is all that stands between us and the wildest kinds of tyranny, superstition and fraudulent nonsense. When a powerful organisation tries to silence a man of Simon Singh's reputation then anyone who believes in science, fairness and the truth should rise in indignation. All we ask for is proof. Reasoned proof according to the established protocols of medicine and science everywhere. It is not science that is arrogant: science can be defined as ‘humility before the facts’ — it is those who refuse to submit to testing and make unsubstantiated claims that are arrogant. Arrogant and unjust.”

Professor Richard Dawkins, FRS, University of Oxford:
“This splendid manifesto hits so many bullseyes, I feel like adding my signature to every line of it. The English libel laws are ridiculed as an international charter for litigious mountebanks, and the effects are especially pernicious where science is concerned.”

Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN:
“You know there's something badly wrong with the libel law when a serious scientific writer is dragged through the courts for something he didn't even mean to say! Simon Singh's only mistake was not to distinguish clearly enough between ineffective and fraudulent treatments - both of which might equally be termed 'bogus'. The real culprit here is the rich English language and the arcane law of libel.”

Professor Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, and author:
“England's strict libel laws can deter individuals from speaking out against bad science, even when they have strong evidence for their argument. Simon's campaign deserves the support of everyone who cares about fighting pseudoscience.”

Diana Garnham, Chief Executive, The Science Council:
“Delivery of professional health care should be based on science, not libel laws. It goes without saying that all professional health care scientists must be expected to base their professional practice on scientific methodology, encompassing both a rigorous evidence base and open peer review.”

James Randi, CEO and Dr Philip Plait, President, The James Randi Educational Foundation:
“We at the JREF support Simon in his quest for justice. It's clear from his writing that his intent was not to claim that the BCA knowingly commits acts of fraud, but that the BCA is nonetheless incorrect in their claims of the efficacy of chiropractic. Simon is, of course, correct. Furthermore, the ruling, as it stands, would produce a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to question the claims of anyone, including pseudoscientists. Whatever path Simon chooses over this issue, the JREF will be there, and to the best of our ability we'll have his back.”

Professor Sir David King, FRS, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government (2000-2007), Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (University of Oxford):
“It is ridiculous that a legal and outdated definition of a word has been used to hinder and discourage scientific debate. We must be able to fairly and reasonably challenge ideas without the fear of legal intimidation. This sort of thing only brings the law into disrepute.”

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Journalist and columnist:
“Freedom to write is said to be precious and protected in western democracies. That fundamental principle and the right to disagree with people and institutions is being compromised and threatened by those who use the law not for redress but as a warning to those whose views they resent. Many conscientious journalists and authors are finding their hands and tongues are tied. Simon Singh is one of them.”

Professor Chris French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, and Editor of the Skeptic Magazine:
“The use of the English libel laws to silence critical discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence brings shame upon English traditions of free speech, free enquiry and fairness. The British Chiropractic Association's legal action against Simon Singh is a clear indication that the organisation is unable to respond to the substantive aspect of Simon's challenge. There appears to be no substantive evidence in support of the effectiveness of chiropractic in treating a number of specific ailments, contrary to the BCA's publicly issued advice. If such evidence does exist, the BCA should present it. Instead, they have opted to use the perverse English libel laws to silence any criticism. Such action appears to indicate that they do not actually have the evidence to back up their claims.”

Dara O’Briain, Comedian:
“We have to avoid a precedent that puts anyone who writes about these matters from a scientific perspective onto the back foot in the battle against peddlers of misinformation, whether they are knowing or not. The preliminary ruling is a worrying development for comedians as well, a number of whom have been ridiculing the world of dubious medicinal and scientific practices for some time. For example, I may now have to reconsider my routine about homeopathy being a 300 year old con trick.”

Professor Armand Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Imperial College London:
“If the English laws of libel can be used to stifle Singh, then the outlook for public discussion of the science that matters to us most, is bleak indeed.”

Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, Professor of Physics and of the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey:
“It is bad enough that so many dubious therapies still thrive in the 21st century without proper scientific evidence to back them, but to try to gag scientists who quite rightly speak out against them is outrageous.”

Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, Scientific American columnist, author of Why People Believe Weird Things:
“This case is critical for all science writers and investigative journalists, for if our skeptical investigations and subsequent opinions can be squelched through the threat of a ruinously expensive lawsuit, then the result will be that misguided quacks and dishonest frauds can simply say and do what they like without recourse, with disastrous results for the public. There is no place for the law to stop critically important investigations into possible fraudulent or unfounded claims. Without the freedom to perform such important investigations, science and journalism take a back seat to anyone with the legal clout to stop us for their own nefarious reasons.”

Ariane Sherine, Comedy writer and journalist:
“Freedom of expression is essential to democracy. The British Chiropractic Association should be willing to engage in open scientific debate like any reputable medical body - instead, they're being truly spineless.”

Steven Novella ,Director of General Neurology ,Yale University School of Medicine, Editor of Science-Based Medicine and author:
“The BCA's lawsuit is not only anti-free speech, it is anti-scientific, as science requires open and transparent examination and criticism of all claims.”

Ben Goldacre, Bad Science:
"Last year I was sued personally, alongside The Guardian, by a German vitamin pill salesman called Matthias Rath. He had moved into South Africa, a country headed by an HIV denialist president, taking out full-page newspaper adverts claiming that antiretroviral medication was a conspiracy from the pharmaceutical industry to kill africans, and vitamin pills were the answer to the Aids epidemic. I was highly critical of these activities. The libel case brought by Rath dragged on for 17 months and ultimately cost £535,000 to defend. This is not an isolated case, and my thoughts are with Simon Singh. It is vitally important that we are able to criticise ideas and practices in medicine: this is how ideas improve, and it is how foolish, dangerous practices are eradicated. The law is wrong."

Ronald A. Lindsay President & CEO, Center for Inquiry:
“The Center for Inquiry fully supports Simon Singh in his defense of a libel lawsuit brought by the British Chiropractic Association. Those who believe in chiropractic therapies have ample opportunity to present their views to the public; as a matter of public interest, the BCA should allow critics of chiropractic the right of free speech as well.”

Professor Elizabeth Fisher FMedSci, Professor of Molecular Genetics, University College College, Institute of Neurology:
“The British Libel Laws are being abused at home and abroad - they badly need revising to stop us silencing honest debate at home and in the rest of the world.”

Professor Michael Baum MB, FRCS, ChM, MD, FRCR, Professor Emeritus of surgery and visiting professor of medical humanities, University College London:
“The whole scientific community and all those who support evidence and compassion in the care of the sick and all those who think that the search for truth is a laudable activity, must stand shoulder to shoulder with Simon Singh in his fight against a legal system that encourages the propagation of arcane voodoo belief systems whilst inhibiting free speech.”

Professor Raymond Tallis, Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine, University of Manchester:
“The use of libel laws to pre-empt questions about the efficacy of treatments that should be subject to scientific evaluation is potentially catastrophic. It represents a regression to a pre-scientific era when ‘truth’was established on the basis of personal authority of individuals. This trend towards an increasing use of libel laws makes the world less safe for patients who deserve properly evaluated treatments; that is to say for all of us.”

Dr Richard Vranch, Ex-physicist and performer:
“The law should be rigorous, fair and unambiguous in protecting writers who tell the truth about science and pseudo-science.”

Professor Doctor Beda Stadler, Immunologist, University of Bern, Switzerland:
“From abroad this looks like a rebirth of inquisitory methods. Welcome back to medieval times beloved Great Britain!”

Rohit Jaggi, Aviation and Motorcycle Columnist, Financial Times:
“We need to encourage informed debate on this, and any, subject. The current legislation serves to stifle debate - it needs to be reformed as a matter of urgency.”

Bill Thompson, Technology Journalist:
“All English journalists work under the oppressive shadow of our libel laws, and fear of a costly lawsuit has limited the scope of investigation into matters of public interest on too many occasions.”



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