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← [UPDATE 6-16] Support Simon Singh

[UPDATE 6-16] Support Simon Singh - Comments

wetbread's Avatar Comment 1 by wetbread

Where do I sign?

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 10:26:00 UTC | #367630

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 2 by Richard Dawkins

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 10:38:00 UTC | #367637

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 3 by Steven Mading

Being an American, I have to admit to ignorance about how British libel laws work. Here in the 'States, to be sucessfully sued for libel it's not enough to simply say bad things about someone, they have to prove both (A) that the things you said caused them actual harm (for example, demonstrate how the things you said about a company affected the company's sales figures), and (B) That you knew you were well aware that you were being dishonest when you said what you said. If what you said was true, or if it was false but it was an honest mistake rather than being deliberately dishonest, you don't get in trouble. It's very hard for the plantiff to prove a libel case in the US.

It seems like, from what I can see here in this case, that in British law all that matters is that it causes harm, and whether or not you were right is irrelevant. If that's actually how it works, then that's quite chilling.

(Although the flipside is that American law is too lenient about it, which is what allows people like Bill O'Rielly to pass off outright lies about people as being "news".)

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 10:40:00 UTC | #367639

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 5 by Richard Dawkins

It seems like, from what I can see here in this case, that in British law all that matters is that it causes harm, and whether or not you were right is irrelevant. If that's actually how it works, then that's quite chilling.
There may be lawyers reading this who can give an authoritative answer. If you go up to my introductory remarks and click on "a goldmine for litigious chancers" you'll be taken to an article in the Wall Street Journal, which states the following:-
Unlike in the United States, where plaintiffs have to prove that the defendant's statement is willfully false and defamatory, the burden of proof is reversed in Britain. According to U.K. libel laws, the plaintiff has to show only that the statement harms his reputation -- which is the case with almost any accusation, true or false. It is the defendant who must then prove that his allegations were not libelous.
No wonder Britain's libel laws have become the laughing stock of the civilized world.


Thu, 04 Jun 2009 10:48:00 UTC | #367642

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 4 by Steve Zara

I will certainly sign up. What interests me is if Singh wins, will that set some kind of precedent so changing the law?

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 10:48:00 UTC | #367641

Damien Trotter's Avatar Comment 6 by Damien Trotter

Richard, that's one helluva list!

However, I notice that Sir Harry Kroto is not on it. The more Nobel Prize winners on it, the better. And I bet he would sign up to the campaign.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 10:49:00 UTC | #367645

decius's Avatar Comment 7 by decius

I wonder how libel laws could have been interpreted to protect anything else but individuals and if this is customary praxis in the UK.
The inclusion of practices or guilds seems to bizarrely overstretch the concept of defamation.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:08:00 UTC | #367654

Baron Scarpia's Avatar Comment 8 by Baron Scarpia

Comment #384815 by Richard Dawkins

I remember reading the judgement for the David Irving Case. Being what it was, it had to be very comprehensive, which included a statement of the legal position. And yes, it was very much what you say.

In other words, all Irving had to do was claim that Deborah Lipstadt's book damaged his reputation. It was then up to Lipstadt to show that she was doing no more than telling the truth.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:09:00 UTC | #367655

Steve13's Avatar Comment 9 by Steve13

Prof. Colquhoun is on the list if you follow the link to the actual website.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:12:00 UTC | #367656

Rosbif's Avatar Comment 10 by Rosbif


Here in France there are many "alternate" medical practices which can be used if people wish to.
However, treating children is strictly regulated.

What I find pernicious (to use one of RD's favourite words) about this is that they claim they can treat children for these ailments, knowing full well that distrought parents will do anything to help their offspring.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:15:00 UTC | #367657

clodhopper's Avatar Comment 11 by clodhopper

The spine of the BCA is seriously out of alignment. I recommend homeopathy.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:18:00 UTC | #367659

Baron Scarpia's Avatar Comment 12 by Baron Scarpia

Oh, and Steve -

What interests me is if Singh wins, will that set some kind of precedent so changing the law?

I expect that Singh would appeal in the Court of Appeal, which is only one step down from the House of Lords. This means that whatever decision the Court of Appeal makes will become binding on both itself and all other courts.

It will not be binding on the House of Lords. However they will not be able to say anything about the Court of Appeal's decision unless they get to hear the case themselves, or they eventually hear a similar case. And what they say, goes, for absolutely everyone.

However, of course, no court can rewrite what has been written in the Defamation Act, as Parliament is the ultimate law maker. On the other hand, judicial interpretation can stretch incredibly far...

Courts cannot force the government to change any Act of Parliament. The closest I've heard of them doing so concerns the European Convention on Human Rights. If the court finds that a particular Act breaches the Convention, they make a Statement of Incompatibility. They still have to apply the Act, and the government is under no obligation to change the law, but it does put pressure on them.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:19:00 UTC | #367660

Dehumanizer's Avatar Comment 13 by Dehumanizer

Stephen Fry:

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.

Loved it. :)

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:21:00 UTC | #367661

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 14 by Steve Zara

I disagree just a bit with Stephen Fry:

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.

This should not be about reputations, but fairness. We should rise in indigation at any use of the libel laws to shut someone up in this way, no matter what their reputation.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:31:00 UTC | #367662

Brian English's Avatar Comment 15 by Brian English

Steve, what if that person has justly earned a reputation for spurious libel cases designed to cruel free speech?

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:36:00 UTC | #367663

ukvillafan's Avatar Comment 16 by ukvillafan


The libel laws effectively protect legal persons, not just individuals. A company or an organisation can be such a legal "person" and, hence, able to utilise the law.

The legal burden of proof is on the defendant, in general, not the person claiming to have been defamed, but I am not an expert in libel law.

I have signed. Sadly, British politicians seem to be ather busy on other things at the moment

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:40:00 UTC | #367664

Bullet-Magnet's Avatar Comment 17 by Bullet-Magnet

Signed and signed. I feel like a real activist.

I wondered whether I should make myself available for being sued by the BCA, but I'm not so sure that division of resources would be that effective a tactic, or even possible in this context. Damn.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:46:00 UTC | #367666

robotaholic's Avatar Comment 18 by robotaholic

Comment #384838 by Brian English

haha! lollmfaobbq!

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:48:00 UTC | #367668

Dave Crossley's Avatar Comment 20 by Dave Crossley

For more information on how Britain ended up with this state of affairs google 'Justice Eady'

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:51:00 UTC | #367670

decius's Avatar Comment 19 by decius

Comment #384837 by Steve Zara

I disagree just a bit with Stephen Fry:


No one may disagree with either Stephen Fry or epeeist. (I enjoy special dispensation to insult the latter at will, though.)

Comment #384839 by ukvillafan

Thanks, that explains the situation.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:51:00 UTC | #367669

Simon Wilson's Avatar Comment 21 by Simon Wilson

I've signed.

I havent got a clue who this Simon Singh is, but whether I know or like him is irrelevant. The right to disagree is a fundamental part of democracy.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:51:00 UTC | #367671

the way's Avatar Comment 22 by the way

Thank you for posting this, and I hope that reason will prevail.

Bon courage

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:53:00 UTC | #367673

stephenray's Avatar Comment 23 by stephenray


I still don't see that the law is 'a laughing stock', and I'm sad to be disagreeing with RD.

But if A alleges that B damaged his garden wall by careless driving, A has to prove it. He brings the first accusation.

If A alleges that B is a charlatan, a mountebank, and a fraudster, why in this case should B - A bringing the first accusation again - have to disprove the allegation?

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 11:59:00 UTC | #367676

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

Comment #384846 by Simon Wilson

There is a right to disagree. What this is about is organisations using libel laws inappropriately as a way to shut people up. If Singh had simply said that he disagreed that chiropractice was effective there would probably have been no problem. The problem was an interpretation if Singh's words that made it seem like he was suggesting that the BCA was not just wrong but dishonest.

I really don't think this issue is about science. It isn't about the effectiveness of alternative medicine. I think it is a far wider issue. It is about bullying using libel laws. I think there should be libel laws, but they are so easy to misuse, as anyone who remembers Robert Maxwell should know.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 12:00:00 UTC | #367677

Sciros's Avatar Comment 25 by Sciros

stephenray, it is a way to protect freedom of speech.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 12:05:00 UTC | #367679

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 26 by Steve Zara

Comment #384854 by Sciros

If someone goes around calling me a fraud and saying that my scientific degrees are invalid, it should be up to them to prove it.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 12:09:00 UTC | #367680

Clappers's Avatar Comment 27 by Clappers

I am going to be at Conway Hall on Saturday when there is a whole day of lectures, starting with Ricahrd Dawkins and ending with A C Grayling. I am sure many people will be commenting and telling us what we can do to help push through the change that is needed.

Not sure it has helped that NICE is now approving Chiropractic etc. for certain back problems.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 12:18:00 UTC | #367682

Dehumanizer's Avatar Comment 28 by Dehumanizer

Someone says "your claims aren't supported by evidence".

A scientist shows the evidence.

A liar sues.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 12:39:00 UTC | #367690

gedwarren's Avatar Comment 29 by gedwarren

Comment #384851 by stephenray

stephenray, you've got that wrong - the BCA is bringing the case, therefore they should have the burden of proof.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 13:02:00 UTC | #367696

ergaster's Avatar Comment 30 by ergaster

Many of the signatories are my personal heroes - folks who write books (Dawkinsw, Shermer) and folks who exudes science in their work (Fry, Gervais). Pity that those people has to devote time to senseless nonsense like this.

Thu, 04 Jun 2009 13:08:00 UTC | #367698