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← England's libel laws don't just gag me, they blindfold you

England's libel laws don't just gag me, they blindfold you - Comments

weavehole's Avatar Comment 1 by weavehole

I know it's far too early to tell but I think there may be a positive outcome from all this undoubted stress for Simon Singh. It may, perhaps, help a little to buy a few of his books to ease the strain on his coffers and embiggen your own brain at the same time.


“We are more possible than you can powerfully imagine.”
is genius.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 10:37:00 UTC | #406660

Big Gus's Avatar Comment 2 by Big Gus

The current Libel laws are really a license for organizations with money to silence critics. High time they were changed in my opinion.
I'm off to the book shop to buy one of Simon's books to help him fight his corner.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 10:57:00 UTC | #406666

zeerust2000's Avatar Comment 3 by zeerust2000

I've read "Fermat's Last Theorem" and "The Code Book" Both are brilliant. "Trick or Treatment" is next on my list.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 11:20:00 UTC | #406672's Avatar Comment 4 by

I've read 'Big Bang' and would put it up there as one of the best science books ever. Don't be put off by the cover which looks like a packet of washing powder.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 11:34:00 UTC | #406677

Guneenya's Avatar Comment 5 by Guneenya

Nice work there by the Positive Internet Company. I dropped them a line to let them know I was impressed.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 12:40:00 UTC | #406688

Mango's Avatar Comment 6 by Mango

Positive Internet also helped produce the Ricky Gervais Podcast. A great company to be involved with, it appears.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 12:56:00 UTC | #406694

Sally Luxmoore's Avatar Comment 7 by Sally Luxmoore

Definitely time to buy Simon Singh's books as a gesture of support (and because they are reputedly very good)!
I was put off Fermat's Last Theorem because that kind of maths just frightens me, but Big Bang sounds more approachable...

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 13:36:00 UTC | #406700

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 8 by hungarianelephant

7. Comment #424944 by Sally Luxmoore

I was put off Fermat's Last Theorem because that kind of maths just frightens me

Don't be. It is a really good read. You don't need any maths - when something is essential to the story (like what a proof by induction is), he explains it in terms that even an elephant could understand.

As to the article, I would suggest that Singh's "clear ways forward" are nothing of the kind. If they were, we'd be able to pin them down properly. What exactly constitute "health, safety and other issues"? (emphasis added)

The way to do it is simply to make every public figure - which would include the BCA as the self-appointed voice of chiropractors - fair game for anything unless they can prove malicious falsehood. It works pretty well in the US and would take the better part of an afternoon's business in Parliament. Although I suppose they're pretty busy legislating to get rid of juries in coroners cases, or something similarly vital to the nation.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 14:20:00 UTC | #406712

Apathy personified's Avatar Comment 9 by Apathy personified

Sorry to be a pessimist, but I don't see the libel laws being changed anytime soon - it's like the much promised but never delivered constitutional reforms Britain badly needs (elected House of Lords for one, preferably before Jacqui Smith is placed there) - There's always political talk, but never any action on it.


Although I suppose they're pretty busy legislating to get rid of juries in coroners cases, or something similarly vital to the nation.
Oh? Have they finished legislation on all the unneccessary, billion pound databases they can think of?

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 15:11:00 UTC | #406729

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 10 by Border Collie

I read so many articles and see so many news stories today that have not a shred of useful information and say absolutely nothing. Why should superstitious tripe be protected by the legal system? These snake oil peddlers need to start working for a living like the rest of us. I don't know about you guys, but silencing scientists scares the crap out of me. Go, Simon!!!

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 15:28:00 UTC | #406735

stephenray's Avatar Comment 11 by stephenray

In all areas of law, rich litigants can intimidate other litigants because of the depth of their pockets.

If Mr Singh has faith in the correctness of his article, and is right to have such, in the fullness of time he will be vindicated, receive judgment and a costs order in his favour and the BCA will be poorer (but one suspects not wiser).

I'm getting rather tired of people who know nothing about the intricacies and detail of the law of libel accepting uncritically and repeating every adverse comment that is made about it.

No law is perfect; there are inadequacies of libel law in this country as in others.

The fact that people are scared to say something which they believe - but are not certain - to be true does not seem to be automatically to be bad.

I reject the suggestion that the English law of libel is stifling the progress of science. If there are lots of bloggers being served with take down notices, let's hear from them.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 15:59:00 UTC | #406745

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 12 by hungarianelephant

9. Comment #424973 by Apathy personified

Oh? Have they finished legislation on all the unneccessary, billion pound databases they can think of?

Of course not. That is a project of perpetual revolution. Like criminal justice legislation and the Budget.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 16:01:00 UTC | #406747

BroughtyBoy's Avatar Comment 13 by BroughtyBoy

The legal profession are quite happy with Britains position as the litigation capital of Europe - no change is likely to be forthcoming in the short term.
Incidentally - I too have read "Fermats Last Theorem", and despite still having trouble with the new fangled decimal money, my addled brain found it spellbinding.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 17:22:00 UTC | #406777

Rodger T's Avatar Comment 14 by Rodger T

Dammit‚will you people stop recommending books that I should be reading!

My visa card is showing signs of a nervous breakdown and I have a stack of books that will take me well past my use by date.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 18:33:00 UTC | #406795

rud's Avatar Comment 15 by rud

11. Comment #424989 by stephenray

Libel Laws are more than imperfect. They actually protect people that claim scientific truth... but don't wan't to submit it to real testing.

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 21:51:00 UTC | #406837

TheBlindWatcher's Avatar Comment 16 by TheBlindWatcher

Yes, Singh is the best science author I've ever read. I could not put "Big Bang" down, and stayed up to 2am on nights, only falling asleep could stop me.
"Trick or Treatment" is, likewise, extremely well written. Sing has a great ability to tell a 'story' with excellent structure. No ranting and beautiful logic. I've just bought "The Code Book" and the first chapter is awesome. Buy all his books - for no other reason than good science!

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 23:39:00 UTC | #406855

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 17 by Alternative Carpark

Is there some sort of fund, where we can make some sort of donation towards the costs of his legal bills?

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 00:25:00 UTC | #406867

weavehole's Avatar Comment 18 by weavehole

Alternative Carpark asked

Is there some sort of fund, where we can make some sort of donation towards the costs of his legal bills?

This is from Simon back in June of this year.

Fighting Fund
I have been overwhelmed by offers of financial support. Hundreds of people have got in touch and so far I have been confused about what to do.
The reason that I have been able to fight this case is that I have the financial resources to do so. Three international bestsellers have provided a very comfortable cushion for trouble indirectly caused by 'Trick or Treatment?'. If I lose, then it will be a major financial blow, but my wife and I will be able to cope. Hence, I have asked myself if supporters should donate money to a more need cause, one that this will also help the cause of free speech and science journalism. I currently have two suggestions.
First, Sense About Science deserves your support, because it will be running the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science Campaign, which will be highlighting issues surrounding my case and English libel more generally.
Campaigning requires a great deal of effort, time and resources, and additional financial support will help the campaign to have a major influence.
Second, and this is a longer term goal, I am working with others to establish a fighting fund that will help the next science journalist who faces a libel action to get proper legal advice and to be in a position to defend against the action. Sense About Science needs donations now, but this fighting fund will require donations in the future.

Taken from:
(My bold).

Here is Sense About Science's letter to the Charity Commission re a complaint, well worth a read.
Clicky clicky

Edit: Fixed link and asked Alternative Carpark WTF is that cheeky little flump-like thing in the green hat?

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 06:46:00 UTC | #406913

stephenray's Avatar Comment 19 by stephenray



Which law protects "people that claim scientific truth... but don't want to submit it to real testing"?

Mr Singh's basic problems are i) English libel law requires the 'first mover' - the person making the contentious statement - to prove it to be a) true, and b) not motivated by malice; ii) the judge (against whose decision Mr Singh has been given permission to appeal) held that 'bogus' means more than 'scientifically unproven' but carries clear implications of fraud.

I'm sorry, but I don't see any wholesale inadequacy in libel law that flow from those two factors.

The additional factor which is strongly trumpeted - that as a lone voice in the wilderness, it falls to him to spend his money on defending free speech against the onslaught of those who would use 'the law' to stifle it - is not convincing to me. There is a newspaper involved, and Mr Singh is surely not impecunious. He has not yet given any information about the 'pre-action' phase of the dispute, in which he may well have had the opportunity - as I have said several times previously - to bring this claim to a halt by disowning 'bogus', apologising, and re-writing the article; being more careful with his words and heaping ridicule on the BCA (Ben Goldacre has shown how this sort of thing can be done).

Instead, Mr Singh has (to some extent at least) chosen to fight the BCA on the ground that 'bogus' doesn't mean what they say it means.


If it were, of course, no-one would have to worry: any competent barrister could destroy it in about an hour of cross-examination.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 12:13:00 UTC | #406979

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 20 by Alternative Carpark

@ Weavehole

Thanks for the info.

As for the 'cheeky little flump-like thing in the green hat'. (doesn't look anything like Pootle) ;D

In Japan, there is a weekly wildlife show on NHK called "Darwin ga yatte kita" (Darwin came along). The show is presented by the character in my avatar, "Hige-Jii" (Grandpa beard) - so called because, he is said to have evolved from a piece of Charles Darwin's beard...

Personally, I can't stand the little hirsute bugger, but the fact that it is highly unlikely that such a character could ever appear on prime time TV in America, and other less enlightened regions, even if someone was mad enough to come up with one, makes him a fitting symbol in the fight against evolution denial.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 23:35:00 UTC | #407179

weavehole's Avatar Comment 21 by weavehole


Edit: that should say:
ああ、 す£"い!!

2nd edit:
Oh, sod it.

Wed, 21 Oct 2009 03:16:00 UTC | #407201

Eric Blair's Avatar Comment 22 by Eric Blair

In Canada, newspapers commonly defend themselves against libel suits using the so-called “rolled up” defence of truth and fair comment. To do so, they must show a comment is both true in its substance and, to the extent it includes opinion, a comment on a matter of public interest that is fair and truly believed by the defendant. The issue of malice, or malicious intent, would need to be proved by the plaintiff.

While this would seem to give some solid latitude for critical comment on public issues, clearly any particular judge could still rule against the “reasonable understanding” of the comment, as happened in the pre-trial of Singh's case.

I do agree with Stephenray, however, that the fact this case is proceeding to trial doesn't mean the UK's libel laws offer no hope for defenders of free speech. Singh may well be resisting an uncomfortable but realistic settlement on a point of principle, and to make a broader point.

I think in terms of the credibility of the BCA and chiropractic in general, the point has been clearly made. If his lawyers can find a suitable remedy, there is no shame in backing out, apologizing for his use of a single word, and settling the suit. He need not invite bankruptcy.


Wed, 21 Oct 2009 04:44:00 UTC | #407210

stephenray's Avatar Comment 23 by stephenray

Many people (not necessarily commenting on this thread, but elsewhere on and pharyngula and badscience blog) have adversely contrasted the English law of libel with the way in which the First Amendment [freedom of speech] works in the US.

Anyone who thinks that is a slam-dunk should read this report:

The first amendment can produce quite ridiculous results.

Wed, 21 Oct 2009 10:19:00 UTC | #407239

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 24 by Border Collie

stephenray ... By the time there's enough evidence to please and precedent to sheep, it'll be too late.

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 01:20:00 UTC | #407455

dochmbi's Avatar Comment 25 by dochmbi

You just need some liberty or death attitude there.

Sat, 24 Oct 2009 00:38:00 UTC | #407986

Eric Blair's Avatar Comment 26 by Eric Blair

Stephenray: I'm not sure the "media free to lie" situation is much different in the UK or Canada (which are similar to each other). In Canada, a federal regulator can take away a broadcaster's licence but whether it would do so is another matter. It would more likely just chastise the broadcaster. Newspapers, on the other hand, would only face the wagging finger of a national oversight council.

This only applies to "general" lies, not defamatory lies, which are of course actionable in court.


Fri, 06 Nov 2009 20:03:00 UTC | #411740