Simon Singh vs. Chiropractic
Anyone following this case... and the judges ridiculous decision in the pre trial?
For some background: Singh wrote an article within the Guardian, which contained the following passage:
"The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."
The BCA felt this passage was liableous, so rather than show their evidence, they sued him.
The pre trial was to determine whether the statement was comment or fact. If comment, then was it fair comment. If fact, was it true and justifiable?
Singh had a defence for each: if it was deemed to be comment then he could easily demonstrate that the comment was fair, given the lack of evidence for the stated treatments. If it was deemed fact, then he could demonstrate that the claims he made were accurate and that the stated treatments were ineffective or without sufficient evidence (i.e. bogus).
The judge determined (via a pre written conclusion) that the statement was fact, however he then defined the term "bogus" in a way that Singh did not use (and was not intending to defend), and as a result it leads to a position that Singh does not actually hold. The judge determined that "bogus" was to mean that the BCA were consciously aware that these treatments did not work and lacked evidence and yet promoted them anyway. Consequently, this renders Singh's comments to mean something different entirely. No longer is Singh saying the six mentioned treatments were without evidence, instead, he was saying the BCA were being consciously deceptive, but this requires that members of the BCA secretly believe that the stuff they practice and promote is without evidence... hardly the case. What is more likely is that most of them really do believe this stuff, so Singh would never be able to prove conscious deception, and nor do I think he would attempt do.
Now I'm no lawyer but it seems to me that when dealing with liable--outside of the UK of course--one has to take into account what the original author intended to mean, as well as how that persons comments could potentially be read, irrespective of the authors intended meaning. In both of these cases I think Singh should be vindicated. First, Singh does not believe the BCA were being consciously deceptive, so it is unfair to render his comments to mean that. Second, I do not see how anyone reading his comments can think that is what he was saying, indeed, in the following paragraph he even elaborates on the meaning of his criticism. How would people here interpret the quoted paragraph above, in particular the word 'bogus'?
It seems that now Singh would have to effectively concede the case and settle, or demonstrate something that he neither believes to be true nor is true. There is also appeal, but that may not be successful.
I have to say the British liable law, in particular our reverse burden of proof, where the defendant must refute the claims made by the plaintiff, rather than the plaintiff demonstrating the claims being true, is disgraceful. In British law, if I sue you for comments which you regard as liableous, I do not have to demonstrate that the claims was liableous before the claim is accepted, instead YOU would have to demonstrate that your comments were NOT liableous!
If the laws regarding liable was fair, and inline with the rest of the law, then it would seem the BCA would have to prove those treatments do what they say they do, or that Singh meant X, or they his comments could be read as X.
The Jack of Kent skeptic/law blog has an ongoing detailed review: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/05/bca-v-singh-astonishingly-illiberal.html http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-should-simon-singh-do-next.html
"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan