[FoRK] Suing chiropractic critic for libel

Jebadiah Moore jebdm at jebdm.net
Sun Oct 18 05:53:34 PDT 2009


Online petitions are a bit sketch, but this one has some moderately
important-looking signatories, and the issue is fairly interesting:

"The law has no place in scientific disputes"
http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/334/

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.

-- 
Jebadiah Moore
http://jebdm.net


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