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SIMON SINGH STANDS UP TO LIBEL CLAIMS

Posted in Derren's Posts

Posted by Derren Brown June 4, 2009 at 10:11 am

 I have put my name to a petition that feels that libel laws should not be used to silence discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence. This is following the British Chiropractic Association bringing a libel case against Simon Singh for questioning the evidence relating to their claims. It seems to many people, including your blogger, that the response to this should be open debate and defending of claims, not suing the respected author of an article for highlighting such doubts.

Simon has taken the brave move of appealing the pre-trial ruling, and Sense About Science have joined with him to gather support for the freedom of speech issue that underpins this. It can all be read about here. Simon is quoted as saying:

 

“It has been a stressful and frustrating twelve months since I published my article on chiropractors and their attempts to treat children with conditions such as asthma. The British Chiropractic Association’s decision to sue me for libel has been an enormous drain on my time and energy. However, the support that I have received from family, friends, readers, bloggers, scientists, journalists and those who care about free speech has been incredible, and it has played a crucial role in my decision to continue defending my article and fighting the libel action.

More importantly, everyone agrees that there is something fundamentally wrong with the English libel laws, which have a chilling effect on journalists, whether they write about science or anything else, whether they live in Britain or anywhere else. Hence, I am delighted that so many individuals and organisations have come together to launch a campaign with Sense About Science to highlight how the English libel laws clash with the right to discuss science in a frank and fair way. The Keep Libel Laws out of Science Campaign will also raise issues related to my particular libel case, and it will encourage a debate on the reform of the English libel system.

The campaign launch revolves around the statement shown below, and I would urge anyone who cares about science or free speech to show support by signing up.

And I would also encourage you to make your friends and colleagues aware of the issues at stake and ask them to sign up. It is possible that the time is right for major libel reform in England, which will then allow scientists and journalists to write with less fear of being intimidated.”

Let’s hope so. 

x

COMMENTS
June 4, 2009 at 10:23 am
Leon says:

Signed by me (even though I’m not 100% sure what it is.
Anyway, me and my friends had an amazing time at your show last night,
Utterly spectacular, can’t wait for your next tour! (and you signed my book)



June 4, 2009 at 11:05 am
tash says:

i.ll sign too sounds like a good campaign, i think. I’m a bit confused too.


June 4, 2009 at 11:08 am
Slugsie says:

Signed.

Let’s stop the quackery!


June 4, 2009 at 11:08 am
Ms G says:

Signed and forwarded.


June 4, 2009 at 11:12 am
Mike says:

Sorry Derren but I disagree, Simon Singh was recruited by Edzard Ernst to make these crazy accusations, and he has voiced his ‘opinion’ without fully investigating the scientific evidence.

Edzard has been making these claims for years and this is from a ‘scientist’ whose research only quotes himself!! Not a good idea if you want to be a respected researcher.

Chiropractors are utterly fantastic and they are capable of helping patients that other healthcare professions purely just can’t help. I have been to a Chiropractor and he made my pain go away and gave me excellent advise that all the other healthcare professions did not supply and I have been pain free ever since.

In fact, just this week Chiropractic treatment was added to the NHS guidelines for low back pain, vindication that Chiropractic works and that Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst are wrong!


June 4, 2009 at 11:30 am
Donald says:

Mike, Derren is criticising the British Chiropractic Association’s decision to respond to Singh’s questioning of the evidence for chiropractic with legal means. It seems more like an attempt to silence a critic rather than promote discussion of a controversial area of alternative medicine.
I’ve no doubt that a treatment that involves manipulation of the spine can help with lower back pain; however many chiopractors, the BCA included, make claims beyond this (such as treating asthma) that simply have no evidence to back them up. Questions regarding these practices should be met by the chiropractors presenting evidence for them, not attempting to use the law to silence and intimidate.


June 4, 2009 at 11:33 am
Sybil Harris says:

Signed and sealed! I feel it almost looks like an insecurity on their part to take this case forward… as already mentioned, why don’t they use the time more constructively by producing the supporting evidence?

In response to Mike (above), I think Singh’s case is specifically disputing chiropractic claims in response to the cure of certain childrens’ ailments.


June 4, 2009 at 11:35 am
Derek says:

I support this both on the basis that criticism is essential to scientific progression, and that giving people quack treatments for serious illnesses is very dangerous.


June 4, 2009 at 11:45 am
ricoculous says:

“Sorry Derren but I disagree, Simon Singh was recruited by Edzard Ernst to make these crazy accusations, and he has voiced his ‘opinion’ without fully investigating the scientific evidence.”

One of the main issues of concern within the scientific community regarding this case, is the use of libel law to deal with a situation which could have been resolved through transparent public debate of the available evidence.

You say the accusations are “crazy” and the scientific evidence hasn’t been investigated fully. Please could you clarify this by posting links to the research or papers upon which you have based your own opinion?

Similarly, simply because a treatment is not necessarily efficacious simply through endorsement by an allegedly reputable organisation. David Colquhoun has an excellent analysis of this issue in healthcare regulation here: http://www.dcscience.net/?p=1284

M.


June 4, 2009 at 11:46 am

Mike, the issue is not about chiroprators treating back pain (although they do nothing that a good physiotherapist couldn’t do). It’s the other ailments that chiropractors claim they can cure.
It’s interesting you should mention scientific evidence, because chiropractic hasn’t provided any evidence for their claims. That’s the whole point. If chiropractic had any credible evidence (and I mean proper clinical trials showing that they could cure anything other than a bad back), they would present that evidence as a counter to any opinions that Simon Singh printed.
Instead they chose to sue him to try and shut him up. A silly move frankly, since it is just spreading the word that they are a bunch of quacks.
English libel law needs to change – full stop. If this ruling stands it leaves the door open for any idiot to practise whatever ‘medical cure’ they like without fear of opposition.


June 4, 2009 at 11:47 am
ricoculous says:

That last paragraph made no sense. Second time lucky:

Similarly, a treatment is not necessarily efficacious simply due to endorsement by an allegedly reputable organisation. David Colquhoun has an excellent analysis of this issue in healthcare regulation here: http://www.dcscience.net/?p=1284


June 4, 2009 at 11:58 am
Jenny says:

Slightly concerning that people are willing to sign a petition regarding something they don’t fully understand – it won’t do much for its credibility. I will be signing and support any call for evidence from those making claims about the effectiveness of any form of medical/therapeutic/educational intervention.


June 4, 2009 at 11:59 am
Paul B says:

Hi Mike,

Wether you agree with Derren or not, you should still support this – it is to stop Law invading into scientific debate, where it doesn’t belong.

This isn’t about who’s right or wrong – it’s about stopping people using libel laws to avoid having to debate their side of the argument.

as you were,
Paul B


June 4, 2009 at 12:06 pm
Paul B says:

Derek is correct – it’s vital to science that peoples findings are continually critiqued and challenged, this is how science works. You come up with a theory – you attempt to prove the theory wrong (this is an imporant step, conspiricy theory fans – you try to prove it *wrong*, not *right*) – eventually, you open it up to your peers, who then also attempt to prove it wrong. After no one can manage to prove it wrong, it’s accepted as correct.

No scientist should ever get upset or angry when someone attempts to disprove his theory – they should welcome it. They also shouldn’t get upset if it *is* proved wrong – after all, when something is proved wrong, we’ve learnt something else about how the universe works – scientists should never get upset by this.

This applies to life in general as well – you should never get upset by someone trying to prove your ideas or theories wrong, they are essentially trying to prove your theory or idea is actually correct.

You yourself should always be questioning your own theories, ideas and beliefs. When you stop this, you are closing your mind to understanding.

Paul B


June 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm
Justin says:

I think there are two separate issues at the heart of this. Firstly, Simon Singh stated in his column that the BCA “happily promotes bogus treatments”. This suggests that they know that they are duping people. I’d suggest that whatever treatments they provide, they hope will help people. Not having scientific evidence doesn’t make it ‘bogus’, just unproven, and I think there’s a difference.

Secondly, I think the BCA made a mistake in suing because it does rather suggest a defensive attitude and doesn’t help their position in continuing discussions about their work. I do wonder who the winner in all of this will be. Probably the lawyers…


June 4, 2009 at 12:11 pm
~Mojo~ says:

Chiropractic has been making outlandish claims regarding their approach to healing for many years. The founder of chiropractic medicine(D.D. Palmer) was involved with magnetic healing and spiritualism. His claim to have restored a man’s hearing by “aligning” his spine has never been proven and seems unlikely. I agree that chiropractic can indeed help those with back pain, but only when accompanied by massage, exercise, good nutrition, and from time to time (gasp) medicine. Chiropractic cannot cure AIDS, blindness,cancer, herpes, influenza, deafness or even the common cold and it is wrong for practitioners of this pseudo- science to make claims that they can.
It is important that we, here in the 21st century, keep asking probing questions. Remain skeptical of outrageous claims. It just may be a trick.


June 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm
Siobhan says:

Interesting post and important issue… but the most interesting thing here is a number of comments where people agree to sign even though they are not sure what they are signing… come on lads, look into the issue and make sure that you understand it fully before you go off and sign just because you were asked to!!


June 4, 2009 at 12:18 pm
Hayley says:

My friend damaged her back a few months ago and spent a fortune on a private chiropractor. I told her it’s about as effective as voodoo (it sometimes works if you believe in it) and urged her to seek physiotherapy. She did, and 2 visits later she was back at work and almost pain-free, having seen an actual doctor using proven methods as opposed to a quack.

I shall certainly be sending her this link, thanks very much for the heads-up. x


June 4, 2009 at 12:28 pm
ricoculous says:

“I agree that chiropractic can indeed help those with back pain, but only when accompanied by massage, exercise, good nutrition, and from time to time (gasp) medicine”

Reminds me of the old line: “Q: What do you call alternative medicine that works? A: Medicine”.

What? Only one, distant, half-hearted clap?


June 4, 2009 at 1:23 pm
James says:

Shioban said:
“… look into the issue and make sure that you understand it fully before you go off and sign just because you were asked to!!”

Oh please … if anyone really did that, would “Trick or Treat” have ever made it to air?!?!

😛


June 4, 2009 at 2:20 pm
ReliegiousMarie says:

am signing it!

SS has a good case if he takes this to the European Court under freedom of expression. The very fact that he himself is punished for something quite arguable ´bogus´ meaning ´fact´ instead of ´opinion´…is disproportionate, as calling a treatment bogus, can never be seen as a fact it would mean my doctor would give me a litteral bogus if i came for a prescription.

Besides, i as a clear-thinking-rational-information-seeking human being, am Insulted and appaled that a libal law wants to think for me and take-away my view of others ´opinions.


June 4, 2009 at 3:37 pm
Siobhan says:

@ James… I was shouting ‘Oh my God… read the contract!’ at the telly then too!!


June 4, 2009 at 3:44 pm
jameshogg says:

Signed

The more the better guys! Get more to sign! 🙂


June 4, 2009 at 4:03 pm
gary says:

Simon Singh? Is this the same guy who wrote one of my fav books “The Code Book?”

Hmmm…


June 4, 2009 at 4:06 pm
KatM says:

Have read the statement and signed. Also been to vote. Exercise your democratic rights everyone!


June 4, 2009 at 4:09 pm
Diana says:

Although I tend to ‘distrust’ chiropracters I think the larger issue at hand is quite worrying. The right to free speech is progressively being eroded right underneath our noses.

What next? Are our children going to live in George Orwell’s world depicted in 1984?

Please take action and sign the petition!


June 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

Siobhan: a friend of mine watched that show with a lawyer, apparently it was as entertaining as the show because he raged about the legality of the contract and waxed lyrical over whether it constitutes informed consent.
I can’t believe nobody grabbed theirs and ran, to sell on Ebay later.


June 4, 2009 at 7:42 pm
Vesh says:

Didn’t Simon Singh accuse Derren of being a liar or something once? *shrugs*

Anyway about the legal thing, the liable law is the wrong way round in this country, I hate to agree with americans but they have it better in this case. The Simon Singh guy is going up against a multimillion dollar industry, he probably won’t win, but he is right at least, chiropracters, CAM and accupuncturists etc have no place in healthcare peddaling their nonesense. They should prove THEIR claims first.


June 4, 2009 at 8:59 pm
Jessabelle says:

Signed.

Heard about this through various other sites when the news of the lawsuit first broke some time ago, and wondered what would become of the situation. Hope Simon’s appeal is a success!


June 4, 2009 at 9:52 pm
Silvia-Portugal says:

i’ve signed it too


June 4, 2009 at 11:33 pm

[…] Derren Brown comments on the situation. […]


June 5, 2009 at 2:11 am

“Signed by me (even though I’m not 100% sure what it is.”

You know, this is one of the reasons I love this blog. Fans blindly following their hero and do whatever their master asks of them even though they don’t even understand what they are being asked to do. It’s actually quite scarey!! “Oh Derren did this, I will too”. Sheep! Not even any mind bending in sight.


June 5, 2009 at 10:02 am
ScreamingGreenConure says:

He kind of has a point. I have no quarrel with the cause in question and I think suing Singh for calling chiropractic asthma cures bogus is terrible, but if Derren Brown told you all to sign a statement about how kicking babies is awesome would you do it?
You shouldn’t put your name to something you don’t understand well enough to be sure about. Come on, your word is worth more than that, guys. It’s not like Derren Brown is going to come and beat you up if you wait for a bit to find out more about what you are signing, or decide you don’t support it after all. Probably not, anyway. I mean, they do have your IP, but that doesn’t give exact addresses. Anyway, it’ll be ok.
And I’m not aiming this at people who would have signed whether they were told to or not.


June 5, 2009 at 11:42 am
Siobhan says:

@ SGC… but kicking babies IS awesome…

‘Baaa’


June 5, 2009 at 12:47 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

Hm. Yes, good point – bad example, my apologies.


June 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm
ReliegiousMarie says:

@Rogan Josh…butbuut Derren ´is´ our Master and you don´t know half what he does to us!…you wouldn´t judge us all so harshly if you ever were tied down in a cellar for 5 days in a row, upside down, by the man…sheesh c´mon be fair :mrgreen:


June 5, 2009 at 3:10 pm
Siobhan says:

I should rephrase a previous comment…

‘come on lads, look into the issue and make sure that you understand it fully before you go off and sign just because you were asked to!!’

to
‘come on lads, look into the issue and make sure that you understand it fully before you go off and sign just because you think that you were asked to!!’

Just to be correct!


June 5, 2009 at 4:01 pm
pulse says:

Prof Edzard Ernst has added to the debate, questioning whether chiropractors are destroying their own reputation by continuing to promote chiropractic for conditions for which there’s no evidence it works.


June 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Mike, this is not so much a question about whether Simon Singh is right or wrong about chiropractic, it is a question of whether or not the accusation of libel correctly applies to him. The purpose of libel law is to protect people from smear campaigns designed to attack their personal character by making false accusations about them. It is not intended to stop debate about the scientific evidence or lack thereof for a particular claim. The proper rebuttal to a claim that scientific evidence has not demonstrated a particular effect is to cite evidence that DOES demonstrate that effect–this is how the BCA could have honorably opposed Simon Singh. Now if Simon Singh has attacked chiropractic by accusing SPECIFIC chiropractors or organizations of misconduct but had no evidence of said misconduct, then he is guilty of libel. ( Note the “no evidence” part. It isn’t libel if the accusation is justified. ) I haven’t read Simon Singh’s works so I’m not familiar with the specific claims he makes, but I’ve seen enough quack science being promoted by chiropractors that it would not surprise me in the least if their accusation of libel turned out to be completely unjustified.


June 8, 2009 at 11:31 pm
L says:

SS has used all his contacts, Ernst who seems to have the ear of every paper in the UK, to put a story in the national press stating there was not a jot of evidence. Obviously there is some evidence or almost certainly the desicion would have gone in SS favour. The BCA could have responded to SS by merely showing this evidence, but the BCA could never get the headlines that SS had in a national news paper. A 2 line article stating Oh there is some evidence could not undo the damage caused by SS massive headline. And lets not forget this massive headline grabbing story was there to promote SS new book.


June 11, 2009 at 12:36 am

I don’t think people should sign if they don’t understand but if you want more information look here (this is not my site)

http://www.zenosblog.com/2009/05/loads-of-bloggers-have-been-well.html


June 11, 2009 at 1:11 am
pv says:

L Said:
“SS has used all his contacts, Ernst who seems to have the ear of every paper in the UK, to put a story in the national press stating there was not a jot of evidence. Obviously there is some evidence or almost certainly the desicion would have gone in SS favour. ”

This is completely wrong. The case was not about whether there is evidence (which there isn’t for the most part in fact). The case on which the Judge has made a preliminary ruling is about whether the BCA knowingly make evidence-free claims. The operative word is “knowingly”.
The matter of evidence, its existence or otherwise, is entirely outside Judge Eady’s remit and has no bearing on his ruling. But if you are interested then you should consult the various chiropractor associations, like the BCA, to see what they think constitutes “evidence”. I can assure you that it barely gets past the consumer questionnaire level, and when it does it seems to be restricted at best to improperly blinded trials comparing one chiropractic treatment with another – not with either proven real treatments or placebo treatments. The reason for doing shoddy trials I think is obvious when properly blinded and well run trials constantly fail to produce the evidence they so desire.


March 22, 2010 at 10:54 pm
BigH says:

Simon Singh’s attempts to defend himself by claiming science is under attack are manipulative. if his article had merely presented the lack of evidence for some chiropractic services, of course he would never have been sued. He chose to write a damning piece of journalism, not a considered scientific piece of writing. Why should journalists with a scientific background be free to libel? Until evidence-based healthcare has all the answers, which it clearly doesn’t, we should be free to spend our money on other forms of healthcare if we wish – and individuals like Simon Singh are encouraging moves which restrict that freedom more and more.


April 21, 2010 at 6:23 pm
kei says:

Has anyone considered the knock on effect of this case before jumping on the “free speech” band wagon? Due to this case libel laws will be reviewed which certainly has it’s benefits but it also means any alternative practitioner, not just chiropractors, will be harshly restricted in what they can claim to treat. Modern science does not always fit into the way CAM therapists work yet thousands of people every day benefit from treatment. So even if a therapist has successfully treated hundreds of children with colic over many years they will not be able to claim this as it has not be proved modern scientific language, how’s that for free speech? Is it fair to destroy so many people’s lively hoods and restrict patients treatment over a tittle tattle case? More informed debate is needed!


April 22, 2010 at 9:59 am
screaminggreenconure says:

The knock on effects are great and I am happy about this. If someone cannot prove that their treatment is really, really working significantly above placebo level then what makes it ok that they pretend otherwise? Is it fair to lie to sick people to make money? Modern science works on evidence, which is why it doesn’t always fit in with the way CAM treats things. If you do not have the evidence, do not make the claim – and if you DO have the evidence and are criticised by someone like Simon Singh, don’t fight it with libel laws. Fight it with EVIDENCE. Prove it. If a CAM practitioner finds themselves being called bogus, then if they can prove otherwise they win – no libel law required.


April 22, 2010 at 10:03 am
screaminggreenconure says:

BigH, there’s nothing to stop a journalist writing a damning piece about NHS healthcare or overprescription of antibiotics either, and that’s the way it should be. And what do you mean by “all the answers?” Do you think that’s remotely possible within our lifetimes, or even the lifetime of our species as a whole?
Also, what’s stopping you spending your cash on a chiropractor? If you think listening to Bjork will cure colic you’re free to buy all her albums, just don’t expect your claims to go unchallenged.


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