Simon Singh wins

Simon Singh is a physicist and author who has been facing legal challenges from a bunch of U.K. chiropractors who sued after he called them out for being quacks. His legal woes at first looked mournful as decisions were going against him, but he has just won his appeal.

Dr Singh questioned the claims of some chiropractors over the treatment of certain childhood conditions.

The High Court had said the words were fact not opinion – meaning Dr Singh could not use the fair comment defence.

However, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley ruled High Court judge Mr Justice Eady had “erred in his approach” last May, and allowed Dr Singh’s appeal.

BBC News science correspondent Pallab Ghosh says that, had Justice Eady’s ruling stood, it would have made it difficult for any scientist or science journalist to question claims made by companies or organisations without opening themselves up to a libel action that would be hard to win.

Two things. First, the U.K. has extravagant names for its justices. Second, this is great news for science. It’s an all too common tactic of quacks to threaten lawsuits. Their goal is to quash criticism; they damn well know what they pedal has little to no evidence. To expose that fact is to undermine the whole PR machine that keeps these people in business.

Dr Singh described the ruling as “brilliant”, but added that the action had cost £200,000 “just to define the meaning of a few words”.

Again, the hope of the chiropractors was that this excessive cost associated with these legal matters would result in a settlement. The Guardian, where Singh’s article originally appeared, had even offered to pay to settle. Fortunately, Singh fought for the intergrity of the scientific process and pushed ahead with all the court proceedings. (The Guardian still chose to pay for his legal advice.)

The British Chiropractic Association said it was disappointed to lose the appeal but it was “not the end of the road”.

BCA president Richard Brown said: “We are considering whether to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and subsequently proceed to trial.

“Our original argument remains that our reputation has been damaged. The BCA brought this claim only to uphold its good name and protect its reputation, honesty and integrity”.

The distinction between chiropractors with real medical training who can actually offer people help and sometimes even effective therapy versus those who are just quacks is becoming increasingly useless because the field has such low standards. I have no idea what Richard Brown is thinking when he actually claims his association has this so-called honesty and integrity. Perhaps it’s fair to say a few individuals are reputable (within particular constraints and boundaries), but as a whole? No. Even if this decision went against Singh (forcing him to defend his comments as fact as opposed to opinion), he would still eventually win. It’s just too implausible to think so many people can honestly think so many things to be true without any evidence.

Oh wait.

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