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Censorship The Courts United Kingdom Your Rights Online

In the UK, a Victory For Free Speech 130

Posted by kdawson
from the untangling-law-from-science dept.
Forget4it was one of several readers to note that British science writer Simon Singh, whose prosecution for libel we have discussed on several occasions, has won an interim victory in a UK appeals court. "The landmark ruling will allow the writer, whose battle has become a catalyst for demands for libel law reform, to rely on a 'fair comment' defense of his statements about chiropractors. It will also strengthen the position of others — from science writers and medical professionals to bloggers — who face libel suits, as the judges made clear the court was not the place to settle scientific controversies."
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In the UK, a Victory For Free Speech

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  • by Fishead (658061)

    So when can we start having honest discussions about chiropractors and global warming scientists?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fabs64 (657132)

      Yeah, because the skeptics are being suppressed by lawsuits for libel.

      Oh, wait, they're not! Score 1 for free speech.

      Just because we have to let you talk doesn't mean we have to listen.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by daveime (1253762)

        They don't need to be suppressed by lawsuits.

        They are already suppressed by the AGW proponents' built-in safety clause that "anyone with a non-peer reviewed opinion can safely be labelled as crank".

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Vintermann (400722)

        In fact, it's the real scientists who are suppressed by lawsuits. The story of Roger Revelle and Justin Lancaster is a particularly ugly example.

        Revelle was a conservative climate scientist, who waited quite long with asserting that the world was warming as a result of human actions. He was also the one who taught the climatology course Al Gore took in university. While he lay severly ill and dying, Fred Singer persuaded him to put his name to a paper he had authored, allegedly for helping with some details

    • The only libel lawsuit I've ever heard of in the AGW arena is the one mentioned below of a skeptic suing a legitimate scientist after badly twisting some facts around to try to prove a point. ...

      And what was your point exactly?

  • by augustw (785088) <august@kororaa.com> on Friday April 02, 2010 @08:52AM (#31705880)

    Just to be clear, Dr Singh is not being "prosecuted for libel" - that's only for criminal offences, and libel is not a criminal offence, but a civil wrong. He is being sued for libel, in the civil courts, by the BCA.

    • by DAldredge (2353)
      Prosecution - The institution and carrying on of a suit in a court of law or equity, to obtain some right, or to redress and punish some wrong; the carrying on of a judicial proceeding in behalf of a complaining party, as distinguished from defense.
      • by augustw (785088)

        Pedantically true; however, in normal UK usage, a prosecution is a criminal suit, prosecuted by the state, concerning offences against the criminal law. Yes, a civil case may be prosecuted, but it is not a prosecution.

    • He's being prosecuted in a court. Criminals get prosecuted. So he's a criminal; a bad man. It's a basic fact!!

  • by overshoot (39700) on Friday April 02, 2010 @08:55AM (#31705900)
    Yup, the Court used that phrase. The observations on the side aren't legally binding, but they do give a pretty strong indication that the Court was not happy with the insane British libel laws which lead to (as the Court observed) attempting to settle scientific disputes in a court of law.
    • by Trepidity (597)

      Unfortunately, absent a reform by Parliament, it looks like they might be making a "science exception" to avoid intruding into scientific controversies in particular, rather than some legal principle that would apply more generally. In particular, the UK courts have no similar problem wading into historical or political controversies, where the courts can be used to settle the correct version of history; it's only when it comes to science that they get cold feet.

    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      the insane British libel laws
      ... as opposed to the insane American libel laws, where anyone can say anything they like about you - true or untrue - and there is no legal way to stop them. In the UK, you're only allowed to say what you like about someone if it's actually true.

      The insane part is that the original judge decided that something that was substantially true was in fact untrue.

    • by jd (1658)

      It's an impressive phrase, certainly, and one that might result in real change to the system. The problem is, I'm not sure anyone knows what to change the system to. The US system is diametrically opposite in style but identical in effect, encouraging actual harm by exactly the same sort of fringe groups that abuse the British system, also without really giving any effective protection to the voice of those being victimized. In some cases, this is individuals versus individuals (such as the woman who coaxed

  • Original (Score:4, Informative)

    by wakaranai (87059) on Friday April 02, 2010 @08:59AM (#31705916)

    A copy of his original article, has been archived here: http://svetlana14s.narod.ru/Simon_Singhs_silenced_paper.html [narod.ru]

  • Freedom of Thought (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wxjones (721556)
    Freedom of thought of absolute. Action can be regulated by government. Speech is closer to thought than action, and should be as lightly regulated as possible (e.g. forbidding threatening someone with physical harm). It is interesting that no society has explicitly recognized through law freedom of thought. I would guess this is because it seems obvious and what can government do about it anyway? With new technologies coming such as fMRI http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fmri [wikipedia.org], we should be carefully considering
    • We do have an interest in preventing government censorship. We also have an interest in protecting ourselves from false accusations. If somebody were to call me a pedophile, or child pornographer, or terrorist, I could suffer real and unpleasant consequences, despite the fact that I'm none of those. In an ideal world, this wouldn't happen. In this one, it's best if I have a means to defend myself by having a penalty imposed on slanderers and libelers, and if I have some sort of ability to get compensat

  • For the record... (Score:2, Informative)

    by jcr (53032)

    Chiropractic is quackery. Of course, in the UK, they spend tax money on homeopathy, too.

    -jcr

    • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Friday April 02, 2010 @09:08AM (#31705976) Homepage Journal

      Homeopathy works and it is based on a known, scientifically studied effect. The placebo effect.

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by geekoid (135745)

        Wrong.

        You can not base something on a placebo effect. You will not I said A placebo effect. There are different kinds, all are well known, and none heal anything.

        Let me know when they sell a homeopathy birth control that doesn't need actual birth control to go with it. Then we will talk.

        I suggest you make an attempt to actually understand what a placebo effect is before sounding like a wanker.

        Here is a good start:

        http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?cat=5 [sciencebasedmedicine.org]

        • Wrong.

          ... You will not I said A placebo effect.

          A convincing argument. Consider however:

          Placebos have been shown to have the same effect in the brain as pain relief drugs (e.g. Aspirin). It is most effective in double-blind scenarios (patient and doctor don't know there it is a placebo).
          Of course, you can't treat everything with it, and it has to be kept track of.

          Your link just states an opinion of comparability to acupuncture, but provides no evidence. Acupuncture has been shown to be equally effective when using random "energy points".
          http://en.wikiped [wikipedia.org]

        • by ultranova (717540)

          You can not base something on a placebo effect. You will not I said A placebo effect. There are different kinds, all are well known, and none heal anything.

          Placebo effect cures psychosomatic illness just fine. Indirect effects of improved mood - such as getting off your butt and exercising instead of drowning your sorrows on beer - can also have quite a large effect on your health.

          Of course homeopathy won't help with serious illness, but most illnesses are not serious, and will pass by on their own. In suc

          • Of course homeopathy won't help with serious illness, but most illnesses are not serious, and will pass by on their own. In such case, a placebo to alleviate the symptoms - or, rather, how the patient experiences the symptoms - can be the best possible help.

            Perhaps, but I don't think that justifies deliberately deceiving the general public, nor spending tax dollars on what is quite literally making people feel better.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Chiropractic is not totally quackery. It all depends on which school of thought the chiropracter is in: If the chiropracter believes in subluxation, he or she is a quack. If they don't, they can be of some help in those few areas that spinal manipulation can help (primarily back and neck pain). However, a chiropracter generally does no more good than a good massuese.
      • by nomadic (141991)
        However, a chiropracter generally does no more good than a good massuese.

        Exactly, a good chiropractor is basically a masseuse, which means they CAN help their patients out.
        • Exactly, a good chiropractor is basically a masseuse, which means they CAN help their patients out.

          With their colic? Or perhaps with an ear infection? That, after all was what the original article was about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      Chiropractic is not quackery. While I -am- skeptical of all the benefits of it, its pretty common knowledge that if your back goes out of alignment it hurts. When a chiropractor puts it back into place, it stops hurting. Correlation does not imply causation, but when it happens to most everyone, I think it is safe to say that it does help alleviate back pain.
    • Depends on what you mean. But for dislocated joints, they are perfect.
      What I mean are those things, where they practically do a quick jerk that moves everything in place again.
      It’s obvious that this is no quackery, as it is the obvious solution to the problem.
      And then just learned how to do it properly.

      You go there, and the explanation not to be surprised takes longer than the few seconds the action does, and you are done!
      Nothing beats that! :)

      Of course some other parts of what they do are a bit... va

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      There are Chiropractors who are quacks, but the majority are not.

      Real Chiropractors would never make crazy inflated claims about their techniques, like that it can cure cancers. Real Chiropractors generally are also General Practitioners as well, meaning they're just as qualified to diagnose a medical condition as your family doctor.

      The real problem is that there's no way to prevent quacks from using (and sullying) the word "Chiropractor."

      • by h4rm0ny (722443)

        A chiropractor is definitely [b]not[/b] just as qualified as a GP to make diagnoses. An [b]osteopath[/b] is - they're kind of a specialist sub-doctor. An osteopath sometimes knows more about their area than a doctor does and they certainly have more practical experience outside doctors that have it as their particular area. GP's will refer patients to an osteopath, and vice versa, depending on what's wrong or what needs doing. Chiropractors are outside this loop. They are at best, specialist masseurs, at w
        • by Blakey Rat (99501)

          Bullshit.

          I personally know a Chiropractor who is fully licensed as a Family Practice M.D., as is everybody who graduates from his Chiropractic school [palmer.edu] in San Jose. (It's a requirement of the program there.) He proudly calls himself a Chiropractor, and I've never heard him use the term "Osteopath."

          Maybe the terminology in the UK is different than the US. (You didn't say where you are.)

          But I can guarantee you that any graduate of Palmer College is fully qualified and licensed as a Family Practice M.D. as well

    • This essay is a classic. [chirobase.org]

      My favorite quote: "The chiropractic therapeutics rest upon the doctrine that the way to get rid of such pinches is to climb upon a table and submit to a heroic pummeling by a retired piano-mover. This, obviously, is buncombe doubly damned."

      -jcr

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Friday April 02, 2010 @09:23AM (#31706094) Homepage
    From an earlier /. summary:

    In Britain, libel laws don't have any presumption of innocence — any statement made is assumed to be false unless you prove it's true.

    Any false and misleading statement made should then be actionable. If you want to sue Singh for questioning chiropracty's scientific validity, then if and when it is proved conclusively to have no scientific value, every single chiropractor should be civilly liable, even criminally liable, for telling the public that it is valid.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      It'd only be actionable if "made a false statement" was a sufficient condition for libel. It's only a necessary condition. In fact there's no tort which allows you to prosecute someone for simply making a false statement.

  • He still lost. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Friday April 02, 2010 @09:25AM (#31706114)

    "It is extraordinary that this action has cost £200,000 to establish the meaning of a few words."

    Right. If you offend some person or group, you can be bankrupted.

    --
    BMO

  • Meanwhile, in another segment of UK law, free speech is being undermined by the criminalization of "child pornography" that does not include actual photos of actual children. Apparently depicting something harmful is as harmful as doing something harmful.

  • I'm currently reading The Emergence of a Scientific Culture [oup.com] by S. Gaukroger. My interest stems from past readings in epistemology as a study of the methodology of science, and, my interest in Mediterranean death cult religions like Islam, Christianity and Judaism as patriarchal control mechanisms, not unlike induced schizo-affective disorders, that come into play in agrarian societies with controlling oligarchies (monarchies) ensconced in developing urban centres. It's my own take on things that's evolved f

  • It is, unless and until the quacks manage to overturn this decision, now legal to state that you think Chiropractic treatment is a croc-o-shite, as evidenced by the fact that the chose to defend themselves against people suggesting their services are a croc-o-shite using the legal system rather than any providing some good scientific evidencethat their treatments may in fact not be a croc-o-shite. This is indeed a GoodThing.

    In the few cases that Chiropractic treatments have been shown to help, those relatin

  • FFS... "In the UK, a Victory For Free Speech" - what sort of bastardised subject is that? Perhaps stick the important bit up front, with the qualifier at the end?

    Victory for Free Speech in the UK

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