A defence of scientific inquiry

Simon Singh wins leave to appeal in libel case against the British Chiropractic Association

After the Guardian's victory over Carter-Ruck yesterday, there's more good news for the cause of free expression today. The distinguished scientist Simon Singh has been given leave to appeal in the libel case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association.

Singh, who has contributed to the NS in the past, was sued by the BCA after he wrote a piece for the Guardian describing the BCA's claim that spinal manipulation could be used to treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding conditions as "bogus". Surprisingly, Mr Justice Eady ruled that the use of the word "bogus" did not merely imply that the BCA supported ineffective treatments, but that it had been deliberately deceptive.

In fact, the next paragraph of Singh's article made it clear that he was using "bogus" in the former sense:

I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

Nevertheless, Singh was left with the Sisyphean task of proving a point he'd never made: that the BCA had been consciously dishonest.

Today's ruling means he is now free to convince the court of his own intepretation of the piece. In an explicit rebuttal of Eady, Mr Justice Laws described his ruling as "legally erroneous".

A defeat for Singh would set a dangerous legal precedent and could deter others from forcefully exposing pseudoscience. In a speech last month, Richard Dawkins urged the BCA to submit to the "higher court of scientific test". We must hope that it is now forced to do so.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Anatomy of a crisis: the facts on Europe’s refugees

What are the true figures on the crisis – and how many asylum seekers are countries taking?

How many refugees have countries offered resettlement to?

 

With 35,000 refugees offered resettlement, Germany is leading Europe in accepting displaced Syrians. Britain has so far taken in 187.

How many people are applying for asylum in the EU?

In the year ending June 2015, there have been 755,000 applications for asylum to the EU. In July, there were 37,531 to Germany alone.

How many asylum applications are there to the UK?

The UK ranks seventh in terms of the total number of asylum applications. 41% of applications recieve a positive decision.

How many refugees are being hosted by countries in the Middle East?

Turkey has taken in the most refugees, with 2,000,000 Syrians in the country.

How does the EU response to Syrian refugees compare to other nationalities of refugee?

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses

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