Now charlatans will know to beware the geeks

A year ago, I went to a London pub to speak at a meeting for the apparently doomed cause of libel reform. Simon Singh had written an article which was true and important about the dangers of the quack therapy of chiropractic healing. Then, like so many authors and publishers before him, he learned English law persecuted rather than protected honest argument and that he was in trouble.

The British Chiropractic Association was suing him for saying that there was “not a jot of evidence” that its members could help sick children by manipulating babies’ spines in accordance with the teachings of a more-than-usually nutty American faith healer.

Well-run societies do not defend men who make money from worried parents and, more seriously, fob off their children with bogus “cures”. In his wisdom, however, Mr Justice Eady decided that the law would intervene to silence a debate on public health..

Carry on reading

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13 thoughts on “Now charlatans will know to beware the geeks

  1. The geeks and nerds will be happy you say Star Wars is a B-movie. They’re the last people you’d want to alienate.

  2. My dear man, I wish you would examine “religion”, as you call it – meaning any religion except yours. What you have done so far is repeat cliches. Your ability to understand any doctrine except yours is practically zero.

    However, this is a great victory. With any luck, the principle of free discussion has been restored to Britain after a decade of lawyer-driven drift. I hope it is an omen for the collapse of other things that have grown rotten and poisonous during the same period.

  3. I forgot to say: one of my heroes, Karl Popper, once said that the goal of education ought to be to enable an educated person to distinguish between an expert and a charlatan. While I would not say that that is the only goal, it certainly ought to be one of the central ones, and modern education positively discourages it. Thank God (yes) for a sentence that restores real expertise to its rightful place as the counsellor of the nations.

  4. “Thank God”

    I’m omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, just and loving. I don’t need you sucking up to me.

  5. Good lord, not Him again.

    I don’t know what all this Dan ‘Dare’ Snow stuff is about. It’s hardly courageous, I thought that’s what the moneyed lot do every weekend anyway.
    Look at Simon Singh’s ordeal, THAT demanded much more of a test of character, intelligence and stamina and he wouldn’t want to be a hero. I bet he’s probably just heating something over a Bunsen burner, not bothered.

  6. In fact, it appears that the English law did protect Mr Singh by ruling in his favour.

    The fact that somebody is allowed to bring proceedings does not indicate that the law prosecutes people speaking the truth. Albeit that the first judge to hear this case was a bit of a dick (technical legal term there for you).

    Frankly, if you are going to call somebody else a liar or accuse them of something then it’s probably a good idea that you have evidence to back up your claims.

  7. “Frankly, if you are going to call somebody else a liar or accuse them of something then it’s probably a good idea that you have evidence to back up your claims.”

    When those claims are scientific or medical, they should be tested medically or scientifically. The standards and procedures there are different from those of law, and particularly from those of libel law.

    The use of libel law to shut down scientific and medical debate in this country is an obvious chilling effect on free speech and scientific inquiry.

    Even if you prevail, the cost and the ordeal are substantial.

  8. Oh, there you are Dougal. Dougal!

    Yes, Ted.

    I see your mother has won on Countdown again.

    What’s that then, Ted?

    Countdown!

    Oh, yeah..
    And what number should that be from Ted?

  9. Dirigible: I would add that whether you prevail or whether you lose, you are contributing by your very use of it to a rapacious and stifling system that abuses free speech for the exclusive privilege of those rich enough or stubborn enough to pay for it. You would have been contributing to systematized and rooted injustice built up in the very house of supposed justice. I was once the victim of one of the gravest conceivable libels; I went to a lawyer, and the lawyer advised me – don’t sue unless you’re rich. Which is why the libel is unpunished to this day. The law as it stands, and even more as it stood before this decision, is not intended to protect libel victims; it is intended to protect rich people and institutions. Thank God, then, for any decision that reverses the tendency, even if only in one area.

  10. “The law as it stands, and even more as it stood before this decision, is not intended to protect libel victims; it is intended to protect rich people and institutions.”

    Thank you for making this point and I’m sorry to hear about your case.

    Hopefully libel law can be re-balanced to help the genuinely harmed but less wealthy as part of any reforms.

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