Today, Simon Singh announced that he will applying for “an oral reconsideration of his application for Permission to Appeal” after his initial application was turned down last week. For the one or two people who don’t already know; Simon is a science writer being sued by British chiropractors for an article he wrote in a newspaper over a year ago and he is asking to appeal because a judge decided in a preliminary hearing that his article meant something that he did not actually believe or intend to suggest and which makes his case very difficult to win.
I’ve been following this case since it started and I have to admit that when Simon’s initial appeal request was turned down last week, although it was somewhat predictable, it did rather dampen my spirits and lead me to reconsider whether the case was worth pursuing. It seemed to me that Simon had already done more than anyone could have been expected and it seemed like a waste to have such an excellent science writer have his time taken up by expensive legal proceedings that in all likelihood, because of the crazy UK libel laws, he would not win.
After reading Simon’s detailed explanation of why he believes this case is still worth fighting I have now completely changed my mind. If you haven’t read his explanation I suggest doing so now – the announcement is available here. It provides an excellent summary of what’s gone on and also a detailed breakdown on his reasons for fighting on and why he thinks it’s important that he continues. It also reveals that pursuing the case will not prevent Simon from carrying on his usual schedule or deprive the public of any new science books and he makes a very compelling case as to what he hopes fighting the case will achieve.
Simon really does deserve credit for being willing to fight for important principles (like freedom of speech and the right to criticise claims that lack evidence or scientific plausibility) and for having the stamina to keep going in the face of continued disappointment. I have to admit that I’m not so sure that in his shoes I wouldn’t be throwing in the towel by now due to being so fed up with the whole nonsensical affair!
However, I did have some inkling that Simon was the type to keep this fight going and it’s certainly worth remembering that previously he was refused an appeal no less than three times before finally having his complaint about alternative medicine being portrayed inaccurately in a BBC documentary being upheld. That time the appeals did not cost him any money to pursue but they show that losing an appeal does not seem to deter Simon when he believes he is correct and the issue is important.
It also seems to be becoming something of a trademark of Simon’s that he is willing to be very open and honest with his supporters about the case, his feelings about it and what exactly is going on. I believe this is an attitude that deserves to be applauded especially when it is compared with the very tight lipped approach of the BCA. I cannot fathom anything like Simon’s announcement being produced by anyone at the BCA, and while this may partly be down to the BCA being an organisation rather than an individual I think it is also down to the very different attitudes that the two sides have towards the case.
The BCA seems to have very little interest in this case being in the public eye and has only made public statements when critical pressure has forced them into it. Indeed, the whole justification for bringing the libel suit in the first place is stated to be based around a desire to avoid damage to their reputation and it seems that they have cottoned on to the fact that when they make statements about this case they generally only damage their reputation farther. Simon on the otherhand has engaged with the public and his supporters as much as he has been legally able to from the getgo. His most recent announcement for instance, is largely written as a response to an open letter posted by the blogger Heresiarch on his website. Can you imagine the BCA or even a representative of the BCA responding to a blogger’s open letter? Neither can I.
So anyway, Simon is certainly now cemented as a hero to the skeptical and science communities and I think he can certainly expect to see a fair few friendly faces of support when his oral appeal application takes place in October.
All that remains is to say:
C’mon Simon! And Good luck in October!