Simon Singh

The BCA: Dodging the Issues

Just when you think the British Chiropractic Association might have learnt that every time it offers a public response it tends to blow up in it’s face and that it might be wiser to stay silent a new article by Richard Brown, the BCA vice president, pops up. This time round his response appears in the British Medical Journal and purports to be about ‘clarifying the issues’ surrounding the BCA’s case and the evidence for it’s claims.

And the result?

In the same issue as Brown’s article there is also a response written by Edzard Ernst. Ernst’s response is a short but thorough assessment of the quality and relevance of all of the “substantial evidence” which Brown cites in his article. He shows that every single reference cited by Brown is either irrelevant or of very poor quality. Ernst’s conclusion is that “the association’s evidence is neither complete nor… substantial”. This conclusion is echoed by Fiona Godlee, the editor of the BMJ, who writes that “[Ernst’s] demolition of the 18 references is, to my mind, complete”, proceeds to recommend that all readers of the BMJ should be “signed up to organised skepticism” and finishes by criticising the intrusion of legal cases into what should be scientific debates.

So once again it’s another PR disaster for the BCA as now, thanks to Richard Brown’s article and its terrible citations, one of the UK’s premier medical journals joins the chorus of critical voices directed at the BCA and its libel case. And not only that but it is urging its readers to follow suit! But before anyone starts to feel sorry for poor old Richard let’s take a more detailed look at what he actually said…

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Science & Skepticism Fest

I apologise for the long delay in posting. I have not been blogging lately due to the ridiculous sunny weather which London and myself are currently enjoying. However, now that the initial shock of seeing the sun for such extended periods has begun to wear off a little I’m going to try and get back to my regular blogging schedule (which in case anyone is wondering is supposed to be a post every 3-5 days).

Now although I have been enjoying the sun, I have not been completely slacking off as I have also been attending a couple of sciencey/skeptical events in particular ‘The Night of 400 Billion stars (and maybe some string theory)‘ at Bloomsbury Theatre and the Skeptics in the Pub/Ben Goldacre ‘Troublemakers Fringe‘ alternative to the ‘World Conference of Science Journalists’ at the Penderel Oak.

So I thought it might be a good way to get back into the blogging swing to give a ‘short’ roundup/review of both events. Here goes…

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Simon says… Appeal!

Keep Libel Laws out of Science

A good idea...

I’m definitely flogging a dead horse at this stage but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that Simon Singh has announced that he will be appealing the horrendous decision from the preliminary hearing of his court case against the British Chiropractic Association.

This great news in itself but that’s not all… 

Yesterday, also saw the launching of an extensive and deeply impressive support campaign lead by the UK charity Sense About Science. The campaign is going under the straightforward title of ‘Keep Libel Laws out of Science’ and included the unveiling of a petition asking for exactly what the title suggests. The petition when unveiled already included an incredible list of signatories including university professors, renowned journalists, world famous comedians and yes even skeptical bloggers.

To drop a few names for anyone who hasn’t had a look: Richard Dawkins, Alan Sokal, David King, Stephen Fry, Dara O Brian, Derren Brown, Ben Goldacre, Alok Jha, Michael Shermer, Steven Novella, James Randi, Phil Plait, Nick Cohen, Ricky Gervais, Tim Minchin, David Starkey, Jonathan Ross and David Allen Green have all signed their support (and also all happen to be folks whose work I admire!). There are also many more impressive signatories and I encourage everyone to have a look and then provide their own signature which can all be done from here.

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Simon-Aid 2009: The Momentum’s Growing!

Bit of a tight squeeze

A big turnout made for a bit of a tight squeeze!

Now that the very special mental fog that can only be created by too many pints of Guinness the night before has begun to lift I thought I’d write a review/summary of the support meeting for Simon Singh held yesterday in the Penderel Oak bar.

I imagine everyone reading this will already be all too aware of the background of this event but just in case here’s a very short summary of events:

Over a year ago a British science writer called Simon Singh wrote a critical article for the Guardian about chiropractic treatments. The British Chiropractic Association didn’t like what it said and so sued him for libel. A year later (last week) Simon received a disastrous decision at a preliminary hearing in which the judge decided that his article meant something he never intended and could not possibly defend in court. Having effectively lost the case before it began he was thus left with the choice to settle or to appeal the decision and try and get the judge’s decision overturned. Last night was an event to show support for Simon and to get an update about what he plans to do.

There are a tonne of sources that go into the case in much greater detail and the post just before this provides a rather substantial list of them so if the above summary doesn’t satisfy then go read some of them!

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Simon Singh Case Response Roundup

Spread the News

This post originally started life as a roundup of the links available on the Simon Singh case before the support meeting or the announcement that he intended to appeal the decision from the preliminary hearing. It has grown continuously since then and so now I am going to reorganise it so that it provides a chronological and comprehensive list of all the material available online on the case. The most recent coverage will thus always be available around the bottom of the list.

Before getting to the links two sites worth visiting and signing up to for updates are the Sense about Science site for the campaign Keep Libel Laws of Out of Science and the blog of skeptical, legal blogger Jack of Kent who has been providing detailed coverage and legal analysis of the case since it was first announced (the Bad Science bloggers also do alot of good work though they are also covering alot of other stories). Ok so now onto the links.

Updates will be announced here:

UPDATE 23/09/09: In light of the next fast approaching court date wherein Simon and his lawyers will try to ‘appeal to get his appeal heard’ I thought I would update the links. This will take a few days so please bear with me but I’ll try and get everything. Interesting developments with the Lib Dems and Richard Dawkins too so plenty to keep up with!
UPDATE 1/08/09: After Simon’s article was reposted so widely seemed like a natural time to update. SOrry it’s took so long been rather busy as of late!

UPDATE 17/07/09: You’ve guessed it more links!

UPDATE 30/06/09: More and more links and some more developments regarding the complaints. Have also started to re-edit the page so it’s a bit more relevant to what’s happening now!

UPDATE 18/06/09: Wow! A lot has been happening lately, new links being added now… going to try and update this weekly now!

UPDATE 11/06/09: A bloggers work is never done. New links added.

UPDATE 10/06/09: Alot of new links added which include some interesting developments… (thanks to Le Canard Noir in particular for bringing some surprising links to my attention).

UPDATE 06/06/09: New links added mostly courtesy of another new and nicely organised roundup over at Zeno’s blog– check it out!

UPDATE 04/06/09: Simon announces he will appeal! New (very  important) links added... see the bottom of this page!

UPDATE 03/06/09: New links added.

Anyone who comes across any I’ve missed please leave a link in the comment section and I’ll add them in. Alright, here goes:

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Singh Case Update: A Real Pain in the Neck!

Objection
I suppose the first thing I should make clear is that the following post is my opinion, it does contain facts, but overall the post should be regarded as being mostly about my opinion of those facts rather than simply a collection of facts devoid of my personal opinions. As such I would think it constitutes commentary on a current event. I would normally think that such things go without saying but in light of today’s events I’m not so sure.

Today, I attended the preliminary hearing for the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) vs. Simon Singh case at the (discussed previously). This case is concerned with an article Singh wrote for the Guardian over a year ago and whether or not his comments in the article constitute libel against the BCA.

The specific paragraph that the BCA claim is based around is the following (and in particular the bolded phrases):

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

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Science vs. Religion Part 2: The Big Bang Debate

xh3602The second speaker at the CFI ‘Science vs. Religion’ event was the popular science writer Simon Singh. Simon Singh is an excellent public speaker who gives very polished talks and he also happens to be one of my favourite science writers.

His talk on this occasion was on the Big Bang and the all too familiar battle between unyielding, dogmatic conservatives and progressive, open minded pioneers. The slight twist in this tale was that it was actually the religious figures who were being more open minded and the scientists who were being dismissive.

However, before parapsychologists and pseudoscientists everywhere get to celebrating, there is an important point worth recognising. Namely although the Big Bang story does illustrate how resistant to change everyone, including scientists, can be it also illustrates how as more and more evidence came in supporting the theory the scientific consesus did in fact shift. Thus the Big Bang is a good story for highlighting that science is somewhat unique as an endeavour, in that, no matter how much people resist a concept, when it  is true the evidence for it will eventually overcome any resistance.

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