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Let’s all point and laugh at the BCA

Posted in Skepticat by Skepdude on April 15, 2010

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Is there no end to the bullying by the British Chiropractic Association? Not content with putting the man through two years of hell with their ridiculous libel action against him, this morning brought the news that they have now decided to deprive Dr Simon Singh of his day in court, where it was confidently expected that he would wipe the floor with them.

The very reason why Simon didn’t meekly cave in, withdraw his comments and apologise as they expected him to when they first brought the case, is because when he said,

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.

he knew it was the truth and that he could defend the claim in court. And now they aren’t going to let him. Bastards!

Those of us who were eagerly awaiting the libel trial of the decade will just have to console ourselves with the thought that, as a result of this action, the absurd claims made for this particular brand of quackery have been exposed and chiropractors the length and breadth of the land are being forced to get their houses in order and stop spouting crap on their websites and promotional leaflets. Alas, this won’t necessarily stop them lying through their teeth to people’s faces, as I discovered from personal experience.

Better yet, it has put libel reform firmly on the agenda but that’s no help to the countless victims who’ve already been forced to withdraw comments that they — like Simon — knew to be the truth but who — unlike Simon — simply didn’t have the resources to fight the bullies. And it’s no help to heroes like Dr Peter Wilmshurst who don’t have the resources but who’ve decided to fight anyway at risk of financial ruin.

For crying out loud, sign the petition for libel reform and badger the politicians. It’s high time we put an end to this nonsense.

Follow Jack of Kent for further news on this story.

Update:

What an absolutely pathetic statement that has just been released by the BCA. Mr Justice Eady, who cocked up and made the astonishingly illiberal ruling on the meaning of the words used in the article at the preliminary hearing a year ago, is described in the statement as “the UK’s most experienced defamation judge”. So who were the Court of Appeal — chopped liver? The fact that they included England’s two most senior judges, the Lord Chief Justice of England and the Master of the Rolls doesn’t get mentioned. Nor does the fact that, having been refused leave to appeal against Eady’s ruling twice, Simon was finally given leave by Lord Justice Laws — said to be one of the “savviest” High Court judges on human rights issues, who was much more emphatic about it than he needed to be.

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Up yours, BCA!

Posted in Skepticat by Skepdude on April 1, 2010

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This morning the British Chiropractic Association got what they deserved from the Court of Appeal: a judgment against them that was about as emphatic as it could be and it was delivered by England’s two most senior judges, the Lord Chief Justice of England and the Master of the Rolls, together with Lord Justice Sedley who is one of the most respected judges on the Court of Appeal.

Back in April 2008, Simon wrote a piece for the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ colunmn entitled Beware the Spinal Tap. It appeared during the BCA’s ‘Chiropractic Awareness Week’. Here’s the relevant extract:

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.

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.

The BCA objected to the first paragraph above, which they interpreted as an accusation of deliberate dishonesty on their part. They (still) describe it as “a serious attack on the reputation on the BCA”. Despite claiming to have a “plethora of evidence” for the claims made, they turned down the Guardian’s very reasonable offer of a right of reply and decided to sue Simon instead — a decision that the Lord Chief Justice himself said he was “baffled” by. Responding today, the BCA said they turned down the Guardian’s offer because it fell short of their expectations, “not least because the original libel would have remained uncorrected”.

But…but…surely if they had a plethora of evidence, all they needed to do was write a nice little piece pointing to it and that would have given the lie to Simon’s allegation and the BCA’s reputation would remain intact? Mais non! Apparently Simon Singh is so revered and the effect of anything he writes is so powerful that he just had to withdraw his comments and apologise — nothing less would satisfy the fragile egos in charge of the BCA. And as Simon Singh was not only right about the lack of evidence (the so-called ‘plethora’ was swiftly demolished outside the courtroom) but is also comparatively solvent, he wasn’t about to do what most people would be forced to do in such circumstances and bend right over for the BCA.

Last May, I attended the preliminary hearing of the BCA v Dr Simon Singh, held to determine the meaning of the words used in Simon’s article. There I heard Simon’s lawyers argue that the paragraph the BCA didn’t like was an opinion — a comment — rather than a statement of fact and that this was clear from the context. Mr Justice Eady dismissed this argument out of hand. He’d apparently already made up his mind and prepared his judgement before even entering the courtroom and his judgment was that the passage was a statement of fact and that the words Simon used imply a deliberate intention to deceive. Eady placed the onus on Simon to prove that the BCA were being deliberately dishonest, should the case go to full trial. In other words, the burden of proof for something he didn’t claim or intend to imply in the first place was placed on the defendant.

This was, as Jack of Kent put it, an astonishingly illiberal ruling that seemed to designed to intimidate anybody from standing up to the threat of libel even when they know they are in the right, as Simon did. The BCA said in their statement today,

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