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Back ‘cures’, a brave scientist and an epic court battle: How Britain’s libel laws are threatening free speech

Posted in News by Skepdude on July 2, 2009

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT THE MAIL ONLINE

With his round, John Lennon-style specs and nerdish good looks, physicist Simon Singh is an unlikely hero.

As one of the country’s most acclaimed science writers, he has spent much of his 45 years cloistered in his Home Counties study penning Number One bestsellers on mathematical conundrums, code-breaking and the Big Bang theory.

Turning his hand to alternative medicine, last year he published a book called Trick Or Treatment? that included a chapter on the history of chiropractic therapy (the manipulation of the spine to realign the back), which was invented by grocer and spiritual healer Daniel David Palmer in 1890s America.

Inspired by the ‘miraculous’ recovery of a deaf man whom he treated by manipulating or ‘racking’ his back, Palmer said that 95 per cent of all diseases are caused by trapped vertebrae.

SIMON SINGHTargeted: Dr Simon Singh has criticised chiropractors

Suddenly, the therapy (which takes its name from the Greek word for hand) became a near-religion, with Palmer boasting he was a successor to Christ and Mohammed. He even practised vigorous ‘racking’ on his own children, which led to him beingrrested and jailed for cruelty.

Palmer’s ideas caught on and, in 1925, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) was set up and several clinics opened specialising in the treatment. Chiropractors were able, it seemed, to cure a myriad of ailments and began to broaden their therapies.

Recently, the association has said that even children suffering from colic, eating problems, ear infections and asthma can be helped.

However, many in the traditional medical profession view the therapy with deep suspicion. Though the General Medical Council and the Royal College of General Practitioners advocate its use  –  especially for back pain  –  some scientists say there is no evidence that chiropractic spinal manipulation is better than other forms of back massage.

This has led to widespread debate in the medical world, with some doctors refusing to refer patients to chiropractors, claiming the treatment does not work and can even cause harm.

In his book, Dr Singh questioned whether chiropractors could really achieve the results they claim. Later, in a column in the Guardian newspaper, he went further, saying the therapies for children were ‘bogus’.

Chiropractor with patientSome scientists say there is no evidence that chiropractic spinal manipulation is better than other forms of back massage

Unsurprisingly, he came under an avalanche of criticism and the BCA demanded an apology and a retraction. When it received neither from Dr Singh, it decided to sue him personally for libel.

Dr Singh’s battle serves as a frightening example of what happens when a ruthless body tries to crush anyone who questions its power or expertise.

The ensuing row has also shone a light on English libel law, raising the question of whether it acts as a barrier to critical comment and public debate.

On Singh’s side are some of the country’s most illustrious and influential luminaries of science, the legal profession and showbusiness.

They include former Government chief scientist Sir David King, the geneticist Steve Jones, biologist Richard Dawkins, leading QC Baroness Kennedy, the actors Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais, and comedian Harry Hill (a former doctor).

Pitted against them is the BCA, which won the preliminary round with a judgment last month in the Royal Courts of Justice by Mr Justice Eady, the country’s most senior libel judge, who is responsible for a series of controversial rulings.

Justice Eady’s critics accuse him of creating, almost single-handedly, a privacy law in Britain as a result of his interpretations of the 1998 Human Rights Act, in which he invariably seems to give more weight to privacy than to freedom of expression.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT THE MAIL ONLINE

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YouTube Censorship Continues

Posted in Atheist Blogger by Skepdude on April 1, 2009

YouTube seems to be becoming as controversial as its parent company Google, but whilst Google has been criticized for its terrible privacy policies, YouTube has turned to the censorship side of things. Gone were the days when you could criticize and say what you wanted (within reason) on YouTube. Now anyone with an army of followers can get accounts suspended for no good reason. Adopting a policy of “guilty until proven innocent”, YouTube takes complaints seriously, a little too seriously if you ask YouTube atheists like Thunderf00t and gogreen18, who have both been suspended for no good reason.

The latest people to get suspended are the Rational Response Squad’s channel, which was controversial and caused a minor uproar a few years back when they released the “Blasphemy Challenge”. YouTube didn’t ban them back then, so it appears very odd that they were banned today. Granted, I don’t know what their latest videos have been about, but YouTube have also banned the James Randi Educational Foundation. I’ve bolded the word that makes this ban seem almost laughable. The JREF is an organization that promotes education about the paranormal, the pseudo-scientific, and the supernatural. It debunks the claims of dangerous people like psychics, and reveals the truth about homeopathic treatments.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “THE ATHEIST BLOGGER”

‘Most Express Sympathy for the Censorship’

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 18, 2009

The firing of a magazine editor in Turkey over her intention to put a story about Darwin’s evolution theory on the cover has generated a flood of criticism. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with the editor about just how conservative Turkish society has become.

No issue divides Turks more than the country’s alleged creeping Islamization. Early last week, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Tubitak) sparked an international controversy after it prevented the publication of a cover story about Charles Darwin’s evolution theory in Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology), one of the country’s leading science journals. The publication’s editor-in-chief, 41-year-old Cigdem Atakuman, claims she was fired as a result of the incident.

Secular Turks are outraged and the world is watching. Did Tubitak, which publishes Bilim ve Teknik, censor a feature about the theory of evolution under pressure from the conservative Islamic-oriented AKP-led government because it couldn’t be reconciled with Muslim religious beliefs?A senior Tubitak official has blamed the editor for removing the story, according to Turkish daily Hürriyet, saying changes were made at the last minute and rushed. But Atakuman has denied the allegation, saying the deputy head of the council, Ömer Cebeci, told her the cover story was too controversial and that he no longer trusted her to responsibly perform her duties. The paper claims the incident has been reduced to a case of “one person’s word against the other’s.”

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Atakuman defends her position and says she is worried about the future of bias-free science in her country.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Atakuman, is it true that you were fired?

Cigdem Atakuman: Yes, it’s true. Up until now, there has been no official statement. But I was made to understand, verbally, that I have no future as the editor-in-chief of Bilim ve Teknik.

READ THE REST OF THIS AT “SPIEGEL.DE”

Next, They’ll Be Hunting Witches in Nova Scotia!

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on February 5, 2009

Reader Pascal Poirier tells us:

I am sure you are aware of the bus ads in London, UK.  In case you were not aware, we had recent developments in Halifax, NS, Canada, with the attempt by Humanist Canada to put the toned-down slogan “You can be good without God” on our buses.  It appears that this true statement was too controversial for the transit authorities.

This campaign was undoubtedly inspired by the currently successful bus-ad campaign in London, England, encouraged and supported by Richard Dawkins. Signs stating “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” are seen all over that city, though Dawkins had reservations about including the word, “probably” in the text…

Yes, the Metro Transit agency in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will not allow the “You can be good without God” advertisement to appear on its buses. The agency’s very proper spokesperson said:

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT RANDI.ORG

YouTube chickens out

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on October 1, 2008

It’s happened: craven YouTube has pulled all of the eucharist desecration videos. Click on one and you’ll just get the message, “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation.” FSMdude’s account has also been suspended. There is no description of what rule was violated; I guess we must presume that YouTube is now in the business of defending religious dogma.

Catholics are natural censors and cowards, aren’t they?

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “PHARYNGULA”