Keep Libel Out Of Science

Posted by Atticus on Monday, February 15, 2010

Something a little different for this update.
For sometime now RiPA has been following the law suit against Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA). But first, lets speak a bit more about who Simon is.

After completing a PhD in particle physics, Simon Singh joined the BBC and worked as a director and producer on programmes such as Tomorrow's World and Horizon. He has also presented programmes on Radio 4, BBC4 and Channel 4. He is best known as the author of Fermats Last Theorem, The Code Book and Big Bang.

In less than a week Simon's appeal hearing will change British Libel Law history.

So what did Simon do that was so bad and how does it affect the paranormal world?

Simon published an article in the Guardian in April 2008 in which he discussed chiropractic treatment with reference to the British Chiropractic Association.

In a passage describing the BCA’s claims about the treatment of a number of childhood ailments, Singh wrote that ‘even though there is not a jot of evidence’ the BCA ‘happily promotes bogus treatments’.
Sounds a bit similar to the recent
'10:23' Homeopathy circumstance.

Despite the article being published in the Guardian, Singh was sued personally. Mr Justice Eady decided on the issue of meaning in May 2009, and found that Singh’s comments were statements of fact, rather than expressions of opinion, which implied that the BCA was being deliberately dishonest. It was a meaning that Singh has said he never intended. Eady refused to grant leave to appeal, although permission was granted by the Court of Appeal itself in October 2009.

As a result of this case, the charity Sense About Science launched a petition for libel reform. Richard Dawkins has said that if Singh loses, it would have ‘major implications on the freedom of scientists, researchers and other commentators to engage in robust criticism of scientific, and pseudoscientific, work’.

These implications of libel law reform
are important not only for scientists
but for journalists, broadcasters, bloggers,  campaigners and evne paranormal research groups like ourselves - indeed, for anyone who supports freedom of speech. This means that we actually risk getting sued if we were to criticize Living TV's 'Most Haunted' series or TAPS for our American audience.

This is not about trying to get rid of libel laws at all. Indeed, if the cost of libel cases could be reduced, the libel laws could be used by MORE people with a valid case for redress. At the moment, only the rich and powerful can afford to bring cases, often purely with the aim of bullying their critics into silence.

So the research that RiPA do, as well as fellow groups like Parascience and APRU could come under fire if we are not careful.

Lets take RiPA's
'Test the Mediums' project.
We are willing to accept any Medium who is prepared to undergo the strict protocol that has been put in place. We are even open for some subtle adaptations of it in order to help the Medium. Lets say Derek Acorah accepts the challenge, he sits through the subjects, gives them all readings and its all going well. Then its time to collate the results.
UH-OH! Mr Acorah has failed.
RiPA will then need to write a report about this stating that Acorah did not make the challenge.

His people could then sue RiPA! Surely this is not right? So in order to help Simon and help the future of scientific study, Simon has come up with a plan. The following is from Simon himself:

Dear Friends,

I’ve had an idea – an unusual idea, but I think it might just work.

As you know, England’s chilling libel laws need to be reformed. One way to help achieve this is for 100,000 people to sign the petition for libel reform before the political parties write their manifestos for the election. We have 17,000 signatures, but we really need 100,000, and we need your help to get there.

My idea

My idea is simple: if everyone who has already signed up persuades just one more person each week to sign the petition then we will reach our goal within a month!

One person per week is all we need, but please spread the word as much as you can. In fact, if you persuade 10 people to sign up then email me ( and I promise to thank you by printing your name in my next book … which I will start writing as soon as I have put my own libel case behind me. I cannot say when this will be, but it is a very real promise. My only caveat is that I will limit this to the first thousand people who recruit ten supporters.

When persuading your friends remember to tell them: 

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.

(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (and public health!).

(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (In fact, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)

(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.

(e) Three separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and two medical researchers raising concerns about three medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns? If these health matters are not reported, then the public is put at risk.

My experience has been sobering. I’ve had to spend £100,000 to defend my writing and have put my life on hold for almost two years. However, the prospect of reforming our libel laws keeps me cheerful.

Thanks so much for your support. We’ve only got one shot at this – so I hope you can persuade 1 (or maybe 10) friends, family and colleagues to sign.

Massive thanks,


So come on gals and guys, do your bit to help change the law and the future of parapsychological research as well as CTS.

Let us know your thoughts on this, and other topics on the
RiPA forums. 
Also, leave a comment to inform us that you have signed the petition.

Till next time....

Tags: libel  science  false  claims  paranormal  pseudo  simon  singh