Science and Libel

Or, I don’t agree with you and I’m going to sue!


  The British journalist and science author, Simon Singh, wrote an article critical of the claims made by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), to cure colic in children, as well as ear infections and astma by manipulating the patients’ spines. The BCA has sued and to date it has been estimated Mr Singh has lost around 1.2 M kr (assuming 12 kr to the pound).

I doubt the BCA had planned on the response of the scientific and medical communities. A petition has established online to counter the role of libel in science (sign it!). The Great and the Good have lined up behind Mr Singh, criticising an attack on his free speech and the use of libel in scientific debate. Nature and the Economist, amongst others, have highlighted the case.

In case you are thinking, "so what", consider the implications. What if glaciologists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, geomorphologists, and climatologists could be sued for disagreeing, publically, with creationism? How would we teach (Question 2. God is a mischevious scamp for creating fake dinosaurs and testing our faith with an unexplainable geology. Discuss.)? What if your doctor had to inform you about all proposed alternatives, regardless of the doctor’s faith in them, purely so as to avoid legal action by the proponents of the latest fad or alternative therapy? You’d be there all week!

Debate is central to science. We need the freedom to disagree with each other in order to innovate and progress. Suing me, or my colleagues is an attempt to stifle debate and seems like a desperate attempt to hide awkward truths. So, if you are reading this, feel free to argue with me: I promise I won’t sue!


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