Suffering for science

I don’t have much sympathy for this prospective martyr for scientific journalism:

The reason his name is giving everyone the jitters is that he’s being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for an article he published in The Guardian newspaper last year. In the article, Singh argued that there is no evidence for some of the claims that the BCA makes about the health benefits of visiting a chiropractor. He wrote, “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.”

The BCA asked for a retraction and an apology. Singh refused. The Guardian offered the BCA the opportunity to print a clarification and write a response, so they could lay out evidence supporting their claims. The BCA refused. The libel case is the result.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this British libel law. All Singh had to do was retract his false statement and apologize; he refused to do so. So now, if he can’t back up his assertion in court, and it appears that he may not be able to since all the BCA has to do is demonstrate that there is “a jot of evidence” supporting the health benefits to children of visiting a chiropractor, then he deserves to pay for the full extent of the damages incurred, whatever they might be.

As usual, the self-appointed defenders of science are whining and want to play by different rules than those they demand apply to everyone else. If Singh is correct and there is no evidence, then he’s got nothing to worry about. If Singh is incorrect, then obviously he should have retracted his false assertion and apologized.

Don’t get me wrong, I am every bit as skeptical about alternative medicine in general and chiropractors in particular as Singh himself. Quite possibly even more so. However, if you get called on a blanket assertion, then you either have to back it up or retract it. Crying about laws that do no more than hold you accountable for your comments is ridiculous, and the idea that people should be able to freely inflict material damage on others without being held accountable in any way is absurd.

And, of course, it’s worth noting that the UK, like most European countries, does not possess the strong free speech protections that the USA does. It’s yet another way that religious America is better for science than the secular European utopias.