Stop Press: Simon Singh wins Appeal Court ruling on meaning

Wonderful news from the Court of Appeal this morning.

Simon Singh has won his “appeal on meaning”. He will now be allowed to argue, in defence of the libel claim brought against him personally by the British Chiropractic Association, that his remarks were “fair comment”.

Jack of Kent’s Twitter feed is the go-to source for the details. He has given a few selected lines from the judgement, which I will repeat here:

“[Singh’s phrase] “not a jot of evidence”…[is] a statement of opinion, and one backed by reasons”


“[the word] “bogus”…[is] more emphatic than assertive”

– referring, of course, to the much debated b-word;

“Once..”jot” [is perceived] a value judgment…[the use of the word] “happily” loses its sting…[giving it a meaning approximating] blithely”

(recall that the main phrase the BCA and Eady J found libellous in Singh’s article was:  “The BCA… happily… promotes bogus treatments”)

The Appeal Justices also commented that the BCA’s bringing and pursuit of the case gave the

“Unhappy impression… [of an] endeavour by BCA to silence one of its critics”

Which, of course, has been the opinion of pretty much everyone, excepting chiropractors and a few other alternative medicine types, right from Day One.

And which, since we are back to talking about “Fair Comment”, gives me an excuse to plug my first extended dissertation on the case, written way back in August 2008.

Back in the Bunker, meanwhile, it appears that the BCA are now considering whether to attempt to appeal today’s ruling on meaning, according to a statement they have issued.

Anyway, we are promised the full ruling on Jack of Kent’s website ASAP.  Since Jack tells us it quotes Milton and George Orwell, I am rather looking forward to it. (Since I started writing this, Index on Censorship have uploaded the PDF version of the whole judgement).

[Update: the full ruling is now online in a more easily readable form here. It is well worth a read. The Justices are clearly men of classical education, as apart from Orwell and Milton, Galileo gets a mention. This is particularly apt as it is a regular gambit of Alt Medicine types to liken themselves to Galileo, a tactic which has been termed “The Galileo Gambit” – see also here.]

One of the final paragraphs of the judgement, paragraph 34, bears specifically on the question of scientific issues in the courts, and is worth re-typing in full:


34. We would respecfully adopt what Judge Easterbrook, now Chief Judge of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, said in a libel action over a scientific controversy. Underwager v Salter 22 Fed 3d 730 (1994):

“Plaintiffs cannot, by simply filing suit and crying “character assassination!”, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. …More papers, more discussion, better data and more satisfactory models – not larger awards of damages – mark the path towards superior understanding of the world around us”


…And I certainly can’t think of many (any?) scientists who would disagree with that.



Since no self-respecting blogger misses a chance of a bit of “Self-Biggin'”, here are links to the full collection of my coverage of the Singh case, right from the beginning:

Back Quack crack attack – it’ s a legal matter baby – detailed amateur legal analysis from August 2008, plus some musing on libel tourism.

It’s Quiet – too quiet – an end-of-2008 round up, wondering what had become of the case and discussing Singh’s proposed defence and the nature of CAM belief.

Truly Much Bogosity – some thoughts on the Eady ruling on meaning of May last year, the much-debated word “bogus”, and the chilling effect of English Libel Law.

Back Crack Quack Attack – the song – sadly as yet unrecorded, though it did gain me the scorn of a rather serious person styling themself “Cochrane Reviewer” over at Science Punk.

BCA say they want scientific debate – bears eschew woods for proper flush toilets and soft toilet paper – Dr Aust’s lower mandible almost dislocates under the jaw-dropping effect of a startling BCA press release in June 2009.

Stop Press – Simon Singh granted leave to appeal Oct 14th 2009 – Dr Aust enjoys the excellent news – with various updates through the day.

BCA v Singh – (unexploded?) literary devices – Dr Aust muses whether Simon Singh might have simply got his paragraphs the wrong way round.  “You stand accused, Mr Singh, of the Reckless and Dangerous Use of Rhetorical Devices– also from last October.

Chiropraktischer Untergang – updated with added Sturm und Drang – A bit of pre-Christmas fun. Dr Aust has a good laugh as someone does the inevitable chiropractic Downfall parody.


8 Responses to “Stop Press: Simon Singh wins Appeal Court ruling on meaning”

  1. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr_Aust_PhD: Stop Press: Simon Singh wins Appeal Court ruling on meaning:

  2. Tsuken Says:

    Great news – and yes, paragraph 34 is most triumphant 8)

    ‘Tis a very excellent day ^_^

  3. “Breaking: Simon Singh wins libel appeal” and related posts « Most Popular News Stories Says:

    […] Stop Press: Simon Singh wins Appeal Court ruling on meaning – Dr Aust's Spleen […]

  4. deetee Says:

    Great news!

    Now, where did I put the corkscrew?

  5. Cybertiger Says:

    Whoops, I’ve plopped inadvertently onto a boring scientific-debate-stifling-convention. Cock-a-doodle- poo!

  6. Cybertiger Says:

    Deetee’s corkscrew is on the loose. Lock up your grannies.

  7. draust Says:

    Written with your usual erudition, I see, Shabby.

    And surely it was the BCA who were stifling debate by trying figuratively to stick Simon Singh’s head on a pole? That would certainly be most observer’s interpretation – and indeed the Justices seemed to find it hard not to read it that way. I will quote from the judgement:

    “11. It is now nearly two years since the publication of the offending article. It seems unlikely that anyone would dare repeat the opinions expressed by Dr Singh for fear of a writ. Accordingly this litigation has almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choices about the possible use of chiropractic. If so, quite apart from any public interest in issues of legal principle which arise in the present proceedings, the questions raised by Dr Singh, which have a direct resonance for patients, are unresolved. This would be a surprising consequence of laws designed to protect reputation.

    “12. By proceeding against Dr Singh, and not the Guardian, and by rejecting the offer made by the Guardian to publish an appropriate article refuting Dr Singh’s contentions, or putting them in a proper prospective, the unhappy impression has been created that this is an endeavour by the BCA to silence one of its critics. Again, if that is where the current law of defamation takes us, we must apply it.”

  8. Cybertiger Says:

    Drippy happily promotes more bogus waffle about scientific debate stifling. A pox on your pomposity, Herr Draust!

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