In which Dr Aust wonders if the BCA’s PR people are “channeling” his thoughts.
The blogosphere (and indeed the mainstream news media) is aflame with the news that the British Chiropractic Association has dropped their libel claim against Simon Singh. They served a “Notice of Discontinuance” this morning.
Though the financial situation is still to be revealed/resolved, it seems likely that the BCA will have to meet most of Simon Singh’s legal costs, which may well run into a couple of hundred grand.
Over the last couple of weeks bloggers had been speculating about what the BCA would do after the Court of Appeal’s landmark judgement. Dr Aust had even laid out a likely course of action for the BCA were they to decide to bail out. I thought it might be interesting to show you this, and then what the BCA have actually said today.
Here is Dr Aust’s prediction, from a week or two back (April 7th) of a likely “Exit Stategy”, taken from the comments thread under Jack of Kent’s “Open Letter to the BCA”:
If the BCA’s PR agency were any good – and they certainly seem to get paid plenty of money – then they could easily try and “spin” pulling the plug as follows:
(i) we genuinely thought Simon Singh had accused us of being dishonest, which we took MOST SERIOUSLY
(ii) we still think this was meaning the original words conveyed, BUT we reluctantly accept Appeal Court’s view… and we are MOST GRATIFIED Singh has stated publicly that he didn’t mean we were dishonest (quote Simon’s public statements to this effect)
(iii) given protracted nature of legal proceedings… we are persuaded that the financial burden on our members… need the money to do important work promoting chiropractic… etc etc.
All done by press release w/out taking questions.
Arguably outside the Skeptosphere it will all be a storm in a teacup.
Of course, notwithstanding their large tab, the BCA’s PR team seem thus far to be as sharp in their judgement as the BCA’s lawyers.
So that was the prediction.
And here, hot from their website, is the BCA’s press statement:
BCA V SIMON SINGH – PRESS STATEMENT – 15th APRIL 2010
Having carefully considered its position in the light of the judgment of the Court of Appeal (1st April 2010), the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has decided to discontinue its libel action against Simon Singh.
As previously made clear, the BCA brought the claim because it considered that Simon Singh had made a serious allegation against its reputation, namely, that the BCA promoted treatments that it knew to be “bogus”. The Honourable Mr Justice Eady, the UK’s most experienced defamation judge, agreed with the BCA’s interpretation of the article and ruled that it made a serious factual allegation of dishonesty.
The Court of Appeal, in its recent judgment, has taken a very different view of the article. On its interpretation, the article did not make any factual allegation against the BCA at all; it was no more than an expression of ‘honest opinion’ by Simon Singh. While it still considers that the article was defamatory of the BCA, the decision provides Dr Singh with a defence such that the BCA has taken the view that it should withdraw to avoid further legal costs being incurred by either side.
As those who have followed the publicity surrounding this case will know, Simon Singh has said publicly that he had never intended to suggest that the BCA had been dishonest. The BCA accepts this statement, which goes some way to vindicating its position.
The BCA takes seriously its duty and responsibilities to members and to chiropractic patients. The BCA has considered seeking leave to take this matter to the Supreme Court and has been advised there are strong grounds for appeal against the Court of Appeal judgment. However, while it was right to bring this claim at the outset, the BCA now feels that the time is right for the matter to draw to a close.
More media information from Carl Courtney on 07785 397321 but no new information will be given.
Now, I will make no claims for my own future-predicting powers, or PR wizardry, as the likely structure of the retreat was pretty obvious to anyone who has been following the case.
I, will, however, quote another of my lines from the same Jack of Kent thread:
“Of course…the BCA…could have taken broadly the course of action I recommend nigh-on two years ago and likely saved themselves several hundred grand.”
But more than that, the BCA have now made it more, not less, likely that overreaching claims by alternative therapists will be publicly challenged in blunt terms from here on out.
This is because the legal result of the BCA’s suit has been to leave us with a judgement from the Court of Appeal’s senior Justices that makes very clear their view that scientific debates should not be settled in the courts.
While how much of this view is “legally binding” is open to discussion (which inevitably will probably be discussion by highly paid lawyers), the net result in practise seems certain to be that chiropractors, and other alternative medicine types, are less likely to try suing critics to silence them in future.
It bears saying, yet again, that had Simon Singh not had the guts to put his own money on the line when the BCA sued him personally, we would not be at this point today. As I wrote on yet another of Jack of Kent’s threads:
We know Simon [Singh] is prepared to lose his own money on a point of principle. We know [this] since he kept going after Eady’s initial ruling, when his lawyers almost certainly advised him that he was now highly likely to lose the case at trial, that the appeal on meaning was a long shot, and that the “percentage” choice would be to cut his losses and offer a limited apology.
And all scientists, and indeed everyone who opposed libel being used to silence criticism, owes him a debt.
Simon, we salute you.