Libel Laws and Science

For those of you who don’t read my blog from a blog reader (I think there is perhaps one of you out there), you may have noticed the new button saying “Keep Libel Laws Out of Science” on my sidebar.  If you have noticed it, you may not know what it is all about.

Libel is the legal term for written defamation.  If you write something that defames someone’s good name or reputation in a newspaper or on a blog, they can sue you for libel.  The UK has some of the world’s toughest and most archaic libel laws and at this time the British Chiropractic Association (BCA)  are using them to sue Guardian author Simon Singh for his article saying that there is no evidence that chiropractors can cure asthma and other conditions like colic in children (which is true, by the way).   This is pure madness.  If there is not evidence for something, then any author or blogger should be able to point out this fact without being worried about being sued.

If you think that things like this only happen in the UK or any other overseas country, think again. The Australian Skeptics have a complaint lodged against them with the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC)  by chiropractor Joseph Ierano for hosting the Simon Singh’s article on their site.  That’s right, the Australian Skeptics have to fight a legal battle over simply re-publishing an article.  There are also other blogs out there who have faced threats of legal actions over having Singh’s article republished on their blogs.

This is exactly why Libel laws need to be kept the hell away from scientific debates.  If the community can’t debate the merits of medical procedures, alternative medicine or other scientific topics without being sued by people who get a little upset at being proved wrong then scientific discoveries and discussions will be stifled.  We need a free space to be able to debate and dissect scientific claims without worrying that what we say might land us in court with legal fees that will bankrupt us.  If you feel the same way, please click on the image at the top of this post and sign the petition (see Google Reader users you don’t even have to come visit my blog, that’s how nice I am to you).

If you are interested in learning more about Simon Singh’s legal battle with the BCA, I have included some links at the bottom of this post.

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2 responses to “Libel Laws and Science

  1. Wholly agree, but want to add the Guardian was just last week effectively gagged from reporting the British Parliament through the libel laws, until Twitter made the original story about an oil spill so much bigger than any article would have been. The ‘gag’ was, I understand, removed.

    • That is quite frightening. The media should never be prevented from reporting the news unless the reporting of that news will result in a loss of life.