A galaxy of luminaries from the worlds of science, comedy, the arts and humanities — from Ricky Gervais to the president of the Royal Society — have come out in support of a science writer being sued by chiropractors for saying they practise “bogus treatments”.
Dr Simon Singh allegedly libelled the British Chiropractic Association in an article claiming it is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession, yet it happily promotes “bogus” therapies.
The BCA demanded an apology and a retraction, and in its libel action won a preliminary court ruling against Dr Singh last month. In it, Mr Justice Eady ruled that Dr Singh's use of the word “bogus” meant he was accusing the BCA of being dishonest and backing treatments it knew did not work. He refutes this, saying that “alternative therapists who offer treatments unsupported by reasonable evidence are deluded rather than deliberately dishonest”.
Dr Singh intends to appeal against the ruling, which has cost him £100,000 in legal fees but won him the backing of more than 100 prominent figures — including a Nobel laureate.
The signatories to the statement in support of Dr Singh include Gervais, actor Stephen Fry, scientist Richard Dawkins, Lord Rees of Ludlow, president of the Royal Society, former government chief scientist Sir David King, novelist Martin Amis and comedian and doctor Harry Hill.
“We, the undersigned, believe that it is inappropriate to use the English libel laws to silence critical discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence,” the statement reads. “The English law of libel has no place in scientific disputes about evidence. The BCA should discuss the evidence outside of a courtroom.”
Sir David said: “We must be able to fairly and reasonably challenge ideas without fear of legal intimidation. This sort of thing only brings the law into disrepute.”
The BCA represents a quasi-scientific group of practitioners who believe manipulating the spine can treat or cure a range of other conditions not normally associated with a bad back. One of its information leaflets, entitled Happy Families, says: “There is evidence to show that chiropractic care has helped children with asthma, prolonged crying, breathing difficulties, bed-wetting, colic, sleep and feeding problems, hyperactivity [and] frequent infections, especially in the ears.”
Dr Singh's article questioned the scientific evidence to support such a statement.
The BCA said it intends to pursue its claim against Dr Singh, who replied that if his attempt to appeal against the preliminary ruling fails, he will take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.