Singh-ing the English Libel Law Blues

Michael Turner <>
Thu Feb 11 16:35:24 CET 2010

Not to defend Simon Singh's intellectual assailants (who, to be sure,
disgust me no end), but it appears the *legal* crux of the matter is not
in Singh in claiming that chiropractic lacked "scientific validation".
Rather, it's in whether Singh was attributing *deceitful motives* to
chiropractors when he wrote that chiropractors "happily" (his word)
pursue and promote treatments he called "bogus".  No, really.

Singh claims he didn't mean that chiropractors were happily aware of
their own quackery.  I find him credible on that count.  Just as I find
credible the claims of most chiropractors that they are sincere.  I've
met only two chiropractors who had grave doubts on this score.  One of
them was still practicing, but miserable.  (I think he was just trying
to keep up his alimony payments at that point.) The other had given up
practice -- in fact, I met him at a Tokyo Skeptics group, if you can
believe that.

On the other hand, I come more from hacker culture, where "bogus" can
even mean simply "doesn't work very well" -- and in which author of
the bogus software might actually believe that his "bugs" are
"features".  I'm not tuned into any particular British nuances for
"bogus", perhaps owing to the transatlantic quantum uncertainty of

Not meaning any disrespect to Singh (or Robert Virding, or Joe Armstrong
or anyone else who chimes in here), but there are days when I'd like to
see a certain senator from Oklahoma charged with libel, and convicted
for it, for calling global warming a "hoax".  James Inhofe is
certainly intelligent enough to know that, in using such a word, he's
openly and unabashedly accusing thousands of climatologists (and not a
few other scientists collaborating with them) with conspiracy not just
to deceive but to defraud taxpayers.  And it doesn't matter what you
believe about AGW *as a scientific theory* -- calling it a hoax is still
libelous.  Now, if Inhofe had merely maintained that AGW was "bogus",
I might grudgingly say there was no case against him -- if only because
I interpret "bogus" a little loosely, because I expect others to do
the same, and because I believe in the principle that people are
innocent until proven guilty, yes, even when they are politicians.

In closing, I'd like to point out that 99% of all software problems are
caused by not using Erlang.  Or maybe I mean that 99% of all benefits
experienced by Erlang users are illusory, that they owe to a placebo
effect enhanced by the very weirdness of the language, what with all the
usual software conceptual vertebrae being so sharply adjusted by it.

Oh, I'm so confused.

Well, OK, here's something I can say with total certainty: writing in
Erlang has damaged my brain.  It has caused me to suffer a stroke.  I
know this because I now have this highly unusual aphasia where I think
every word starting with a capital letter can be given any meaning
whatsoever -- but only once.  Accordingly, Ericcson will shortly be
hearing from my lawyers.  I'm reasonable, though.  I'm willing to
settle out of court for $14 billion.  Note that Ericcson can't squirm
out of this one by declaring bankruptcy and reorganizing.  Because 'E'
is a capital letter.

yours in atomicity,
-michael turner

P.S.  A signed copy will go to 10,000 volunteer proofreaders if they can
find even one typo in my forthcoming book, "The _ Programming

On 2/11/2010, "Joe Armstrong" <> wrote:

>You're forgiven - the defense of freedom of speech is more important
>than programming anyway.
>I've signed up. For those of you who haven't followed Singh's dilemma.
>Singh was sued for
>libel for daring to say that certain alternative medicine practices
>had no scientific validation of their
>claims - Indeed were I to repeat his claims here - I might be sued.
>So it seems like that with the support of the English courts nobody
>anywhere in the world
>can say that "this is unscientific" without being in danger of being
>sued for libel.
>Since I often say "this is unscientific" this is kind of disturbing.
>On Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 10:51 AM, Robert Virding <> wrote:
>> Sorry for posting something completely out of context on this
>> mailing-list but it is something which I feel is important enough to
>> warrant that. Posting it here is my idea so complaints goto me.
>> Please support it.
>> Robert
>> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
>> From: ?<>
>> Date: 10 February 2010 22:32
>> Subject: Simon Singh's weird idea that might just work
>> To: 
>> Dear Friends,
>> I致e had an idea ・an unusual idea, but I think it might just
>> work.
>> As you know, England痴 chilling libel laws need to be reformed. One
>> way to help achieve this is for 100,000 people to sign the petition
>> for libel reform before the political parties write their manifestos
>> for the election. We have 17,000 signatures, but we really need
>> 100,000, and we need your help to get there.
>> ?
>> My idea
>> My idea is simple: if everyone who has already signed up persuades
>> just one more person each week to sign the petition then we will reach
>> our goal within a month!
>> One person per week is all we need, but please spread the word as
>> much as you can. In fact, if you persuade 10 people to sign up then
>> email me ( <mailto:>
>> ) and I promise to thank you by printing your name in my next book
>> ・which I will start writing as soon as I have put my own libel case
>> behind me. I cannot say when this will be, but it is a very real
>> promise. My only caveat is that I will limit this to the first
>> thousand people who recruit ten supporters.
>> When persuading your friends remember to tell them:
>> (a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights
>> Committee.
>> (b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to
>> discuss matters of genuine public interest (and public health!).
>> (c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the
>> powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas
>> corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws
>> are so hostile to responsible journalism. (In fact, it is exactly
>> because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome
>> signatories to the petition from around the world.)
>> (d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate
>> those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England
>> is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically
>> runs to over び million.
>> (e) Three separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and two medical
>> researchers raising concerns about three medical treatments. We face
>> losing び million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar
>> concerns? If these health matters are not reported, then the public is
>> put at risk.
>> My experience has been sobering. I致e had to spend び00,000 to
>> defend my writing and have put my life on hold for almost two years.
>> However, the prospect of reforming our libel laws keeps me cheerful.
>> Thanks so much for your support. We致e only got one shot at this
>> ・so I hope you can persuade 1 (or maybe 10) friends, family and
>> colleagues to sign.
>> Massive thanks,
>> Simon
>> ?
>> The Libel Reform Campaign is a coalition of English PEN, Index on
>> Censorship and Sense About Science.
>> So far, 188 MPs have signed our Parliamentary Early Day Motion
>> calling for libel reform and the Justice Secretary Jack Straw has
>> formed a working party that the Libel Reform Coalition is represented
>> on.
>> Please also considering donating to keep our campaign going:
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