Why I don’t support the “Keep Libel Laws Out of Science” campaign.


(Note: All of my complaints have been addressed and changes have been made. This article is now null and void but I am leaving it here for the sake of historical accuracy).

There’s a campaign at the moment to keep libel laws out of science.  The campaign was started after author and TV presenter Simon Singh was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

In essense, the libel laws in England are quite different from those in most other countries.  Here in Australia if I was to accuse someone of being a fraud, they would have to prove they are not. In England, I would have to prove that they are.  In this particular case it is over Simon using the word “bogus” when talking about the practise of Chiropractic, and despite the fact he very thoroughly explained his use of the word in the article, a judge has decided it meant something all together different from what he meant.  Now Simon is stuck with having to prove that something he did not even say is true and accurate.

You’re probably wondering now how I cannot support a campaign to help out someone wronged in such a way.  Well, keep reading.

The essense of the campaign is wrong in my opinion.  The problem doesn’t lie in the fact that science, writers and scientists can be accused of libel.  The problem is actually with the English libel system itself.  It is this which we should be campaigning to get changed, get the horribly broken libel system fixed and more in-line with most other countries.

It’s essentially saying “we’re happy with this horribly broken system to be used on all other people, fields and systems just not on us”.  This kind of thinking is something skeptics and atheists come up and rile against all the time in debates, it’s something known as special pleading.

I think it’s hypocritical and just plain stupid for us to start using special pleading, something we’ve argued against time and time again.  I’m amazed by the number of people who are blindly going in to this special pleading campaign with full support, while at the same time accusing theologers, homeopaths, and alt-medders of using special pleading to get away without scrutiny.

Simon Singh does need our support and our help, but not like this.

3 thoughts on “Why I don’t support the “Keep Libel Laws Out of Science” campaign.

  1. The Sense About Science Campaign does point out that english libel laws are broken and should be overhauled. They’re just concentrating on the Singh case to show just how such libel laws have stifled debate through SLAPP-like tactics. I think most supporters of the Singh campaign are also supporters of new libel laws in general.

  2. If you accuse someone of fraud in Australia they do not have to prove that they are not. They can take action under the Trade Practices Act on the basis that your comments damaged their business. The truth or otherwise of your claim then becomes moot, and you have to prove that they didn’t lose a single dollar of business because of what you said.

    If the court decides to award them that single dollar as damages, you will have to pay their court costs.

    Truth is no defence in Australia. It might look like it is but I have the court appearances and scars to prove otherwise.

  3. I write a non anonymous blog about the video game industry, Bruceongames.com. Recently I have written some articles about Evony, all that I wrote was provable fact or fair comment. My blog is written in the UK and hosted in the USA. Evony is Chinese. But they are threatening to sue me for libel in Australia. I obviously cannot defend the case despite being in the right and they can enforce any judgement due to reciprocal arrangements.
    So they will rewrite history in their favour, stifle fair criticism and destroy any notion of free speech. We are all potential victims of this sort of bullying. Our only way out is to rely on Streisand effect.
    Obviously, being a blog I have written this up: http://www.bruceongames.com/2009/08/26/why-use-warren-mckeon-dickson-to-threaten-me/

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