Excellent news! Science writer Simon Singh has just won his appeal for the right to rely on the defence of “fair comment” when describing the the pseudo-scientific therapeutic practice known as chiropractic as “bogus”. In its judgement this morning the High Court ruled that while the comments which so offended the British Chiropractic Association were factual assertions rather than expressions of opinion, the fair comment defence still applies.
Update @ 16:50 BST
An extract from the judgement…
“What ‘evidence’ signifies depends heavily on context. To a literalist, any primary fact – for example, that following chiropractic intervention a patient’s condition improved – may be evidence of a secondary fact, here that chiropractic works.
To anyone (and not only a scientist) concerned with the establishment of dependable generalisations about cause and effect, such primary information is as worthless as evidence of the secondary fact as its converse would be.
The same may equally well be true of data considerably more complex than in the facile example we have given: whether it is or not is what scientific opinion is there to debate. If in the course of the debate the view is expressed that there is not a jot of evidence for one deduction or another, the natural meaning is that there is no worthwhile or reliable evidence for it. That is as much a value judgment as a contrary viewpoint would be.”
This is how the Appeal Court judges differentiate between assertions of fact, such as that made by Singh in the Guardian article which led to the BCA’s libel writ, and simple expressions of opinion.