Friday, 31 July 2009

Simon Singh denied leave to appeal

So it's official then. Mr Justice Eady's definition of "bogus" stands. Jack of Kent has the bad news:


Letters have been sent to the parties (but there is a post strike in London.)

Simon Singh needed PTA because permission to appeal had been refused at first instance at the preliminary hearing in May.

There are no further details yet, including reasons.

I understand that this refusal may now mean he can make an "oral renewal" before the Court of Appeal.


Disappointing, though not entirely unexpected (there had been rumours to that effect). However, all avenues may not be exhausted. And the successful appeals in the Desmond/ Bower case and this one concerning a bad opera review have demonstrated recently that appeal judges are no longer giving Eady a blank cheque. In the opera case, Lord Justice Keene (who turned down Singh yesterday) said that not overturning one of Eady's edicts would be "an abdication of judicial responsibility".

The British Chiropractic Association has issued a brief statement, stating that it "notes" the decision and "looks forward to concluding this matter in due course to allow both parties to move forward constructively". Is that an olive branch? The case has been a classic instance of libel "blowback", alerting many people to questions about the origins, claims and even safety of the treatment which had previously been little aired. Moreover, the claims that Singh drew attention to have disappeared from the BCA's website and from their literature. They no longer promote these treatments, it would appear, happily or otherwise.

Over the past couple of months, the case against chiropractic has been disseminated far and wide. The BCA's decision to defend their profession via the libel courts rather than through proper debate has caused incalculable damage to their case, while anti-chiropractors have scored a home run. This might not be entirely fair. The claims Simon singled out for criticism, after all, apply only to a small minority of chiropractic treatments; the vast majority of practitioners concentrate on treating back pain, in which even Ernst and Singh accept that it can be beneficial.

For balance, you might be interested in this point-by-point refutation of Singh's Guardian article by the dissident chiropractor Richard Lanigan. Lanigan writes that

I have practised in the same area for almost fifteen years, I adjust the cervical spine of the vast majority of my patients and I do not recognise the “dangerous” practise Simon describes.

Interestingly, he also says that he " would question whether the BCA leadership is the respectable face of chiropractic." Hmm

If Singh does decide to appeal again, one aspect of Eady's ruling he might like to take issue with is the following:

13. It is alleged that the claimant promotes the bogus treatments "happily". What that means is not that they do it naively or innocently believing in their efficacy, but rather that they are quite content and, so to speak, with their eyes open to present what are known to be bogus treatments as useful and effective. That is in my judgment the plainest allegation of dishonesty and indeed it accuses them of thoroughly disreputable conduct.


I disagree. "Happily", in the natural meaning of the adverb, need not mean deliberately and with "eyes open" - but, rather, the opposite. This struck me belatedly in the wake of David Cameron's little accident the other day. He happily used the word "twat", unaware that (for some people, at least) it is not merely a variant of "twit" but also has an obscene anatomical meaning. Happily, here, means "innocently". No doubt the BCA were equally innocent when they promoted those "bogus" cures.