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« Josh 94 | Main | Another HSI sighting »
Thursday
Apr142011

Shub on Singh

Shub wonders whether Simon Singh was on James Delingpole's side in his recent Press Complaints Commssion spat with UEA.

Simon Singh must be aware, by now that the ‘denier-numpty’ columnist and blogger, James Delingpole, belonging to the alternate non celebrity-infested world of climate scepticism, has been pursued vigourously by the University of East Anglia, in almost the exact same manner as Singh was by the British chiropractors. Just as Singh did with the chiropractors, Delingpole gave Professor Phil Jones of the University a few choice names — “FOI-breaching, email-deleting, scientific-method-abusing”. Delingpole cannot pronounce his hyphenated descriptors of Phil Jones or the Jones-run epicentre of climate controversy and data prison - the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), the University felt in turn. They lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Comission.

The analogy is, of course, not exact - a complaint to the PCC being a different beast to a libel suit. A better comparison would of course have been the pursuit of Tim Ball by various climatologists. Dr Singh will no doubt want to contribute to Prof Ball's legal defence fund here.

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Reader Comments (21)

I suspect the self-appointed intelligentsia who call themselves the skeptiks but in reality are poseurs using CAGW for self-aggrandisement and to make money from investing in renewables, have realised how scientifically naive they have been.

The Emperor has no clothes and all bar those who are totally committed to Agenda 21's Malthusian future and millions of cold related deaths in our country alone are quietly edging away from this combination of Phlogiston and Lysenko.

Apr 14, 2011 at 9:34 AM | Unregistered Commenteralistair

What is it about believing deeply in AGW that turns otherwise brave souls into quivering cowards?

Apr 14, 2011 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

I'll give Singh some grudging credit for his battle with the chiropractors, but he's not really a sceptic, is he?

Anyone who drags out the wretched "credibility spectrum" is really a believer in authority, which is the very antithesis of scepticism. There is no inconsistency in his position: he'll take the scientific consensus every day, because it's more credible than the opposition.

Apr 14, 2011 at 9:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Fortunately I had previously archived the earlier thread

This is great!

Apr 14, 2011 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

Singh is in the process of moving his blog so maybe it is because of that?

Apr 14, 2011 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

"Singh is in the process of moving his blog"

Will that make his old one Pre-posterous? :-)

Apr 14, 2011 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Pre-posturous?
=========

Apr 14, 2011 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

And will the new one will be "postpreposterous".

Apr 14, 2011 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterFred Bloggs

Bishop, I wrote asking for empirical evidence and he sent me that self-same blog on (un)skepticalscience. The paper he referred to was a paper saying the OLR in the 4 an 15um range had decreased. He clearly hadn't read the paper, nor as a science writer for two decades was he able to find that there was a "hide the OLR" side to the paper that hadn't mentioned that the OLR in the 800 - 1000um range had gone up, with the net OLR rising in the period described by the paper.

Apr 14, 2011 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Specifically in the case of Singh, it is important to remember that credibility is a thing that has to earned for every opinion one holds, by every statement one makes in support of those opinion; it cannot be transfered, let alone presumed.

Apr 14, 2011 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterqwerty

Sorry should read 8-10um range.

Here's the reply I sent to him, he's busy so I wasn't expecting a response and haven't been disappointed.

Apr 14, 2011 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

While I realise chiropractic has the reputation of being a bit dodgy, I can only defend it with my own experience of it. I suffered an industrial accident at the age of 19, which left me with severe back pain, headaches, random loss of control of one leg etc. I duly consulted two reputable neurosurgeons; both thought I should have parts of damaged vertabrae in my neck removed and the remainder of the pieces fused together; neither could guarantee even reasonable mobility after the op, and sugested I should wear a corset-type brace to support my spine after the propsed op. Unhappy with such drastic sugestions, I consulted a Chiropractor. After further x-rays, he designed a set of exercises to strengthen the muscles in the affected area. After three years I was able to resume heavy manual work, which I did with no ill effects. I had a similar problem at the age of sixty as the result of an assault by criminals intent on robbing me. The Xrays showed further damage to my neck vertabrae, but the well-developed muscles there allowed me to resume normal physical activities after three months of physiotherapy. My experience of Chiropractic was wholly beneficial for me and the alternate 'conventional' treatment would have rendered me partially disabled and physically very limited for the balance of my life.

Apr 14, 2011 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

@ Alexander K

Likewise. I damaged my neck ejecting from an aircraft - Naval docs wanted me to lie on boards for 3 months - a chiropracter fixed me for 20 years with one visit.

Apr 14, 2011 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterPFM

"My experience of Chiropractic was wholly beneficial"

Same here. The BCA's mistake was suing over an article that would have been wrapping chips* within a few days. As I'm sure they realise now, they should have left well alone!

*metaphorically, of course. We know how toxic ink can be...

Apr 14, 2011 at 7:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Probably worth clarifying: Simon Singh's criticism of chiropractic was regarding a pamphlet called "happy families", in which the BCA promoted chiropractic for problems including asthma and colic in babies.

There is scientific evidence supporting the use chiropractic for back pain. There is "not a jot" of scientific evidence for the use of chiropractic in the treatment of asthma, and manipulating the spines of babies to treat colic is bordering on child abuse.

Although I strongly disagree with Simon Singh's views on climate, his critique of the claims made by the BCA were entirely reasonable.

Apr 14, 2011 at 10:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

Spence, let me play devil's advocate a bit.

Simon Singh said:

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

The problem the court had, was not with the first sentence, but with the second (taken in context, and coming after the first).

The second sentence, the court ruled, was a statement of fact, by Singh. The only possible meaning ( for the court) was that the BCA was being disingenious, or duplicitious. As in, it knows that there is no evidence to support its practices, or at the least, it ought to know that there is no such evidence (considering how it presents a respectable face), but yet, it happily promotes such bogus treatments.

All medical practitioners are very sensitive to the charge that they are cavalier, with patients' lives and illnesses. The statement implied that meaning and the BCA went after it - it is as simple.

Singh's advocates argued in court, that the second statement was, an opinion expressed by him, and not a statement of fact, and that the charge of disingeniousness was not the intended meaning but that the treatments were 'bogus' was. They said that was the only meaning sought to be highlighted by the second sentence. The judge Eady did not buy it.

You can see this in the Jack of Kent post, after the initial ruling. Let me quote the relevant passage:

Yesterday Singh's lawyers argued that the passage was a comment and the BCA's lawyers argued it was a statement of fact. ...

I was in court. The judge did not take a single note during the oral submissions of the BCA, and he hardly took a note during Singh's submissions. The reason for this soon became painfully clear. He had already prepared his ruling before even hearing the oral arguments.

...

The judge ruled that, notwithstanding that the passage in Singh's article was a comment piece and published on the comment page, it was a statement of fact. This was an unhelpful ruling, and my heart sank for a moment, but it was not one for which Singh was unprepared. Singh would have preferred to have had a comment ruling, but he did have a full justification defence too, see here. So not ideal, but not a disaster.

But the judge continued. The word "bogus" meant deliberate and targeted dishonesty. So it did not mean that chiropractic for the six named children's ailments (including asthma) was simply wrong, or that it was contrary to established medical practice or research, or even that it completely lacked evidence.

"Bogus" meant a lot more. The judge held that by the mere use of the word "bogus" Simon Singh was stating that, as a matter of fact, the BCA were being consciously dishonest in promoting chiropractic for those children's ailments.

Apr 14, 2011 at 10:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Shub, I'm well aware of the details of the case. The original expectation was a scientific disagreement over evidence, but Justice Eady rapidly boiled it down to an interpretation of the word "bogus".

This is not dissimilar to Paul McKenna, vs. Victor Lewis-Smith (Daily Mirror, MGN), which had the same presiding judge and the same debate over the same pivotal word. Of course, Victor Lewis-Smith and the Mirror Group Newspapers were not so lucky to have such a following as Simon Singh.

To be honest, I consider Justice Eady's interpretation of the word "bogus" to be overzealous. Whilst the word "bogus" derives from a counterfeit coin (i.e., a fake), it enjoys a common usage today that does not carry such an interpretation.

During the appeal, the focus of the case was shifted away from the narrow focus on the word "bogus" that Justice Eady had suggested and back towards the scientific issues - upon which Simon Singh was, of course, on much stronger grounds.

On top of that, if the BCA were genuinely unaware that chiropractic is an entirely inappropriate therapy for a baby with colic, it doesn't really show them up in a very positive light, does it? Isn't that really the sort of thing they should know about?

In the context of this thread, I was primarily responding to those commenting above who were suggesting that Simon Singh's critique of chiropractic was misplaced because they have had back problems resolved. As you must surely know if you have followed the case, that wasn't Simon Singh's point at all.

Apr 14, 2011 at 11:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

Spence,
I didn't mean for my post to read as though I were explaining something. Sorry if it did.

I'd looked at the Happy Families pamphlet earlier. The BCA cites on its last page, a series of references specifically in support of its claims about pediatric treatments.

So, taken literally, the initial ruling was correct. There was evidence that supported the BCA's claims (i.e., it existed), and therefore for Singh to say that it promoted treatments that it knew to be ineffective, was wrong.

Whether such evidence actually supported the BCA's claims (i.e., the strength and veracity of such evidence), is a scientific question. Why would the initial court get into this debate at all? Even Singh himself did not get into it in his article.

Even the Appeal Court had to do a tap-dance around Singh's ill-framed sentence in order to let him off the hook. It had to, in turn, formulate that Singh's statement that there was 'not a jot of evidence' was one arising out of an evaluation of the nature and quality of the evidence in question and his opinion arising out of such evaluation.

So, in order to lift the burden of the case off Singh's shoulders, the appeals court formulated that Singh's statement about existence or non-existence of evidence supporting the BCA's claims and flowing from thereon, his conclusion about the BCA (about its affect and character), were just opinions, and therefore permissible.

I would say, this is a victory for Singh, but a defeat for the idea he promoted.

Apr 15, 2011 at 2:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Shub, thanks for the clarification, and I think I see where you are coming from a bit more clearly now. I still don't entirely agree though :-)

The slogan of Simon Singh's movement was "keep libel laws out of science". It was not "let's have a scientific debate and have that adjudicated in the libel courts". Whilst he was prepared to argue his case in court, I think the primary idea was that scientific debate should be free from fear of libel suits. In many ways, by judging scientific debate to be opinion/commentary, it does largely free it from fear of law suits. This seems broadly in agreement with the movements goals, however it is achieved from a legal perspective.

I think that should cut both ways, and I hope Simon feels the same: the BCA should feel free to present their scientific evidence without fear of libel suits. Of course, that is more challenging for them as evidence to support their claims is about as shaky as MBH98 being evidence for climate change.

Of course, it was almost skewered because he included a borderline ad hominem attack on the BCA in his article (a point that even the BCA had missed in the initial hearing). That isn't necessarily a bad thing. We should feel free to debate scientific topics, whichever side of the argument we fall on, as long as we steer clear of personal attacks.

Apr 15, 2011 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpence

On Singh's blog an interesting discusiion developed about his famous leading questions, which both Fraser and Delingpole answered. I, in turn posted 7 questions for him http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2011/04/warming-alarmists-hypocrisy-questions.html suggesting that if it were appropriate to suggest sceptics have a duty to answer so do alarmists. Most commenters formed the same conclusion and asked him to do so.

He deleted all comments. I am afraid I cannot now believe he honestly believes warming alarmism to be factually defencible.

PS I also sent the same questions toMann, Hones, Nourse, Beddington, NERC, Harrabin and numerous newspapers and all our alarmist political parties and have to conlude that they all equally know their entire catastrophic warming scare is a fraud.

Apr 16, 2011 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

Today the original comments all seem to be re-instated on Simon's blog ...

http://slsingh.posterous.com/response-to-fraser-nelsons-blog

Apr 18, 2011 at 7:15 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

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