Pseudoscientists Sue Simon Singh

Sexy scientiest and dear friend-of-Skepchick Simon Singh is going toe-to-toe with chiropractors who are suing him over a recent article published in The Guardian. You can find the article in question cached on Svetlana Pertsovich’s site here — I’m not sure who Svetlana is but I like her already (and thanks to Sid for giving me that link plus this one as well).

If you’ve read Simon’s book Trick or Treatment (and you should, it’s brilliant), you’ll know that he’s actually quite fair to the chiropractic industry, admitting where it may have some benefit while cautioning patients against the dangerous practices that have no benefits at all. Of course, when you peddle a bunch of crap that might kill or maim your customers, you’ll do anything to suppress alternate viewpoints. Hence, a frivolous libel lawsuit designed to squash valid criticism and free speech.

Here’s an article about how sad the not-actually-doctors are to have to take Singh to court. Yeah. Right.

Best of luck, Simon! Everyone at Skepchick is cheering you on as you fight the good fight.


Speaking of UK skepticism, those of you in London absolutely must run out to see Skepchick Calendar Girl Iszi Lawrence perform an hour of heathon stand-up! Tickets are here. Go! Now! Her last show is Thursday!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Couldn’t he counter-sue for being falsely slandered of committing libel? :P

    Here’s to hoping for a quick dismissal of the lawsuit.

  2. Wow, frivolous is definitely the word.

    I’ve been intending to inter-library-loan acquire Singh’s book for a while now and this is a good catalyst.

  3. It makes this law student’s heart sad when the law is used as a tool of intimidation. Unfortunately, UK libel law is notoriously hard to defend against. In the US, the plaintiff has to prove that the alleged libelous claims are false. In the UK, it’s backwards. The burden of proof is on the defendant to prove that the challenged claims are true.

    Granted, Singh has rational science on his side, so he shouldn’t have any problem proving to a court that he’s right. It’s still stupid that he has to do it. It’s a sure sign of crap-based medicine if you’re challenging scientific conclusions in court, instead of starting with your own science.

  4. It’s interesting how the pseudoscience proponents get up in (legal) arms when a scientist criticizes what they do. When pseudoscience proponents make outrageous claims like “They’re just prescribing you drugs to keep you sick!” or “A vast conspiracy of doctors is trying to suppress this awesome technique!” they don’t get sued by scientists.

  5. these pseudoscientists are silly, stupid, senseless, and…..alright, alliteration is acceptably accomplished.

    Anyway, I wish Simon the best of skill and science (wishing him luck just assumes that he needs it, which he doesn’t) fighting these stupidheads especially against the screwy UK libel laws.

  6. So, he said chiropractors’ work ain’t all it’s *cracked* up to be. Chiropractors want him to *back* off. And now they’re suing him *jointly*.
    I couldn’t resist.

  7. Don’t get me wrong. I know that chiropractic therapy has more than a few “treatments” that don’t stand up to scientific rigor. But I wonder how Simon Singh’s expertise is going to stand up in a court of law.

    Singh is a scientist, but he’s not exactly in his field of expertise either. Sure, he’s a smart guy, and probably knows a whole lot more about this stuff than I do. But according to the article, his PhD is in particle physics. He’s not a medical doctor.

    If he’s right, I hope he has some experts from the medical field on his side willing to back him up. Otherwise, the judge could end up going either way.

  8. Peregrine, I took the time (all of five minutes) to reproduce Singh’s article and provided links to the references for all his claims. His arguments are very much evidence based and it is hard to see just what the quacks are objecting too.

  9. Peregrine, Simon doesn’t have to be the expert in this case — he only needs experts to verify that his claims are based on science, which they are.

  10. OK, if he has experts that can verify his claims, then I hope they’re available on the court date. That’s all I’m saying.

    I’m way outside of my area of expertise most of the time anyway, so I’m one to talk. But if quacks can fool the general populous enough to have their name on a plaque outside their office, then they can be convincing enough to fool a judge.

    The judge is just some smuck in a specialized area of expertise too. Sure, legal experts might be brilliant interpreters of the law, but the majority of them have to be hand-held through the science. If you’re a judge, and you have a medical doctor and a particle physicist before you, who are you going to believe on a matter of medical science?

  11. OK, if he has experts that can verify his claims, then I hope they’re available on the court date. That’s all I’m saying.

    Ha! I don’t think that’ll be an issue . . . I’m no lawyer but I’m sure any number of medical experts could do the job and would be more than willing to rearrange their schedules slightly for a case like this.

    By no means is Simon guaranteed a victory here, but with competent legal council he shouldn’t be losing much sleep.

    Definitely check out the blog I linked to above for the perspective of an actual lawyer in the UK.

  12. Already got tickets for Iszi!
    Trip to London was planned for months, so a very nice coincidence to find Iszi performing there as well. :)

  13. Jack of Kent for the win. Thanks for the explanation of the relevant law. I hope you’ll keep us updated as the case develops.

  14. So much for critical thought by this group, real evidence should have statistics based on relative risk . You do realize risk of a stroke from adjustment has been calculated to be approx 1.5 out of 1 million cervical adjustments. Your risk of death from NSAID (advil, tylenol, etc.) use is 100 times higher. I am a medical student by the way so no bias here. Here’s an article thats actually well researched,

  15. Oh and just to add, I hope the UK Chiros win this one. It is unfair to have your profession slandered like this. Just because this Singh guy has a degree and the internet does not make him an expert in medical science.

  16. I have to say that yablo21 does have a point. It’s interesting, as while I have never exactly trusted chiropractors, I haven’t doubted the profession’s rightful inclusion in the medical community. My mistrust in chiropractor came about because I thought there was something wrong about having to return to the doctor to have the same procedure done on you, again and again, paying every time. But then again, that doesn’t only happen in chiropracty. So I am wondering about why this field gets such a bad rapport in sceptical communities, if what yablo21 says is true. Thoughts? It’s just my opinion, but I think it’s because there have been a higher number of quacks that pop up in chiropracty than in other fields (at least, that get noticed). Chiropractors still go to medical school, and take an extra four years (correct me if I’m wrong) to specialize. And absolutely every medical field will have its quacks.

    At any rate, it remains one of the fields I like to see studies done in as to long term effects/results.

    Thanks for the posts.

  17. Just to clarify: as far as I’ve been exposed to chiropracty (chiropractic?), I’ve only heard it be used to fix back pain or spine misalignments, not anything else (i.e. headaches, heart problems…). That’s been my experience here in Canada, anyways.

  18. darwinfan: Actually, chiropractors don’t have to go to medical school. In Canada at least, they spend 4 years in chiropractic school, and they don’t even need a university degree to get into said chiropractic school (which is, by the way, non-accredited by the state….making their degree-granting power the same as mine). Their chiropractic degree cannot be used as credits in proper (read: accredited) medical school.

    They’re legally allowed to be called “doctor”, but that is because of a series of slander/libel suits in the late 80’s-early 90’s. In addition, the chiropractic community in Canada and the US has very little in the way of self-regulation…when a chiropractor gets in trouble for injuring someone, they tend to lock arms and charge ahead as one unit. Not so in the scientific, fact-based medical community: When a medical doctor gets in trouble for injuring someone, they lose their licence and it’s illegal for them to conduct medicine.

    Yablo21: Slander laws in the UK are among the most difficult to win, and it’s a bit sad that anyone can claim to be offended and launch a lawsuit over it, then have the burden of proof on the defendant….It’s guilty until proven innocent. That’s a bit embarassing for a supposedly liberal society which values free speech. I think that if the British Chiropractors were so legit, they’d have slightly tougher skin than this before running to the lawyers.

  19. ah my bad, I actually thought they did need to go to medical school. The only chiropractor I know did go to med school, that led me astray…
    I don’t agree with the woo-woo aspects to chiropractic, but like I said, I actually haven’t run into any of that up here. As far as I knew, before reading this website of course, chiropractors were for your spine, period. None of this woo stuff about ear infections and whatnot. Seems to me the spine alignment and back problem aspect to chiropractic is valid and well accepted; I do have a problem with the woo aspect to it and would discourage anyone from going to a doc that veered from the back-problem-fixing-and-spine-alignment stuff.

  20. Is yablo21 a troll or trying to bait us? It’s a bit of a give away to which type of “medical student” they may be when they reference and article by the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association.
    I think everyone here can agree that if useless practices from chiropractors were not allowed, then these pointless and harrowing mishaps would never happen – relative risk calculations are not needed. Treatments that have clinical relevance have a relative risk, ones that have shown no efficacy are left to the stupidity of the quacks and their patients.

  21. No I am not a troll, but I am trying to bait you into doing some real research on the subject. Go on to pubmed yourself and look up papers, there are several on the saftey and effectiveness of chiropractic care. And these are published in non-chiropractic medical journal, all you have to do is check instead of simply believing some guy with a physics degree, come on people you spose to be skeptics yet you believe this guy with no background in medical science.

    Just because some quacks stand out you are condeming the entire profession. There are quacks in every profession in case you were unaware. As a matter of fact I am in a MD program, although there is no way of proving this to you, no do I feel I need to.

  22. “As a matter of fact I am in a MD program, although there is no way of proving this to you, no do I feel I need to.”

    The word you are looking for would be programme.

  23. Oh. Sorry yablo21. I didn’t know you were very new to this medical research malarkey. We were just discussing whether litigation was stifling scientific debate and free speech. Obviously you know that Simon Singh has written a book with a Professor of complimentary medicine outlining the pros and cons of the most popular alternative medicine therapies, including chiropractic. You may have also noticed the name of “Ernst E.” in that PubMed search of yours.
    It would be prudent to maybe click on the links in the above blog post to get a feel of the facts and their implications on freedoms of speech and human-rights in the UK; as well as the medical evidence for chiropractic.
    Have to go. Someone else is wrong on the internets. Good luck with all the MD stuff!

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