January 2018
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Bogus. Totally.

Mr. Justice Eady’s ruling in the preliminary hearing in the Simon Singh vs. British Chiropractic Association case (concerning an allegedly libellous article published in the Guardian, since removed from the Guardian website) has already received widespread blog coverage. Martin at LayScience covered the background as the hearing was about to begin. A while ago, when the British Chiropractic Association announced their intention to sue, HolfordWatch provided further background to the case. Gimpy has reposted the original offending article, annotated with evidence for Singh’s comments. Ben Goldacre has been making noises about throwing his hat into the ring (most likely not in the Guardian though). The Economist and New Scientist both provide coverage in the mainstream media.

The most complete and compelling coverage comes from JackofKent, who has been following proceedings from a very well-written legal perspective. In fact, his blog, for the time being at least, is completely dominated by this one case. It makes for fascinating (but highly disturbing) reading. In fact, before you read any more of this post, visit http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/ and familiarise yourself with the case. Hats off to the chap. In fact, this post is taking far longer to write than it should because I’m getting sucked into reading and re-reading his articles.

I’m bringing this up after noting something interesting about the Times article by David Aaronovitch I commented on in my previous post. Something completely unrelated to my previous post, but relevant to the context of the Singh case.

It concerns the word “bogus”, which appears to be one of the main focal points of Justice Eady’s ruling. As far as I can tell from the coverage (incidentally I Am Not A Lawyer), the meaning of the word, according to the ruling, was taken as “deliberately dishonest”. This, in turn, meant that Singh’s comments were construed as “matter of fact” rather than “fair comment”. The ruling now means that, as far as I can tell, unless Singh appeals the decision from this preliminary hearing, his defense in any further hearing must be on that basis. In other words, he must prove that the BCA were being “deliberately dishonest”. This, according to Jack of Kent, is nigh-on impossible.

It appears to be a rather strange ruling. In my understanding, “bogus” can also be interpreted as “well-intentioned but misguided”. Dr. Aust notes a number of synonyms to “bogus” which could have been used in its stead, and arguably may have avoided the trouble:

“daft”, “unbelievable”, “discredited” “ridiculous” “wholly implausible” or “risible”

Indeed, Singh qualifies his use of the word in his next paragraph with a careful precis of why he uses the word “bogus” – none of which appears to imply accusation of “deliberate dishonsety”. Unfortunately, it appears that the whole article has not been taken into consideration – just the one paragraph.

Interestingly, I discovered that the same word “bogus” is used in Aaronovitch’s article (emphasis added):

But I discover we do have room for the sex industry, so let’s throw that in too. A month ago I asked readers for examples of bogus statistics and numbers that had somehow become viral. I have to admit that this issue of bad stats has become something of an obsession for me, not least because we seem to be having entire debates and advocating important policies on the basis of poor research. Anyway, one of my respondents was Hilary Kinnell, a well-respected author and researcher in the field of prostitution and sex work. Ms Kinnell pointed out that the Home Office routinely uses the figure of 80,000 for the estimated number of prostitutes in the UK. It did so again last November in its latest review document, Tackling the Demand for Prostitution.

Does that therefore imply that Aaronovitch was accusing the Home Office of being “deliberately dishonest”? I don’t think so, but it appears that English libel laws take a different view.


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