Saturday, May 09, 2009

Simon Singh and the word 'bogus'

I can't remember exactly when it was, but a few years ago I had to give a talk to the Geological Society of England about Alfred Wegener in Burlington House on Piccadilly in London - and I was apprehensive (okay, more accurately, terrified).

I knew the audience was going to be large - about 200 people - and had asked a couple of people from my publisher to come along but no one was available. But then, out of the blue, came an email from Simon Singh asking me if he could come along! I didn't think he would, but he did, and I was really delighted when I saw him there. It really made a huge difference. Simon Singh, by many accounts, is a kind man as well as a passionate communicator of science.

Later I met him again at a conference at the LSE where he gave a really interesting talk about the transfer of Fermat's Last Theorem from fact to screen and book. He mentioned then that his next book was going to be about alternative medicine (co-written with Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter). I thought at the time that was bound to stir up a few hornets' nests. I know quite a few people that are believers in alternative medicine - and it does seem akin to a belief in many cases, rather than anything more rational. I don't think this is necessarily bad - the mind, after all is a powerful thing, an important part of any cure in many cases. However, I think it can be dangerous if people claim they are able to do things they cannot, and thereby discourage people from seeking conventional treatments first.

However, it does not seem to be the book, but an inoffensive (at least to me) article in the Guardian newspaper that has turned out to be a problem. As far as I understand, because he used the word 'bogus', a judge on Thursday found in favour of the British Chiropractic Association, and said that by using it Simon was in effect saying that the BCA were intentionally setting out to deceive - which was not the intent of the Guardian piece at all. The full situation is summarised on the excellent Jack of Kent blog. It makes interesting but depressing reading, with worrying implications for the future of free speech in this country.

Please sign up to support Simon Singh and free speech here.


Blogger Stephen said...

Thanks for flagging this up Clare. Have joined the Facebook group to show support (as I see you have done) and would encourage others to do likewise.

Sat May 09, 06:44:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, thanks Stephen, I'll add a link now.

Sat May 09, 11:21:00 pm  

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