Saturday 3 October 2009

Catching up on back issues

I'm afraid my brain has gone to porridge since coming back from holiday and I missed a chance to write up the latest on Simon Singh and the fight with unjust libel laws. So I'll just post the recent highlights - I've been goaded into it today by reading several tweets (have found nothing official yet, so I am merely presuming and hoping it's true) that he's a) won the James Randi award and b) going to be a dad! Many congratulations Simon and family - have a galactic rose from your supporters at Galaxy Zoo.

(Credit: SDSS telescope, reference number 587728676861051075.)

Recently, Richard Dawkins was a guest speaker at the Liberal Democrat conference, and the result was that the LibDems have made reforming libel laws one of their policies! This was very encouraging, and you can find more here. The Guardian did a great job writing it up, emphasising the inappropriateness of trying to stifle criticism - the health of good science - by law, money, and fear. The Liberal Democrats evidently "proposed reforming the libel laws by shifting the burden of proof towards the plaintiff". Whoopee! (Cynically, I am more encouraged by the symbolism than the hope that they'll get elected and put it into action themselves. The sad thing about that party, in my personal view, is that for every election they lose, they drop the very policy that made me vote for them, or hope they'd win before I was old enough to vote. Examples include proportional representation and the 50% tax for the highest earners.) Anyway, it's a great speech and I thoroughly recommend a read, if you didn't at the time.

It contains many sinister reminders of how thoroughly money can stop mouths, and in London worse than anywhere; the quote I would like best to share with you is this:
Homeopathy is obvious nonsense, and given another two minutes I could prove it to you. It can even be damaging, if it lures patients away from seeking the best, evidence-based medical advice until it is too late. Yet before saying a thing like that, I have to look nervously over my shoulder, intimidated by the notorious English libel laws. The biologist Olivia Judson wrote last week in the New York Times: Several times this summer, science journalists in London have leaned over to me and said something along the lines of, "I was thinking of writing," and gone on to describe an article that was going to be critical of someone. "But then," the speaker would gloomily conclude, "I thought to myself, 'Simon Singh,' and I decided not to."
The article, written of course in the States, an outside perspective, is here - and excellent. Well said, Olivia Judson. There's also a good article about Sile Lane in the Irish Times - who, as they say, started off with an interest in stem cells to fight lung cancer, but has now ended up running the "Keep Libel Laws out of Science" campaign.

On a more general note about scientific journalism, Crispian Jago offers a highly useful device for how to create sensational articles as a result of a conference he attended. Very funny, as ever.

It's only 11 days to go until Simon's oral appeal now. Things should start getting extremely interesting again soon. This is a matter of great importance to the future of science in the public eye, and in public health and education too. Which will win, power and money, or the best truth science can find? If you feel as I do, please sign in support of Simon Singh and freedom of debate in science here.

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