What with Trafigura and Simon, last week was a great one for free speech, but we still have a long way to go. Good old Simon (the other one) just reminded us to write to our MPs. He has written a form letter and directs us to http://www.writetothem.com/. You can copy and paste his, though be careful as it says it will block copy and pasted letters - better change one or two words!
I would not recommend copying and pasting mine: I wrote my own, and some of the information is very specific to Pembrokeshire, as Stephen Crabb and I have exchanged e-mails about ID cards and Withybush Hospital before. It's very much a "me" letter. But it's good to send unique messages if you have time.
This is what I wrote:
Dear Mr Crabb,
I gather that tomorrow there is a debate in Parliament regarding the English Libel Laws and I am writing to you to ask you to support their reform.
At present, England's libel laws are infamous for being by far the most costly in the world, and for the burden of proof being shifted to the defendant. This gives particularly wealthy individuals and corporations a hugely unfair advantage, and means that individuals fear to speak openly about large-scale problems to avoid bankruptcy. This is the kind of mentality which was last week taken advantage of by Trafigura and their law firm Carter-Ruck in their attempt to prevent the media from reporting a question by N Paul Farrelly of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
In the case of science and health science especially, silence is extremely dangerous. Science can only progress through open criticism. The efficacy of a medicine, for instance, cannot be determined by court action, but only through fair trials and also fair presentation to the public. Using libel laws to repress such individuals as Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre creates an environment in which evidence matters less than money and fear.
If scientists had not spoken out, for instance, the drug Thalidomide would not have been removed from the market. It was also, I believe, the ability of individuals to speak out which has so far saved Withybush Hospital from being closed via the back door.
The campaign Sense About Science has raised interest in individuals from all three major political parties. Please support a change in the libel laws of this country.
Many thanks for your time in reading this.
Thanks for that about the Thalidomide, Simon, I'd forgotten! About the scientists speaking out, that is. Come to think of it there was a recent article about how difficult it is for Thalidomide people to live today: one lady has a yearly grant which about 90% of went towards a specialist wheelchair.
Prevention of ghastly situations like that is better than having to manage them - since cure is not an option. Whether it's a question of drugs on the market, or whether it's some other industry keener on making money than on evaluating their own treatment's effectiveness and safety, scientists need to speak out. Go on, write to them now.