Singh recently published a book with Edzard Ernst, the first Professor of complimentary medicine in the UK, called "Trick or Treatment?" It is an evidence-based examination of the claims of alternative medicine practitioners, the money wasted on ineffective treatments, and the necessity of subjecting all treatments and therapies to the scientific method. Ernst himself is published in hundreds of scientific papers and is a leading reformer in the complimentary medicine community.
In April of last year, Singh took this a step further and published an editorial in The Guardian that has since been taken down. A Russian skeptic has graciously hosted the cache of Singh's editorial for everyone to read. In the editorial, Singh takes on the claims of chiropractic and notes the lack of peer-reviewed evidence for their efficacy.
The following was what got him in trouble, though:
The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.
I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.
The BCA has sued Singh for libel because of the bolded phrase. While US libel laws put the burden of proof on the plaintiff and set the bar relatively high, UK libel laws require the defendant to disprove the plaintiff's claims. In Singh's case, the judge presiding over the preliminary hearing bizarrely ruled that Singh was stating, as a matter of fact, that the BCA was being deliberately dishonest.
This ruling would make an effective defense impossible for Singh because he would essentially have to prove that every member of the BCA was deliberately lying to their patients. Despite the fact that Singh never actually questions the motivations of the BCA itself and the following paragraph clearly shows he was questioning the efficacy of the treatments, the judge somehow decided for Singh what he 'really' meant.
Fortunately, Singh was granted leave to appeal this ruling earlier this month. His appeal is pending. The BCA may also have undermined its own case through its own statements in response to Singh's appeal. Curiously, they asserted the BCA was "maliciously attacked by Dr. Singh" in their first press release. The BCA then released a new statement simply saying they were "libelled." By ascribing malice to Dr. Singh, the BCA may have opened themselves up to a countersuit.
Sense About Science has organized a petition on Simon Singh's behalf to change the laws in the UK to be more consistent with the scientific method and freedom of expression. Singh's case has garnered worldwide support from scientists, academia, media, and skeptics groups. I just signed it myself.
Libel laws should not be used to silence dissent and scientific inquiry. Don't think it can't happen here in the United States, either. In the 80s, the American Medical Association was sued by chiropractors for "restraint of trade" because it told their members not to refer to chiropractors. The AMA lost its "quality of care" defense because the boycott was ruled unnecessarily anti-competitive, though the ruling said the AMA is still free to criticize chiropractic.
Some skeptic writers are now even told by defenders of chiropractic that they aren't allowed to criticize the field as a result of the permanent injunction against the AMA. It's not at all true, but it illustrates how far some of the true believers are willing to go.
It is my sincere hope that Simon Singh is exonerated of the claims against him and that reason and critical analysis are not sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.