Keep the libel laws out of science!

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For centuries, scientists have discussed, criticised and debated scientific issues. At times discussions and debates have become very heated; at times scientists have been accused of being unscientific or fraud or quackery. At some time or other in their careers many scientists will be accused of presenting theories that cannot be proved. It is then up to them to review their work and retest it. If it then comes through attempts to falsify it the scientists concerned will put their detractors to shame.

Recently, a science writer has been accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association. The writer, Simon Singh, said in no uncertain terms that there was no proof for some of the wild claims made by chiropractors. For instance, it is claimed that chiropractors can cure childhood asthma. The British Chiropractic Association, instead of putting the disputed claims forward for testing, took Singh to court, where the judge, in his wisdom, and who are we to doubt otherwise, ruled that there is a case to be answered.

There is no way that scientific disputes should ever be referred to the courts. The place for settling scientific disputes is in laboratories, in universities and in the field. If claims made for a product or procedure are falsified then science writers have every right to accuse the claimant(s) of inadequate investigations of their own claims or, if there is more than a suspicion that the claims were made knowing they were false, quackery. If the claims cannot be falsified then the writer will be left with egg on his/her face. That is how it should be.

free debate

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