23 February 2010, 13:07
Firstly, this is great.
Westminster Skeptics last night: very good indeed (Photos from @mjrobbins), and this morning I met up with some fellow nerdy sceptics outside the Royal Courts of Justice to cheer Simon as he went in for the case brought by the BCA (some photos here by Mr Robert Sharp from English Pen; I’m short and invisible, but I was holding a sign!!)
The main theme covered by all speakers last night was the necessity of free speech, namely criticism, within science and medical science especially.
Favourite quotation, re: Medical Grand Rounds and also applicable to journal clubs (which we do most weeks at work; someone presents the results of a recently-published paper somehow of interest to us, generally we rip it apart criticising the figures, the way the data’s been collected, analysed and presented, conclusions drawn etc. Sometimes it’s just a good study, but rarely):
It’s a sort of perverse form of S&M because, like the Catholics, we know it’s good for us
It’s funny because it’s true – as scientists, we like to think we do things right but more often than not there’s a better way, and it takes people throwing liberal helpings of criticism around to improve things. Money helps, too, but that’s another issue.
Criticism is an inherent part of the scientific process. Without it, dogma can flourish because if people shout something loud enough and often enough without rebuttal then minds can be turned even if it makes no sense.
To improve, the current status quo must be challenged and better ideas put forward. Otherwise ignorance prevails, opinions fly around under the guise of facts, myths become reliable sources of information and bases for how to live life. Criticism isn’t just vital in science but in all facets of society.
So for Simon Singh and, sadly, many other figures to be held down by the crazily-flailing arm of English libel law when they are simply trying to make things better for everyone (except those of questionable moral fibre making money from others’ stupidity and desperation) is despicable.
Some good blogs, articles etc. on the subject:
Simon Singh’s Telegraph piece, giving background on his personal suit, the current one faced by Dr. Peter Wilmshurst (I read this very scary piece yesterday, what a fantastic guy he is) and others.
@mjrobbins science blog in the Guardian: the outcome of yesterday’s #evcheck report (managed to procure Ben Goldacre’s copy of that at the pub yesterday! Found some dubiously-titled graphs such as ‘effects of diluted milk on patients’ or something to that effect…), what it says about homeopathy in the NHS (i.e. it’s BS) and the childish behaviour of homeopaths in repsonse to all the negative press.
A nice comment I’ve just seen, regarding some homeopath’s statement that you have to shake remedies hard, not stir them gently, in order for them to work:
It’s hard to say which is more ridiculous: the sight of a grown man speaking this nonsense, or the fact that after 200 years homeopaths apparenly haven’t bothered to “fully investigate” how much shaking is required for their remedies to work.
– Martin Robbins
You are completely misrepresenting the state of homeopathic research. In fact, this has already long since been narrowed down to between “more than a little bit” and “really quite vigorously”
Prof. Edzard Ernst’s Guardian article – why prescribing homeopathic placebos is unethical medical practice as it flies in the face of informed patient choice.
Raymond Tallis in the Times Online – he read his piece at SitP, expanding on why it is this case, and others like it, has implications far beyond science writers alone.
Jack of Kent blog on why this particular libel case has become (in)famous – gutted I did not think of this title myself!
The Jourdemayne blog, quoting some more excellent lines from Westminster SitP.
Photos to come later…