The random thoughts of a sceptical activist

Government

The Mass Libel Reform Blog – Fight for Free Speech!

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition.

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform.

My local NHS Trust and AltMed

Ever anxious to ensure the taxpayer isn’t paying for bogus therapies, I though it was about time I asked my local NHS trust.

I duly sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the North West London Hospitals NHS Trust. I wanted to get a comprehensive understanding of what AltMed therapies they indulged in. Their responses are in italics:

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Standing up for science and evidence

Science and evidence frequently have a hard time surviving in the seat of our democracy, but it seems it is going to become even more difficult in this new session, particularly where health is concerned.

David Tredinnick (Conservative, Bosworth) — he of astrology software expenses fame — put down four Early Day Motions about homeopathy a few days ago. They are unbelievably ignorant of science and Julian Huppert (LibDem, Cambridge) tabled amendments to correct Tredinnick’s misaprehensions and misunderstandings.

EDMs don’t really change much, but it is sometimes important to put a marker down. And, given Tredinnick’s and Nadine Dorries‘ recent appointments to the Health Select Committee, this is even more important. So I have just emailed my MP, Barry Gardiner, urging him to support Julian’s amendments:

Barry

We strongly urge you to support Julian Huppert’s amendments to EDM 284, 285, 286 and 287 originally laid by David Tredinnick. We hope we don’t have to explain the woolly thinking and utter disregard for evidence that is embedded in the original motions.

Julian’s amendments correct that nonsense: it is important that a marker is put down that Parliament will not support such ignorant notions and that it is made clear that homeopathy is dangerous pseudo scientific quackery.

With the astonishing appointment of David Tredinnick and Nadine Dorries to the Health Select Committee, we can see many battles looming ahead and we need to ensure that health decisions and funding are based on facts, not fantasy.

Two articles in today’s Guardian are worth reading if you are not familiar with Tredinnick and Dorries’ views on science:

Conservatives put Dumb and Dumber on the Health Select Committee by Martin Robbins

Health select committee lunacy by Adam Rutherford

We look forward to receiving your reply and your support

Thanks and best regards.

I’ll post any reply I get and urge others to write to their MPs asking them to stand up for science and evidence.

NHS Choices

The NHS Choices website has the tag line “Your health, your choices” and aims to inform the public:

NHS Choices is the online ‘front door’ to the NHS. It is the country’s biggest health website and gives all the information you need to make choices about your health.

They provide first-rate information about your health, illnesses, careers, etc as well as helping you find a local GP or other NHS services.

They also have some pages on alternative therapies such as homeopathy. On the page for homeopathy, they say:

Homeopathy is a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAMs are treatments that are not based on conventional scientific theories. Other CAMS include:

  • acupuncture – where needles are placed in certain parts of the body,
  • chiropractic – where physical manipulation of the spine and joints is used to try to relieve symptoms, and
  • faith healing.

It’s good to see them place chiropractic firmly along side homeopathy, acupuncture and faith healing.

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Mass Lobby for Libel Reform

Do you know who your MP is?

If you don’t, you can find him or her on the excellent They Work for You website.

Why is this important? Well, in case you’ve been hibernating all winter (and who could blame you), there’s going to be a General Election fairly soon and there’s no better time to lobby your MP and find out what his/her views are on important issues.

In case you’re struggling to think of something to ask your MP, here’s a suggestion:

Libel law.

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Richard Dawkins to address Lib Dem Conference to call for libel law reform

Today [Sunday] Professor Richard Dawkins will put the case for libel law reform to the Liberal Democrat conference proposing an amendment to the civil liberties bill.

The scientist and author is to appear as a guest speaker at Liberal Democrat Party Conference on Sunday.

Professor Dawkins will tell the conference that the chilling effect of libel laws on public debate about science and medicine, on writers and authors and on responsible journalism can no longer be ignored.

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Regulating nonsense

David Colquhoun’s frustration — and indeed anger — is palpable. And understandably so.

He brilliantly covered Monday’s announcement by the Department of Health (DoH) of their consultation into the regulation of “acupuncture, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and other traditional medicine systems”.

This consultation is the DoH’s response to the infamous Pittilo Report, which saw the light of day just over a year ago.

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