Scientist and science writer Olivia Judson about the UK's charitable stance towards pseudoscience:
The libel laws of England and Wales are notorious. Libel cases cost little to bring — you can make a no-win-no-fee arrangement with your lawyer — but a lot to defend. According to a recent report, the average cost of defending a libel case in England and Wales is 140 times greater than it is in most of the rest of Europe. Moreover, English libel law favors the claimant — the person who says he or she has been defamed — in several ways. For one, the range of defenses is more limited than in other jurisdictions. For another, in English libel cases, the burden of proof is effectively on the defendant. In other words, the defamatory statement is presumed to be false unless the defendant can prove it is true... Arguably, however, English libel laws create particular difficulties for science journalists. Science, after all, is about evaluating evidence. Science journalism, sometimes, requires pointing out when evidence is weak or absent. This is especially important in the context of medicine and health, where misinformation or lack of information can be deadly. For example, if you have HIV, taking vitamins instead of anti-retrovirals can significantly hasten your death. The problem the libel laws create is not so much that critical stories can’t be written, but that they won’t be.
As Judson points out, who can afford the hassle and expense of a libel suit? Famous authors of multiple best-selling books like Simon Singh, who is being sued for his statements about chiropractic (and who is the main subject of Judson's piece) can barely afford it; your average scientist, science writer, or blogger has no hope. and the purveyors of pseudoscience know how to use every last bit of the law to defend their evidence-free claims from scientific scrutiny. Scientists should not only be free to speak out publicly against bad scientific claims (especially ones that scam people out of their money or endanger public health), they should be free to speak out forcefully, not diluting their language with qualifiers, and provocatively, in a way that brings attention to the issue. And they should be free to be wrong, because even a smart expert's best, good-faith reading of the evidence on a complex issue is not guaranteed to be right. (I'm not suggesting Simon Singh's criticisms of alternative medicine are wrong, but even if they were, he should be free to argue them.) Criticism is central to the way science operates (as every new grad student learns, often the hard way). Pseudoscience can't stand scrutiny, and its practitioners, not able to defend themselves with scientific evidence, take their cases to libel court instead. The Rugbyologist has tackled this subject before. Read the feed: