Thursday, April 01, 2010

Sometimes, A Fence Is Just A Cigar. Or Something.

Psychonomy writes about the BCA/Singh affair. As ever, he dons the robes of Devil's Advocate and kicks against the tide in his effort to see the balance in all things. As ever, he's got a point. As ever, I disagree with him. :-)

I think the case is mainly about two things:

  1. Whether I can safely call a spade a spade, and whether I can go on to say that claims of its efficacy at - say - sinking battlecruisers are disingenuous, without worrying about whether I can actually prove that the owner of said garden implement knows it not to be a submarine.
  2. Whether large organisations should continue to get away with stifling criticism by bankrupting critics in the courts of the 14th Century.

The more important point (2) has yet to be decided, of course.

BCA's fault was in "allowing" (ha!) the development of a public impression that chiropractic could cure a rainy day. Singh's fault was in failing to sufficiently fudge an "unproveable" assertion that was, nonetheless, palpably true to any disinterested observer.

Both faults contribute - disproportionately - to public confusion about a serious issue. Only one of them risks public health. Reckless misrepresentation for gain, compounded by cynical misuse of outdated law to destroy dissent - versus (arguably) "sloppy journalism". Does that really call for "a plague on both your houses"?

Yes, it's in some sense admirable to see the balance in any cause célebre. It's a natural instinct against the wisdom of crowds; that 50,000 Twitterrers can't be right. I get that. But you've got to be squinting pretty hard to find the shades of grey in this one.