Jeremy Laurance: The libel laws that threaten to stifle scientific debate

Medical Life

The spat between science journalist, Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) hots up. In an article in 'The Guardian' last year, Singh criticised claims made by chiropractors about the efficacy of spinal manipulation for childhood conditions such as asthma, colic and ear infections. The BCA has sued for libel.

The 'British Medical Journal' has now entered the fray with a series of articles looking at how organisations are increasingly turning to the law to silence critics rather than engaging in open scientific debate. The current issue carries two pieces – one by vice president of the BCA, Richard Brown, who lays out the evidence for its claims. The second is by Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, who finds this evidence "neither complete nor, in my mind, substantial".

Fiona Godlee, editor of the 'BMJ', delivers the coup de grâce in her column: "Readers can decide for themselves whether or not they are convinced .... [Ernst's] demolition of the 18 references [cited by Brown] is, to my mind, complete." She adds: "Weak science sheltered from criticism by officious laws means bad medicine." Who could disagree?

Operation Stormgrand concluded last week with the sentencing of the seventh and final member of a gang responsible for Britain's largest known counterfeit drug operation. The fake drugs the gang was peddling were the familiar ones – Viagra and Propecia, a treatment for baldness – and between them the gang collected jail terms totalling 17.5 years.

But what caught my eye was the confiscation orders imposed in addition to the jail terms, amounting to more than £3m. That is on top of the £1.5m worth of fake drugs seized. There must be a lot of disappointed men out there, wondering why their Viagra hasn't done what it says on the tin.

One gang member, Zahid Mirza, 48, was jailed for two-and-a-half years and ordered to pay back the largest sum – a cool £1.8m – last April. Unfortunately for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which was trumpeting its success last week, he is still at large. Sentencing was held in his absence.

Easter island in the south Pacific turns out to be the source of an elixir of life – a drug made from its soil, called rapamycin. Used as an immunosuppressant to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients, researchers found it extended the lives of mice by around a third. Dubbed the anti-ageing pill, it sounds good – until you learn you would need to live your life inside a sterile bubble while taking it. The drug knocks out your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to every bug and virus doing the rounds. Age slowly – and die fast.

For elixirs of life, try this: take one litre of water, add eight teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt. Mix. Drink. Salt increases the absorption of water and glucose from the gut and has saved the lives of millions of children suffering from dehydration caused by diarrhoea. As a miracle medicine, it is in a league of its own.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

    Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific