Libel reform and the public interest
Further to my passing on of the Libel Reform Campaign's e-mail flagging up the Second Reading of the Defamation Bill in the House of Lords last Tuesday, a further LRC communiqué was sent out – from Simon Singh. It is apposite that Singh is reminding us of the serious limitation of this Bill – specifically, the public interest defence, which, as it stands, would still leave expressers of reasonable opinion exposed to the threat of libel action, such as brought against Singh by the British Chiropractic Association, a case that largely catalysed this ongoing process. An open letter was published at the start of the week, signed by representatives of free expression and civil society organisations calling on the government to recognise the necessity of including a strong public interest defence, in order to restrict bullying censorship. And in timely emphasis of this shortcoming, Singh has again been (reportedly) threatened with a libel suit, relating to perfectly reasonable comments made about the 'alternative health' magazine, 'What Doctors Don't Tell You', and its irresponsible shelf-stocking by certain retailers.
The text of the Bill reading debate is here. It's lengthy, and I haven't read it all; but can recommend the supportive remarks made by Baroness Bakewell, which summarise both the state of the Bill, and the latest events involving Singh. And you can familiarise yourself further with details of, and takes on, some of the dubious content of 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' at various other capable blogs: eg here, here, here, and here. So I won't re-iterate any of that. Instead, what is interesting me is its co-founder and editor... who is Lynne McTaggart?
Well, if like me you were unfamiliar with, but have now become curious about, Lynne McTaggart, take yourself to her website. After all, that is what it is for. Sighhhh. What to say? Well, what with those shortcomings in the Defamation Bill, and seeing as McTaggart (though she denies threatening Singh) is currently in potentially litigious mood, I suppose I'd better be careful what I write here. So instead, let's just take the lady at her own words.
The top of her 'Home' page features an embedded film, in which, seated in front of a bookcase, upon which are strategically placed visible copies of (the covers, not spines of) her own books, she talks to us in that patronising pseudo way that tries to convince she is your friend. Apparently, McTaggart has objected to accusations of pseudoscience levelled at her magazine. Well, I haven't read it. But it would surely take some neck to deny that her website is awash with the stuff. Her 'About' page states:
'The hallmark of her work is exhaustive research that produces science-based discoveries in the worlds of science, spirituality and health.'
Is this, like her magazine, aimed at "intelligent women between 35-55"? Because she deems that particular demographic as possessing the most ‘open’ minds? I’m not sure whom this insults the most. I roll my eyes at the thought of the types this language appeals to? Yes, the New Agers, Tarot readers, crystal essence pedlars, homeopaths, etc: those who freely buy into that whole natural, healing energy thing. Will someone please explain to me what the feck is this ‘energy’?! It just won't do to claim twenty years’ experience '… researching medicine... and quantum physics...', spot-weld them together, and not expect anybody to spot the flaw in that joint.
Perhaps, then, I should read The Field, her:
'… seminal work of the New Age, and one which provides a scientific explanation for psychic phenomena such as ESP, spiritual healing and remote viewing.'
wherein I might learn of the:
'… the Zero Point Field (ZPF) - “a cobweb of energy exchange” - a sea of energy that reconciles mind with matter, classic science with quantum physics, and science with religion.'
But I'm afraid such language puts me off. However, I am intrigued as to her inspiration. And there are clues. If you go to her 'Blog' page, you can a find a post entitled, 'What would Jesus do?' Please have a read. And consider what goes through the mind of someone when they write such crud. And further wonder at what goes through the mind of someone who reads it and laps it up. Ought we not to be disturbed by the claim to have hit upon a miraculous method of ‘healing intention’ through the power of ‘loving thoughts’? There is a skill at work here; though I can't quite work out what it is.
'As Jesus recognized, when a group of people come together around a divine idea, such as healing, they create a divine power that works through individuals and also through human evolution. They even attempted to use energetic waves to energize and purify a space.'
Beautiful, isn't it? But what does it mean? I really don't know. McTaggart seems to claim some privileged insight into the mind of Jesus, and to have hit upon the secret of how he performed his miraculous healings, with the suggestion that actually, he ripped them off from the 'The Essene.'
Dear oh dear. Personally, it strikes me that McTaggart has herself spent too long lost and dehydrated in a desert. But lest we dismiss such experience out of hand, it does do wonders for a florid imagination. And her stumbled upon 'Power of Eight intention healing circles' have made for a whole new project: The Intention Experiment, wherein you can 'join the largest mind over matter experiment in history.' So, click on 'The Experiments' tab, scroll down to the list of The results so far; select the bottom one (I direct you here, because it is the only one I've read), and you will be taken to a write-up of The 9/11 Peace Intention Experiment.
Read on. And tell me you don't feel alarmed. At the narcissism, the hubris, … the seeming megalomania? McTaggart seems to be positioning herself as some guru for global prayer 'experiments'. A colossal logical fallacy in its appeal to the authority of science. Pseudoscience that makes even intelligent design seem buyable. Incredible.
McTaggart's objections to aspects of the workings of medical science and the pharmaceutical industry might well have some occasional merit. But, as with many ‘alternative medicine’ / ‘energy healing’ advocates, she makes that almighty leap across a chasm of illogic, presenting such objections as rational evidence for her irrationalities. If the battiness of the material on her website is any guide (and presumably that is why it is there - as a guide to who she is and what she is about), I would argue, in the public interest, that that is reason enough for readers and retailers to be wary of her irresponsible pontifications.