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Part 2: My open reply to my legal pen pal (Psychic Sally’s libel lawyer, Graham Atkins), after he sends me three more emails.

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Dear Mr Atkins,

As I explained to you in our recent correspondence, I am making our email exchange public (again), which includes my reply to your most recent query. The exchange appears below in chronological order.

Please note that Sir Peter Bottomley (MP for Worthing West) has specifically asked to be copied in on any further correspondence between us. I will forward our previous correspondence and kindly request that you copy future emails to Sir Peter.

Best Regards,
Simon Singh.

P.S. You have twice written “its” when I think you mean “it’s”. You might find this site helpful:
http://www.eng-lang.co.uk/apostrophe_rules.htm

 

—–Original Message—–
From:                Graham Atkins
Sent:                30 October 2011 17:40
To:                    Simon Singh
Subject:            TV psychic Sally Morgan’s powers to be tested in Liverpool

Some misunderstanding? No doubt you have corrected the position.
http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2011/10/29/tv-psychic-sally-morgan-s-powers-to-be-tested-in-liverpool-100252-29682267/

 ——Original Message——
 From: Simon

Dear Mr Atkins,
Thanks for getting in touch.
Please can you identify your concerns, including specific lines, and
then let me know.
I am just packing for Liverpool, so I am a bit rushed. If you can
email me in the next 15 minutes then I will drop a note to the Liverpool Echo.
Best Regards,
Simon.
________________________

From: Graham Atkins

Perhaps when you have read the article all will become clear….

 

—–Original Message—–
From: Simon

I have read it, but I would rather not play battleships.
Just point out your concerns and I will take a look at them.
I am now on the road, so please be helpful if you genuinely want to correct something.
Best wishes,
Simon.

PS As we are discussing a matter of public interest, and judging by my previous blog, you will be aware that I consider our communications public and I may well post them online.


—–Original Message—–
From: Graham Atkins
Sent: 31 October 2011 00:33
To: Simon MSN
Subject: Re: TV psychic Sally Morgan’s powers to be tested in Liverpool – Liverpool Local News – News – Liverpool Echo

Simon

Its [sic] a very misleading piece, whether intentional or not. Neither you or your team of Mersey Skeptics [sic] saw fit to have it corrected. I will endeavour to find out how this occurred and advise my client accordingly.  

I’m concerned that there may be more people thinking worse of Sally as a consequence of her not showing up, as she is effectively ‘billed’ to attend. The reporter also mentions $1m twice in the article, so maybe you will have a packed house – but it seems like this ‘error’ is at my client’s expense.   

I have a client who has been libelled. I have many things to consider, and I need to look after her interests. Again, I ask you to desist from any form of harassment, as per my previous email.

It would be appreciated if you followed the usual professional or other etiquette and refrained from publishing this private email on your blog.

Thank you

Graham Atkins
Atkins Thomson

——————————————————

VERY ROUGH REPLY

Dear Mr Atkins,

I am sorry for the delay.

My reply comes in two parts. As before, both parts are public and posted online here, for the reasons I explained previously.

Part 1

I am sensing the name Gordon … does that mean anything to you? And maybe the name Bennett? The spirits tell me that they may be connected.

In short, I find your emails bizarre.

Why do you deem it necessary to email to me? If there are errors in the article, then why not contact the newspaper as soon as possible and ask for a correction? Instead, you choose to email me on a Sunday at 6pm and 7pm and past midnight, when you know that I am travelling to Liverpool.

Just to be clear, neither I, nor the Merseyside Skeptics, are responsible for the content of a local newspaper. The journalist appears to have based her article on a website (Merseyside Skeptics), which was correct when the story was written. The website has since been changed. If, as a result of that, the story is inaccurate, you may wish to take this up with the newspaper directly.

However, as a courtesy to you, I did mention your concerns to a journalist from the Liverpool Echo who attended our Psychic Sally Halloween Challenge yesterday.

Please note that it is the Merseyside Skeptics, not the Mersey Skeptics (which is the term you used). The former describes skeptics who live either side of the river. Your term describes skeptics who live in or on the river. I don’t know if such an organisation exists, but it should not be confused with the Merseyside Skeptics. I will do my best to explain to the Merseyside Skeptics that this was merely a mistake on your part and was not intended to offend them.

Part 2

I want to point out that the tone of my replies so far does not accurately reflect how I feel. I have been light-hearted in our first exchange, and above, but I want to admit to experiencing nausea when I receive an email from a heavyweight libel lawyer such as yourself. This is not a metaphorical nausea, but a literal nausea. The only thing that stops me from taking the easy option of shutting up is that I would feel even more nauseous if I stopped doing my job as a science journalist and skeptic.

At the same time, I realise that you are only doing your job. But is it really necessary to send emails at 6pm, at 7pm and then past midnight on a Sunday? Does this reflect well on you, your client or your profession? All you really needed to do to be effective was email the newspaper directly.

Some of the comments on twitter have questioned whether you are an experienced libel lawyer, but other tweets by legal experts pointed out that your tone and style are entirely in keeping with how claimant libel lawyers work. You and I both know that such emails are generally highly effective.

I am sorry if you had to miss the X Factor Results programme and/or Antiques Roadshow in order to write to me, but your emails are having a much more disruptive impact on my life. At the same time, and I must stress this, I am not going to be intimidated.

Finally, you should be aware that I have actually corrected statements about your client Sally Morgan during live radio interviews. I am not harassing Psychic Sally. I am not calling her a fraud. I am merely trying to find out if she has genuine paranormal abilities.

Finally, finally, lots of people were interested in your statement that you know that Psyhic Sally is the real deal. You wrote that Sally has “given details or messages which could not possibly have arisen as a result of “hot or cold reading” or “cheating”. Please, please can you lay out your compelling evidence for this? It might mean that our open challenge to her is no longer necessary. We are genuinely waiting with baited breath to hear about the evidence that convinced a highly trained and rigorous person such as yourself that Sally has genuine psychic powers.

Best Regards,
Simon Singh.

If you are not reading this on Posterous, please note that you can only leave comments at the Posterous website. Also, please bear in mind that these comments are not moderated, i.e., I rely on you to act responsibly. 

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous

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Sally Morgan’s lawyer sends me an email

With the Psychic Sally Halloween Challenge less than 48 hours, Sally’s lawyer sends me a heavy handed email. He is not a happy bunny.

 

On Friday evening, I received an email from Sally Morgan’s solicitor, Graham Atkins of Atkins Thomson. He has “17 years experience in the legal aspects of the media, reputation management and branding industries”.

 

The email is headed “STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL – NOT FOR PUBLICATION”.

 

However, having consulted with my friend and media lawyer Robert Dougans (Bryan Cave), I wanted to reply to Mr Atkins’ email and make both his email and my reply public. Here goes.

 

 ============================================================

 

Dear Mr Atkins.

 

I don’t see why you are able to send me what I perceive to be a heavy handed legal email and then oblige me not to disclose this. I do not see anything in your email that is of a confidential nature. Indeed, your email contains matters that should be very public, e.g., I presume you want me to tell people that your client, hereafter referred to as “Sally”, at the current time does not plan to attend the Psychic Sally Halloween Challenge on Monday.

 

Moreover, I see the contents of your email as a matter of public interest; Sally has a large business, which has a turnover of several million pounds each year, and her abilities are currently the subject of much discussion. Finally, I think the public should also be aware of the way in which Sally is using her solicitor to deal with those who write about her.

 

By publishing your email and my response, I hope that you, Sally and the public will better appreciate my position.

 

Your original email is in black italics, and my reply after each paragraph is in red.

 

 

Dear Mr Singh 

 

I have seen your email to my client of 27 October, and note you have also contacted Hayley Appleby.

 

Did you get my email of 10 October? It says that “….this firm has made a defamation complaint”. And it says that “nobody is proposing to say any more….at the current time.” I attach a copy just in case.

 

Yes, I did get your email. You seem to suggest here (and certainly state later) that my second email to you was unnecessary and you imply that I am harassing Sally. To quote the Prime Minister: “Calm down dear.”

 

My first email to you was about the statement on Sally’s Facebook page: “Sally Morgan has instructed Graham Atkins of Atkins Thomson to commence libel action”. In another email that was copied to you, I asked a series of questions in relation to a blog I was writing and invited a statement from Sally. It may well be that you are proposing not to say any more in relation to either of these two emails, but my email on Thursday was on a completely different matter, namely I was inviting Sally to take part in our challenge.

 

Also, you said “nobody is proposing to say any more….at the current time” in your first email, and it has been two weeks since I last heard from you so “current time” no longer seems relevant. Two weeks is a long time. I learned recently that two weeks is (10!)/3 seconds.

 

Perhaps its [sic] all part of your quest for “scientific understanding of the universe”. Perhaps you just want to badger and harass people. You will of course be aware of the PCC Code which states at Paragraph 4 – under the heading “Harassment” – “Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.”  It also says that “They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist.” Once again, please desist.

 

“Badger and harass” – again, I would refer you to the Prime Minister’s earlier comment: “Calm down dear.”

 

I have called Sally’s office four times and sent half a dozen polite emails over the course of the last 10! seconds. On each occasion, my exchange with Sally’s colleague, Hayley, has been very pleasant and she gave no indication that my calls were problematic. Hayley was polite, and I was equally polite.

 

Would you prefer that I wrote my blogs without asking Sally any questions, or without asking her for a statement, or without her side of the story?

 

How can I invite Sally to a test of her psychic abilities without emailing or phoning her office? Oh, I get it. I am supposed to communicate telepathically. Or perhaps my dear departed grandfather in the spirit plane was supposed to pass on these messages.

 

If I have any further questions or invitations for Sally, which I consider to be important, then I will email them to you and you can act as her assistant and/or gatekeeper.

 

For the sake of clarity, Sally Morgan has instructed us to take libel proceedings, if necessary, in relation to allegations that she is a cheat. Doing your test or any other test is not part of our plans for this case. You have been involved in a libel case yourself. You well know that we all have far more important things to do than take part in this or any other “test” at this point. She will not attend at Liverpool or at any other time. Maybe you and your friends can prove she is a cheat and/or a fraud instead. I know she isn’t, and I have known Sally a good few years.

 

So, despite her earlier statement, you suggest that Sally has not instructed you to commence a libel action. In the paragraph above you say that you will only commence a libel action “if necessary”. That is very helpful.

 

I am surprised that this is taking up so much of Sally’s time, particularly as no libel action has commenced. Indeed, my understanding from her twitter feed is that on Friday: “I watched Paranormal Activity 3 today and omg I couldn’t stop jumping!” If Sally is able to spare three hours for a cinema outing, then I would hope that an hour on Monday taking our test would be possible.

 

Our offer to Sally remains open. We will all be at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool at 11am on Monday and there will be an empty chair saved for Sally. As we (Merseyside Skeptics, Professor Chris French, JREF and myself) have clearly stated, if Sally feels that the test is in any way unfair, then we would still ask her to attend in order to discuss how she would like to be tested on a future occasion.

 

By the way, am I right in thinking that you also acted in a libel case for Dr Gillian McKeith? If so, I would have hoped that you would have developed a natural curiosity about the importance of claims being evidence-based, and that you would be able to see the benefits of scientific rigour in order to get to the truth.

 

We note with interest that you have not attempted to contact, spoken about or written about anyone who has had a personal reading, or been at one of Sally’s shows, and has been given details or messages which could not possibly have arisen as a result of “hot or cold reading” or “cheating”. Balanced reporting and all that.

 

First, my main concern, and the subject of my writing, has been Sally’s theatre shows, not her personal readings. Second, I have attended two live shows this month. I have pointed out in my blog how some people have benefitted from her readings, and how (I suspect) some people have been unduly distressed. Third, I have sent emails asking for Sally’s side of the story and have asked for a statement, i.e., “Balanced reporting and all that” … with a cherry on top.

 

Anyway, there it is. Please do not contact Sally or her office any further. We are busy with our case and have no time or inclination for these peripheral or debatable matters for the foreseeable future.

 

Graham Atkins

Atkins Thomson.

 

I can see that you are busy. You seem to be working overtime calling various media outlets who might want to cover Sally Morgan. Is that right? Or am I just being paranoid? Yesterday I was invited to take part in two interviews in which the producers told me that nobody was allowed to mention Sally Morgan on air. One producer explicitly said that Sally’s lawyers had made this very clear.

 

Finally, the offer is still there. The Psychic Sally Halloween Challenge is going ahead on Monday. I note that Sally’s current plan is not to attend, but we will keep an empty chair for her in case she changes her mind.

 

Happy Halloween. 

Simon.

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous

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That’s Entertainment! Or an Experiment? Or Neither?

I am a Virgo, so not surprisingly I have a slight masochistic streak, which exhibited itself this month when I bought a ticket to see Psychic Sally Morgan live on stage.

 

I will discuss the content of the show in a moment, but first a diversion via the legal issues that surround psychics and mediums on stage. I am not a legal expert (so I look forward to receiving some expert comments), but it strikes me that Sally’s shows might sit on the edge of a legal minefield.

 

The Witchcraft Act (1735) was a milestone in state scepticism, as the law acknowledged that magic was impossible. Instead of punishing those who invoked the power of spirits to predict the future or cast spells, as had previously been the case, the new act punished those who pretended to have such powers.

 

Although this harsh law still applies in Israel (which perhaps explains why Uri Geller spends most of his time outside of his place of birth), it was replaced in Britain in 1951 by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, which essentially allowed psychics to practice, as long they were not being deliberately fraudulent. In other words, real psychics and deluded psychics were safe, and even crooks could get away with it as long as nobody could actually prove the existence of a deception.

 

Fortunately, we now have the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008), which allows psychics and mediums to make claims as long as they can back them up with evidence. A complainant would have to show that an average member of the audience would believe that the performer is contacting the dead, and then the onus is on the performer to prove that he or she does indeed possess this ability.

 

So, what does this mean for shows based on mediumship? They may be real, in which case the performer would be able to prove his or her powers. However, if the medium is either deluded or fraudulent, or at least is unable to prove that they have genuine powers of mediumship, then this seems like a slam dunk prosecution. The performer has to be able to prove that the show can deliver what is written on the poster.

 

Is anyone in the UK looking into this approach to challenging shows based on putting audience members in touch with the departed. One hundred complaints to Trading Standards Offices around the country (or perhaps one office in particular) would probably persuade the regulators to look into this. The legislation has been in place for three years and it is about time it got a good airing in relation to psychic shows.

 

Unfortunately, there is a potential loophole for mediums. Some mediums label their shows as “entertainment” in the small print of the promotion. However, I doubt that this would stand up to scrutiny. Indeed, I think many of the audience members would feel insulted if they were told that their attempt to contact loved ones was being classified as mere entertainment. Hence, I think a challenge is still worth a try.

 

What’s the harm?

 

Just because the evidence for psychics is weak to non-existent – some might say not a jot of evidence – does that necessarily mean that skeptics should campaign against shows involving mediumship and pyshics more generally? After all, it’s a free world, isn’t it? What’s the harm?

 

The short answer is this – take a look at the psychic section of the excellent What’s the harm? website.

 

The longer answer is based on the Psychic Sally show I watched a couple of weeks ago. At this point I should stress four points.

 

  1. I am not saying that Sally Morgan is a fraud.
  2. I am saying that I doubt the existence of psychic abilities. This my opinion based on my interpretation of the scientific evidence.
  3. In my opinion the readings that I witnessed were generally haphazard and fairly random. These reviews reflect my experience. The readings that were successful could be explained in three ways: a smidgeon of hot reading, a moderate amount of grade B cold reading or some genuine psychic abilities (or a mixture of these). The cold reading could be conscious or subconscious. Of course, I am sceptical that genuine psychic ability makes any contribution.
  4. Among the, let’s say, 1,000 people who saw the show, I think about ten members of the audience (and their relatives) seemed to receive genuine comfort from the readings they received (e.g., “your mother is content on spirit plane and is very proud of you”).

 

Of the remaining 990 people, 988 of them received no reading at all for their £25 ticket, and 2 people received readings that I felt were disturbing.

 

I will not mention the date, location or any names, as the spirit messages touched on sensitive issues, but here are summaries of the two readings that, in my opinion, were potentially harmful.

 

In the first half, in a pained and distressed voice, Sally linked to a spirit who had committed suicide. She linked the spirit with a woman in the audience. She then proceeded to explain that the deceased man had tried to commit suicide four times. This was news to the woman in the audience. Sally also said that the spirit was “furious at the reason” he had to commit suicide. Not only does the woman in audience have to consider telling her family that their deceased relative is still angry, but she also has to explain that they might have missed three previous attempts at suicide, which could be interpreted as three cries for help that were ignored by his family and friends.

 

In the second half, Sally spoke to another woman in the audience and revealed that her uncle had drowned many years ago. As far as her family were concerned, the uncle had gone abroad as a boy to live with relatives and had never returned to Britain, but now Sally was filling in the gaps by introducing a tragic event. She had also removed any hope that the relative might still be alive. Again, it is easy to imagine how such a message could cause upset within a family. Indeed, it is quite possible (based on something else that was mentioned by the woman in the audience) that the elderly mother of the deceased boy is still alive. She might now have to cope with this revelation.

 

Are such messages unusual? Are they rare errors of judgement on Sally’s part?

 

In fact, I have seen a second Sally Morgan live show this month. My notes on this show are not so detailed, but I can confirm that there were again two messages that (in my opinion) crossed the line from comforting to disturbing. One message concerned a child that was put up for adoption; Sally was confident that this had happened, but the woman who was the target of the message was unaware of the adoption. Will that woman feel that her parents are hiding events from the past? How will this affect her relationship with them? The second message was, again, from a spirit who had committed suicide. It was a painful message that gave details of what had driven the young man to suicide. My suspicion is that this would have upset the family and perhaps prompted them to ask questions about the past based on nothing more than Sally’s intuition … unless she is genuinely psychic.

 

The impression I get from others who see Sally’s shows is that a spirit who committed suicide is a fairly standard part of the show. (Of course, Sally has no control over which spirits will choose to speak to her.)

 

I doubt that the receivers of these sorts of messages would have called their experience entertaining. However, to be fair, when I bought my ticket, the Ambassadors Theatre booking agent did not describe the show as entertainment. Instead, she made a point of telling me something along the lines of: “By attending this … you understand that it is a holistic experiment or experience. The medium… could bring about a positive change in your in your life, but changes are your responsibility”

 

The key word is “experiment”, which potentially provides another get out clause for psychics who might come up against the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

 

Again, I suspect that this sort of caveat would not make much difference if lots of people were to complain. I doubt anyone in a Psychic Sally audience would have considered that they were taking part in an experiment.

 

Fortunately, the prospect of a real experiment involving Psychic Sally is just a matter of days away. I am continuing to work with Professor Chris French and the Merseyside Skeptics to devise a test/challenge/experiment for Psychic Sally, something that conforms to her normal way of working and which will provide evidence for or against the existence of mediumship skills.

 

We are trying to make this a genuinely fair and rigorous test. If she passes then it will be great for Sally and science. We will have genuinely found some good evidence that psychic ability exists. Of course, if Sally fails, then we have a supposed psychic who cannot demonstrate any psychic ability. And, moreover, if Sally refuses the test then we will have to make up our own minds.

 

More details of the test will be announced before the end of the week.

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous

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Some Questions for Psychic Sally Morgan

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This blog is a follow up to my recent Guardian article, and it highlights the questions that need to be answered before we can start to understand this mess.

The Sally Morgan incident at Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre has generated quite a bit of discussion over the last month, but it has been hard to draw any conclusions because the two sets of parties seemed to have incompatible accounts of what happened that night.

 

On the one hand, three separate callers to RTE’s Liveline radio show seemed confident that they had heard a voice apparently feeding lines to Psychic Sally. On the other hand, Sally stated that the overheard words were merely chit chat between theatre technicians. Who was right?

 

The three callers were confident that the words that they heard were repeated by Sally on stage, which is incompatible with idle chatter. However, the theatre issued a statement that seemed to support Sally’s account. In light of these contradictory explanations, I decide to start asking questions to everyone involved.

 

I began by emailing the radio station, and I asked RTE to contact the callers and to let them know I was trying to get hold of them. Two of the women (Sue and Dorrie) then emailed me and were willing to answer any questions I put to them. They have been very helpful and have added some flesh to their original accounts. Their stories remain consistent and both accounts are very similar. They agree that the voice talked about “David”, “pain in back” and “passed quickly”, and they both claim that Sally repeated this. The mystery voice then talked about “Stephen”, “pain in back” and “passed quickly”, and again this was repeated on stage. They claim that several others heard the voice, and the resulting fuss caused an usherette to leave the auditorium and the window was then closed. According to their recollections, the show came to an abrupt end soon after this.

 

I then contacted the Grand Canal Theatre and asked to visit, but Stephen Faloon (General Manager) merely restated his position: “Am afraid that everything that happened that night is very much out in the open and I don’t think I can throw any new light onto subject. Suffice to say they were our technicians, they were not communicating with Sally in anyway on stage and we would never ever mislead our customers in anyway by participating in such a scam.”

 

I emailed Mr Faloon again on the 3 and 7 October reiterating my request for a meeting, but I received no reply. I then asked specific questions in another email on 10 Oct, but I have still not received any reply. Mr Faloon, if you read this blog, it would be very helpful to have answers to the following:

 

-         Did Sally have her own sound person/crew at the Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin?

-         If so, was this unusual, and was this necessary for such a straightforward show?

-         Did the show end early? If so, why? Please provide timings for the first and second half.

-         Do Stuart McKeown and Mick Skelly have English or Irish accents?

-         What were Stuart and Mick wearing that evening in terms of their sleeves?

-         What name is given to the room where Stuart and Mick were located?

-         What were Stuart and Mick doing in that room and what were they discussing?

-         Was Sally wearing an earpiece that evening?

-         If so, was Sally receiving stage directions via the earpiece that evening?

-         Was the show being filming that evening?
(the last five questions were not in my email to Mr Faloon).

 

Mr Faloon already has my email address, or he can contact me via my website. I should stress, I am not doubting his version of events. I am merely confused by the disconnect between the two sets of accounts and I am trying to reconcile them or pin down where an error might have been made. Also, I would be happy to hear directly from Mick and Stuart.

 

After contacting the theatre, I contacted Sally’s office. Again, no reply. And again, I am not doubting anyone’s version of events, but the incident remains mysterious. Hence, it would be very useful to have some answers from Sally to help clear up the confusion:

 

-         Does local theatre provide the sound team for Sally’s shows, or does Sally have her own sound crew at each show?

-         What were the running times for the first and second halves of the Dublin show on Sept 11, i.e, the show when the controversial incident took place? What are the typical running times for Sally’s first and second half in the 2011 tour?

-         There is currently a contradiction between what some people heard in the theatre and what Sally and the theatre management claim. I have communicated at length with the women in the audience, and their accounts of overhearing a third party fit together very well, but they cannot be tallied with Sally’s statement. What is Sally’s way of understanding this mismatch? Does she believe that several people have all been mistaken in what they heard? Or does she believe that these people are all lying? Or does she have another explanation?

-         Please could you let me know more details of your defamation action, eg which publications and which articles, and who are the defendants in the defamation actions? Also, what are the defamatory passages?

 

Since publishing my article for the Guardian, Sally has issued a statement that explains that she does sometimes wear an earpiece. Hence, I have a few more questions for Sally:

 

-         Were you wearing an earpiece in Dublin during the show in question?

-         What percentage of shows in 2011 have involved an earpiece?

-         What percentage of shows in 2011 have been filmed?

-         What percentage of shows in 2011 have needed stage directions, for reasons other than filming?

-         Who provides the stage directions during a filmed performance or during any other performance?

-         do you regret not mentioning your earpiece until the Daily Mail highlighted this issue?

 

And I have one final question: I did ask Sally’s lawyer for details of her defamation action, but Mr Graham Atkins answer was marked: “STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL – NOT FOR PUBLICATION” – am I allowed to reveal that? In any case, his reply was not very helpful – am I allowed to reveal that? Sally, in light of your lawyer’s coy nature, please could you let me know more details of the libel action being taken:

 

-         Which publications are being sued?

-         Which articles are being sued?

-         Who are the defendants in these libel actions?

-         What are the defamatory passages?

 

In short, there are still lots of unanswered questions. I repeat; I am not making any accusations. I am merely trying to clear up the contradictions.

 

Indeed, if anybody else can throw on the light on the incident, then please drop me a note:

 

-         Perhaps you were in the audience (fourth tier, in the back few rows) and heard the voice(s).

-         Maybe you can let me know if the second half was unusually short?

-         Are you the usherette who spotted that there was a problem?

-         Are you one of the technicians named by Sally?

-         Have you been part of the sound crew at one of Sally’s shows?

 

If you can shed any light, then please drop me a note via http://www.simonsingh.net/contact/ . Sally and Mr Faloon can also use this contact page if they have lost my email address.

 

It would be great to get to the bottom of this matter, but in many ways the fundamental question is simply this: does Sally Morgan have genuine psychic powers? Regardless of whatever happened in Dublin, this is a question that can be answered with some level of confidence if Sally were willing to take a rigorous scientific test. As I explained in my Guardian article, I am working with Professor Chris French and Merseyside Skeptics to arrange such a test and in due course we will be inviting Sally to help push forward the frontiers of scientific understanding. More details soon.

 

I will also be writing a blog in the next week or so that explains what happened when I went to see one of Sally’s shows earlier this month.

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous

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Clever memento from Sci Foo Camp means that Typhoo tea becomes Sci Foo tea

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous

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Belated follow up to Fraser Nelson’s agreement that climate change science consensus is valid

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Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, backs climate change science consensus!

Dear Fraser,

First of all, apologies for the huge delay in posting this blog, which is a response to your tweets on Thursday (7.4.11). I was genuinely delighted to read your two tweets.

@frasernels says: “wish we cld fight, but I don’t disagree with you on the science :( My problem is with the efficacy of the proposed solutions.”

 

@frasernels says: “my humble role as editor is to encourage debate via brilliant writers. My own views on climate change science are boringly orthodox”

 

A week previously you seemed much less certain about the science and wrote: “I’m not yet persuaded. How much is man’s activity contributing to global warming? Is it 20 percent? 80 percent? I haven’t seen a proper paper that attempts to quantify it — perhaps Simon can find me one.”

 

I suspect that many of your readers will be surprised by your tweets (“I don’t disagree with you on the science” & “My own views on climate change science are boringly orthodox”). Perhaps it was the links I provided in my previous blogpost that helped you clarify your position. Or perhaps you have taken on board some of the points made by Professor Tim Palmer and Sir David King in the Spectator debate.

 

Whatever the reason, I am now assuming that you would answer Yes to my five previous questions, which essentially means agreement with the consensus on climate change science:

1. Do you agree that increases in CO2 and other greenhouse gases lead to an increase in the global temperature?

2. Do you agree CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased from 280ppmv to 380ppmv (35%) during period of industrialisation?

3. Do you agree that the Earth’s climate has warmed by 0.6 degrees in the last 50 years?

4. Do you agree human contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a major factor in the warming over the last century?

5. Do you agree best scientific predictions estimate further rise of 1.1 to 6 C over 100 yrs based on good (not perfect) models?

I suspect that the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which appears to adopt an anti-consensus attitude, will be disappointed by your acceptance of the scientific consensus. For example, Lord Lawson, one of the GWPF speakers at the Spectator debate, made his anti-consensus views clear in an exchange of letters with the Chief Scientific Advisor Sir John Bedington, which was obtained following a Freedom of Information Request and then published on the Carbon Brief website. This is very much worth reading.

 

In short, Lord Lawson seems particularly keen to focus on the first decade of the 21st century in order to argue that manmade climate has ended or never happened. He fires off a volley of sub-GCSE criticisms of the climate consensus, which Sir John calmly deals with point by point.

 

Perhaps Lord Lawson’s obsession with the first decade of the 21st century explains why every page of the GWPF website contains a global temperature graph covering 2001 to 2010. Had the graph been extended to include previous decades then it would have been much more helpful, as pointed out by Sir John: “…in order to assess the impact of greenhouse gases on global temperature, it is necessary to consider the long-term (multi-decadal) trend…. When we consider the record decade by decade…it is clear that even allowing for uncertainties in the observations, that last three decades have each been significantly warmer than the previous one ie the error bars do not overlap.”

 

Why does the GWPF fixate on just a few years of data when we can look at decades, centuries or millennia of data? GWPF appears to have a “less is more” (or “homeopathic”) approach to data.

 

Worse still, the GWPF appears to be so ideologically opposed to the climate change consensus that it could not see that the graph that initially peppered its website was, in any case, flawed. Steve Connor in the Independent (3.12.2009) wrote:

 

But for an organisation set up to expose such data manipulation, it was indeed unfortunate that the logo was itself a travesty of the truth. For a start, it contained at least one obvious error, spotted by Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The original logo depicted 2003 as having the highest global temperature of that highly selective series of years, which was not the case. Benny Peiser, the director of the new foundation and a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University, admitted that there had been a “small error by our graphical designer”.

Mr Ward also points out that the data used in the logo comes from a dataset compiled by the Met Office and the very same Climatic Research Unit that the foundation criticises for data manipulation. Even the amended version of the logo appears to show that 2006 and 2007 were warmer years than 2004, which is not the case.

“I am surprised that the members of the foundation’s academic advisory council have not been scrutinising the information on the website to ensure it is correct,” Mr Ward said.

It is also odd that the foundation chose to represent just eight years of data, from 2001 to 2008. If it had included 2000, and the latest data on what is known of 2009, then the shape of the logo would look very different – even more so if the past 150 years of data were included.

 

Anyway, back to the main point of this blog.

 

Fraser, you made two other points in your tweets.  The first was point was to declare that “…my humble role as editor is to encourage debate via brilliant writers”. I hope you will also aim to discourage contributions by writers who are ideologically driven and who are ill-equipped to deal with difficult scientific issues. At least one of your bloggers raises the sort of criticisms raised by Lord Lawson, and he shows very little insight into the science of climate change.

 

Your second point was perhaps the more important one. Having accepted the scientific consensus, you say: “My problem is with the efficacy of the proposed solutions.”

 

In the same way that it was very helpful to pinpoint where you stand on the science (i.e., alongside over 90% of climate scientists), it would be good to clarify where you stand on the solutions and the need for solutions.

 

Starting from your position (and the consensus position) that the best scientific predictions estimate further rise of 1.1 to 6 C over the next 100 years based on good (not perfect) models, please can you state which of the following statements you agree with?

 

1. Do you agree that a potential increase in global average temperature of more than 4C by the end of the century cannot be ruled out, and indeed the probability may be as high as 50 per cent, if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise at current rates?

 

2. Do you agree that the potential economic and social costs of a warming of more than 4C could be so high that they should be avoided, even assuming cost-effective adaptation to some impacts were possible?

 

3. Do you agree that taking cost-effective action to avoid a temperature rise of more than 4C means reducing global emissions over the next century by at least 50 per cent so that there is a 50 per cent chance of a warming of less than 2C, and thus only a very small chance of a warming of more than 4C?

 

4. Do you agree with the economic estimates that such reductions in emissions could be achieved at a social and economic cost that would be much less than the potential impacts of unchecked climate change?

 

5. Do you agree that the best approach to climate change is through evidence-based risk management?

 

6. Do you agree that one of the main aims of successfully managing the risks of climate change is to limit the probability of reaching so-called tipping points, beyond which very severe impacts would become extremely difficult to stop or reverse, such as melting of the major land-based ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica?

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous

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Response to Fraser Nelson’s blog

Background

This week I took part in the Spectator debate speaking against the motion: “The global warming concern is over”. A poll prior to the debate revealed that the audience was heavily in favour of the motion and against myself and my colleagues Sir David King and Professor Tim Palmer: 63% For, 22% Against, 15% Don’t Know.

The good news is that our arguments seemed to make some sense to the Don’t Knows, as the final vote was 64% For, 32% Against, 5% Don’t Know. It seems that over 90% of the Don’t Knows who made up their minds adopted the position that climate change is indeed a concern. Continue reading

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Hari’s Beeblebear

Hari received a Beeblebar for his first birthday.

 

Haris_beeblebear_twitpic

 

Hari’s birthday coincided with the Indian spring festival of Holi, so I ended up being covered in dye.

Holi_compilation_1

Fortunately Holi shifts to a different date in 2012.

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous

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Einstein-in-a-box

Today is pi day (3.14) & it’s also Einstein’s birthday, so baby Hari will be receiving an Einstein-in-a-box.

Einstein-in-a-box_1

 

 

 

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous

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Despite claims to the contrary, CFAs did not help free speech in BCA v Singh

Lord Jackson’s Review of Civil Litigation Costs was published in January 2010 . It applied to legal costs across the board, which obviously included costs in libel cases.

Recently, there was an open consultation. However, I did not make a submission to the consultation on the Jackson Review, which closed on Monday 14th February, because I had been focusing on preparing for the draft defamation bill (which will be published before the end of March).

However, having just read the submission made by Media Standards Trust to the Jackson Review consultation, I did want to correct one point relating to my own case.

As background, you should know that the Media Standards Trust submission argues that the current CFA system has played an important role in providing access to justice in many libel cases. While I accept that CFAs are important, I believe that the beneficial role of CFAs is exaggerated and that the chilling effect of CFAs is understated. I also feel that the 100% success fee is unnecessary and damaging to free speech.

Personally, the most worrying aspect of the Media Standards Trust submission is that it names me in a list of people described as “…some of those who successfully sought protection for freedom of speech through a CFA.” The report states:

Simon Singh – the author was sued (unsuccessfully) by the British Chiropractic Association over criticisms he made about scientific claims made by the BCA in 2008. He too was able to fight his case thanks to a CFA.

In fact, CFAs offered me very little support, and potentially had a very negative impact on my freedom of speech. The reality is that I was threatened with libel in May 2008, but I did not receive an offer of a CFA until February 2009. At this stage, only one out of three members of my legal team was on a CFA. In other words, I had already run up enormous legal bills before the prospect of a CFA became a reality, and thereafter it applied only to a fraction of my costs.

A second member of my legal team adopted a CFA arrangement towards the end of 2010, but by this stage I had already had to bear a massive financial burden.

On the other hand, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), the organization suing me for libel, adopted a CFA arrangement with its legal team at a very early stage. This had a terrifying impact on me, because I faced the possibility of having to pay double the BCA’s costs if I lost the case. Thinking back to that time, the existence of a CFA for the claimant came very close to forcing me to back down. The BCA’s CFA came very close to ending my willingness to defend my right to free speech.

I hope that this helps to clarify the situation regarding my own case and my very partial CFA. This explanation should dispel any notion that CFAs were a boon to free speech in the case of BCA v Singh.

Moreover, the Media Standards Trust submission includes a reference to Hardeep Singh, who was sued for libel by his Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh ji Maharaj. The submission claims: “Singh pursued his case thanks to a CFA.” However, having spoken to Hardeep, my understanding is that the offer of a CFA came only at a late stage, and that he had already run up legal bills of about £100,000 prior to the CFA. Hence, the CFA clearly did not allow him to pursue the case, but rather it was Hardeep’s own determination and resilience that enabled him to stand up for what he believes to be true. He took a major financial risk, and it is not clear how much of his money he will ever recoup.

It is quite possible that many other examples that claim to show that CFAs support free speech are not as they seem.

For a more detailed explanation of my views on CFAs, please read my previous blog on this subject. I should stress that my overall view is not to abandon CFAs or make them unworkable, but to reduce the success fee to 25%. I believe this would retain access to justice, while driving down costs and the chilling effect of CFAs.

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous