Sturgess: One of the other things that I thought was a key to your book was, of course, the libel case and Simon Singh. Do you think that there always has to be a “Simon Singh,” to prod people to be activists?
Henderson: This is where the optimistic half of the book comes in. My argument is that politicians abuse or misrepresent or misuse or simply ignore science largely because there’s no political cost to doing so. I think one of the reasons that there’s no political cost is something that those of us who care about science, who really appreciate it, have to blame ourselves for. To a large extent, we don’t create that cost. We don’t make science a voting issue, a campaigning issue, something that we lobby our MPs sufficiently over.
A good example of this is the Simon Singh case, where he, a prominent science writer, was sued by chiropractors for making some quite moderate criticisms of the evidence behind their practice. He was sued for libel over that, and that then kicked up a groundswell of popular support from ordinary geeks—skeptics, science bloggers, and the like. These people got behind him, steeled his nerve to actually fight the case, helped his legal team out with demolishing the case against him, and because of this he eventually won. And then, really critically, he took that further into a lobbying campaign to try and persuade MPs that this injustice, or narrowly averted injustice, really illustrated why the libel laws needed to be reformed.
In fact, the English libel laws are being reformed at the moment; a bill was tabled in the Queen’s Speech, in fact, just a day before the book was published, which is terrific. My case is that we can do much more than we’ve historically done to make science something that features on the political agenda in a meaningful way. I think that involves our voting behavior. It involves lobbying MPs. There’s a great deal that we can do there.
Don’t forget that there’s a campaign to send copies of the book to Australian politicians (details here)!
Secondly – if you’ve been curious about the Token Skeptic book, you can now get it on the Amazon.com website for the Kindle too! The Scope of Skepticism: Interviews, Essays and Observations from the Token Skeptic Podcast for the Kindle is now out!
From Stephen Fry to Tim Minchin, Dr Pamela Gay to the Global Atheist Convention – The Scope of Skepticism is a collection of interviews and essays with some of the world’s most entertaining and intriguing people – providing food for thought on everything from paranormal claims, sex and relationships, education, art, science and faith.