Simon Singh

Simon Singh
English PEN [CC BY 2.0]

Simon Singh has had two careers. He left Cambridge University with a doctorate in particle physics to work for the BBC as a science producer in 1990, and wrote two books on popular science, Fermat’s Last Theorem and The Big Bang. His TV documentary about Fermat won a BAFTA in 1997, and he was awarded an MBE for “services to science education and communication”. His family background is Sikh. His multi-millionaire brother Tom Singh is the founder of the New Look chain of fashion stores.

In the 1990s, Singh was much influenced by the skeptic Richard Wiseman, with whom he did a stage show called “Theatre of Science”. Singh said that although his earlier writing was about pure science, Wiseman inspired him to “debunk things such as the paranormal – we both hate psychics, mediums, pseudoscience in general.” Around 2002, a new phase of his career began when he was approached by Lord ‘Dick’ Taverne, a politician, to set up a new lobby group, Sense About Science, of which he is now a trustee. Its central ambition has been to get GM crops and foods accepted into the UK. In 2012 and 2013 this group received £20,000 from Coca Cola as part of a campaign by the company to question evidence about the negative effects of sugary drinks. Sense About Science duly published criticism of research into the negative effects of sugary drinks, without mentioning this sponsorship by Coca Cola, as revealed in the London Times.

In 2008, Singh collaborated with Edzard Ernst on a book, Trick or Treatment? which attempted to demolish alternative or complementary therapies, often by cherry-picking the worst studies or misreading the positive ones. To promote the book, Singh wrote an article for The Guardian which disparaged chiropractic practitioners, and he accused the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) of deliberate dishonesty in promoting fake treatments.

The BCA threatened to sue for libel, and the Guardian offered a 500-word response and a clarification. The BCA rejected the offer and decided to sue Singh personally. Singh’s supporters—including Edzard Ernst, science journalists and Sense About Science—rallied round and offered financial and moral support. Singh, as a first defence, denied he had suggested chiropractors were dishonest, but were merely “deluded and reckless”. Although the BCA won the first round, on appeal the courts found for Singh, with only the lawyers benefiting. Sense About Science launched a new campaign, Keep Libel Laws Out of Science. Eventually, the campaigners won the day, and the UK’s onerous libel laws were moderated to allow for greater freedom in scientific debate.

Emboldened by the victory, Singh funded the creation of the Nightingale Collaboration, which was launched with the ambition to “put the screws on alternative medicine”. In 2012, Singh founded the Good Thinking Society as part of this campaign against alternative medicine, and has launched aggressive legal cases against homeopaths and homeopathy.

Since 2014, he has been trying to get a health magazine, What Doctors Don’t Tell You, removed from the shelves of all the major store chains. He has encouraged a well-organised campaign involving around 50 people, who change their names and create fake organisations, so that supermarkets feel inundated. As he often signs his letters to distributors ‘Dr Singh’, most stores and media naturally assume that he has medical qualifications. In fact he has no medical training or research experience. He is a fellow of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.