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Thursday, July 30, 2009

In defense of our critic: On Reiki, science, and free speech

EDITORIAL

The Reiki Digest hereby announces our official support of one of the most vocal critics of our practice: British science writer Sir Simon Singh.

Singh is an outspoken -- to say the least -- critic of all complementary and alternative healing modalities. As far as he's concerned, it's all quackery. We've reported on his criticism of Reiki a couple of times here in this publication, and we've even named him a Celeb-Reiki for the headlines he's made calling us Reiki practitioners "wacky" and even dangerous (while presenting absolutely no scientific evidence to support those claims, of course).

Last year, representatives of one the modalities he's criticized -- chiropractic -- not only returned his fire but went far beyond simple public criticism by suing Singh for libel. A year and more than £100,000 in legal expenses later, he lost the suit filed by the British Chiropractic Association and is now appealing the case. And this week, publications everywhere are republishing the article that led to the lawsuit in protest of the decision and the dangerous precedent it sets. We aren't republishing the article, "Beware the Spinal Trap," here as it has nothing specifically to do with Reiki, but we're happy to link to it so that our readers can see the evidence for themselves.

There's been quite a backlash against the BCA and against the notion that a libel suit is the appropriate way to respond to such criticism. Not only scientists, but journalists and natural health practitioners have pointed out that in order to have a healthy public debate over any subject, people must be free to express their opinions. Censorship, they say, is not the answer, and we agree emphatically.

The suit against Singh has already begun having an impact, as Australian journalist Nick Miller described earlier this month in a blog post titled "Watered down news" in The Age. He had a recent article edited by the newspaper's lawyers, who were concerned that his references to homeopathy might invite the same kind of lawsuit.

The legal action and initial ruling against Singh threaten those of us who practice Reiki and other complementary and alternative healing modalities every bit as much as it does the people who criticize us. Just as The Age did in letting the lawyers do the editing, more and more publications, organizations, and individuals will see the Singh case as a cautionary tale. As a result, they will be more likely to self-censor, even if they believe they're right, in order to avoid spending years and fortunes defending themselves from lawsuits. And that kind of fear is not conducive to productive discussion about anything.

If Singh and other critics are not allowed to speak their minds about our practice, then before you know it, we may not be able to speak freely about it, either -- not necessarily because of legislation or regulation, but simply out of self-preservation instinct.

Besides, recent experience has confirmed that criticism isn't necessarily harmful: just look at how many people have discovered Reiki in the wake of the U.S. Catholic bishops' denunciation of our practice. So go ahead, Dr. Singh: give us your best shot. Just be sure to spell the name right: R-E-I-K-I. Oh, and if the stress of dealing with all this has got you feeling a bit out of sorts, we'd be glad to cover the cost of a Reiki treatment for you.

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