For an update on the British Chiropractic Association's libel suit against Simon Singh, see Ben Goldacre, "We are more possible than you can powerfully imagine", Bad Science, 7/29/2009. After noting the general freedom-of-speech issue, and the specific public interest in open debate about medical claims, Ben adds:
But beyond whether it is right, there is the more entertaining issue of whether it was wise, and here it is hard to contain a sense of schadenfreude as the chiropractors’ world unravels.
And as his link-rich history makes clear, the BCA's well-deserved misfortune would not have happened without new (and mostly amateur) internet-based media:
… there are lessons from this debacle – beyond the ethical concerns over suing in the field of science and medicine – and they are clear. First, if you have reputation and superficial plausibility more than evidence to support your activities, then it may be wise to keep under the radar, rather than start expensive fights. But more interestingly than that, a ragged band of bloggers from all walks of life has, to my mind, done a better job of subjecting an entire industry’s claims to meaningful, public, scientific scrutiny than the media, the industry itself, and even its own regulator. It’s strange this task has fallen to them, but I’m glad someone is doing it, and they do it very, very well indeed.
The title of his post, "We are more possible than you can powerfully imagine", is a play on Obi-Wan Kenobi's line in the first Star Wars movie:
|Darth Vader:||Your powers are weak, old man.|
|Obi-Wan:||You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.|
Goldacre's intentional spoonerism works because in this case, the nature of the BCA's power is exactly what blinded it to the possibilities of its opponents.
I'm sure that there have been many other examples of effective headline spoonerisms, but for some reason, none come to mind at the moment. Perhaps, on reflection, this technique is too undignified for serious periodicals, and too subtle for the tabloids.
[Note, by the way, that Goldacre's swap also exemplifies several of the principles governing the distribution of unintentional speech-error exchanges: "powerful" and "possible" start with the same phoneme, are both adjectives, and have the same number of syllables and the same stress pattern.]