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Science Based Medicine Blog on Legal Thuggery

June 30, 2010

The doctor who calls himself Orac [and yes, I know his real name but am purposely not repeating it here out of respect for his own wishes stated on his blog that his name not be used in connection with the blog], the highly respected science-based medicine blogger, has just written on his blog about how proponents of certain practices, when criticized, are attempting to use the legal system to silence critics. He also wrote about harassment he has experienced for his criticisms of the anti-vaccination proponents who he says tried to get him fired for his blogging. Click here to read his entire posting. The post mostly discusses a lawsuit against Dr. Stephen Barrett, but Ronald Federici’s lawsuits against Jean Mercer, Charly Miller, and Advocates for Children in Therapy are also mentioned.

Here are some excerpts:

After the events of last week, I’m a bit sensitive when it comes to matters like the one I’m about to discuss. Having the anti-vaccine cranks over at the Age of Autism weblog trying to get me fired over my blogging has a tendency to do that to me. (The details are out there if you haven’t heard of it; I will say nothing more of it here.) In any case, if there’s anything the events of last week drove home to me, it’s that a sina qua non of anti-science cranks like the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement is that, when faced with serious scientific criticism, their preferred reaction is not to respond to that criticism with refutations based on science. They can’t. Instead, their all too frequent response is to try to shut down criticism. We’ve seen it again and again, and I’ve discussed it many times on this blog.

Orac then goes on to describe, in detail, how Dr. Barrett was threatened and sued and how he has refused to back down. Comparing the case to Simon Singh’s case, which was in the UK, he notes:

It is true that American libel laws are nowhere near as plaintiff-friendly as British libel law. Dr. Barrett isn’t at nearly as big a disadvantage, and the lawsuit against him is not likely to lead to major changes in U.S. (or even Texas) libel law. It’s quite possible that it will be rapidly dismissed, as Barbara Loe Fisher’s lawsuit against Paul Offit was. I certainly hope so. Still, no matter what happens, DDI will cost Dr. Barrett money and time and interfere with his important work on Quackwatch. Besides, it is the principle involved that should spur skeptics to publicize and protest this naked intimidation of a respected skeptic and supporter of science-based medicine, and that principle is that libel laws should be kept out of science. Libel law should have no place in what is a scientific dispute. Worse, if Doctor’s Data is successful, not only would it silence one of the most dedicated and successful supporters of science-based medicine out there, but it could well destroy what is arguably the most comprehensive site for debunking quackery that is currently in existence, Quackwatch and its affiliated sites.

He also mentions the Federici lawsuit against Advocates for Children in Therapy, Jean Mercer and Charly Miller.

His conclusion:

If they win, science suffers, and so do patients.

Yes, exactly, Orac. Thank you for having the courage to bring this very important issue to the public’s attention. As I predicted, the scientific community is indeed up in arms and outraged by these lawsuits.


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One Comment
  1. Yes, this is a tactic used often. the courts are getting more savvy aren’t they? They are less likely to take testimony based on recovered memory, hypnosis and other techniques.

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