Saturday, June 23, 2007

When science bloggers bite back against defamation claims

From Ben Goldacre: Stifling Debate - When Bloggers Bite Back

"I like short stories with happy endings. Last week we saw how the mightily eminent pharmacologist Professor David Colquhoun (FRS) was having his witty and informative “Improbable Science” quackbusting blog quietly banished from the UCL servers.

He had questioned claims made by a herbal medicine practitioner called Dr Ann Walker over, for example, the “blood cleansing” properties of red clover pills (also a “cleanser of the lymphatic system”, apparently) and criticised her for making public statements about the benefits of vitamin supplements in an academic journal, without disclosing her role as spokesperson forthe Health Supplements Information Service, a lobby group for the multibillion-pound supplement pills industry. Walker complained.

Well, in fact her husband complained. Of defamation. Directly to the provost. He also complained of breach of copyright (Colquhoun quoted part of a website he was writing about), breach of data protection requirements, and issued various requests to UCL under the Freedom of Information Act. He also demanded that a paper was circulated to all UCL council members concerning Colquhoun’s misuse of IT resources, and possibly office space and secretarial facilities...

Colquhoun’s brief move away from UCL produced a gratifying avalanche of letters to the provost in defence of robust criticism, and after this - and necessary expensive legal consultations - it was announced on Wednesday that Colquhoun’s blog is to be de-excommunicated.

But amusingly, in these democratic times, there are inevitable consequences of trying to silence a blogger - especially when you make a hash of it - and a mass of activity has now grown into what is cheerfully being described as “a festival of Ann Walker”. As the Sciencepunk blog gleefully points out, Ann Walker’s claims are now more famous than ever..."

Read the whole piece. It's very nicely done.

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