A canna’ change the laws of physics

Scotty, The Naked Time, stardate 1704.3, Episode 7

Alternative Memory?

Posted by apgaylard on June 5, 2009

bigstockphoto_Don_t_Forget_325211George Lewith has an interesting letter in the New Scientist this week, in which he criticises David Allen Green’s* excellent article “Don’t criticise, or we’ll sue“.  One of his objections is that he is, “unaware of anybody prior to the chiropractors” threatening critics with libel in the UK. 

He seems to have missed Drs Alan Lakin and Ann Walker threatening defamation proceedings against University College London and Professor David Colquhoun over the latter’s criticism** of, herbal medicine practitioner, Dr Walker’s views on the ‘blood cleansing’ properties of red clover and the benefits of vitamin supplements.

Neither did he spot that Le Canard Noir was threatened with legal action by the Society of Homeopaths over comments on their handling of members caught peddling nonsensical nostrums for malaria.  The legal threat made by alternative medicine practitioner Dr. Joseph Chikelue Obi against the same blogger and his ISP has also passed him by.

I concede that, unless you take an interest in the sceptical blogosphere, it’s easy to miss incidents like these; but perhaps some research is advisable before commenting in public on this issue?***

Finally, I am at a loss though to explain why his letter ignores the failed attempt by vitamin pill pusher Matthias Rath to sue The Guardian and Ben Goldacre for libel: as this case was actually mentioned in the article.

Notes

*He blogs as Jack of Kent.

** See So what is a “blood cleanser”? Quinion speaks, UCL felled by a herbalist? and The fallout from DC’s de-excommunication for David Colquhoun’s account of the saga.

*** I’ve submitted a modified version of this to New Scientist as a letter to aid Lewith in his understanding of this issue.

Edits

6th June 2009. Updated links to David Colquhoun’s account of the attempts by Drs Alan Lakin and Ann Walker to silence criticism.

[BPSDB]

6 Responses to “Alternative Memory?”

  1. alanhenness said

    Maybe his memory lasts as long as that of water?

  2. jdc325 said

    Excellent examples there of legal chill – the Walker, SoH, and Obi incidents are classic cases.

    Regarding this comment: “I concede that, unless you take an interest in the sceptical blogosphere, it’s easy to miss incidents like these; but perhaps some research is advisable before commenting in public on this issue?”
    There have been one or two examples that have made the mainstream media other than the case of Rath that, rather damningly, was mentioned in Jack of Kent’s article. (OK, one that I can think of. And that was in the Bad Science column.) As you say, though, a little research on the part of George Lewith would certainly have been advisable.

    I did a couple of blog posts on Legal Chill / how Alt Med practitioners respond to criticism and I mentioned Gillian McKeith as one notable example. Ben Goldacre handily collated some of Gillian McKeith’s legal threats in a Bad Science piece in 2007. These included: a writ against The Sun newspaper; legal letters to PhDiva and Google over a blog post; legal threats to a website called Eclectech; and the Garrow threat. (More on Garrow about half-way down this page: here. “Her husband phoned me claiming I was defaming her so I said sue me. I’m still waiting.”)

    “I’ve submitted a modified version of this to New Scientist as a letter to aid Lewith in his understanding of this issue.”
    I think you are quite right to – I maintain that it is everyone’s duty to inform the uninformed whenever they can. I hope he will thank you for bringing these cases to his attention.

    • apgaylard said

      jdcThanks. I had forgotten about McKeith’s litigious inclinations. I hope NS publish the letter, but I think the chances are slim. If they don’t I’ll get in touch with Lewith directly.

  3. David Colquhoun said

    There is also the case of the pre-emptive removal of a post by Stephen Curry by Nature’s lawyers. Lawyers for the Financial Times also made me remove a reference to “dishonest degrees” from a piece in their magazine, though I thought it was clear that it was the degree content that was dishonest, not the teachers. At the moment, I’m still waiting to hear whether the BMJ will publish a comment on the NICE low back pain guidance.

    Incidentally, you have linked to my old page which will vanish soon. The saga of the herbalists and the UCL server is now at dcscience.net, http://www.dcscience.net/?p=65
    http://www.dcscience.net/?p=69
    http://www.dcscience.net/?p=16

    • apgaylard said

      David, Thanks for the comment and the links. I’ve updated my post accordingly. It looks like my criticism of Lewith is less complete and his complaint is even weaker than I thought.

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