Silencing Critics: Legal Chill

November 13, 2010 at 2:26 pm (Legal Chill) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A company called Rodial have threatened a doctor with a lawsuit after she raised doubts about a “boob job cream”. While Rodial’s lawyers letter states that Rodial would have provided information on “clinical assessment and product ingredients” on request, they failed to do so when contacted by Ben Goldacre.

I would echo Professor Frizelle’s response to the Chiropractors’ Association in New Zealand:

let’s hear your evidence not your legal muscle

In threatening legal action rather than backing up their claims with evidence, Rodial join a growing list.

The Society of Homeopaths sent the Quackometer’s hosting company Netcetera a complaint via their legal representatives and the page they had complained of was taken down (then mirrored by a bunch of other sites).

Gillian McKeith’s legal threats are documented in this article in The Guardian.

These were: 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 (Gillian McKeith’s husband, lawyer Howard Magaziner, told John Garrow that he was defaming Ms McKeith by remarking on the lack of published research carried out by McKeith).

DC Science detailed the legal threats from chiropractors in New Zealand (threats which were responded to with, well, class by Professor Frizelle – as quoted above).

There was the famous case of Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association – a case that brought only defeat, a host of complaints against members, and ridicule from critics for the BCA.

Matthias Rath versus Ben Goldacre saw Goldacre sued over criticism of Rath, who had:

bought full page adverts denouncing Aids drugs while promoting his vitamin pills in South Africa, a country where hundreds of thousands die every year from Aids under an HIV denialist president and the population is ripe for miracle cures.

Rath dropped the case and ended up being responsible for the Guardian’s legal costs.

Update, 14th July 2012

There’s also this from Orac on Doctor’s Data. Biochemist Stuart Jones received notice of intent to sue for libel from Dr Sarah Myhill: link (correspondence here).

David Colquhoun was threatened with a libel action by Chris Woollams. See blogs from Josephine Jones on the content of the Canceractive website and Guy Chapman, who noticed some odd coincidences regarding the registered addresses of Chris Woollams, Canceractive, and Rainbow Foods.

Oh, and Sue Reid of the Daily Mail used the ‘l’ word in an email to me: link.

Update, 15th July 2012

In 2009, LBC‘s lawyers threatened Ben Goldacre over an audio clip he’d posted of Jeni Barnett on MMR. [Most of the cases I've mentioned involved threats of libel - this one was a complaint of copyright infringement.]

Andrew Wakefield was once accused (by Justice Eady) of trying to silence critics by warning them that he was suing for libel while at the same time failing to progress the case. The Left Brain / Right Brain blog has been posting updates on Wakefield’s current lawsuit.

Sense About Science reported on the three defamation cases brought by US medical device company NMT Medical against cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst being discontinued.

Rhys Morgan and Andy Lewis have written about threats of legal action issued by Marc Stephens, purportedly on behalf of the Burzynski Clinic.

Blogger JQH wrote about Association Sjokoservice Norway threatening Norwegian bloggers who’d written about Xocai.

US corporation GE Healthcare threatened Henrik Thomsen with a libel suit but eventually dropped the controversial libel action.

The journal Energy and Environment threatened a NASA climate modeller Gavin Schmidt over allegations regarding the journal’s peer review process.

Nature reporter Quirin Schiermeier was sued by Mohamed Salah El Din Hamed El Naschie, an Egypt-born engineer-turned-physicist for questioning the way that El Naschie published hundreds of papers written by himself in a journal of which he was editor-in-chief — Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, published by Elsevier Science.

A group referred to as “the cold fusion five” sued the paper La Republica (and lost – having to pay the paper’s costs).

Thanks to the Bad Science forumites for the suggestions of the cold fusion five, Marc Stephens, and the Xocai vendors.

Update, 17th October 2012

Solal Technologies are suing Kevin Charleston over an article he wrote for Quackdown. What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine apparently threatened to sue Simon Singh. Josephine Jones wrote about both cases, and has also written about ColonHelp and Zenyth Pharmaceuticals. [Update, 16/11/13: 'Zenyth has voluntarily dismissed the trial, retracting the appeal. This means they now have to pay 4000 USD as trial expenses (this is a significant amount in Romania) and my articles stay up as they are.']

Update, 23rd July 2013

Aids denialist Clark Baker sues critic in Texas (Popehat blog).

Update, 13th August 2013

Straight Pride UK try to silence Oliver Hotham with a DMCA notice – and emails, referring to lawyers, barring him from mentioning their group. Original article reproduced by (among others) Popehat. The Popehat post includes some extra detail, including some cringeworthy tweets and an excruciating statement released by Straight Pride UK on Facebook.

Update, 25th July 2014

Edward Tobinick is flexing his legal muscle, after criticism from Steven Novella – as reported here by Dr Novella and here on Doubtful News. The article complained of is here.

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9 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention Silencing Critics: Legal Chill « Stuff And Nonsense -- Topsy.com said,

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by James and Helen Rahman Brennan, Sav Szymura. Sav Szymura said: RT @jdc325: Rodial join a list that includes luminaries such as Matthias Rath, Gillian McKeith and the BCA: http://bit.ly/cvB0IV [...]

  2. Martin said,

    Heh, they’re not the only people who’d prefer to bypass the scientific debate because they don’t know how to make one:

    http://notrickszone.com/2010/11/11/branding-of-science-dissenters-has-begun-clearing-the-path-to-a-climate-science-pogrom/

    Ahem.

    But anyway, are the courts really a bad place to settle disputes about evidence?

  3. Neuroskeptic said,

    Yes, because they work on different standards of evidence. Also, under our current libel laws, it could well turn out that in order to avoid being found guilty of libel, Dr Dalia Nield would need to provide positive evidence that the product doesn’t work, which of course is impossible if the company making the product haven’t done any good-quality trials (guess whether they have). The burden of proof, scientifically, is quite obviously on them, but in the courtroom, it might not be. Which is why the courtroom is not a place to discuss science.

  4. Rodial Roundup « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    [...] wrote yesterday about Rodial silencing criticism. Several other bloggers have also written about the case and I thought I’d do a quick [...]

  5. The Year In Nonsense. And Stuff. « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    [...] was able to return to familiar ground in November – legal chill. This was thanks to the stance Rodial took when their “Boob Job” cream was [...]

  6. Rodial and the ASA « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    [...] Rodial from the legal action they took against Dr Dalia Nield for comments made regarding their boob job cream. I took a look at some of the claims they make on their [...]

  7. A Brief Guide To Deflecting Criticism « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    [...] methods of deflecting (or suppressing) criticism include legal chill (I have a category for this here), the vitriol defence (because pointing out that people are wrong [...]

  8. Guy Chapman (@SceptiGuy) said,

    Who are the “cold fusion five”? I had endless trouble with cold fusion cranks on Wikipedia.

  9. jdc325 said,

    Fleischmann, Pons, Preparata, Bressani and Del Giudice were the five. Apparently, they tried to sue La Repubblica for 8 billion lira but lost the case and were ordered to pay costs of 25 million lira. Giovanni Pacci was the journalist and the piece was a review of Axel Kahn’s False Prophets.

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