Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Ideology using legalities to stifle scientific critique

Throughout history many have found ideology to be a trustworthy window on reality. As such it is the basis of many misconceptions. When science increased our knowledge of the world surrounding us inevitably this contradicted many beliefs. The solution people have found to that contradiction is the following:
  1. Confronted with evidence your opinion is flawed you amend your view accordingly
  2. Confronted with evidence your opinion is flawed you amend (read: ignore, or misrepresent) the evidence accordingly.
Anyone interested in sanity, and reason, will adopt option 1. Of course, the anti-science movement, without exception, chooses option 2.

This is because the intrepid ideologue will start by simply denying anything that contradicts his/her erroneous opinion since the Galileo-gambit proves he/she is right. This method is not without risks. More and more people realise they are the victim of propaganda. Another avenue for maintaining your discreditied position is legal bullying. As we have seen, in the case of Simon Singh, litigation -using the U.K.'s libel laws in particular- is a preferred method, employed by cranks, of removing science-based criticism from public discourse.

The latest incarnation of the "let's-prohibit-those-pesky-reality-based-objections-to-our-nonsense"-method resulted in cancelling the publication of Paul Offit's latest book Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. It is discussed by Orac describing how he:
found out about this when a British blogger, who had been originally sent a copy of Dr. Offit's book to review, received an e-mail from Dr. Offit's British publisher, Basic Books, requesting the review copy back and informing the blogger that "for legal reasons we have had to cancel the publication of this book." I had to tell the blogger that I had no idea what this was about, but it didn't take me long to find out that Richard Barr was threatening legal action against Perseus over one sentence.
He continues to note:
that usually the goal of cranks is not to win a judgment, but to shut down criticism by any means necessary. To that end, even though it would have been pretty pointless for Barr to sue Dr. Offit directly, legal threats against his U.K. publisher are very effective. All Barr has to accomplish is--if you'll forgive the term--to raise the bar on the costs of publication to the point that publishing Dr. Offit's book can't be profitable. Given the low profit margin of most books, likely Dr. Offit's included, a few legal fees spent to fend off threats like that of Mr. Barr go a long way towards discouraging publishers from publishing critical or controversial books. That's the point.
Unfortunately, the anti-science movement, like Hydra, appears impossible to debilitate. The purveyors of woo disingenuously invoke freedom of speech to make the most outlandish claims, while simultaneously insisting that this right does not apply to those pointing out these claims are factually incorrect. One can only hope Libel Reform will be effectuated before more attempts are made to keep the public from knowing experts have debunked the medieval beliefs promoted by the anti-science brigade.

In the mean time, whenever you see an organisation/individual, engaged in making controversial claims, trying to limit the availability of information exposing possible misstatements on their part be very sceptical towards those claims. Especially regarding health related claims where they simultaneously, yet always coincidentally, sell something related to that "controversy."

Update: Then again, "I'll sue you" is so 1980's. To show your superior intellect in the 21st century you need to use a more sophisticated method of bullying, enter the Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoSA). Scienceblogs, a source of science information, is the latest to come under attack. Details by Greg Laden, Pharyngula, Aardvarchaeology, Orac, Mike the Mad Biologist.

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