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E&E threatens a libel suit

Filed under: — group @ 22 February 2011

Abuse of the UK libel laws is so commonplace as to require no real introduction (but see the Campaign for libel reform for more details). Because of the ridiculous costs and pro-plaintiff assumptions, it has been (ab)used by many and fought against successfully only by a few. In the realm of discussions about science, Simon Singh’s triumph over a libel suit brought by the British Chiropractors Association stands out, as does Ben Goldacre’s successful £500,000 defense against Matthias Rath – a vitamin salesman peddling bogus AIDS cures. But despite that, it remains (for now) a potent threat to throw around if you want to try to intimidate a critic.

We received this letter on Friday:

From: Bill Hughes
Cc: Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen
Subject:: E&E libel
Date: 02/18/11 10:48:01

Gavin, your comment about Energy & Environment which you made on RealClimate has been brought to my attention:

“The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line. ”

To assert, without knowing, as you cannot possibly know, not being connected with the journal yourself, that an academic journal does not bother with peer review, is a terribly damaging charge, and one I’m really quite surprised that you’re prepared to make. And to further assert that peer review is abandoned precisely in order to let the editor publish papers which support her political position, is even more damaging, not to mention being completely ridiculous.

At the moment, I’m prepared to settle merely for a retraction posted on RealClimate. I’m quite happy to work with you to find a mutually satisfactory form of words: I appreciate you might find it difficult.

I look forward to hearing from you.

With best wishes
Bill Hughes
Director
Multi-Science Publsihing [sic] Co Ltd

The comment in question was made in the post “From blog to Science” and the full context was:

The many existing critiques of peer review as a system (for instance by Richard Smith, ex-editor of the BMJ, or here, or in the British Academy report), sometimes appear to assume that all papers arrive at the journals fully formed and appropriately written. They don’t. The mere existence of the peer review system elevates the quality of submissions, regardless of who the peer reviewers are or what their biases might be. The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line – you end up with a backwater of poorly presented and incoherent contributions that make no impact on the mainstream scientific literature or conversation. It simply isn’t worth wading through the dross in the hope of finding something interesting.

The point being that if the ‘peer-review’ bar gets lowered, the result is worse submissions, less impact and a declining reputation. Something that fits E&E in spades. This conclusion is based on multiple years of evidence of shoddy peer-review at E&E and, obviously, on the statements of the editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen. She was quoted by Richard Monastersky in the Chronicle of Higher Education (3 Sep 2003) in the wake of the Soon and Baliunas fiasco:

The journal’s editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, a reader in geography at the University of Hull, in England, says she sometimes publishes scientific papers challenging the view that global warming is a problem, because that position is often stifled in other outlets. “I’m following my political agenda — a bit, anyway,” she says. “But isn’t that the right of the editor?”

So the claim that the ‘an editor publishes papers based on her political position’ while certainly ‘terribly damaging’ to the journal’s reputation is, unfortunately, far from ridiculous.

Other people have investigated the peer-review practices of E&E and found them wanting. Greenfyre, dissecting a list of supposedly ‘peer-reviewed’ papers from E&E found that:

A given paper in E&E may have been peer reviewed (but unlikely). If it was, the review process might have been up to the normal standards for science (but unlikely). Hence E&E’s exclusion from the ISI Journal Master list, and why many (including Scopus) do not consider E&E a peer reviewed journal at all.

Further, even the editor states that it is not a science journal and that it is politically motivated/influenced. Finally, at least some of what it publishes is just plain loony.

Also, see comments from John Hunter and John Lynch. Nexus6 claimed to found the worst climate paper ever published in its pages, and that one doesn’t even appear to have been proof-read (a little like Bill’s email). A one-time author, Roger Pielke Jr, said “…had we known then how that outlet would evolve beyond 1999 we certainly wouldn’t have published there. “, and Ralph Keeling once asked, “Is it really the intent of E&E to provide a forum for laundering pseudo-science?”. We report, you decide.

We are not surprised to find that Bill Hughes (the publisher) is concerned about his journal’s evidently appalling reputation. However, perhaps the way to fix that is to start applying a higher level of quality control rather than by threatening libel suits against people who publicly point out the problems? Is being known as the journal who tries to sue critics of their editorial policies (or worse, tries to intimidate critics by threatening libel suits) really going to help?

As a final note, if you think that threatening unjustifiable UK libel suits against valid criticism is an appalling abuse, feel free to let Bill Hughes know (but please be polite), and add your support to the Campaign for libel reform in the UK which looks to be making great headway. In the comments, feel free to list your examples of the worst papers ever published in E&E.

Bill, if you are reading, you can take this ‘form of words’ as a full and complete response to your email.

Update: The Guardian reports on the story, and Bill Hughes sends another email.


308 Responses to “E&E threatens a libel suit”

  1. 201
    Seb Tallents says:

    Please, please sort out an alternative to recaptcha, it keeps reporting as failed, but the website is claiming attempts to repost are duplicate. Sorry if it is, but it is not appearing.

    @Real Climate in general:

    Guys,

    I really hope you have taken legal advice from someone familar with UK Libel law.

    Truth is an absolute defence, but there can be a difference between truth determined in the courts and truth determined in science.

    Reading your comments to Hughes, and how they can be interpreted (see Eady’s interpretation of Bogus in the Simon Singh vs. BCA case), I think they may have a case along the lines of comment 125s point.

    A US lawyer may tell you that you are safe from any damages, and don’t even need to turn up. But consider how bad it would look if you lost.

    The deniers could quite happily push the meme “Climatologits proven in court to be liers”. A totally horrible situation.

  2. 202
    Seb Tallents says:

    Also, your attitudes as good scientists, citing links etc. to substantiate the statements you are making may provide grounds for anyone suing you to argue your comments are statements of fact that you might need to prove to be absolutely true, rather than comment that you might need to prove to be fair. This probably makes their hypothetical case eaier and your case harder, as was the case in Simon Singhs trial.

    If the whole point of this website is to get the case and arguments for AGW out there, it’s not helped at all if people can cast doubt on your actual honesty by pointing to court rulings.

  3. 203
    Hank Roberts says:

    > To survive, we must follow the dictates of science exactly….
    > The scientists are speaking for Nature, not for themselves.

    Excuse me, this is where I get off.

  4. 204
    John Mason says:

    Re #125 & 199,

    Quoting from 125 for a moment:

    “The problem is the clause “for any papers that follow the editor’s political line”, which relates to what appears to be a second potential charge….”

    The editor of E&E is quoted in this paragraph, published in today’s Guardian:

    “But she did not deny that she allows her political agenda to influence which papers are published in the journal. “I’m not ashamed to say that I deliberately encourage the publication of papers that are sceptical of climate change,” said Boehmer-Christiansen, who does not believe in man-made climate change.”

    Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/feb/25/real-climate-libel-threat

    It strikes me that if you are going to let politics get in the way of science, then you are running what is tantamount to a quasi-political journal and not a purely scientific one – the latter being, of course, where the science should always reside. We are all aware that there is a heck of a lot of politics surrounding climate and other environmental issues, of course, but it IS politics and not science, and clear labelling is a good thing at all times! It is when politics masquerades as science (e.g. all things suffixed by “gate” passim, 2009 onwards) that trouble tends to start a-brewing.

    Cheers – John

  5. 205
    J Bowers says:

    197 Hank Roberts — “What does “private” mean in British English in that context?”

    Zero state funding. Google: “university of buckingham” private

    It actually gets some glowing reviews in all fairness.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/sep/11/student.survey

  6. 206
    Michael McClory says:

    Ouch, some pretty biting comments in the Guardian newspaper:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/feb/25/real-climate-libel-threat

  7. 207
    pete best says:

    Why libel RC when they are all heavily peer reviewed and published scientists when you could listen to their criticisms and tak them on board. Its not like the commentators of RC are not contactable or are aloof and full of hubris.

    Nah, that magazine (journal it is not perhaps)is not up to the standard of some others which contain a lot more relevant and meaningful material. Even science works in divisions of ability.

  8. 208
    flxible says:

    I think what folks are missing here is the fact that the term “peer” will have different meanings applied to different groups – sceptical genre papers are no doubt reviewed . . . by peers of the sceptical genre, and in a publication with a political slant, that would include sceptics with a political agenda.

    as CAPTCHA notes: ignenge Definition

  9. 209
    J Bowers says:

    Thank gawd comments are closed for that Guardian article. Poptart’d be all over it like a rash. Gavin, that’s a real, “Yeeeah… go on… try it” look in that photo.

  10. 210
    dhogaza says:

    GSW:

    Ding Dong battles between biologists and creationists, I think, is ultimately only beneficial to the creationists. Worth thinking about. Avoid the ‘confrontation’ as much as possible …

    Whatever, Neville …

  11. 211
    Ben Burch says:

    They probably don’t care if the judgment would be unenforceable. All they want is to be able to say you were proven wrong in a court of law. Many climate deniers assert that court decision trumps scientific consensus, and no doubt that will be the modus operandi here.

    E&E published a paper saying that the sun is a hot ball of iron. Nothing more needs to be said.

  12. 212
    MapleLeaf says:

    Could someone please help me understand something about libel law. Specifically, who you can and cannot sue and where or where not.

    E&E are in the UK, yet it appears that they can file a libel suite against RC. That is across the pond.

    Is that because of the way the libel laws in the UK are drafted? If so, why then did Briffa and Jones and others not go after McIntyre– someone who seems to conveniently go after scientists outside of Canada. By the same token, why can’t scientists in the USA then go after people slandering them in Canada or the UK or anywhere else for that matter?

  13. 213
    Didactylos says:

    Seb Tallents:

    Gavin’s comments seem perfectly defensible. The problem for E&E is that Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen has not just once, but frequently made comments on the public record trying to excuse the poor quality of various articles when they have been rightly vilified. These comments have completely undermined any pretensions that E&E might have to ever being regarded as a top journal, or even as a half-decent journal.

    The truth is an absolute defence, but lawyers don’t rely on just one defence. If it should go to trial, then the response will depend on the exact text referred to in the complaint. Gavin can argue that what he has said is true, and that it is fair comment, and that E&E have no reputation to defend. There is spade-loads of evidence to back this up.

    Gavin’s criticisms are not intemperate, and he has not made rash generalisations that might be misinterpreted (despite the best efforts of some of the scummier blogosphere – they had to resort to misquoting him).

    So where does your fear come from? The legal system is imperfect, but it strives to reach the correct conclusion.

  14. 214
    John Mason says:

    Here’s a classic example of how one bad paper can go on to create delay & obfuscation:

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/02/the_bureau_of_meteorology_figh.php

    As I understand it, the chain looks like this:

    1) E&E paper “180 Years of Atmospheric CO2 Gas Analysis by Chemical Methods” makes some novel claims about CO2 monitoring;

    2) Picked up on by Plimer & featured in his “Heaven & Earth” book;

    3) “Heaven & Earth” parroted by a prominent Aussie clergyman: above claim features heavily;

    4) Dr Greg Ayers of the BOM has to waste valuable research time refuting all this BS. Oh well, at least the latter got minuted in Hansard!

    It’s like a series of Mexican Waves, that consist of pure crap!

    Cheers – John

  15. 215
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Yes. The photo of Gavin in The Guardian’s story. Right outside of Tom’s Diner: I hear the slap bass line from Seinfeld.

    “And now, the airing of grievances.”

  16. 216
    David MW says:

    Just a quick comment to say that I completely support Gavin’s stance on this. E&E was once a moderately interesting minor interdisciplinary journal until SB-C’s climate change denialist agenda made it a venue for all kinds of frankly ridiculous pseudo-scientific papers.

    I would just make one comment though – you say that the ISI Master List is an ‘official’ list of journals, and this is repeated in the Guardian piece. It is nothing of the sort. It is a list run by a private commercial enterprise that prides itself on rejecting large numbers of perfectly decent journals every year on the basis of its own (opaque and unaccountable) ‘priorities’. Unfortunately, it has become the basis of academic assessment exercises worldwide, but we should not keep allowing Thomson-Reuters the power to decide which journals are ‘worthy’ and which are not.

  17. 217
    John Mashey says:

    re: 212
    I am no lawyer, but started looking into this about 18 months ago, some of which is discussed in CCC, March 2010, p.1 and especially p.184, “Defamation is complex, especially Internet & international.” Some links are provided to give you a start.

    As Gavin notes, UK libel law has well-known issues, but in general, I would guess that filing a lawsuit in jurisdiction X tends to want to have a lawyer who can practice in jurisdiction X.
    (I say jurisdiction, not county, to cover US case, some of which is state-by-state).

    In practice, given that:
    a) (Opinion) Relatively few scientists are wealthy enough top think about pursuing libel cases, especially foreign ones.

    b) It’s asymmetric warfare: somebody can write defamatory material quite easily, but calling them on it can take a lot of time and effort away from doing research or teaching.

    c) (Opinion) If one considers the entire population, and looks at the distributions, I think one gets:

    - classical skeptical thinking and willingness to argue
    (scientists’ distribution likely concentrated at right)
    - litigiousness
    (scientists’ distribution probably less, but certainly not at extreme right)

    Put another way, some people threaten legal action at drop of a hat, but that seems atypical of scientists I know.

    No, even if someone is interested (c), one must be able to overcome a) and b). As it stands, this tends to be done, rarely, as it takes unusual combinations, as when a scientist gets fed up, has a clear-enough case, can find a lawyer with the right expertise (which actually includes some familiarity with the climate anti-science turf), and can either pay for it or get pro bono help.

    Although some lawyers do pro bono work, the combination above is rare. The best example is Canadian, of course, Andrew Weaver (U of Victoria) and Roger McConchie in Vancouver. If you search Amazon for “Canadian libel”, you get this.
    I was lucky to find a used copy of that 1000-pager, I have only started reading it. Opinion: CFP folded quickly for good reason.

    To the best of my knowledge, the organization needed to address a) and b) above does not yet exactly exist.

  18. 218
    Jathanon says:

    RE: Michael McClory says: 25 Feb 2011 at 11:49 AM
    I liked the other piece there, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2011/feb/23/need-to-protect-internet-from-astroturfing and now I’m going to keep an eye out for “astroturds”.

  19. 219
    Seb Tallents says:

    @ Didaktylos:

    “Gavin’s comments seem perfectly defensible.”
    If interpreted the correct way. It is worth noting that Simon Singhs comments (Chiroprachtys claims to cure Coelic are Bogus) is also perfectly defensible. Probably more so in the sense that a strictly legalistic reading of what Gary said could be paraphrased as “All articles that co-incide with the editors political beliefs are not substantively peer reviewed”. The distinction is kind of important, because as currently worded, what it is saying is not just that E&E is sloppy with reviews and politically biased, but that no sceptical material published by them can be trusted. Those are two slightly different things. No amount of demonstrating that E&E is deeply sloppy and biased can demonstrate that the articles they present can be discounted immediately as being purely published only due to bias. Did I get that across well? I’m in need of a coffee, my appologies.
    Furthermore, there is then the question of what is “substantive”. I am not a lawyer, but I think that while there is an argument that if the post is “comment” then this might be able to be defined more loosely and ambiguously. However, by documenting the supporting evidence, it could well be ruled that Garys comments are not reasonably interpreted as comment, but as statements of fact. This is what happened in Singhs case. In this case, fair comment would not be a defence (it was ruled on in Singhs case), only absolute truth, which can be hard to prove (In Singhs case, he was initially required to prove that BCA actually *believed* their treatments had no efficacy).
    Substantive is unlikely to be interpreted by the judge with deep reference to science practices, but in terms of what the “man on the Clapham omnibus” might think is sufficiently substantive. Simple failure to ensure that the papers are not only sent to referees who are inherently favourable may not be viewed as unsubstantive. Indeed, there is no standard of practice generally applied in other fields and other journals that referees must be actively hostile. Indeed, it may not even be sufficient to show that the editors have an active policy of sending papers to favourable referees, if the court presumes referees are generally assumed to act in good faith as a matter of principle.
    Worst case scenario then might see RC as being required to prove the absolute truth that ALL papers that contradict the IPCC view of AGW have been sent by E&E as a matter of policy to referees who will approve them irrespective of their quality, or E&E will always disregard negative recommendations.
    I agree there is abundant material to show E&E is pretty much useless, but the important thing to understand here is that the precise definitions of what was said is determined by the presiding judge, ultimately, and that determines what arguments you can use. It is no use clarifying after you have published. Singh could say what he meant by bogus till he was blue in the face, the point was that the court initially decided that bogus implied malice to the reader, so damage was done to the good faith of Chiropractors. In this case, E&E has approached RC to reach a mutual acceptance, and been declined. This is being generally interpreted as a sign they have no case. This is not true, it is often a requirement for a case to be accepted now that attempts to settle out of court have been made in good faith precisely to prevent the abuse of the law to simply silence people with a solicitors letter. Alarm bells would be ringing for me.
    However, I am no lawyer, I am a plasma physicist, though I do have lawyer friends who have had to worry about defamation suits in mundane university politics back in the day.
    The point is that this could be a tricky legal case. Simon Singh won in the end, after appeal IIRC, but it took time and money. If RC did not invest time and money (probably, being in the US and protected against UK courts now, they have no immediate need to answer any lawsuit) and lose by default (or even if they need to fight to win on appeal) denialists have a fantastic totem of “Warmenism proven wrong in court of law” crap that is going to make trying to convince people about the validity of the science all the more harder.

    @212:
    “E&E are in the UK, yet it appears that they can file a libel suite against RC. That is across the pond.”

    It can be filed here because RC is “published” here, i.e. can be viewed on the net. There is a lot of debate by what is meant by published here, one judge, Justice Eady, has taken a very lax view on this, allowing Khazak businesmen to sue a Khazak newspaper because it’s online website can be shown to have a hundred hits from UK IP addresses. This is obviously crazy, though perhaps no crazier than US prosecutors going after UK businessmen undertaking acts legal in the UK that affect only other entiteis in the UK, but which at one point involved traffic that passed through a US server. Welcome to globalisation.

    “the same token, why can’t scientists in the USA then go after people slandering them in Canada or the UK or anywhere else for that matter”

    They can, it is just insanely expensive. Because libel laws have traditionally involved the rich and the powerful versus very rich newspapers, libel lawyers charge very large fees.

  20. 220
    Seb Tallents says:

    Still, this is all worst case stuff. One hopes nothing comes of it, but if I were on the RC team, I would have argued to re-word the post to make it clear that E&E had a political bias that was included in the decision to publish a given article, and that there was therefore no guarantee that AGW skeptical views presented were any good. My response would have been broadly similar, but slightly differently worded, and in particular I would agree to delte the word “any” from this sentece:

    “The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line”.

    If RC does get sued, I’ll be first in line to donate for the court case. Please don’t give them a win by default, it will be hugely damaging because it will be massively misinterpreted.

  21. 221
    Clippo (UK) says:

    I expect others here have made this point however I’m not prepared to re-read all the posts to see …. but it appears to me there is a contradiction in Hughes letter itself.

    For example he is claiming that Gavin implies E & E does NO peer-review :-

    To assert, without knowing, as you cannot possibly know, not being connected with the journal yourself, that an academic journal does not bother with peer review, ………

    Whereas Gavin’s quote before this in the letter says :-

    “The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line. ”

    I have highlighted ‘dispensed with Substantive’ which means to me, at least, some poor peer-review is carried out but certainly not none.

    So , isn’t this the start of a strawman ? – certainly not very legally precise.

  22. 222
    MapleLeaf says:

    John @217. Thanks a lot.

  23. 223
    Brent Hargreaves says:

    Bentley sets speed record on frozen Baltic: http://worldnewscar.blogspot.com/2011/02/bentley-continental-supersports.html

    Sorry that this is ‘off topic’. I figure that this behaviour will be a thing of the past when the ice has all gone.

  24. 224
    Rattus Norvegicus says:

    Brent,

    Was that a Top Gear stunt? BTW, greatest show on TV if you like cars (which I do, I can hardly wait for an affordable electric sports car, it will make everyone forget about gasoline engines…)

  25. 225
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re #219.

    ‘Universal synthetic statements’(USS) are asymmetrical in the sense that they cannot be proved but can be falsified by establishing one exception (Popper * Logic of Scientific Discovery). Of course unlike Popper, we are not discussing scientific statements, but remarks about the reviewing policy of a magazine. I have no experience of the law and have no idea if such considerations would influence a British court; I am just trying to interpret one of the concerns in comment #219.

    If #219 is correct then we might be able to construct the following USS about British law : “anyone using a USS on any occasion would be unable to use the defence of truth in any libel action”. This would be a rather crazy conclusion, but I suppose could be avoided by removing words like ‘any’ and ‘all’.

    A more common sense conclusion would be if the truth of the statement could be ‘sufficiently’ established by considering some important examples or alternatively if more attention could be paid to a second statement which was not universal and possible to establish.
    ———————–
    *. Popper has been much criticised , but isn’t that particular conclusion fairly sound?

    [The vast majority of these threats remain just that, but one day there will be an exception].

  26. 226
    JSS says:

    I have to ask – is this really a worth while activity for us? What do we do – fact check every ridiculous claim on conservapedia.com? (If you haven’t seen conservapedia.com – check it out. It is hilarious – and they are serious – its not a joke.) Anyway, I think Gavin made a mistake. He should have just quoted the editor’s comments and left it at that.
    Let’s just state the science as it is, and not get wrapped up in the denialist’s dogma. Come on – that’s what they want. Just ignore it and move on.

  27. 227
    Seb Tallents says:

    @225

    This a court, they have their own measures of proof that differ from popper. This is a mistake to avoid.

    They don’t need to worry about hypothetical black swans, RC has to substantiate their claims if deemed to be statements of fact, that’s how it works.

  28. 228
    CM says:

    Gavin, I take it your statement should be construed to refer only to E&E papers dealing with climate as a physical/natural science topic, not to papers on non-climate topics or on e.g. the economics of climate change (cf. Richard Tol’s comment upthread). It seems obvious in context of the full blog post, but is not necessarily evident from the isolated paragraph, considering that E&E is multi-disciplinary (or multi-something, anyway).

    If so, I’d think the “any” might be defensible (cf #219, 225)… unless someone can think of a physical climate-science paper in E&E over the last, what?, maybe five years that would actually have passed peer review in a science journal. Examples of those that wouldn’t seem plentiful.

    Sorry if someone brought up this distinction and I missed it.

    Disclaimer: This is not legal advice.

  29. 229
    Chuck Booth says:

    One wonder if Bill Hughes has ever bothered to ask Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen to explain her comments on the political nature of her editorial policy and the short-changing of proper peer review. It would have been easy enough to do so before sending this letter.

  30. 230
    RichardC says:

    The focus of the original claim is “dispensed with ‘substantive’ peer review” Substantive means they lowered the bar, which is completely defensible. Of course, your new post has some serious fighting words in it.

  31. 231
    Lynn Vincentnatnathan says:

    I’m imagining this court drama (which would be a terrible waste of time & finances), in which Gavin’s attorney calls in expert witnesses, like some 350 top climate scientists, who all basically say, “Gavin is right, dead on, it’s even worse than Gavin portrays…”

    Of course the other side could bring in their “expert” witnesses, and the defense attorney would then have to ask them about their various backgrounds (dentist, retired engineer, community college geology instructor, biologist, etc), and their lists of climate science pubs in peer-reviewed jnls, and show to the world that these don’t hold a candle to the backgrounds of the defendent’s expert witnesses :)

  32. 232
  33. 233

    Not sure if this has been mentioned already, and not sure what the soure is either, but it may be of interest:

    Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen On The E&E Vs. RealClimate Lawsuit

    http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/2011/02/sonja-boehmer-christiansen-on-e-vs.html

  34. 234
    bigcitylib says:

    Sorry: source is Climate Sceptic Mailing list.

  35. 235
    GSW says:

    @230 @231
    Apologies both, I know your words are well intentioned, but libel in the UK is a somewhat uncertain process that it is best, if possible, to avoid. Seb has highlighted some points above very well. Like Seb, I’m not a lawyer, and coincidentally I’m a Physicist to ;)

    There are some UK references subtitled ‘guidelines’ for the unwary. The words are strikingly similar on each site.

    http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/libel.asp
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/collective/A1183394
    http://journalism.winchester.ac.uk/?page=227

    (The purpose of libel law)
    “Libel law protects individuals or organisations from unwarranted, mistaken or untruthful attacks on their reputation. A person is libelled if a publication:”

    “Discredits them in their trade, business or profession”

    (Get your facts right)
    “The most important point is to make absolutely sure that what you are printing or writing is true. Do not make claims or accusations that you cannot prove. Even if you think you can do this, be cautious. Proving things in court can be very difficult.
    And the test of what the words mean is what a reasonable reader is likely to take as their natural and ordinary meaning, in their full context – what you intended as the author or publisher is irrelevant.

    If you write something that cannot be substantiated the credibility of your site, organisation or cause may be questioned. It can also land you with an expensive lawsuit and there is no legal aid for libel cases.”

    (The burden of proof lies with the defendant)
    Almost uniquely in English law, in libel cases the burden of proof lies with the author / publisher and not the complainant. In other words, you have to prove that what you write is true. The person you’ve targeted does not have to prove that you’re wrong.”
    .
    (From Bill’s letter):- “To assert, without knowing, as you cannot possibly know, not being connected with the journal yourself, that an academic journal does not bother with peer review, is a terribly damaging charge”
    .
    (continuing with references..)
    “Falsehood: If there is MALICE (ie deliberate telling of lies) then in rare cases there can be an action for malicious falsehood – this is a crime. If you commit malicious falsehood you can be prosecuted by the police, as well as having a civil action for compensation.”
    .
    @230 You may interpret Gavin’s comments as ‘lowering the bar’, i.e. peer review not as good as ‘Nature’ or ‘Science’, but the court may interpret “dispensing with any substantive” as meaning “non-existent” to the average man on the “Clapham omnibus”.

    @231 ‘Expert Witnesses’ saying in their ‘view’ the papers weren’t any good is neither here nor there, you may have to actually ‘prove’ there was no peer review process.

    As I said at the beginning, the process is ‘very’ uncertain, you’d have to very brave, or fool hardy, to venture down this path, if you had an option.

    Apologies for the formatting, cut and paste screwed it up a bit ;) , Also, obviously, this should not be construed in any way as ‘legal advice’ – Ask someone who is qualified.

  36. 236
    Didactylos says:

    GSW: Your sources are out of date. Criminal libel no longer exists in the UK.

    I think all this “concern” is a waste of time. Truth is not the only defence, and the meaning of the text must be taken in context – this means that all the people gleefully ignoring parts they don’t like are just creating hot air.

    GSW, your supposed possible interpretations are wrong. If a miscarriage of justice did occur, then there would be grounds for appeal.

    I will say it again: what Gavin has said is justified, is fair comment, and E&E have no reputation to defend.

    Or are all these idiots coming here and trying to misread Gavin’s words cleverly trying to create grounds for how the “average man” might interpret them? If so, very clever. Unfortunately, the law is not interested in what idiots think. So go away. And take your “concern” with you.

  37. 237
    GSW says:

    @Didactylos

    Stand corrected. ;)

  38. 238
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Didactylos #236. Well said.

  39. 239
    John Mashey says:

    Gavin writes:
    “The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line – you end up with a backwater of poorly presented and incoherent contributions that make no impact on the mainstream scientific literature or conversation. It simply isn’t worth wading through the dross in the hope of finding something interesting.”

    Some have interpreted this as saying all papers in E&E must be bad, but that idea simply does not match behavior in the real world. The old saw is relevant:

    Once is an accident.
    Twice is coincidence.
    Three times is enemy action.

    Even Science or Nature make mistakes, occasionally let something bad through, even fraud. Errata get published. Still, I can read them with fairly high confidence that there was serious peer review by people who actually knew something about the topic, that I don’t have to go through every citation in a paper to see if it says anything like what they claim, that it doesn’t break laws of physics, etc.

    Suppose a journal published one bad paper, especially if it were out of its turf, like G&T, or Said, Wegman, et al (2008), or SSWR W.5.6, one might guess that something slipped by (or maybe worse, but maybe not). McShane&Wyner may be a somewhat similar (if less extreme) case.

    Two like that would be seriously worrisome, but when one sees Beck, phlogiston, (endocrine surgeon) Schulte on consensus on climate, just to pick 3, it does not prove every paper is bad, but why would anyone bother to look?
    If one cannot trust a journal to do serious peer review, what is its value-add? Why is at any better than a random blog?

    As a slight analogy, one might consider my favorite dog astrology journal, JSE, most of whose articles are freely available on-line, allowing the reader to assess its nature. If one does not accept idea that astrology is proved by studying 500 Parisian puppies, that something weird happens when sheep are suffocated, one should not assume every article is bad. Actually, if you search for 19:2, the first article in that issue appears at first glance to be a reasonable debunk of crop circle theories, although I have not studied it enough to be sure. I am uncertain how that got in with reincarnation, a lament on the difficulty of publishing UFO research in serious journals, a paen for the PEAR project (mixed with lament for its passing), and David Deming’s praise for the science of Crichton’s State of Fear. That’s the one quoted by McKtrick and later Andrew Montford in HSI.

  40. 240
    EFS_Junior says:

    Didactylos #236. Well said.

    I’ll second that motion.

    The motion has passed.

    Gavin, you are NOT the father of Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen’s illegitimate child, also known as E&E.

    BTW, methinks that one could parse Hughes’s following sentence;

    “To assert, without knowing, as you cannot possibly know, not being connected with the journal yourself, that an academic journal does not bother with peer review, is a terribly damaging charge, and one I’m really quite surprised that you’re prepared to make.”

    as follows;

    IF(“E&E”.NE.”academic journal”)STOP

    ;)

  41. 241
    EFS_Junior says:

    Hello again, me again, I’m NOT a lawyer BUT;

    What was actually said/claimed by Gavin and what was said/claimed by Hughes are .NE.

    From Hughes letter (verbatim);

    ___________________________________________________________________________

    “The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line. ”

    To assert, without knowing, as you cannot possibly know, not being connected with the journal yourself, that an academic journal does not bother with peer review, is a terribly damaging charge, and one I’m really quite surprised that you’re prepared to make. And to further assert that peer review is abandoned precisely in order to let the editor publish papers which support her political position, is even more damaging, not to mention being completely ridiculous.
    ___________________________________________________________________________

    Gavin’s statement is a direct quote and a matter of fact (the quote, in and of itself, weather the statement is true or false or anywhere’s in between is inmaterial after the fact).

    Hughes’s two sentence “interpretation” (above paragraph by Hughes following Gavin’s statement) of what Gavin actually stated are both incorrect and false statements RE:

    “does not bother with peer review” is not what Gavin stated.

    “that peer review is abandoned” is not what Gavin stated.

    Both of these statements, as written, are false statements of what Gavin actually stated.

    I do think that Gavin should bring a libel suit against Hughes, in the UK, for making, not one, but two false accusations/statements.

    In closing, I rest my case.

    Now, will all you concern trolls just go away.

  42. 242
    john byatt says:

    .

    ” I think i can thank Gavin for the publicity” Sonja

    well that has blown it for E&E

  43. 243
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re #227

    They don’t need to worry about hypothetical black swans, RC has to substantiate their claims

    Yes, the claims refer to the white swans, which are the main topic of this thread. You will of course always find people who assert that white is black. One of the proper roles of courts is to recognise such assertions and ignore them.n

  44. 244
    gavin says:

    From: Bill Hughes
    Subject: EE
    Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2011 17:10:24 -0000

    Gavin, according to todays Guardian, I am planning to sue you for libel. Nothing could be further from the truth, and if you read that interpretation into my email of last Friday, then I must apologise for not having expressed myself more clearly, and of course for any discomfort you felt.

    Your comment of Feb 13th I felt, clearly strayed across the line from insult – with which I am well accustomed in respect of EE – into libel, which puts everyone in a far trickier position So my purpose in emailing you last Friday was to invite you to draw back slightly. I’m sorry that you didn’t take up my offer, for if you had much of this week’s unpleasantness could have been avoided.

    So, even though I am convinced you have libelled EE, please be assured I am not actually intending to do anything about.

    Best wishes
    Bill Hughes
    Multi-Science Publishing

  45. 245
    bigcitylib says:

    #244 But no thanks for all the publicity? The nerve of some people.

  46. 246
    Marco says:

    Interesting comment from Bill Hughes, and one that very much mirrors that of many of the pseudo-skeptics: if only you guys are nicer, they would not be so nasty.

    Right.

  47. 247
    Adam R. says:

    @ #244:

    It appears Hughes has reached the “Run away!” stage of the Monckton Gambit already.

  48. 248
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    re: #244: What an unethical and dishonest person Mr. Hughes represents himself as. He admits to issuing threats without substance in an attempt to intimidate. The mauling the Guardian gave E&E was the least he deserves.

  49. 249
    Russell says:

    What a shame-

    if Hughes hadn’t folded, and the Multi-Science sporting goods journals had joined in a class action, RC might have done some lucrative carbon fiber free driver endorsements.

  50. 250
    EFS_Junior says:

    First letter;

    “I appreciate you might find it difficult.” (from SNL: Really? No, REALLY! …)

    Second leter;

    “libel” “libel” “libeled” (kind of like the Steve Martin’s “I break with thee, …” line, say it three times and you get out of jail for free, no strings attached)

    “and of course for any discomfort you felt” (queue SNL “Really? REALLY!” skit again)

    “much of this week’s unpleasantness could have been avoided.” (queue SNL “Really? REALLY!” skit a 3rd time)

    ROTFLMFAO!

    E&E always was, is, and will always be, a totally stained train wreck of a publication.

    For a publication that claims to be an “academic journal” that get’s this type of “publicity” must make Hughes fell great “difficulty” “unpleasantness” “disconfort” of that I am certain.


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