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United Kingdom Science

UK To Give Peer-Reviewed Science Libel Protection 101

Posted by Soulskill
from the about-bloody-time dept.
scibri writes "England is finally getting around to updating its notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws, which have been extensively criticized for stifling scientific debate in the past few years, such as in the case of Simon Singh. The government introduced a defamation bill last week that would extend explicit protection to statements in scientific or academic journals — providing the work was properly peer reviewed. The protection would also extend to reports of academic and scientific conferences. The proposed legislation is popular among the UK's researchers and journalists, but a similar law on whistleblower protection has had mixed reviews in the U.S."
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UK To Give Peer-Reviewed Science Libel Protection

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  • Re:Peer review? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:41PM (#40000321)

    If anything, it's the opponents of science that are guilty of groupthink. Have you ever read a peer-reviewed publication? The kinds of debate that you'll see around peer-reviewed articles makes political debates look like playground banter by comparison. Nothing gets reviewed with more scrutiny and no-holds barred snark than scientific studies.

    Take the time to read a few journals, and to follow the debates between academics. Pick a subject, and follow it through the process. If you're honest with yourself, you'll have to come to the conclusion that it's scientists who put their ideas to the test, and it's people like yourself who use buzzwords like "groupthink" who cling to received ideas without a semblance of critical thought.

  • by Chuck Chunder (21021) on Monday May 14, 2012 @08:46PM (#40001637) Homepage Journal

    This is a bad law because it grants extra rights for a group of people for no good reason. In particular, English law already allows truth as a defense. If a peer reviewed article can't establish the truth of its claims in court then either (A) peer review hasn't worked in that case or (B) the court's standards are wrong.

    I think, in practice, science is far messier than that. Papers advance theories which, though supported by the evidence at hand, still require further analysis and may ultimately be wrong. I think it is reasonable to protect the product of honest enquiry if it is done in good faith, even if it turns out to be wrong.

    Also a good part of the libel reform agenda has been motivated by the financial costs of defending against libel claims and the chilling effect that has on those who may well have a defencible but cannot afford it (or the risk) and therefore back down.

    I think the "Peer-reviewed statement in scientific or academic journal etc" part of the law [parliament.uk] doesn't really give a class of people more rights, it merely lowers the burden for a subset of defendants.

    The same principles are available to everyone, ie the "Truth", "Honest opinion" and "Responsible publication on matter of public interest" defences. This additional defence just makes it easier (and therefore cheaper) to show a work that has undergone peer review has been published in accordance with those principles.

  • Re:So you'd prefer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by _xen (79742) on Monday May 14, 2012 @10:19PM (#40002097)

    Not to take issue with much of what you wrote, but ...

    by definition a defamatory statement is untrue

    No, by definition a defamatory statement is one which injures the reputation of a natural person. Justification is a defence.

    Four, there's no such thing as "UK law"; Scotland has a different system to England and Wales.

    Genuine question: Can you explain the difference between the various categories of primary legislation, such as UK Public General Acts, under which classification both the 1952 and 1966 Defamation Acts are found; UK Local Acts; Acts of the Scottish Parliament; Acts of the English Parliament; Acts of the Old Irish Parliament; &c.? Non-UK/English/Scottish/Welsh lawyers could be forgiven for some confusion.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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