February 01, 2009

Litigation, lies and libel

Light and shadowOn practical ethics I blog about Practical Ethics: Lies, libel and layered voice analysis - how an Israeli company used UK libel law to silence Swedish researchers. Fixing UK libel law is probably one of the more important things for worldwide freedom of speech, right now it is an enormous legal exploit.

The critical paper in question shouldn't be too surprising. There is an awful lot of bad science sold as effective technology in this area, making lots of money and convincing decisionmakers that they have the tools for a nicely truthful surveillance society. While in reality it is largely based on deception: people who think their truthfulness can be determined are more likely to acquiesce to authorities.

The case is interesting because it also so clearly shows how vulnerable scientific publishing is to litigation threats: it is actually surprising that it happens so rarely. Maybe because from a legal point of view science is of surprisingly little importance.

I'm reading Nicholas P. Money's excellent book Carpet Monsters and Killer Spores about indoor molds, and he makes the same point. Although litigation about mold damage may become a multibillion dollar business in the US, mycologists are irrelevant to it. Nobody wants to hear scientific uncertainty in the courtroom.

Posted by Anders3 at February 1, 2009 04:05 PM