My most recent post, “Respect my Authority!”, which was an attempt to explore the origin of scientific authority, has been removed by Nature Network because their legal advice deemed it to contain some dubious assertions.
The matter was handled with great care in phone conversations with Corie and an email from Timo. I am grateful to them for the consideration they have shown. I have no doubt this was a tortuous decision. I’m relatively new to this game and have no desire to be sued or to cause serious problems for NN. So I decided to take the legal advice on trust and agreed to the removal of the post.
Ironically, the wider intent of the piece was to assert that scientific authority derives largely from the culture of open and robust debate that exists within the scientific community. But that culture is under threat, at least when it seeks to engage with the wider society. That was already clear from what I heard at the Skeptics in the Pub meeting about the Simon Singh case, which has brought to light the powerful reach of English libel law. Following my account of the meeting, Maxine set up a forum topic, Using the law to stifle scientific debate, to foster more discussion. I urge you to take a look and to peruse some of the links to recent newspaper articles on this topic.
It is certainly feels odd that my post is the first on NN to be stifled by this law. I’m going to have to think about what this means for future blogging activity. I don’t yet know exactly what to say – or how to measure my words in future. This development seems to introduce a level of self-censorship that I had not been fully aware of before. If I can find a positive note, it will make us rely even more heavily that we already do on solid evidence.
And I am going to offer enthusiastic moral and material support to the campaign to reform English libel laws.