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The Libel Reform Campaign owes a lot of its success so far to the UK scientific and sceptic movement. From Skeptics In the Pub to the Geek Calendar, to the Big Libel Gig, science enthusiasts and anti-quackery activists have been at the core of our work.
These are people who understand the need for free inquiry — the need to ask questions and get answers, and to debate until some solution is found.
Perhaps because of this tenaciousness, there is a terrifying frequency with which scientists, science writers and enthusiasts seem to end up being threatened with defamation suits.
Ben Goldacre, MJ Robbins and most famously Simon Singh have had threats and cases brought against them. Nature magazine is currently being pursued.
But it’s not just the big names that are subject to threats. It’s emerged that a 17-year-old schoolboy sceptic, Rhys Morgan, has been threatened by a US clinic offering “alternative” cancer treatments.
The Burzynski clinic in Austen, Texas hit the news last week after journalist Luke Bainbridge wrote in the Observer that celebrities including comic Peter Kay were raising funds to help his young niece go to Texas in a bid to cure her cancer.
No one could possibly blame Bainbridge’s family for following all possible avenues to cure the three-year-old girl, or Kay for offering to help. But that is quite a separate issue from whether Rhys Morgan (or indeed Quackometer blogger Le Canard Noir, who is also facing threats) is entitled to question the efficacy or otherwise of alternative treatments.
They do not, generally, do this out of a mischief (though that always helps). Sceptics pursue “woo” pedlars because they see them as at best rip-off merchants and at worst offering false hope to patients and even steering them away from proper medicine.
Rhys Morgan has behaved with remarkable level-headedness in the face of intimidation from the clinic’s marketing man, Marc Stephens. And once again, UK sceptics have gathered online to show their support (at time of writing, Morgan’s site is down after high profile tweeters including Stephen Fry and Ben Goldacre linked to him in support).
Rhys and Quackometer can count on support of Libel Reform Campaign too.