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Dec 19 2011

Science blogger 1, SLAPP suit 0

Popehat has a great post on a pro bono victory (his) in a junk science SLAPP suit against a science blogger.

The pro bono client is Michael Hawkins of For the Sake of Science, and the adversary is Dr. Christopher Maloney, a licensed naturopath in Maine.

Dr. and Ms. Maloney’s central legal theory was expressed in the cover letter: “As should be clear to you, you can say anything you want against naturopathic doctors, but you cannot attack and bully a single person.” This is not, to put it mildly, a correct statement of law. The First Amendment protects Mr. Hawkins’ right to call naturopaths in general quacks, and to call Dr. Maloney in particular a quack for promoting naturopathy. Dr. and Ms. Maloney’s theme seizes upon the increasingly fashionable — and utterly insipid and unprincipled — trend of invoking the word “bullying” as if it is some talisman that wards off the First Amendment and the rule of law. I’ve talked about parallel arguments by censors here and here.

I find that particularly interesting, because I see a lot of loose accusations of bullying that seem to me to be bogus, while at the same time I also see a lot of what I take to be bullying that seems to other people to be quite reasonable discourse or behavior. It’s a fraught word, and a fraught concept. At any rate, calling a naturopath a quack doesn’t fit my definition of bullying, at least not if the naturopath claims to treat people.

Note that any Google search like “Christopher Maloney quack” tends to yield more results for prominent bloggers like PZ Myers than results from Mr. Hawkins. PZ Myers’ rhetoric about Dr. Maloney has been far more forceful and vivid. But PZ Myers is a well-established large-scale national blogger with resources and a professor position and wide support. Mr. Hawkins is a student in Maine of modest means. He has the talent to be a nationally known blogger, but isn’t yet. Censors are by their nature cowardly thugs: they go after the easy targets. They go after the people they think will roll over easily. That, ultimately, was the point that made me decide that I wanted to do whatever was necessary to help Mr. Hawkins, and do so pro bono. Game on.

Fine; let’s lavish attention on Mr Hawkins and help make him a popular blogger that quacks will be afraid to threaten.

Read the whole post. It’ll make your day.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Josh Slocum

    Ken’s post is great. I left something in a comment, Ophelia, that you simply must see:

    Fine, fine work gentleman.

    As a public service, I wish to point out a phenomenon that’s in desperate need of a name parallel to Godwin’s Law. Christina, above, advocates manners. She wants people to build communities. Civility is very important to her. She likely considers herself a nice person.

    And then. . . . she says “rabid” scientists. It’s fascinating. It’s almost universally true that those who plead for niceness (actually, they’re pleading for deference to privilege) turn out to say the most vicious things about the people they claim are Not Nice.

    We really must—-and I mean that in a camaraderie sort of way, not a Stedman sort of way—come up with a name for this and make it into a meme.

  2. 2
    'Tis Himself

    Chris Maloney showed up on Pharyngula a couple of times. He first whined that PZ was inciting The Horde™ to physically attack him. This canard was shown to be false. Maloney then did what he should have done originally, he tried to convince us that naturopathy was legitimate medicine. He failed at that as well.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    Good point, Josh. Will try to think about word/potential meme. Mind is blank. I blame cold – cold in head, not cold weather. Head like big dumb rock.

  4. 4
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    That’s wonderful news.

    I loved his post, too. (Had never heard of murum aries attigit before!) Smart and compassionate.

  5. 5
    Ken

    Thanks very much, Ophelia.

    One of the distinct benefits of this case and the whole Marc Stephens incident is meeting a number of very smart and agreeable people in the skeptic/freethinker/etc. community I had not encountered before. I always enjoy finding new people I can learn from, even if I don’t always agree with them.

    Ken

  6. 6
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Bwahahahaha! You go, Hawkins. Anti-SLAPP FTW.

  7. 7
    hyperdeath

    Will try to think about word/potential meme.

    How about “poisoned honey”?

  8. 8
    Richard Smith

    Popehat said:

    Censors are by their nature cowardly thugs: they go after the easy targets. They go after the people they think will roll over easily.

    I know there’s a term for people like that. I think it starts with “b” and rhymes with “fully”. They use it themselves against anybody who even looks at them funny, with no sense of irony whatsoever. It’s on the tip of my tongue…

  9. 9
    Michael Hawkins

    I’m always delighted at the people who pick up on these things. Make that delight doubly-so now that the pick up comes from a freethoughtblogs writer. Thank you very much. And as always, kudos to Ken for being so fantastic through this whole ordeal.

  10. 10
    sundoga

    One question, please – what does SLAPP actually stand for? This is an Americanism that has not yet crossed the Pacific.

  11. 11
    Michael Hawkins

    sundoga, it stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation”. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slapp

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