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.