... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Monday, November 28, 2011

464: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
-Article 19, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Burzynski Clinic - The Streisand Effect continues to snowball, and bloggers and tweeters continue calling 'I'm Spartacus' in a stand against bullying, quackery; a stand for freedom of speech, libel reform, and scientific honesty. I blogged about Burzynski yesterday, and have no further comment to make on his clinic, other than these quotes from reputable cancer charities: 

At the moment, there is very little solid scientific evidence to show that antineoplastons are effective at treating cancer, and virtually all the research in this area has been carried out by Burzynski and his team – a red flag to the scientific world.
The fact that no other labs have managed to replicate Burzynski’s apparent success with antineoplastons or are interested in developing the treatment raises questions.
As well as the doubts around the effectiveness of the treatment, the whole manner in which the clinic is offering treatment is unusual.
Furthermore, the scientific community expects the results of clinical trials to be published in the medical literature. As far as we can tell, Burzynski’s team have not published any results since 2006 which raises questions about exactly what kind of clinical trials they are running, and when we might expect to see the detailed analysis of their results.

Antineoplaston therapy is a complementary/alternative cancer treatment that involves using a group of synthetic chemicals called antineoplastons intended to protect the body from disease.
Thousands of patients have been treated with antineoplastons, mostly at a single clinic, and clinical trials are under way there for many types of cancer. Published clinical trial results are available for a relatively small number of patients, and the effectiveness of antineoplastons as a cancer therapy remains uncertain. Most cancer specialists believe there is insufficient evidence to recommend use of antineoplastons except perhaps in the context of clinical trials that will provide reliable information on the safety and effectiveness of this treatment.
Can't argue with that. Except recently a number of bloggers have decided to raise the issue due to the fact that there has been a number of uncritical reports in the mainstream press about charity fund-raising to send terminally ill cancer patients to America for treatment. It is inevitably portrayed as an amazing, experimental treatment that the NHS refuses to offer; people are rightly disgusted by the discrepancy between the actual facts and the mainstream press' interpretation/ignoring of the facts.

The reason this is becoming such a hot issue is because a representative (Marketing & Sponsorship of the Burzinsky Patient Group) of the Burzynski Clinic, a man named Marc Stephens, who appears to be pretending to be lawyer, but clearly isn't one, is sending vicious, bullying threats to any and all critic of Burzynski. This is entirely inappropriate, and not at all the actions of a reputable medical/scientific, or even legal, professional with nothing to hide. Reasoned and respectful criticism of scientific work is perfectly legitimate, and in fact is the very way in which scientific method progresses. Bullying attempts to stifle freedom of speech is entirely against all that is right and good.

To Andy Lewis of Quackometer, Marc Stephens sent this:

Be smart and considerate for your family and new child, and shut the article down..Immediately. FINAL WARNING.

To Peter Bowditch of Ratbags.com, Marc Stephens sent this:

Since you are apparently suffering from Munchausen Syndrome, which is usually diagnosed in females, so it is interesting that your first name is Peter, I would like to give you some attention. I hope you didn’t get offended. I am only speaking the truth, supported by a reference. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/munchausen-syndrome/DS00965 “Munchausen Syndrome is an attention-seeking personality disorder which is more common than statistics suggest. Munchausen Syndrome, named after a German soldier renowned for exaggerated tales, is a predominantly female disorder in which an emotionally immature person with narcissistic tendencies, low self-esteem and a fragile ego has an overwhelming need to draw attention to herself and to be the centre of attention.”
So here is the plan Mr. or Mrs. Bowbitch [sic][...]

And to Rhys Morgan, a 17-year old schoolboy, Marc Stephens has sent googlemap photos of Rhys' house, and sent this:

Please confirm your mailing address, which I have on record as [Rhys' address]. If you do not cooperate an official legal complaint requesting punitive damages will be mailed to that address. I will be contacting your school as well to inform them of your illegal acts.

Rhys' response was considered, well-researched, and assisted by professional advice ("Alan Henness, Simon Singh and Robert Dougans, associate at Bryan Cave"), and worth quoting in full here (I was going to edit it down, but it really is fantastic):

You continue to threaten to bring a claim against me for defamation.

In the event that such a claim is brought in the USA I will rely upon the well-known authority of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan 376 U.S. 254. As you may be aware, this would require your client to show proof of actual malice before they could succeed in any libel claim. My postings are clearly not malicious. I believe in their truth, and I have sought to obtain a comment from your client, or else at least ascertain any objections to specific items within the posting. I am willing to listen. I would certainly reflect your client’s position if asked.

I think I come within the circumstances envisaged by the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Underwager v Salter 22 F.3d 730 at [14]:

“…actual malice” has nothing in common with “ill will.” A person who concludes that a public figure is a knave may shout that conclusion from the mountain tops.”If the claim is brought in the English courts, you ought to be aware that in the light of the well-known decisions of Rookes v Barnard [1964] AC 1129 and Broome v Cassell [1972] AC 1028 you will not be able to bring a claim for punitive damages on these facts. You also ought to follow the procedures set out in the Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation which require you to, amongst other things, set out precisely what your client objects to and why.

This is an issue which you have failed to address. I am not asking for a legal lecture from you. What I am asking for is clear information of what your client objects to, and why. As things stand, I have heard nothing substantive; I have just received threats.This speaks volumes.

I would remind you and your client of another aspect of the well-known decision of Underwager v Salter, to which I refer above, which was expressly adopted by the Court of Appeal in England in the decision of Lord Chief Justice Judge in British

Chiropractic Association v Singh [2011] 1 WLR 133:“[Plaintiffs] cannot, simply by filing suit and crying “character assassination!”, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. … More papers, more discussion, better data, and more satisfactory models–not larger awards of damages–mark the path toward superior understanding of the world around us.”I also note that you threaten to mention my “illegal acts” to my school.Notwithstanding the fact that I have committed no “illegal acts”, the threat to involve my school is wholly inappropriate. If an English solicitor was to make such a threat they would be in breach of their professional obligations and subject to disciplinary proceedings by the SRA. Please inform me which US bar association you are a member of so that I can draw their attention to your threats.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes. I believe that we all have our freedom to express ourselves in the manner the we are also respecting someone's opinions. Thanks for sharing your article.