Monday, November 28, 2011

Libel tourism and the death of free speech

A great deal has been written, by individuals much more eloquent than me, about the way in which UK courts allow plaintiffs from other countries to sue for libel over here if there is even a tiny chance of the supposedly libellous statement being read in this country. The advantage for the litigious of coming to Britain is that our laws are much more favourable to them.

Fortunately, there is now some momentum for libel reform, which should make the British courts less attractive to those who would prefer to stifle free speech, but there are still risks for those posting on the internet from companies who make all sorts of threats to the uninitiated.

Only recently, a representative of the Bursynski Clinic, an American institution offering controversial treatment for cancer has threatened to sue several prominent bloggers for supposed inaccuracies in their stories.

The treatment involves chemicals extracted from urine that have only been claimed to be effective by Dr Bursynski himself. For a variety of reasons, that other blogs have covered in detail, but which relate to an agreement with the Texan authorities to limit the scope of his treatments, Dr Bursynski can only administer his treatment as part of a clinical trial. Unfortunately, the good Doctor has taken it upon himself to launch a number of trials and to charge patients for participating in them. Doubly unfortunate is that respected bodies have examined the trial protocols and found them to be lacking, i.e. the results they produce cannot be proven conclusive - so they're a waste of time in developing a cure. Dr Bursynski and his employees, meanwhile, earn a good living from conducting these trials on the credulous and the desperate.

Science is all about rigour and proper experimental protocols. If Dr Bursynski wants to be taken seriously, then he should use accepted methodology and not charge patients for the privilege of being his guinea pigs. He also needs to come clean as to the true effectiveness of the treatments he is promoting.

Otherwise, his urine-based treatment might just be seen as taking the piss.