Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?
I like to get the bad news first, usually, because then the good news can cheer me up. So, the bad news:
HIV-1 Denial claimed another life. It was reported that (HIV-1 positive) HIV-1 Denier Kim Bannon was doing very poorly last year, but she apparently hung on until now. She died last week. Her life did so much harm to HIV/AIDS education and awareness… I hope her death can reverse some of the damage…
Now the good news!
HIV/AIDS activist and frequent commentor here at ERV, Richard Jeffreys, just had the defamation claim against him dismissed. What did Jeffreys do? Call out HIV Denier Celia Farber. I am so happy for him, and I am so happy for *us* (anyone who publicly comments about this sort of thing). The judge in this case was ruthless and totally en pointe on everything:
He said the e-mail was true, and that Ms. Farber was a public figure, making her defamation claims subject to a heightened standard of scrutiny.
Justice York agreed.
Furthermore, Justice York said, even if Ms. Farber were not a public figure, Mr. Jefferys’ e-mail would be subject to a heightened standard because it involved a matter of public concern. Allowing the defamation claims to go forward would have a chilling effect on the public discourse on an important subject, he wrote.
The judge also rejected Ms. Farber’s argument that the suit should go forward even under a heightened standard because Mr. Jefferys’ e-mail showed gross negligence.
“Here, Jefferys relied on numerous reliable sources,” the judge wrote. “Thus, Jefferys did not exhibit constitutional malice or gross irresponsibility when he relied on them and on his own prior professional research to reach his conclusions about Farber’s work as a journalist in ‘Out of Control’ and her other writings.”
Ms. Farber had focused on the word “liar” as an example of gross negligence. But Justice York said that “liar” was just an example of the heated rhetoric around the dispute, noting that Ms. Farber had used similar rhetoric herself.
“Through the various references to him and other ‘so-called activists’ in the Harper’s piece, she strongly suggests that Jefferys and others lie, twist facts or hide data in order to remain in the good graces of the pharmaceutical companies which support them financially,” he wrote. “She also accuses him of lying about whether there is a debate as to the cause of AIDS. …Indeed, in her affidavit in support of her opposition, Farber hurls accusations at Jefferys which are strikingly similar to those he has hurled at her.”
Justice York’s opinion summarizes the controversy over HIV as the cause of AIDS, showing that the medical literature overwhelmingly supports Jefferys’ position on this. Whether the “HIV establishment” or the “HIV denialists” are correct is not the issue. Since it is a matter of public concern and debate, the issue is whether anything Farber alleged goes to show that Jefferys made deliberately false statements or statements for which there is not support in public statements by leading scientists in peer-reviewed journals.
In effect, Farber was contending that defamation law can be used to stifle criticism of a controversial position on a matter of great public importance. In light of the 1st Amendment standard of freedom of speech as applied to defamation law by the U.S. Supreme Court, such a contention cannot stand.
This is good news for all of us who write about ‘controversial’ topics– whether its HIV Denial or anti-vaxers or XMRV True Believers or climate science.