Well, that didn’t take long.
Remember when the grande dame of the anti-vaccine movement, Barbara Loe Fisher, decided that she would try to harass, intimidate, and silence Paul Offit through the filing of a frivolous libel suit against Dr. Offit, Amy Wallace (the journalist who interviewed Offit for an excellent article last year), and Condé Nast, the publisher of WIRED, which ran the article? Well, the judge has ruled, and that ruling is…dismissed!
The text of the ruling can be found here.
There are some awesomely awesome passages in this ruling, which is a slapdown that, while not as epic as, for instance, the slapdown that Judge John E. Jones III delivered to creationists in Kitzmiller v. Dover, is nonetheless very satisfying to read–with one exception. The judge in this case makes some truly annoying statements like:
Moreover, in the context of the Wired article, the statement “she lies” lacks the provably false content that is required to support a defamation action.=
So far, so good. Then, not so good:
Not only does the Plaintiff’s claim of the statement’s falsity invite an open-ended inquiry into the Plaintiff’s veracity, but it also threatens to ensnare the court in the thorny and extremely contentious debate over the perceived risks of vaccines of certain vaccines, their theoretical association with particular diseases or syndromes, and, at the bottom, which side of the debate has “truth” on their side. That is hardly the sort of issue that would be subject to verification based upon a “core of objective evidence.”
Well, actually, it is. The core of objective scientific evidence does not support Loe Fisher’s anti-vaccine stance. It’s reasonable to argue that we can’t ever know whether Fisher is lying about Offit. It’s equally reasonable to argue that the court shouldn’t have to be dragged into the anti-vaccine movement’s campaign against reality for the sake of a libel case. It is not reasonable to state that the issue of whether vaccines are safe or whether they cause all the nastiness attributed to them by anti-vaccine extremists like BLF is not the sort of issue that can be subject to verification based on a “core of objective evidence.” That is utter poppycock, and the annoyance continues:
Courts have a justifiable reticence about venturing into the thicket of scientific debate, especially in the defamation context.
Courts should be reticent about venturing into scientific debates, and undoubtedly Judge Milton decided correctly in dismissing Barbara Loe Fisher’s lawsuit as being baseless before it even went to trial. However, he is dead wrong in labeling BLF’s complaints about vaccines as a “scientific debate.” It is not. Science has shown time and time again that vaccines are safe and effective, and there is no credible evidence that vaccines cause autism, one of the main claims of the anti-vaccine movement. Labeling the anti-vaccine movement’s position as just one side in a “scientific debate” that can’t be resolved by objective evidence is just plain wrong. For one thing, object evidence is exactly what resolves scientific debates, and, second, I repeat that BLF’s war on vaccines is not a scientific debate. That I entirely agree with the judge that BLF’s lawsuit was frivolous doesn’t mean i have to like the judge’s cluelessness regarding the vaccine manufactroversy.
Oh, well. I guess we have to take what we can get. Now if only we could get the U.K. to change its libel laws. In the U.K., there’s no guarantee that BLF’s lawsuit wouldn’t have gone through and she wouldn’t have prevailed.