The case of the disappearing New Scientist essay on creationist code words

A couple of weeks ago, New Scientist published an insightful but hardly controversial little essay on the challenges a science book editor faces when she has to deal with creationist literature. Amanda Geftner's piece, "How to spot a hidden religious agenda" disappeared from the magazine's website last week (Of course, it's still available elsewhere, like here.) As of this morning, if you try to find it at the New Scientist site, you get a message from the editors:

New Scientist has received a legal complaint about the contents of this story. At the advice of our lawyer it has temporarily been removed while we investigate. Apologies for any inconvenience.

There are only two plausible candidates for the source of the complaint, which is no doubt the threat of a libel suit: James Le Fanu and Denyse O'Leary. Neither would be able to sustain a suit in the U.S., but the U.K.'s libel laws make it a more complex case. O'Leary probably didn't like being called "silly" although I can't see Le Fanu objecting to be called "staid."

It's easy to criticize New Scientist for buckling so quickly, but as most veteran journalists will tell you, it's not easy to go against your lawyer's advice. If you do fail to remove the piece after being advised of the problem, and you are found guilty of libel, the damages can be much higher than if you did remove the offending item quickly.

I suspect the essay will be back online soon, unedited. At least, I hope so. Otherwise, New Scientist should decamp to this side of the pond.

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Popped over via your link to read Geftner's original piece. It was short, accurate, and well-written. I hope it is back on NS soon.

By ctenotrish (not verified) on 16 Mar 2009 #permalink

Interesting. Yesterday at 3:30 it said:

New Scientist has received a complaint about the contents of this story. It has temporarily been removed while we investigate. Apologies for any inconvenience

I wonder why the change...

By afarensis (not verified) on 16 Mar 2009 #permalink

aferensis: I wonder why the change...

Probably a bunch of sensible people emailing to ask why they pulled a perfectly sane and sensible piece, with allusions to giving in to the Creatards.

By my reading of it, she didn't even call O'Leary himself silly, just his "appeal." It's hard to imagine that these mild statements would raise credible libel issues. Maybe it's something else...
David