Pro Bono Victory In A Junk-Science SLAPP Suit Against A Science Blogger

Law, Science

As I said recently, even though my identity is no longer a semi-secret, I don't promote my firm or my legal career on this blog. My firm has noting to do with Popehat's content and exercises no editorial control over it. I write here to promote issues that are important to me, for self-expression, because the community of readers and bloggers and commenters is a joy, and because I learn from that community every day. I certainly don't name clients and talk about their cases in an identifiable way here.

Today, with a client's permission, I'm making an exception. I'm doing so to tell you about the successful resolution of a First Amendment pro bono case. I'm doing so because the case is all about free speech, bogus legal threats, and SLAPP suits, some of Popehat's core topics. Sure, it's no Marc Stephens drama, but it's in our wheelhouse.

The pro bono client is Michael Hawkins of For the Sake of Science, and the adversary is Dr. Christopher Maloney, a licensed naturopath in Maine. You can read Michael Hawkins' account of the case here. This is my account.

1. The Setup: Past Blogging About Dr. Maloney

I wrote twice about Christopher Maloney in 2010, addressing his threats to science bloggers who criticized his advocacy of naturopathy and called him a "quack" based on that advocacy. Many other bloggers — including not only Mr. Hawkins, but PZ Myers and others — wrote about him, criticizing his legal threats and arguing the position that anyone who promotes naturopathy is, by definition, a quack. I find the the criticisms of naturopathy vastly more convincing than the defenses, but I haven't blogged about the science of it — you're looking at someone who took the "Physics for Poets" track at Stanford, writing essays about how the Pythagorean theorem made me feel.

So didn't think much about Dr. Maloney until this October, when Michael Hawkins wrote to me and told me that Dr. Maloney had sued him.

Mr. Hawkins is a thoughtful and hard-working young scientist with a bright future ahead of him. He works nights to put himself through college during the day, and writes an entertaining and frequently informative blog. Here's the best thing about having a small firm with your name on the door, instead of a being a cog at BigLaw, like I was for the first five years of my private sector career: when someone deserving like Michael Hawkins writes and asks for help, you don't have to go through a pro bono committee. Instead, I got up, talked to my awesome managing partner in the next office, and within a few minutes agreed to help Michael Hawkins pro bono. Excelsior.

2. The Lawsuit

Mr. Hawkins was under the not-uneasonable impression that Dr. Maloney had already sued him. That's because he received a package calculated to terrify him. I've uploaded that package here. It includes a threatening cover letter, a civil complaint, and a proposed settlement. It's a remarkable document, for reasons I'll discuss. Here are some of its most notable features:

1. Dr. Maloney is represented by attorney Maeghan Maloney. I understand that Ms. Maloney is Dr. Maloney's wife. She's also a member of the Maine State Legislature. (Incidentally, Maine state legislators take the following oath: "I ____ do swear, that I will faithfully discharge, to the best of my abilities, the duties incumbent on me as ____ according to the Constitution and laws of the State. So help me God." So, I guess she hasn't sworn to uphold the Constitution in general.)

2. On closer inspection, I realized that Dr. Maloney had not yet sued Mr. Hawkins — rather, Ms. Maloney was threatening to do so if Mr. Hawkins did not execute a settlement agreement within a short deadline. Mr. Hawkins' misapprehension was quite understandable for a non-lawyer, though: the package was calculated to terrify, and the attached summons implied that it had already been filed, even though the cover letter says it will be filed later.

3. Dr. and Ms. Maloney's central legal theory was expressed in the cover letter: "As should be clear to you, you can say anything you want against naturopathic doctors, but you cannot attack and bully a single person." This is not, to put it mildly, a correct statement of law. The First Amendment protects Mr. Hawkins' right to call naturopaths in general quacks, and to call Dr. Maloney in particular a quack for promoting naturopathy. Dr. and Ms. Maloney's theme seizes upon the increasingly fashionable — and utterly insipid and unprincipled — trend of invoking the word "bullying" as if it is some talisman that wards off the First Amendment and the rule of law. I've talked about parallel arguments by censors here and here.

4. Dr. and Ms. Maloney's complaint asserts claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (or, as I like to call it, Butthurt In the First Degree), libel per se (meaning, roughly, libel so obvious it doesn't require special proof of actual damages), libel, and injunctive relief. The complaint centers around the things Mr. Hawkins has written about Dr. Maloney on the internet, as well as a pamphlet Mr. Hawkins handed out. Much of it reveals statements that are, on their face, protected by the First Amendment. Much of the rest of it relies on factual assertions that were easily disprovable by reference to posts still available on the internet.

5. Dr. and Ms. Maloney's demand for injunctive relief, to me, perfectly represents how unprincipled, contemptible, un-American, and freakishly censorious their entire threat scheme was. The complaint they served on Mr. Hawkins was incomplete — it cut off at the seventh page, so you can't tell what's in the prayer for relief — but here's what they demand in the text of the injunctive relief cause of action:

35. . . . . Injunctive action is necessary to prevent further expansion of Defendant Hawkins' comments. A temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction or a permanent injunction is necessary, as Defendant has refused to limit or remove postings.

36. Such injunctive action would need to apply all [sic] blogging and social media, as Defendant Hawkins has threatened he will repost all his material. It would also need to apply to all allied bloggers reposting Defendant Hawkins' materials since several have explicitly offered to host him and maintain a copy of his blog. [Emphasis added]

That's right — a Maine state legislator just suggested that a Maine court should issue an injunction prohibiting unnamed, unserved people — potentially including you — from re-posting what Mr. Hawkins had to say about Dr. Maloney.

6. Dr. and Ms. Maloney included a proposed settlement in the package, and demanded that he execute it as a cost of not being sued. The settlement required Mr. Hawkins to remove all references to Dr. Maloney from his blogs and social media, never to post or incite any "defamation" about him again (meaning God knows what — under Maloney's unprincipled approach, this would effectively prevent Mr. Hawkins from ever writing about Dr. Maloney), and not to "intimidate" him.

7. Note that any Google search like "Christopher Maloney quack" tends to yield more results for prominent bloggers like PZ Myers than results from Mr. Hawkins. PZ Myers' rhetoric about Dr. Maloney has been far more forceful and vivid. But PZ Myers is a well-established large-scale national blogger with resources and a professor position and wide support. Mr. Hawkins is a student in Maine of modest means. He has the talent to be a nationally known blogger, but isn't yet. Censors are by their nature cowardly thugs: they go after the easy targets. They go after the people they think will roll over easily. That, ultimately, was the point that made me decide that I wanted to do whatever was necessary to help Mr. Hawkins, and do so pro bono. Game on.

3. Putting the Team Together

Having agreed to represent Mr. Hawkins pro bono, I decided to put a strong team together to deter Dr. and Ms. Maloney from filing this utterly frivolous suit. Here's the thing: litigating to vindicate important First Amendment issues is great, but ultimately litigation is terrifying, exhausting, and miserable for clients, even when they're not paying for it. My goal for Michael Hawkins the blogger was to preserve his First Amendment rights, but my goal for Michael Hawkins the young student was to keep him out of distracting litigation and get him back to studying stuff I'm too dumb to grasp.

I know how to write a "you'd be crazy to file this lawsuit" letter, and I can be legally and factually convincing in such a letter, and my qualifications won't make the other side snicker. But in this unique case, I was looking for a little something in addition, a je ne sais quoi. So I asked Marc Randazza to come on board. I've written admiringly about Randazza's work here a lot, and I've had the privilege of being co-counsel with him on matters, and I've come to the conclusion that he's one of the most effective First Amendment and IP litigators in the United States of America. Would I invite him to my church to talk about the First Amendment? No. He'd probably say "fuck" a lot, and though 90% of my parishioners would find him irresistible, 10% would be offended. But if you have a First Amendment or IP case, and you need an effective and aggressive litigator, and you want someone whose murum aries attigit approach will terrify the other side, he's the man you want on your side. It's not just about his litigation skills and command of First Amendment law. It's the fact that saying "my attorney/co-counsel is Marc Randazza" inspires abrupt incontinence like saying "bring out the gimp!"

Marc's a mensch, and he agreed immediately. Quoth Mark to my request: "SLAPP suits make angry. Quacks don't like to see me angry."

But I'm in Los Angeles, and Marc is in Vegas, and we needed boots on the ground in Maine — an effective and aggressive local counsel familiar with Maine practice and procedure. Mr. Hawkins found him — Jed Davis of Mitchell & Davis PA of Augusta, Maine. Jed was sensible, knowledgeable, supportive, and a joy to work with — he's the first guy I'm going to call if I have a client who needs a lawyer up there.

4. Waging War

Once we had the team together, I sent an email to Ms. Maloney telling her that we represented Mr. Hawkins. She called me almost immediately. Let me say this about Ms. Maloney: I find her SLAPP threat appalling and contemptible, and I do not countenance it for a second, but she was always courteous and professional in her communications with me. Moreover, she was doing this for someone she loves, so I tend to cut her a little slack.

We negotiated a schedule for me to send her a letter about the proposed complaint. I did so. It was about ten pages long. I wrote it, and Randazza threw some good bits in, so use your imagination. The thrust of it was this: (1) many of the factual assertions in the SLAPP suit are provably untrue, (2) Mr. Hawkins has an absolute First Amendment right to say that Dr. Maloney is a quack, unless he is implying false statements of fact, which he was not, (3) Maine's ludicrous decision to license naturopaths does not confer upon them some sort of protection from being called quacks for promoting naturopathy, (4) Maine's anti-SLAPP statute is quite useful, and we would be using it to dismiss the SLAPP suit and seek attorney fees, and (5) in addition, we were contemplating a malicious prosecution case after winning.

Several weeks of negotiation ensued. The Maloneys made settlement demands incorporating censorship, and we rejected them. One of the primary impediments to settlement was Dr. and Ms. Maloney's catastrophic failure to grasp elements of the relevant technology: they had reached the entirely irrational conclusion that Mr. Hawkins was somehow putting invisible tags about Dr. Maloney on every single thing he posted at his blog. They persisted in this irrational and unsupported belief despite claiming to have sought expert computer advice. I wouldn't let that expert fix your computer, guys. As near as I can tell, the tag cloud on Mr. Hawkins' blog was returning search results for searches about Dr. Maloney even though Mr. Hawkins had only written about him three times this year.

Ultimately we settled the case to our complete satisfaction. Dr. Maloney waived all his dubious claims about all of Mr. Hawkins' prior posts about him. Mr. Hawkins agreed only to tag posts "Christopher Maloney" when they discussed Christopher Maloney. In fact, that's what Mr. Hawkins was already doing; Dr. Maloney's irrational belief to the contrary was based on his failure to grasp how search results work. (His view might have something to do with how elderberries impact SEO; I'm not sure.) Mr. Hawkins also agreed to take the tag cloud off his blogs. Frankly tag clouds are irritating — I don't use one here for that reason — and Mr. Hawkins didn't care about it.

You might be asking why Mr. Hawkins offered the Maloneys anything at all. Why not go balls to the wall, say not a penny for tribute, make a stand? Ken, you might say — you talk about not backing down, how could you allow a client to offer anything?

Here's the thing: there's a difference between blogging about First Amendment cases and defending them. My client was not the First Amendment. My client was Michael Hawkins, a young man who works nights and studies days and doesn't have a lot of free time to spend on this nonsense. Was our defense absolutely correct? Yes. Should we have prevailed in our anti-SLAPP motion and malicious prosecution suit if the Maloneys had filed their complaint? Yes. Was Mr. Hawkins under any obligation to offer anything at all to the Maloneys? No. But success was not just about vindicating Mr. Hawkins' rights. It was about preserving his life. Even successful litigation — and even litigation you aren't paying for — is miserable and time-consuming. That's why SLAPP suits are so evil. Offering some face-saving fillip to the other side to ward off litigation might not be viscerally satisfying to First Amendment absolutists, but it's the right thing for the client. The settlement meant that Mr. Hawkins had nothing to worry about any more about his past posts and preserved his right to blog about whatever he likes in the future. We were satisfied.

5. A First Amendment Call To Arms

Across America, censorious SLAPP threats like the one Dr. and Ms. Maloney sent to Michael Hawkins succeed every day. They succeed because most defendants aren't as smart or determined or brave as people like Michael Hawkins or Rhys Morgan. (I am not throwing the first stone at anyone who yields to a SLAPP threat. I can't.) They succeed because most defendants don't understand their First Amendment rights. They succeed because most defendants don't know a First Amendment lawyer. They succeed because most defendants don't have the money to fund a lawsuit. They succeed because many jurisdictions don't have an effective anti-SLAPP statute. They succeed because many lawyers who care about the First Amendment aren't in the position to do pro bono work, or worry that they don't know the issues well enough or that it will take too much time. They succeed because the American legal system is, for the most part, set up to make it easy for plaintiffs to extort defendants without significant risk.

Do you care? If you do, good. Whether you are a lawyer or a blogger or concerned citizen, you can do your part to change all that.

1. Educate yourself about anti-SLAPP statutes and make your feelings known to your state and federal representatives about them. Does your state have a robust anti-SLAPP statute? It ought to. Join the debate about a federal anti-SLAPP statute. Educate your self about the debate over more general "loser pays" laws. Make decisions, and tell your representatives that these issues matter to you.

2. If you blog, write about First Amendment issues. Link to resources on First Amendment issues. Publicize SLAPP suits and help the Streisand Effect operate — if SLAPP threateners know that their threats will result in many orders of magnitude more bad publicity, they will be slower to threaten.

3. If you blog, and you know about someone who needs help in a SLAPP suit, use your soapbox to ask for help.

4. If you are able, drop a few bucks to support organizations that defend the First Amendment. (Which ones is a post unto itself — but I like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and The FIRE.)

5. If you're a lawyer — especially a lawblogger — consider doing an occasional pro bono case. Many of them — like this — will resolve without litigation. Other lawbloggers will be happy to talk to you, make suggestions about how to handle the case, share work product, and generally make it an easier experience. The arrival of a qualified and aggressive attorney upon the scene can often scare SLAPP-threateners away.

Join the good fight.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

48 Comments

41 Comments

  1. SG  •  Dec 19, 2011 @4:19 am

    Ken, congrats to you and Marc Randazza and Jed Davis for this beautiful example of humanism and generosity. I find your words, "my goal for Michael Hawkins the young student was to keep him out of distracting litigation and get him back to studying stuff I’m too dumb to grasp", especially touching. I don't know about your dumbness of spirit, but greatness of spirit you certainly do have.

    I am kinda disappointed, though, that the settlement didn't include the obligation for the Maloneys to legally change their name to Mr. and Mrs. Baloney.

  2. M  •  Dec 19, 2011 @6:12 am

    Something I've always wondered is how exactly filing or threatening baseless suits isn't a serious violation of any reasonable professional code of ethics?

  3. Tam  •  Dec 19, 2011 @6:20 am

    You're doin' the Lord's work, here. Thank you.

  4. David  •  Dec 19, 2011 @7:05 am

    @Joe
    Ken may be reached at Ken At Popehat Dot Com.
    The same pattern holds true for all bloggers here.

  5. Aaron Krowne  •  Dec 19, 2011 @8:19 am

    You guys ain't seen nuthin' yet!

    How about being sued by an Indian tribe-linked money laundering operation AFTER it garnered the attention of Congress and was expressly outlawed?

    http://goo.gl/zVVcl

    The Maryland Federal court rejected our anti-SLAPP motion on the grounds that "bad faith had not been proven" (despite the overtly threatening nature of the plaintiff's response on our web site; later I received an email from the plaintiff that included "it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong, you have to pay me").

    The suit dragged on for three years, until my small media company ran out of money, I had to let my lawyer go, and defaulted in the case. Now I await default judgment, i.e., how much will I have to pay for being frivolously sued by an illegal business?

    As a result, when I was threatened a few weeks ago by a convicted, guilty-plea hedge fund felon (who did five years time), I had to comply and take down the brief, contributed article about him, because I have no money to fight additional SLAPP suits.

  6. Doug  •  Dec 19, 2011 @8:31 am

    that demand package would terrify almost anyone. Except for the lack of a case number and the fact that buried in the complaint is the words "will not file", it sure looks like the real deal. The plaintiff's attorney should have known better than this. If we had bar disciplinary committees that did their job, we would have less of this junk happening.

  7. Guy  •  Dec 19, 2011 @8:46 am

    Ken — thank you. It annoys me to no end how people with varying amounts of legal sophistication will bully laypersons into doing things they are under no obligation to do. IMO it is exactly that sort of thing (well, amongst other things) that gives lawyers a bad rap. So thanks for being one of the good guys.

  8. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 19, 2011 @8:58 am

    So David, I can reach you at Ken at Popehat dot Com? :)

  9. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 19, 2011 @8:59 am

    Also, nicely done by all involved.

    And yeah, being told that a guy I was suing had Randazza on his legal team would cause me to foul my shorts.

  10. SPQR  •  Dec 19, 2011 @9:54 am

    A primer on how to handle, Ken.

  11. Goober  •  Dec 19, 2011 @10:15 am

    Maybe I'm just sick, but if Randazza had a hand in writing that letter, I want to read it badly. I'm supposing that out of some professional deferrence you haven't posted it here. I can't support that. You should be unprofessional and let us all read it. The snark is strong with Marko, and he makes me laugh. A lot.

  12. VPJ  •  Dec 19, 2011 @10:31 am

    Nice work and congratulations to all involved. Also, I agree with Goober. Can you at least quote some of the Randazza lines so that we may have our fix?

  13. Michael Hawkins  •  Dec 19, 2011 @11:41 am

    Thank you, Ken. I really appreciate this.

    As for the quotes, as both a layperson and the client it would not be prudent for me to divulge specifics, but needless to say, the line included above is certainly mild by Marc's standards.

  14. Christina  •  Dec 19, 2011 @12:26 pm

    Kudos on your success protecting freedom of speech, but can I ask why common courtesy doesn't apply in these situations? Why one might challenge naturopathy and write about that, but refrain from directly attacking people and their belief system? After all, something like 25-35% of the global population is about to celebrate the completely non-empirical virgin birth of a baby who is simultaneously the one true god. It's obviously pretty normal as far as the human condition is concerned to live life without reference to the scientific method, and we don't go around mocking and attacking on a personal level. Does your crusading scientist attack all individuals promoting non-proven actions?

    Because he might remember that the truly bizarre, "quack" procedure of burning mugwort on the toenail has been scientifically proven to have a positive impact on turning breech babies prior to birth. (Moxibustion, part of the eastern medical tradition, presented in JAMA 1998.) Or alternately might take note that people continue to demand PSA tests and mammograms, despite their general efficiacy having been clinically *disproven* (and widely reported), ditto with Caesarean sections at their current rate (over 35% when true effective rate is under 10%). So even in scientific western medicine, most people don't care so much about the science part and rely instead on a great deal of faith and unproven belief (and what's trendy as reported in the media).

    Question: Does an anti-SLAPP lawyer also advise their clients on a more nuanced application of fundamental rights, knowing that the indiscriminate and wild sowing of said rights is precisely what makes government and individuals alike try to repress them? Something along the lines of, even though one has a blowtorch, one still might light a candle with a match? (Vis a vis such publications as _Rights Gone Wrong_ by Richard Thompson.)

  15. PLW  •  Dec 19, 2011 @12:33 pm

    If you think someone is being rude… the proper response is to call them out, first privately and then publicly if required, not to sue them or threaten to sue them.

  16. Ken  •  Dec 19, 2011 @12:37 pm

    Well, Christina, some of the same bloggers vigorously calling Maloney a quack are also the most critical of Christian influence on Western culture, so I'm not sure the line of argument "don't say 'quack' if you wouldn't say 'Jesus freak'" is going to be persuasive to them.

    I am perfectly in favor of a robust dialogue about courtesy, common or otherwise. The legitimate venue for that dialogue includes the internet, newspapers, books, etc. But a threatened lawsuit is not part of a dialogue about courtesy, or about whether it "applies." Rather, it's an attempt to subvert the power of the state to punish criticism — or, if you like, to use force to impose your views of courtesy onto others.

    I'm sure there might be any number of defenses of specific non-traditional or non-Western medical approaches that could be argued articulately. So, argue them! Nothing prevents Maloney, and other practitioners of approaches like naturopathy, from entering the marketplace of ideas and winning converts.

    It is not, in fact, my job as an anti-SLAPP lawyer to convince my clients to be well-mannered. It is my job to tell them that more vivid language is more likely to draw an angry and ill-considered lawsuit, but it's their choice what to do with that information. Also, I utterly reject the notion that I should be advising anyone to be more polite because impolite behavior might invoke more government or private censorship. That's self-censorship. I'll advise them to avoid defamatory statements, but I won't police their manners. Censors will find a justification to censor.

    I also find the entire injection of the issue of manners somewhat off-putting in this context, frankly, when a state legislator has pursued a plainly abusive SLAPP threat against a blogger. What would you say if I posted about a successful prosecution of a wife-beater, and someone came in and said "Congrats to the prosecutor on that victory, but could we talk about whether wives could get dinner on the table on time and not talk back so much?"

  17. Christina  •  Dec 19, 2011 @1:41 pm

    PLW, there isn't any information about whether or not the threatened lawsuit was the first action, so I can't judge that, but I certainly agree that courtesy in the other direction would demand other paths be traveled first.

    Ken, I'm just curious about your thoughts about the relationship between the indiscriminate application of rights by individuals and restrictions of said rights by the government. Do you, for example, disagree with Holmes's rationale in Schenck? Is self-censorship an important component of keeping the system of rights functional, and would we therefore have an obligation to self-censor?

    I'm afraid I don't see the parallels in your domestic abuse analogy, although my brain is filled with a lot of extraneous pre-departure data right now so I grant it may be glaringly obvious :-) A wife-beater is doing something illegal in response to something legal (given your example of being late with dinner), whereas of course your client was doing something perfectly legal in response to something else not only perfectly legal, but completely in line with normal human behavior.

    I stepped in with a comment because the confrontation of rabid scientists is a bit of a pet issue of mine. Whether or not the quack-hunters are also aggressive atheists, many of them are completely unable to have any perspective about science. In this sense they are just as bad as those they tend to attack. Science can offer no judgment about that which it has not studied. (Moxibustion was very much considered quackery prior to the Office of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (might be reverse adjectives) funding the study). And of course, science is very subjective in what it chooses to study, while medical science in many respects hardly deserves the scientific label since it so heavily commercialized. Naturopathy has firm roots in pharmacology, though research into which plants have true impacts and which do not is not funded, and I completely grant that there are disproven components which are nevertheless practiced. (Which doesn't stop people from using them, even in the western evidence-based paradigm, primarily because of the scientifically proven placebo effect.)

  18. Ken  •  Dec 19, 2011 @1:48 pm

    Respectfully, Christina, I think you have the analogy mixed up. The wife-beater is doing something illegal in response to something legal. The SLAPP-threatener is threatening to do something unethical and actionable (filing a malicious and bogus suit) in response to something legal (criticism).

    Yes, I disagree with Holmes in Schenck, a decision that is now seen almost universally as awful, hasn't been good law for three-quarters of a century, and which spurred the tedious "fire in a crowded theater" quote that everyone mis-uses. And no, I don't think the theory "it's not Constitutional for the government to stop me from saying this, but if I say it they may try, so I have a free-speech-defending obligation not to say it" is reasonable or coherent.

    I have no doubt that some doctors and scientists — like everyone else — can tout the scientific method while being persnickety about turning it critically on their own beliefs. I'd like you to be able to say all sorts of terrible things about their tendency to do that — using vivid language — without fearing that you'll be the subject of a malicious and frivolous lawsuit seeking to silence you.

  19. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 19, 2011 @2:58 pm

    PLW, there isn’t any information about whether or not the threatened lawsuit was the first action,

    Likely because you were too damned lazy to click on links to Mr Hawkins' blog.

    Oh, I'm sorry. Was that rude of me?

    Tough titties.

  20. Sri  •  Dec 19, 2011 @3:02 pm

    Thank you for taking a stand and supporting Michael Hawkins. I know this is not the intent but if i ever need or know of someone needing paid legal counsel, you all are on top of the list. Thank you again for allowing me some faith in the legal system.

  21. Dr. Bob  •  Dec 19, 2011 @3:03 pm

    Har har. He had to get his wife to fight his battles for him. What a bozo.

  22. Christina  •  Dec 19, 2011 @3:04 pm

    Hi Scott, noticed you were here. Just busy packing, but I prefer my imperfections to yours: I'd rather be busy than a jackass, and my titties are soft and floppy. Happy holidays!

  23. SPQR  •  Dec 19, 2011 @3:33 pm

    Whether or not the quack-hunters are also aggressive atheists, many of them are completely unable to have any perspective about science.

    Christina, as a moderator of the website http://www.debunkers.org, I find your comment to be a rude attack on us quack-hunters.

    Does that get me the special privileges you seem to want to award to those so attacked? Can I censor your comments?

  24. Christina  •  Dec 19, 2011 @5:44 pm

    SPQR, I haven't advocated "special privileges" for anyone and I certainly haven't advocated censorship. I simply support a much more cooperative and community-building approach to life is perhaps normative in a forum that focuses primarily on the adversarial legal process. Do people (of any position) really need to be so vindictive in proselytizing their position as to personally attack individuals rather than base their case on the analytical merits of the argument? Does Westboro Baptist, for example, really need to attend and attack private funerals to publicize their message? Is there a role for what Ken calls "self-censorship", what I would call civility in discourse?

    I make these observations from inside "the movement" so to speak, as I am myself an atheist and a proponent of evidence-based action and through those principles have been around debunkers my entire adult life. But the level of immoderation and intolerance and even non-scientific thought and argument within that movement is appalling.

    I'm off to have a late lunch before loading up the car. I'm sorry I can't stick around to participate further. Happy new year at least to you all, and other holidays as you choose!

  25. Ophelia Benson  •  Dec 19, 2011 @5:48 pm

    My fee-fees are hurt by what Christina said.

  26. Ken  •  Dec 19, 2011 @5:57 pm

    Christina,

    Certainly there is a place for civility — as a personal choice, with social consequences. If I am rude to you, you avoid me, and people who hear about it probably avoid me as well. I then have to live with social consequences — and with my view of myself — if I persist in rudeness.

    Similarly, as more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar, in disputes among (for instance) mainstream and non-mainstream medical advocates, people who don't say "quack!" might convince more readers than those who don't. Or, perhaps, not.

    But it's not a question of "need." To paraphrase Clint Eastwood, "need" has nothing to do with it.

    I have no problem with people using a cooperative and community-building approach to life. But the legal system eats cooperative and community-building people for lunch. And "stop criticizing me or I will sue" is not community-building. It is, in fact, attempting to manipulate the legal system — often, as here, against people with less power — in order to stifle discussion.

  27. Josh Slocum  •  Dec 19, 2011 @6:18 pm

    Fine, fine work gentleman.

    As a public service, I wish to point out a phenomenon that's in desperate need of a name parallel to Godwin's Law. Christina, above, advocates manners. She wants people to build communities. Civility is very important to her. She likely considers herself a nice person.

    And then. . . . she says "rabid" scientists. It's fascinating. It's almost universally true that those who plead for niceness (actually, they're pleading for deference to privilege) turn out to say the most vicious things about the people they claim are Not Nice.

  28. VRaverna  •  Dec 19, 2011 @8:19 pm

    Common courtesy also includes not going to a blog post that cheer victory against SLAPP suit and post comments to"attacking" the blogger and spoil the cheering mood. :)

  29. Michael Hawkins  •  Dec 19, 2011 @9:41 pm

    For the record, I would call anyone advocating naturopathy a quack, not just Maloney. I don't consider that particularly "personal", at least not in a meaningful sense. Of course, my comments on many of his actions – his responding to everything ever posted about him on the Internet, his seeking out fights in places that have nothing to do with him, his threat of a frivolous lawsuit – do work into the realm of the personal. But then, they are things he personally did.

    To the broader issue of being civil, there is a place for that at times. This is not one of those times. Being civil to things like the idea of alternative medicine leads people to believe it has some sort of legitimacy. It doesn't. Let's look to a recent briefing from the White House secretary:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PL0YASQ8EJ8

    Imagine if he actually answered that. It would have sparked more than a little mockery on Comedy Central; news organizations would have actually discussed it. It would still be viewed as generally stupid (I hope), but it wouldn't be something that is only on YouTube by virtue of some guy with a camera phone.

  30. George Newhouse  •  Dec 19, 2011 @11:32 pm

    Well done Ken. As your admiring partner, i can't say i am surprised but do have a questions: exactly when, if at all, do you sleep? There is some much injustice out there, so much inanity, and so little time. Thank goodness for principles. On to the next battle. How about taking on corrupt bankrutpcy trustees?

  31. F  •  Dec 19, 2011 @11:55 pm

    Christina:

    I hope that if I am direct, I am not also too rude.

    there isn’t any information about whether or not the threatened lawsuit was the first action

    Considering it was mentioned: How long this has been going on, hints at the number and prominence of bloggers who have addressed this, references to search engine results (a key factor in the making of the legal threat no less); it didn't occur to you to use a search engine? I know you were busy packing since you were quick to remind us, but not too busy to continue commenting.

    medical science in many respects hardly deserves the scientific label since it so heavily commercializedNaturopathy has firm roots in pharmacology

    I'll leave it as an exercise to you and other readers to guess what the double lolwut is there.

    (Moxibustion was very much considered quackery prior to the Office of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (might be reverse adjectives) funding the study)

    Could we have a citation or even a pointer on which organization this is, and what studies determined moxibustion is supposedly good for?

    Was it this
    http://nccam.nih.gov/
    or this
    http://www.cancer.gov/cam/index.html
    or somewhere else? (Those two are just in the States.)

    I've seen the abstracts for a couple of non-replicated studies on a fistfull of rats, but that's about it. And I don't trust the pharma-medico industrial complex any more than you seem to indicate that you do. I distrust medically and scientifically illiterate quacks who push random folk treatments for their own commercial gain even more.

    And even if moxibustion is medically applicable in some circumstance, you can hardly blame people for considering it quackery overall.

    Practitioners use moxa to warm regions and acupuncture points with the intention of stimulating circulation through the points and inducing a smoother flow of blood and qi. It is believed by some, for example (Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine by Clare Hanrahan), that mugwort acts as an emmenagogue, meaning that it stimulates blood-flow in the pelvic area and uterus. It is claimed that moxibustion militates against cold and dampness in the body and can serve to turn breech babies.

    Practitioners consider moxibustion to be especially effective in the treatment of chronic problems, "deficient conditions" (weakness), and gerontology.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moxibustion#Theory_and_practice

    Off to have my chakras aligned and qi adjusted to help me recover from my brainectomy.

  32. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 20, 2011 @1:54 am

    No, Michael, we just add to Mr Maloney's list of titled one of my personal favorites: "Censorous Twatwaffle".

  33. Ken  •  Dec 20, 2011 @9:50 am

    I have no problem with people disagreeing with Christina, as I do. However, guests choosing their tone might want to consider I've known her for 25 years and am unlikely to view her as a terrible person just because we disagree vigorously. Please note this is not a legal threat.

  34. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 20, 2011 @9:56 am

    However, guests choosing their tone might want to consider I’ve known her for 25 years

    So we should be nice because she has suffered for 25 years?

    And any further questions I might have will just be left unasked.

  35. Ken  •  Dec 20, 2011 @10:00 am

    So we should be nice because she has suffered for 25 years?

    See, that's the kind of abuse we like around here — friendly funny, and/or justified.

  36. Suzanne  •  Dec 20, 2011 @11:06 am

    What I can't get over is that his wife is a State Legislator. I may not care much for my state representatives, but I'm sure glad I'm not represented by someone with that level of "understanding" of the law (or contempt of it).
    I know, nothing a politician does should surprise me anymore.

  37. Library Nachos  •  Dec 20, 2011 @8:39 pm

    Well, I've forwarded this to all of my friends up there in that increasingly bassackwards state (I still have family up there so I get to hear all about it). I have politely asked that anybody that lives in her district please not vote for her. It seems to have spread quite widely among the Bookfacerati. I will probably re-send during the next election cycle just to be sure.

    See? The system works?

  38. Michael Hawkins  •  Dec 20, 2011 @9:42 pm

    In response to my previous post, it's obvious now, but I'm anal retentive: I meant to say 'let's look to that White House briefing for a comparison, i.e., something ridiculous that would have been taken seriously if it got an initial serious response.

    Anyway.

    Library, I believe a man by the name of Nate Fellows (with whom I had a few beers this evening, in fact) will be running for Mrs. Maloney's seat. His politics run very counter to mine (he's staunchly libertarian and anti-everything-to-do-with-government), but he isn't one to support alternative medicine.

  39. Nate  •  Dec 20, 2011 @9:47 pm

    Oh indeed I will be. I actually support access to alternative medicine, in so far as: if people still want it after they know what they are getting, which is nonsense, they should be able to.

  40. Julia Sheehy  •  Dec 21, 2011 @6:43 am

    I wish so very heartily and bitterly that my last employer and coworkers there named in a 'defamation of character suit' had contacted you or Marc Randazza (ideally both). I left that experience with a foul taste for the law and all practitioners. Thank you for restoring some of my faith, reading this made my day.

  41. Richard M Stallman  •  Dec 25, 2011 @11:06 am

    Thank you for defending freedom of speech and fighting legal
    intimidation. I have one suggestion about a side issue you might not
    have considered: to avoid the misleading term "IP", which appears in
    the article.

    It's misleading because it lumps together many laws that are totally
    different in practice. The resulting confusion lends itself perfectly
    to intimidation by vague threats.

    See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html.

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