Some of you may remember when I was obliquely threatened with litigation for posting a detailed critique of a talk given by Dr. Shelley Epstein on the scientific evidence for homeopathy. And certainly most of you will know about the British Chiropractic Association libel suit against scientist and author Simon Singh attempting to stifle his public criticism of treatment claims made by the BCA, and the legal troubles faced by Dr. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch. CAM advocates are notorious for resorting to litigation when unable to defend their claims and practices with scientific evidence.
Fortunately, the lack of factual evidence demonstrating the truth of these claims and, in the United States at least, the principles of Free Speech and Freedom of the Press, generally prevent such attempts at censorship-by-lawsuit from succeeding. It is important, however, that those of us dedicated to defending science and challenging unproven or bogus medical claims expose such transparent efforts to silence criticism of quackery.
The well-known blog the Quackometer recently wrote an expose of the Burzynski Clinic, an operation in Texas which takes large sums of money from desperate people with cancer to provide them with an untested alternative treatment. The clinic, and the “lone genius” behind it, Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, have responded by threatening the author of the Quackometer expose. I am joining other science-based medicine blogs in publicizing this attempt to silence substantive criticism with litigious bluster rather than facts and logic because I recognize the real danger such threats present to free speech, journalistic freedom, and the kind of vigorous debate necessary to separate good ideas from bad ones in medicine. I encourage others concerned about open scientific debate and the rights of journalists to investigate and expose dubious medical practices to spread the word about this attempt to intimidate critics and suppress debate.