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Libel and the Lab: Scientists and Defamation
Communication Law and Policy  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-01-27, DOI: 10.1080/10811680.2021.1856601
Karen M. Markin

Scientists are increasingly involved in defamation claims. Sometimes they are defendants in disputes over the accuracy of articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In other instances, scientists are plaintiffs, filing suits against those who have attacked them in the popular media, harming their reputations. Both situations represent efforts to quell scientists’ speech, generally because their research threatens established commercial interests, and they pose a threat to scientific inquiry. This article examines these two trends. It recommends that, for journal articles, courts recognize a scientific debate privilege, which is emerging in some jurisdictions. It presents evidence that reputational attacks are intimidating scientists, causing them to pursue fewer controversial lines of research. It notes that, in their efforts to maintain vigorous debate on matters of public concern, courts are allowing brutal criticism of scientists that is having the opposite effect by driving researchers’ voices out of the public sphere.