Ben Goldacre on why science and medicine must be criticised
In a BBC World Service documentary out today – made with the BBC Radio science unit, rather than current affairs – we explain why science is different, and why it is dangerous to have laws that restrict the everyday scrutiny of each others’ ideas and practices that scientists and doctors necessarily engage in.
Under the current libel laws, reading about cases such as Wilmshurst’s, Thomsen’s, Singh’s and my own, scientists and doctors are increasingly aware that every utterance could have bizarre and unpredictable legal consequences; that even if you’re proved right, a case may still take years of working unpaid every evening and weekend, and hundreds of thousands of pounds you cannot spare.
In science and medicine, mutual criticism has a massive societal benefit, because we all benefit from the way it makes medicine safer, but the burden of libel is shouldered entirely by individuals who are unprepared and often unprotected. You cannot reasonably expect scientists to be experts in the details of libel law as well as their own field, and you cannot reasonably expect people to constantly and unpredictably put their families’ homes at stake, just for doing the job we expect of them.
Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/08/science-libel-laws-mutual-criticism