Feb 26 2008

Quackometer vs Obi – Abusing Lawsuits to Silence Critics

Andy Lewis, who runs the Quackometer website, is dedicated to educating the public as to the very legitimate criticisms of unscientific medical practices and claims. I consider his efforts to be in solidarity with my own, and those precious few others who take time out of their lives and careers to improve the public understanding of science, in part by taking on popular but faulty beliefs.

We endeavor to make the basis of our criticism science, and our efforts reflect the fundamental nature of science – it is a community effort requiring transparency and open unrestrained criticism. This in turn requires freedom of expression – science cannot thrive under the yoke of oppression.

Those whom we criticize, however, are often either not dedicated to science or suffer from a profound misunderstanding of how science operates. Many practitioners and promoters of unscientific medicine simply fight back against criticism with criticism of their own. Even though I generally disagree with what is ultimately apologetics for anti-science, at least they are fighting back with words and ideas.

Occasionally, however, a dubious practitioners decides to fight dirty – to fight back against legitimate scientific criticism by trying to use the threat of lawsuits to silence criticism. In essence they add the sin of being anti-free speech to cover up their sin of being anti-science. Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi has chosen to go this lowest of low roads.

As I discussed on this week’s SGU, Dr. Obi, who runs an “alternative medicine” business, has tried to silence the Quackometer for having the temerity to criticize him. He threated his ISP, Netcetera, with a lawsuit. Initially they just removed the webpages that were about Obi. In response many fellow science bloggers (myself included) reproduced the pages. Now, under further pressure, Netcetera has caved and took down Quackometer entirely.

I am pleased to say that Quackometer is already back up under a new ISP. Despite Obi’s efforts the internet makes it very difficult to silence unwanted criticism. The more Obi fights against Quackometer, the more other science bloggers will come to his defense – in the end Obi will buy himself more criticism.

However, I suspect this is exactly what Obi wants. On his website he writes:

” When I was told that the Enemies of Alternative Medicine had recruited 5000 (Five Thousand) Bloggers to write rubbish about me 24 hours a day , ( every single day of the year ) , I said OK . . . Let’s wait and see precisely what they will say . . . (Because in my view , it is a perfectly Good Military Tactic to sit back and watch them all come creeping out of the woodwork , so that I know precisely what their capabilities are).


My fundamentally humble message to all Skeptic Internet Service Providers (out there) today is therefore extremely loud and exceedingly clear : Stop condoning the ruthless harassment of Alternative Medicine Practitioners – or be fully prepared to face the dire financial consequences of your actions ! “.

The first paragraph sounds delusional, to the point that I wonder if Dr. Obi actually believes this. 5000 bloggers working 24/7 – he seems to have (or at least he wants to project) a grossly exaggerated sense of his own importance. He seems to be enjoying the role of CAM warrior taking on all the skeptics.

As far as the skeptics are concerned (at least this skeptic, and those others who have expressed an opinion on the matter) we are not impressed. We will not be daunted by empty threats of “dire financial consequences.” Skeptics have been stung in the past, and there can be a real risk to doing what we do – but if we don’t hold the line against the likes of Obi we might as well close up shop.

As far as Netcetera is concerned – their self-interest in this situation is obvious, but I think they abandoned one of their customers because they couldn’t be bothered dealing with a completely vacuous accusation. Shame on them. I certainly will never use or recommend their services. Some bloggers, like The Bronze Dog, have even called for their boycott. Their de facto censorship is a very bad precedent for the internet, the primary virtue of which is the free exchange of ideas and information. In this not only do all skeptics have common cause, not only all bloggers, but everyone. I do think the best damage control would be for it to be more costly for Netcetera to have backstabbed its own customer than to deal with Obi’s empty lawsuit.

We’ll see what happens.

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