Last bit about New Scientist

Before we return to science, one last note. Those of you who have been following the intellectual gyrations of New Scientist are probably aware that they pulled a piece by Amanda Geftner from the online magazine.  (I put the piece below, which was thoughtfully archived by Tony Sidaway at Lambda Delta.)  I wrote to New Scientist’s editor, Roger Highfield, asking why.  Here is his response:

Subject: RE: Amanda Gefter’s piece
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 14:05:39 -0000
Thread-Topic: Amanda Gefter’s piece

New Scientist has received a legal complaint about the contents of this
story. At the advice of our lawyer it has temporarily been removed while
we investigate. All the best, Roger

Reading the piece, I find it straightforward, hard-hitting, and truthful, but don’t see anything  that is grounds for legal complaint.  But judge for yourself by reading it on Tony’s blog.

Even in America’s litigious society, I can see not a single phrase that could prompt a legal “complaint.”  What gives?


  1. Posted March 22, 2009 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Americans may have a deserved reputation for quickness to resort to litigation, but the UK has much stronger defamation laws and free speech doesn’t have the kind of strong protection that the US first amendment and its associated laws provide. Editors are usually quick to remove potentially damaging statements simply because the law expects them to do so. If a case subsequently went to trial then their failure to act promptly would amount to compounding the original offence and would attract greater damages.

    As I’ve suggested elsewhere, I suspect that one of the two people mentioned in the piece objected to being lumped in with creationists and the like.

  2. SLC
    Posted March 22, 2009 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    What gives here is that the libel laws in Great Britain are entirely different then in the US. I don’t want to play lawyer here but, generally speaking, in the US, truth is an absolute defense against libel. Not so in Great Britain.

  3. Posted March 22, 2009 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    The only thing I could see that might be close to actionable is that the piece does call Denyse O’Leary does call “silly” and a “creationist.” Some one might take offense to that, if he or she were thin-skinned.

  4. Posted March 22, 2009 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    O’Leary denies complaining … for what that’s worth.

  5. Sili
    Posted March 22, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    As has been said, British libel laws are notoriously biased towards to the complainant.

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