Bullshit Easier To Swallow In Pill Form
September 12, 2008 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Vitamin purveyor Matthias Rath^ has dropped his libel case against Ben Goldacre^ and the Guardian. Goldacre's take.

Goldacre originally wrote about Rath in two consecutive columns in January 2007 (1 2) and was barred from discussing the case until now (including in his recent book.) Rath previously successfully sued the British Medical Journal for libel and has a history of litigation. Rath was also ordered to stop defamatory remarks against the Treatment Action Campaign, an AIDS treatment organization, and has had multiple conflicts with their leader Zackie Achmat.

Goldacre's book was covered recently, but this story isn't really related.
posted by christonabike (17 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
money quote:
"...there is little difference between the vitamin and pharmaceutical industries."

Some tactics by some are more snake-oily than others, but it all supports the conclusion that the for-profit health industry is not very good for your health.

Disclaimer: I take 4 daily medications that my doctor has convinced me are vital for my survival, down from 7 a few months ago, with slightly improved health. None of the meds phased out with doctor's approval have been relaced by any 'alternative medicine')
posted by wendell at 6:31 PM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm glad it turned out this way, and also a bit surprised. Unlike in the US, in the UK a claim of truth is not a defense against a libel complaint. You can be successfully sued for telling the truth about someone.
posted by Class Goat at 6:31 PM on September 12, 2008

You can be successfully sued for telling the truth about someone.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:35 PM on September 12, 2008

He lied and lied and lied.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:50 PM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Unlike in the US, in the UK a claim of truth is not a defense against a libel complaint.

I'm pretty sure this is wrong. The weird thing about UK libel law is that the burden of proof is on the defendant, and the costs are prohibitive for most people. But if they prove they were truthful, the judge is supposed to acquit.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:53 PM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you've wholly abandoned the scientific method, stop calling yourself "Doctor" and GTFO.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:04 PM on September 12, 2008

You can be successfully sued for telling the truth about someone.

The point is that if something is true but you can't prove its truth to the satisfaction of the court, you're still guilty of libel, because of the reversed burden of proof. So in this sense true statements can be libelous. In the US, you'd be unlikely to lose a libel case where the statement you made was true, because the plaintiff would be unable to prove it false.

Zackie Achmat is a hero; donate to TAC!
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:29 PM on September 12, 2008

But on the other hand, or at least so my friend's US lawyer father was explaining to me, in the US whether you win or lose, you will be liable for costs. Whereas in the UK, if you win, the loser will pay costs. Thus, in the US you are less likely to go to court to defend yourself against libel.

One of the most famous UK libel cases being Richard Branson v BA.

(If I'm wrong on the costs issue... please correct...)
posted by NailsTheCat at 8:59 PM on September 12, 2008

(If I'm wrong on the costs issue... please correct...)

You're generally correct, though US judges may award costs at their discretion in some cases. For instance, 28 USC ยง 1927 provides:

Any attorney or other person admitted to conduct cases in any court of the United States or any Territory thereof who so multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct.

Some US substantive law also provides for recovery of fees by winning plaintiffs, usually in cases where the government wishes to incentivize the filing of suits that serve the public interest.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:20 PM on September 12, 2008

About time the UK libel laws actually did someone some good. But it's not enough.

Mathias Rath is a mass murderer, not only of hundreds of victims, but of the culture of evidence which has led to actual lives being saved. He and his ilk contribute to the impoverishment of the human race, working against human advancement against the darkness of ignorance; the resultant backslidining into witchcraft and nonsense will cause countless other injuries and deaths.

He should be prosecuted and punished as such.

posted by lalochezia at 10:17 PM on September 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Famous example of the way the libel laws work in the UK is also the McLibel case. The wiki on that backs up what game warden was saying - if you can prove every claim true, you won't be successfully sued. But the burden is entirely on you, and if some of your claims are a little vague this could get tricky. The US has a much higher burden for libel cases - things like opinions and criticism are generally protected (this is why cable news can exist, I guess).
posted by wildcrdj at 10:43 PM on September 12, 2008

Proof of the existence of evil. Yes, evil. Full on, no-holds-barred, Biblical evil. With any luck, he'll die horribly.

...yes, I'm vindictive. I'm OK with that.
posted by aramaic at 10:49 PM on September 12, 2008

So, no citation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:40 PM on September 12, 2008

Truth is not an absolute defence to libel. IIRC, the statement has to be substantially true. If, in the UK, I repeat a libellous statement, eg. Class Goat reported that Blazecock Pileon is a PC lover, then even if my statement is true (ie, Class Goat did report this), then it would still be defamatory and I would be liable for damages.

I believe this same principle operates in some parts of the US as well, but the US has a bunch of privileged categories of statement that we don't. So your newspapers could report Class Goat's defamatory claims, but ours couldn't.

Also, something can be true but published with malice. So, while the statement is substantially true, it is still written with the aim of defaming the claimant.

I can't find a cite relating to English law, but here's one from Canadian Law, which is substantially the same.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:29 AM on September 13, 2008

i hadn't heard about this until just now, which is not surprising. The prevalence and wide acceptance of magical thinking, the defense of pseudoscience, the refusal to admit that there is an objective reality and that the scientific method is the best method of answering certain questions like "if I am HIV positive, what is the best way to not die from it": all infurating and incomprehensible.

This is what you get, folks, when you allow people like Sylvia Browne and Kevin Trudeau to peddle their bullshit freely and without consequence. This is what you get when you attack reason and skepticism as being mean or narrow-minded or "just another way of looking at the world."

How many people are dead because of Matthias Rath? How many children won't see their tenth birthday because Matthias Rath fought against affordable HIV medication?

He is a murderer. And I hope that one of those people whom he tricked into giving up their best shot at living, turn right around and put a bullet in his head.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:04 AM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

In the meantime, Simon Singh is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for another piece critical of alternative medicine, also in the Guardian. The Daily Telegraph covers the story. Further links are available here, and Jack Of Kent covers the same story in a few posts, notably with plenty of discussion of the legal side and what BCA members should be asking of their association.

In this case, it's worth noting they're after the author and it seems steering clear of the newspaper.
posted by edd at 1:29 PM on September 13, 2008

He's on the same side as the people who committed the Tuskegee syphilis atrocity. He took HIV-postive people off proven retrovirals to experiment with his nuts and berries. He's a for-profit Mengele, and should probably hang.

This kind of magical thinking has expanded in the US- I know an otherwise apparently sane woman who treats her dog with homeopathic medicine to cure him from his fear of lightning. At least all she's ended up with is a dog who shits under her bed when there's a thunderstorm- not a dead father, mother, or child. It's fun to snark on the Intelligent Design idiots, but there are plenty of other magical thoughts out there...
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:09 PM on September 13, 2008

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