Nurturing of scientific debate by Nature?
Monday, November 21, 2011, 03:20 PM
Posted by Burton & Dyson Solicitors
Knowledge has always been at the very heart of science. Indeed, it is the meaning of the Latin word scientia, from which the name is derived.
Yet there is growing concern that the libel laws in England and Wales are set to stifle the investigation and publication of controversies within the scientific community, ensuring that the knowledge gained never sees the light of day.
Indeed, even Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, warned of the “chilling effect on scientific and academic debate”; an effect now highlighted by the libel action taken by Professor Mohammed El Naschie against the renowned science journal Nature.
In 2008, when El Naschie retired as editor of the physics journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, Nature published an article which alleged that the Egyptian professor had used his position to publish his own work in the journal ahead of that of others in his field.
Furthermore, Nature also suggested that the work El Naschie published was not reviewed by his peers to a sufficient standard. In the High Court case, the journal called an expert witness who had examined some of the professor’s work and found it difficult to understand.
El Naschie responded to these claims by accusing the witness of not being qualified to assess his work, before noting that even the “sloppy” scientist Einstein had made mistakes in his publications.
According to its article, Nature was also unable to verify the affiliations and honorary professorships with international academic institutions claimed by El Naschie.
The outcome of this case, which is expected early next year, is likely to have a significant impact. The peer review process, where papers are assessed by experts in the field before being accepted by a journal, is a fundamental part of maintaining the quality of scientific publications. While Nature’s article may be viewed as a risky and quite personal attack on an individual, they believed it to be a defence of the values that lie at the heart of a community.