Pieter Cohen, Aaron, and I have a new piece at JAMA Internal Medicine on the toxic practice of suing researchers over their scientific results.
In 2008, the manufacturer of a hip protector sued a Harvard researcher for commercial disparagement over a study published in JAMA demonstrating that the hip protector did not prevent fractures. In 2012, the chief executive officer of a pharmaceutical company sued a researcher who chaired his data monitoring committee after the researcher published an article in Annals of Internal Medicine explaining how the CEO mischaracterized study results. (The CEO was later convicted of wire fraud.) And, in 2013, a biomarker company sued a group of scientists and an academic journal, Clinical Chemistry, for publishing a study suggesting that the company’s assay was insufficiently sensitive. …
When lawsuits target scientists, it does not matter that plaintiffs almost never win. It does not even matter if the case goes to trial. The goal is to intimidate. In the lawsuit over dietary supplements, for example, the head of the company who brought the suit openly admitted that he was “hoping that we were able to silence this guy,” as well as other researchers who might raise questions about the supplement industry. The most frivolous lawsuit can generate substantial legal costs, distract scientists from research, force the indiscriminate disclosure of laboratory notebooks and emails, and create unnecessary stress for colleagues and families.
A few years back, Pieter was sued over a study in which he identified the presence of dangerous stimulants in some athletic and weight-loss supplements. Undeterred, he and his co-authors have now published another study with similar findings. We can’t afford to let private companies abuse the court system in a conscious effort to discourage this kind of important research.
Go read the whole thing!