dear new scientist, are you missing a backbone?

The magazine is allowing an angry crank with a vendetta against an editor to dictate what stories it will publish and pull.

censorship cartoon
Illustration by Elgin Akpınar

I think I know what to get for New Scientist’s lawyers this holiday season: a spine. After one of the magazine’s editors wrote a brief guide on how to spot creationist weasel words and New Age pseudoscience, a guide much like you’d see on this blog, they pulled the piece because a certain Dr. James LeFanu whined about it and demanded that he be allowed to write a counter-comment before it goes back up. Who is Dr. LeFanu? Oh just one of those desperate, attention seeking, New Age, post-modernist blowhards who write books on the limitations of science, and decry the concept of holding homeopathy to the same standards as conventional medicine as a witch hunt. Not only that, but since the editor who wrote the article in question also gave him a lackluster review, there’s an obvious hint of a personal vendetta, which the magazine’s lawyers should’ve just ignored and told LeFanu to find something better to do with his time than whine about his hurt feelings.

Here’s the thing. I know that cranks today are often rich, famous and spoiled rotten, and have a penchant for suing their critics if they don’t get their way, but that doesn’t mean that every time they huff and puff you should be afraid of them and give them column space. LeFanu is just another post-modernist ditz spewing clichés in a book that decries science in the same way as the quantum woo-meisters on HuffPo, and since his attempt in this already over-crowded field failed, he’s desperate for attention. And what do you do when there’s a loon desperate for attention pounding on your door, demanding to be let in so he can have the spotlight and write a public comment to show everyone how relevant and important he is? That’s right, you tell him to go away, not give him exactly what he wants and encourage his bad behavior. Just like you don’t give kids candy after their temper tantrum, but put them into time out, so should you ignore self-important cranks who want to turn a very well known popular science publication into their bully pulpit while settling a score at the same time.

So he got some lawyers to send a boilerplate complaint, big deal. After the Simon Singh affair, trying to sue a science writer for challenging pseudo-scientific tropes isn’t going to go well for the plaintiff. The skeptics who supported Singh will also throw their support to the science writer in question, the courts will once again have an earful about how UK’s plaintiff-friendly law is being abused, and the plaintiff will become a laughingstock, his work ridiculed and dissected by every skeptical blog whose authors hear of the case. I know it can be very tempting to just give in and avoid the hassle altogether, but that’s just handing a desperate, attention-seeking hack the publicity he doesn’t deserve and allow him to take his personal grudges into the press. But again, as any parent will tell you, children who get what they want after acting out will act out again when you won’t buy a toy or give them a cookie. Likewise, childish cranks with skin thinner than a cell wall will do the same thing as long as you encourage them by caving in to their legal thuggery. Fellow skeptics, you know what to do. Fire up your search engines and let your readers know what you think of James LeFanu…

# science // cranks / law / pseudoscience / science journalism


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