Eve Switzer settles her libel suit against Oklahoma anti-vaccine activists

Ee Switzer

This article about Dr. Eve Switzer’s libel suit against some anti-vaccine activists was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

In early June 2020, Dr. Eve Switzer apparently settled a libel suit that she had filed against an anti-vaccine organization – Oklahoman for Health and Parental Rights – and an anti-vaccine physician, Dr. Jim Meehan from Oklahoma. Both Meehan and the organization both wrote a statement admitting, in essence, that information they posted about Dr. Eve Switzer from Oklahoma was untrue.

While these statements may not seem resounding, they are, in fact, a substantial concession and admission, and part of a settlement of a defamation suit Dr. Switzer brought against these actors that have been settled in her favor. <

Generally, I do not recommend that people turn to defamation suits against anti-vaccine activists. That is because these suits are hard to win under our law (even if there is ground to see the statements as untrue and offensive), any win would take a long time and likely be costly, and the publicity would likely benefit the science denier more than the plaintiff.

Dr. Eve Switzer’s example suggests a different approach can, in some cases, lead to legal success. I still, however, hold to my view that suing is probably not a desirable choice for many of you – this suit was lengthy, not easy, and led to some publicity that I suspect hurt Dr. Switzer.

That said, I am glad that Dr. Switzer’s efforts ended with a settlement that would make it very hard for her attackers to repeat the offensive misrepresentations that led to this suit, and compensated her for her expenses. Continue reading “Eve Switzer settles her libel suit against Oklahoma anti-vaccine activists”

Anti-vaccine harassment – can you sue for libel?

Anti-vaccine harassment from Mike Adams

For the past three years or more, ever since I (pretty accidentally) got drawn into the vaccine discussion, several of you asked an opinion over the legal aspects of dealing with anti-vaccine harassment. One recurring question is “can I sue for libel over this.”

I want to take advantage of a number of recent and particularly ugly attacks to provide a primer on when you can, in fact, sue for libel over something said online.

I also want to make clear that – as many of you heard from me – I think that almost always suing for libel is the wrong strategy. First, I think tort suits are a bad way to deal with discussion, even ugly discussion. And at least in part, if you step up, you should know the discussion can include ugliness. And sometimes from both sides.

Second, even if you are a private figure, tort suits are hard, expensive, and public. And if the other side is willing to put aside ethical standards – and if you get to the point where you think about suing for libel, you’re usually dealing with someone with, at best, flexible ethics – that’s going to be part of the lawsuit process as well, and you can expect things to get worse before you win. And after you win.

Third, in many cases our law is rigged against those speaking on public matters, intentionally, because we value free speech. That can protect you if you’re sued by an opponent, but it will work against you if you are the one suing.

Further, suing an anti-science attacker can really work for them. You give them publicity they would not otherwise have. If they win, they can really push the slur against you. After all, it’s not libel, you lost, they can claim it’s true even if they won because the law is rigged against the plaintiff. If they lose, it’s because of the conspiracy, and because the system is rigged against them – and they still had the publicity and cost you time you will never get back, grief, and probably resources. It really is a bad deal for you, no matter what.

And finally, it leaves a bit of a bad taste that the tactic has been repeatedly used by anti-vaccine activists.

But I also see the other side. I hear you when you tell me that you should not have to put up with harassment  when it crosses a line. I understand that you have not given up your private rights by becoming involved in this discussion. The law values and protects reputation, and harm to your reputation can cause a variety of other harms to your livelihood and your family – and your emotional well-being.

Being a vaccine advocate does not mean you cannot use your legal rights, especially when you are under direct attack to your good name. And if you’re already being sued from your side, a counter-suit, if you have a claim, might make sense.

At any rate, it’s probably worth going over the basics of the law.

Continue reading “Anti-vaccine harassment – can you sue for libel?”

Séralini GMO article vindicated by courts – absolutely not

Séralini GMO article

The infamous Gilles-Eric Séralini GMO article – which made baseless claims about GMO corn causing cancer, and which was subsequently retracted – is back in the news. The anti-science crowd is trumpeting a decision by a French court that decided that Séralini was libeled by Professor Marc Fellous, former chairman of the French Biomolecular Engineering Commission, for “forgery” and “the use of forgery.”

So let’s look at this carefully. Continue reading “Séralini GMO article vindicated by courts – absolutely not”