Protect Academic Free Speech

Alexander Bird writes to Philos-L:

You may be aware that Simon Singh is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association and that the consultant cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst is likewise being sued by American firm NMT Medical for publishing trial results and comments on a product they manufacture. In addition there are other cases, in other academic fields, where publishers (including Cambridge University Press) have pulped books or withdrawn publications as a result of the threat of libel, the expense of which means that it is too costly even to defend indisputably well-evidenced research. (One immediately thinks of Mill’s argument for free speech in this context and the cost both to academia and to the health of individuals of restricting critical comment.)

The threat to academic freedom and to free speech more generally is clear. The issue is all the more important when we, in the UK at least, are being pressured into ensuring that our research has economic and social impact. That such impact will be rewarded in the distribution of QR (research-related university funding) provides a clear incentive to universities to produce research that will be helpful to industry and government, and, correspondingly, to avoid research that is critical of those potential partners in ‘impact’.

Please consider signing this petition. (It’s open to non-UK folks as well.)

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