PubPeer won a near-complete victory in a Michigan court today.
A judge has agreed to allow the site to protect the identities of all but one of its anonymous commenters, after a cancer researcher demanded the site release the names of those who have critiqued his papers.
For one of the comments on the site, the judge has asked to hold another hearing on March 19.
After the work of Fazlul Sarkar of Wayne State University appeared on the post-publication peer review site, he wasn’t happy about it. In October, he sued the site’s commenters, demanding that PubPeer release the names of his accusers. Sarkar, who has not been found to have committed research misconduct, claims he lost a lucrative job offer at the University of Mississippi as a result of the posts.
In December, PubPeer’s attorneys asked the judge to dismiss the motion; today, Hon. Sheila Ann Gibson of the Wayne County Circuit Court agreed to do so for all but one comment.
Alexander Abdo of the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented PubPeer in this case, told Retraction Watch:
We’re very pleased that the Court recognized the importance of free speech and anonymity to PubPeer and its mission. We look forward to continuing to fight for the right of PubPeer’s users to lawfully and anonymously discuss the scientific research of their peers.
Abdo told us the judge wants to hear more about Sarkar’s case for unmasking the final commenter, whom the ACLU will argue should remain protected under the First Amendment because nothing said was defamatory.
Here is the final comment that’s still at issue (from paragraph 40(c) of the complaint):
(June 18th, 2014 4:51pm UTC)
Has anybody reported this to the institute?
(June 18th, 2014 5:43pm UTC)
Yes, in September and October 2013 the president of Wayne State University was informed several times.
The Secretary to the Board of Governors, who is also Senior Executive Assistant to the President Wayne State University, wrote back on the 11th of November 2013: “Thank you for your e-mail, which I have forwarded to the appropriate individual within Wayne State University. As you are aware, scientific misconduct investigations are by their nature confidential, and Wayne would not be able to comment on whether an inquiry into your allegations is under way, or if so, what its status might be.
“Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention”
Update: 9:07 p.m. EST 3/5/15: We heard from Sarkar’s lawyer, Nicholas Roumel:
We were disappointed in the outcome today. But we will keep pressing on and see what happens.
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