OSU cancer researcher Carlo Croce loses appeal of New York Times libel suit

Carlo Croce

Carlo Croce, a prolific cancer researcher at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus who was the subject of a 2017 front page story in The New York Times about allegations of misconduct against him, has lost a libel suit that he filed against the newspaper.

As first reported by Courthouse News Service earlier this week, the Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court’s November 2018 ruling tossing most of Croce’s claims. In the ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Moore writes:

The article at issue may be unflattering, but the question is whether it is defamatory. In a thorough opinion, the district court thought not. We agree. The article is a standard piece of investigative journalism that presents newsworthy allegations made by others, with appropriate qualifying language.

Moore writes elsewhere:

Although the article notes instances of corrections to Dr. Croce’s articles due to, for example, errors in data, those statements are true. Dr. Croce attempts to cut and paste together the worst portions of sentences, unmooring them from their full context, in order to support his claim that the article is defamatory. In its full and proper context, however, the article reports newsworthy allegations with appropriate qualifying language.

We emailed Croce’s attorney, James Arnold, to ask if we could call him for comment, or email him questions. He had a one-word answer: “No.”

The case against the Times was not the only one Croce had filed in recent years. Arnold is also representing Croce in a suit against his employer, OSU, that seeks his reinstatement as department chair. He is also suing David Sanders, a scientist who is quoted in the Times story.

Croce has had nine papers retracted, three subjected to expressions of concern, and 17 corrected.

‘Still, scientists need to be held accountable like anyone else’

James Glanz (credit Todd Heisler)

James Glanz, one of the reporters who wrote the Times story, responded to questions we sent him by email:

Retraction Watch (RW): Were you ever concerned that the decision might go the other way?

James Glanz (JG): I have to be frank and say I never thought there was much of a chance we would lose. I had confidence in the article, the judicial system, and the Times legal team, which is incredibly good.

RW: Do you have any regrets about the way the story was done?

JG: No. The story is as balanced and deeply reported as any I’ve done. I’d like to credit my co-author, Augie Armendariz, for helping make it that way.

RW: What message do you think this sends to scientists whose work comes under scrutiny? What about to journalists who cover it?

JG: Look, I’m a former scientist – a plasma physicist. I love science, and I love scientists, for the most part. Still, scientists need to be held accountable like anyone else. As for journalists who cover science, I’d counsel approaching it as aggressively as any other beat. If you’re ginning up gee-whiz stories from embargoed press releases about technical breakthroughs, you’re missing the point. If you dig, you’ll be rewarded with great stories that say a lot more about what science is, and what it isn’t.

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One thought on “OSU cancer researcher Carlo Croce loses appeal of New York Times libel suit”

  1. Hear! hear! A refreshing take from JG, especially “Still, scientists need to be held accountable like anyone else. … If you’re ginning up gee-whiz stories from embargoed press releases about technical breakthroughs, you’re missing the point.”

    I can’t help but notice that, in many scientific circles including in my own academic institution, there is stubborn attitude that “one shan’t question or criticize an esteemed gentle-person-scholar,” which is basically the argument that CC is making in his failed court case. This attitude is deeply antithetical to science, and we need more people that think and act like JG.

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