A $10 million defamation suit filed by a Stanford University professor against a critic and a journal may be an assault on free speech, according to one lawyer, but at least it’s “well written.”
Kenneth White, a lawyer at Southern California firm Brown White & Osborn who frequently blogs about legal issues related to free speech at Popehat, told us:
It’s not incompetently drafted, but it’s clearly vexatious and intended to silence dissent about an alleged scientist’s peer-reviewed article.
Scientists have publicly bemoaned the suit’s existence, as reported by several outlets, including Mashable and Nature.Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor at Stanford, has alleged that he was defamed in a June article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which was critical of a 2015 paper co-authored by Jacobson in the same journal. In a complaint filed Sept. 29 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Jacobson accused the journal’s publisher, the National Academy of Sciences, and the paper’s first author, Christopher Clack, an executive at a renewable energy analysis firm, of libel.
A top US official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who was recently appointed by President Donald Trump, has called for the retraction of a paper that suggests the country exports a significant amount of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
The paper, published July 6 in Marine Policy, estimated that in 2015 approximately one-fifth of Alaska pollock exports to Japan were either illegal, unreported, or unregulated — a value of as much as $75 million.
A journal has retracted a 2016 paper on wildfires in Australia because the authors neglected to cite earlier work — an unintentional lapse, they said.
The article, “Projected changes in Australian fire regimes during the 21st century and consequences for Ecosystems,” appeared in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. The authors are Sandy Harrison and Douglas Kelley, of the University of Reading, in the UK. Kelley appears to have done his share of the work as a PhD student at Macquarie University in Australia.
Stephen Sarre, based at the University of Canberra in Australia, has made a career out of collecting and analyzing poop.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Part of his work is designed to answer a multi-million dollar question: Is Tasmania home to foxes, a pest that carries rabies and other diseases and can ravage local wildlife? According to the Australian news outlet ABC, the Tasmanian and Australian governments have spent $50 million (AUD) on hunting foxes on the island since 2001 — even though many have debated whether they are even there.
In 2012, after analyzing thousands of fecal samples, Sarre published a paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology which boldly claimed that “Foxes are now widespread in Tasmania.” But many outside researchers didn’t buy it, and quickly voiced their criticisms of the paper, namely that there may be problems with false positives and the methodology used to analyze the samples. Recently, the journal issued an expression of concern for the paper, citing an ongoing investigation into the allegations.
A former assistant professor at Montana State University who was fired last year is planning to sue the school for defamation, wrongful termination, and violation of due process.
Ryan Jones, a microbiologist, was forced to leave his tenure-track position — which was technically a one-year contract, so could be terminated before he had the opportunity to apply for tenure. The case highlights the insecurity of non-tenured academic jobs, an issue the planned suit is tackling head on. In addition to monetary damages, the lawsuit seeks to void all one-year contracts at Montana State, which can be terminated for any reason — a system that exists elsewhere in academia.
Jones told Retraction Watch that he believes he was forced out based on what he alleges are cooked-up charges of research misconduct — specifically, he brought back insect samples from the Amazon but didn’t fill out a permit:
A former University of Colorado Boulder graduate student is suing his ex-advisor for defamation after being shooed out midway through his doctoral program.
Robert Roscow says he had to leave CU Boulder’s department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBIO) in the fall of 2016 with only a master’s degree after fish evolution researcher David Stock dropped him as a student. Their relationship deteriorated following a dispute about whether another student should perform experiments Roscow considered to be essential to his dissertation.
Once dropped, Roscow was offered the chance to find another advisor, but never did. In his complaint, filed April 25 in Boulder County District Court, Roscow claims he has evidence that Stock “poisoned the well” by badmouthing him in email and in person to other professors, ultimately preventing Roscow from completing his degree.
As first reported by BusinessDen, Roscow is also suing CU Boulder for a breach of contract and for failing to “provide [him] with the reasonable opportunity to pursue his PhD,” among other allegations.
CU Boulder declined to elaborate on the case. Chief Spokesperson Ryan Huff told us:
Attorney Paul Thaler, who has handled cases involving scientific misconduct (but was not involved with this one), told Retraction Watch that the latest decision appears to be the end of a cautionary tale of how not to report misconduct.