Via crooked timber I learn that an Israeli academic, Karin Calvo-Goller, is suing South-African-born American academic Joseph Weiler for libel in a French court of law, for refusing to take down a book review written by German academic Thomas Weigend in a journal that is published by an English publisher.

The book review itself appears to be completely innocuous, although somewhat negative. To me this appears to be forum-shopping of the worst kind, and I'm horrified that an academic would treat a fellow academic in this way and that the French courts appear to be taking this seriously.

How can it be libel to review an academic work, however negatively or even inaccurately, as long as the review is written in good faith rather than introducing deliberate misreprentations and as long as it does not devolve to ad-hominem attacks? And how can it be possible to carry on the process of peer review when this threat of legal action looms over any honest evaluation?

To me, the correct response seems to be a response in kind to Wikipedia's policy on legal threats: immediate and total banishment from the community, in this case from the academic community. As long as Calvo-Goller continues to abuse the legal process in this way, she should be barred from submission of any academic work to any other peer-reviewed academic publication forum. Of course, the only way to enforce that is by decision of whoever controls each individual forum, but I can see no other way to preserve the integrity of the academic publication process: if we can't trust her to allow her works to be peer-reviewed, why should we peer-review them? And if they can't be peer-reviewed honestly (because any honest peer reviewer would have to live in fear of future legal action), how can they be published in a forum that claims to be peer-reviewed?


wierd! and messed up! and some countries have libel rules that i can't support. the united kingdom is one. maybe france is another. totally anti-academic. THAT'S WHAT A REVIEW IS: some jerk's opinion!
hey wow my post about her is #2 on her name in google. really? is that some feature localized to me? i don't really have that much google juice do i?
Wow. Google must love you. It's number 3 when I try it but that still seems way high.
mcfnord: libel in two sentences

Are you calling me overrated??? I'm gonna sue ur ass!

academics could all review her work online. who else would she sue? and is it reasonable behavior? i say no way, it represents a madness that you must transcend as an academic. a guy could say pretty much anything about your work, and once you flip out, you've left the democratic airspace. you could, optionally, rebut the complaints. "Doctor crazy is more like it,

11011110: Re: libel in two sentences
It's not the kind of career in which the thin-skinned typically thrive.

In a bizarre twist, I've been picked up by a spammer, pushing me to #1 for her name.

From the goog:

mcfnord: Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller is an enemy of free people ...This page provides information about 'mcfnord: Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller is an enemy of free people' on Broken Controllers. - 2 hours ago -

Brokencontrollers is some kind of hardware web spammer.


This sounds a lot like what Simon Singh is going through right now. I'm surprised they're not pursuing this in England considering how the libel laws work there, but maybe it's the same in France as well.

There is a big movement against libel in science, but it does really apply to all academic fields. You might be interested in getting involved.
Keep libel laws out of science


Thanks for both pointers. Although the stakes are different (criticising a single book vs a whole fringe industry) it otherwise does seem very similar — using libel laws to silence legitimate criticism.

The Sense about Science link calls it a "National Petition for Libel Law Reform" — is it UK-only, or international, do you know?

It's primary focus is on reforming the libel laws of England, but a lot of international claimants are finding excuses to file the libel claims in English court, even if neither side is directly tied to England, so there is significant international support for it.
None: Suing the conveyor

The thing that disturbs me most here is that the publisher, not the originator of the review gets sued. If there is a case for libel it should be against the author and not against the publisher.

The review is fairly negative and does paint the author of the book borderline incompetent. There are cases where reviews go too far and impune ones character unfairly. But even in that case the right response is to write a response to the review explaining what is troubling about the review rather the censure. Only if damage is done by collusion of author/publisher and fair minded rebuttals are blocked can I see a serious case for libel-like legal action.

In this case by the way the criticize author acts it really does appear that there is no good case and the author just tries to move aggressively to remove negative impressions that may well be justified!

One can but hope that the legal system recognizes this (if it's the case).

None: My Two Cents

I'm not a scientist or lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV...but clearly this is a case of yet another does-not-play-well-with-others child in adulthood (with PhD). Rather than duke it out via response and acrimonious counter-response in the appropriate forum (as equals, with qualified spectators to judge the outcome) the problem child, now problem adult forces the rest of the world to deal with his/her insufficient childhood socialization in the most expensive and least productive way possible.

The answer is clearly to apply the adult version of "if you can't play nice then just go home". Actually it's not even play nice, just play. Argue your own points instead of hiding behind a lawyer and placing the concept of expressing an opinion of another's work in the perilous hands of a French judge, or any other individual. Besides, I believe that a certain amount of verbal sparring is almost a requirement for scientific journals in order to shake the dust out and keep things interesting.