Re: An appeal to the moderators 26 October 2004
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Brian T Foley,
HIV Researcher
Los Alamos National Lab, Los Alamos, NM 87545

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Re: Re: An appeal to the moderators

James I Madigan wrote:
“…
I note in the conditions of this forum that the BMJ stipulates that it will not post responses which are libellous or gratuitously rude.
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The laws on libel and slander stipulate that the statements made must be false statements. If person A claims that person B told a lie, or person A calls person B a liar, it is considered libel (written statements) or slander (spoken statements) only if person B was in fact telling the truth and not telling lies.

Rudeness is a bit more subjective. Some of the statements here may seem a bit impolite, but this whole discussion pales in comparison to the real effects that the “dissidents” have had on the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. It has been estimated that over 40,000 infants have been infected with HIV-1 subtype C in South Africa each year from 2001 to 2004 [1] while the government slowly begins to decide whether to use the cheapest and easiest prevention method (single-dose nevirapine) or perhaps more expensive and effective regimens for the prevention of mother to infant transmissions. Viruses kill people, often after long periods of suffering. Words printed here only slightly injure egos.

James I Madigan wrote:
“…
Having read quite a few of the responses here, I have not read a single “HIV establishment” supporting response that did not contain blatant insults to the “dissenting” poster they were responding to. Insults range from snide ridicule to calling people liars and fools, and even as I recall, insinuating that they are killers. Even relatively mild examples like the use of words like “laughable” or “don’t seem to understand what they are reading” etc are unnecessary and inflammatory. Conversely I have not seen any such insults in responses from dissenters, though I have not read anywhere near all of the 600-odd pages of responses. With due respect, it seems a pity to me that the BMJ is so lenient in its interpretation of its own rules. I would not be at all surprised if this page were one of the most visited on the whole BMJ website, but in any case it can’t be very good for its image for the public to see the offensive tone of these posts.
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These posts contain very mild language, compared to what some relatives of infected infants might wish to say to those who have attempted to prevent the distribution or use of antiretroviral drugs in South Africa.

James I Madigan wrote:
“…
More importantly, such insults have a very bad effect on scientific discourse, tending to put those attacked on the defensive and to intimidate participants about making a single mistake or saying anything that will support the position of the “other side”, and to create hostility. A true scientific debate is objective and problem solving, and definitely not a competition between two “sides”.
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The confusion comes from misinterpreting this web page as a “scientific” debate. Science, courts of law, and other forums have rules and laws about telling lies, and penalties for those who break the rules or laws. On the internet, in many forms of politics, and in these rapid responses, there are few rules and no penalties. Lies, except those which would be libel, can be freely told here.

James I Madigan wrote:
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Scientists (as I’m sure you know but we should never stop reminding ourselves) should only take the side of the truth, and put that ahead of their egos, their incomes or their pet theories.
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Agreed.

References:

1: http://www.aegis.com/news/pr/1999/PR990901.html

Competing interests: None declared