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April 26, 2007

Wiley & Sons sics lawyers on science blogger

On Tuesday, Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle took a closer look at a study of the effects of ethanol on free-radical-scavenging power of strawberries and blackberries.

The BBC had summarized the results as follows: Alcohol makes fruit healthier.

As Shelley explained, the findings didn't quite match the headlines. The study was about the relative power of ethanol to preserve fruit over 1-2 weeks, not specifically about the nutritional benefits of consuming berries with booze.

In her post, Shelley reproduced some of the figures from the journal article. Almost immediately, lawyers for publisher Wiley & Sons threatened her with legal action if she didn't take down the figures.

This bit of corporate bullying is causing quite a stir in among science bloggers.

Orac and Chris have good posts on journal data and fair use in scientific discourse.

Update: Wiley & Sons caves, apologizes for "misunderstanding," blames episode on underling!


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It should be noted that the company has backed down and Shelly is asking no more emails be sent to the person involved.

A commenter on her blog points out that boosting anti-oxidants doesn't necessarily produce better health:

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that antioxidants provide any health benefits at all. A recent JAMA article showed that supplemental antioxidants actually increased mortality.

Posted by: daedalus2u | April 25, 2007 03:01 PM

So firstly, there is no evidence from that study that adding alcohol to fruit right before eating it boosts the effect of anti-oxidants. Secondly, even if it did, so what?

if, as the company stated in an email to Shelly that it was mistake on the part of an inexperienced or junior staffer, why would such a person have the say so to start leagal action?

Shellp posted the email:

Hey, isn't that pic from Kem Ham's Creation Museum?

Greensmile, no one initiated a legal action. They sent a letter threatening it, which I'm guessing was just a form cease & desist letter. These letters often give inexpert readers the impression that they're legal documents with some sort of special legal effect, but they're not, other than that if you are infringing, you're unlikely to be able to claim ignorance after you've gotten a letter about it.

C&D letters are a form of intimidation, as Lindsay and others point out. Sometimes it's intimidation backed up by willingness to litigate and/or a correct reading of the law. Sometimes, not so much.

A happy ending, and Majikthise's first (insanely fab) picture of the Doctor? Strawberry daquiris all around!

Seeing as how one can buy practically any journal article online now without having to subscribe to the journal, it would be kind of nuts to prohibit bloggers from spreading teasers around.

Blackberries: I don't think there's any question whatsoever that blackberries are the actual food of the gods. Eating blackberries is a solemn act of worship.

Thanks for blogging this, support much appreciated. :)

Thanks for posting this. Just exactly the kind of blogger work that makes a difference. :-)

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