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Nature journal wins libel case, highlights holes in UK defamation law

A three-year long libel case brought against a science journal has been dismissed, in a move that highlights the need for a public interest clause in UK defamation law to protect the free press.

"The judgment is an important victory for free speech, and is a shot in the arm for the public interest defence of qualified privilege," said Niri Shan, the solicitor who represented Nature and its associated parties.

"Having said that, the fact that the claimant was able to bring this matter to trial highlights the urgent need for libel reform in the area of science reporting, as the law, as it currently stands, is stifling scientific debate."

Mohamed El Naschie, former editor of the Chaos, Solitons and Fractals (CSF) journal, brought the case against Nature after it published a story about his retirement that included details of how he used the journal to self-publish papers that had not been subject to peer review.

After reviewing the evidence -- including communication between Nature and individuals working in the field, who repeatedly referred to El Naschie's papers as poor quality -- Justice Sharp found the article to be "substantially true". She confirmed that it was "of the highest public interest" that scientific journals adhere to ethical guidelines, such as peer review, and ruled in favour of Nature's Reynolds privilege for responsible journalism defence.

In her ruling, Justice Sharp wrote: "the Claimant ought to have run CSF in a way which promoted and safeguarded the integrity of the academic record. Instead he was substantially concerned with promoting himself and his theories."

"It is apparent that [he] had little if any interest in the norms of scientific publishing or the ethical considerations which underpinned them."

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