Dr Lionel Milgrom is a well-known writer on homeopathy, especially in his ongoing efforts to use the outward form of academic writing (lists of qualifications, footnotes, etc) to promote homeopathy as having a scientific basis (in quantum physics) and as a useful intervention in primary health care.
I have previously been skeptical and mildly critical of Dr Milgrom in this enterprise, see my blogpost here.
However, as I am not a scientist (or "IANAS"), it was not for me to directly critique Dr Milgrom's rather ambitious claims or his credibility as a scientific scholar.
But Dr Milgrom has now ventured, it would seem, into legal scholarship.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine has published an article by Lionel R. Milgrom PhD, MARH, MRHom, FRSC, entitled:
CAM, Free Speech, and the British Legal System: Overstepping the Mark?
The introduction to the article is here. I also have been provided with a pdf of the original article by two kind sources.
With this seeming venture into legal scholarship, Dr Milgrom has made it possible for one to assess his basic competence as a scholar.
By basic competence, I mean an ability to correctly state the relevant facts and materials, and an ability to properly use footnotes, sources, and evidence.
First, the title and the content of both the abstract and the article affirm this article is intended to be taken seriously as a contribution to the discussion of law.
(Indeed he expressly states in the abstract that he is examining defamation law and freedom of expression, and is exploring the ramifications of the tension between the two.)
However, one must quickly note even with the title that there is no such thing as a British legal system; what Dr Milgrom is seeking to discuss is the English law of libel (shared only with Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legal systems).
Moving on from the title, we come to the initial sentence of the abstract:
"The British Chiropractic Association recently won a libel case against the science writer and CAM "skeptic" Dr Simon Singh for publishing an article in a British newspaper in which he accused them of promoting "bogus" treatments."
This is, of course, factually incorrect.
The BCA has not won a libel case.
However, sometimes abstracts can be hasty summaries, and so we should look at what the article actually says on this point.
After setting out (in a significantly incorrect way, as we will see below) the legal case of the BCA, Dr Milgrom writes:
"The judge agreed with this argument, awarding the BCA substantial damages."
This is more incorrect than the statement in the abstract, and it is wrong in that:
- there has not been an award of substantial damages;
- there has not been an award of any damages;
- there has not been the award of any legal remedy;
- there has not been a judgment of the court which would give rise to the award of any legal remedy;
- there has not even been a full trial of the case for which there can be a judgment;
- a full trial has not even been listed; and
- the case is still at the preliminary stage, which is adjourned pending the outcome of Simon Singh's appeal of the ruling on meaning.
As Dr Milgrom's factual assertion here is a basis of his article, then his error rather undermines the article as a whole.
However, Dr Milgrom did not just make this careless factual error, he rested it on the authority of a footnote.
The footnote purports to be a British Chiropractic Association online document and this URL is given.
As you will see, the URL does not lead to any particular press release, but the BCA's press release on the ruling in the preliminary hearing is here.
You will see that the BCA press release states that the case is ongoing, the the trial is yet to be concluded, and that the ruling was on meaning.
You will also note that there is no mention of damages, let alone substantial damages. Although the press release itself contains errors, it is either correct or silent on the points which relate to Dr Milgrom's assertion.
So Dr Milgrom's entirely incorrect factual statement is attributed in a (vague) footnote to a source which in turn does not support and actually counters the statement made.
And, in addition to this crucial error, the remainder of the article contains a number of mistakes.
One example is the supposed description of the BCA's case which precedes the howler about substantial damages.
Here Dr Milgrom writes:
"...the BCA went to court, arguing that the term "bogus" constituted a slur on the character of chiropractors, because it implies chiropractors are knowingly mendacious".
This is incorrect, for if the BCA had adopted this stance the libel claim could not have even been launched.
The BCA's case is (necessarily) that Simon Singh defamed the BCA itself. The BCA is a legal person as a corporation and, as such, has a reputation which can be protected by the English law of libel.
If Simon Singh was instead attacking chiropractic generally, and his "slur" was against unnamed and unidentifiable chiropractors, then the BCA would not actually have a case to bring.
Indeed, Dr Milgrom has (unwittingly) set out one part of Simon Singh's defence: that the meaning of the original Guardian article does not defame the BCA.
Dr Milgrom's other mistakes in this four page article include repeatedly confusing the law of defamation with the law of privacy; incorrectly stating that privacy law may lead a court to impose "severe financial penalties" - even though penalties are matters for criminal and regulatory law, and not the laws of privacy and libel; wrongly stating four senior barristers to be High Court judges (including Simon Singh's own QC); and even implying that the BCA case itself is a privacy case.
One can only speculate as to why Dr Milgrom wrote and submitted such a thoroughly inaccurate and unscholarly article purporting to be a scholarly discussion of the tension caused by defamation law and of its ramifications.
It is also disappointing and concerning that the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine allowed such an article to be published without basic fact checking or, it would seem, arranging adequate peer review by anyone familiar with the legal case being discussed or having an elementary understanding of English defamation law.
But, whatever the motives and practices which led to this article being placed into the public domain, it serves in my view to discredit the scholarly pretensions of Dr Lionel Milgrom and the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
As always, please use a name; purely anonymous comments will not be published.