Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Doctor's Data Inc. Uses Legal Threats to Silence Criticism

I know the title of this blog is "Silenced by Age of Autism", but I have, in the past, spoken up in defense of free speech in other venues, as well, such as Simon Singh's libel case in the U.K. and how the English libel laws affect everyone. The need has arisen, once more, to venture away from AoA's censorship and talk about another recent attempt to us litigation to silence critics. Please bear with me, as this is a long post.


Stephen Barrett, MD, the author of Quackwatch.com, is the latest target of what I consider to be frivolous lawsuits, the only purpose of which is to bully the target into silence. You see, Dr. Barrett has written several articles rather critical of a laboratory called Doctor's Data Inc. (DDI). DDI specializes in something called the "provoked urine test" for heavy metals, and the lab is used quite a bit by a variety of autism biomed doctors that support the mercury toxicity hypothesis for autism.

What is a "provoked urine test" for heavy metals? It involves giving the patient a chelating agent that binds to mercury and other heavy metals, then collecting urine samples following the administration of the chelator. DDI collects urine from about 90 minutes to 2 hours following administration, the peak time of activity for the chelator.

The standard of care for doing heavy metal toxicity testing is to do an unprovoked (meaning no chemical chelator administered) urine test (or blood test, depending on the metals of interest). Urine is collected over a period of 24 hours; all urine voided is collected into the same metal-free container so that a better idea of what the body is doing can be determined. So, what DDI is doing is not the standard of care.

Needless to say, they have a potentially rather significant financial interest in churning out test results that support the beliefs of their clients. Dr. Barrett's articles represent a direct threat to their bottom line by pointing out how their tests produce false data and potentially defraud patients. Specificallly, DDI has decided to take issue with Dr. Barrett's article "How the 'Urine Toxic Metals' Test Is Used to Defraud Patients", as well as six other articles.

Dr. Barrett has a discussion of the legal threats here. DDI claims that Dr. Barrett has "on a continuing basis, harmed Doctor's Data by transmitting false, fraudulent and defamatory information". Specifically, DDI demanded that Dr. Barrett:

cease and desist any and all comments regarding Doctor's Data, which have been and are false, fraudulent, defamatory or otherwise not truthful, and make a complete and full retraction of all statements you have made in the past, including those which have led in some instances to litigation. Such comments include, but are not limited to, those made in your article entitled, "How the 'Urine Toxic Metals' Test Is Used to Defraud Patients," which you authored and posted on Quackwatch.com. "The best evidence for reckless disregard," you have written, "is failure to modify where notified." Consider this notice to you that if you do not make these full and complete retractions within 10 days of the date of this letter, in each and every place in which you have made false and fraudulent, untruthful or otherwise defamatory statements, Doctor's Data will proceed with litigation against you and any organizations, entities and individuals acting in common cause or concert with you, to the full extent of the law, and will seek injunctive relief and monetary damages, both compensatory and punitive.

Dr. Barrett's reply asked for clarification of which parts of his article were "false, fraudulent or defamatory":

I take great pride in being accurate and carefully consider complaints about what I write. However, your letter does not identify a single statement by me that you believe is inaccurate or "fraudulent." The only thing you mention is my article about how the urine toxic metals test is used to defraud patients: (http://www.quackwatch.org/t). The article's title reflects my opinion, the basis of which the article explains in detail.

If you want me to consider modifying the article, please identify every sentence to which you object and explain why you believe it is not correct.

If you want me to consider statements other than those in the article, please send me a complete list of such statements and the people to whom you believe they were made.

DDI's law firm, Augustine, Kern and Levens, Ltd., apparently has not, as of today, specified which statements need to be changed.

This appears to me to be nothing more than a blatant attempt to use legal shenanigans to silence a critic, rather than demonstrating that their science and methods are sound. Such maneuvers stifle free inquiry and open scientific debate. In my opinion, when individuals or organizations take actions like this, they show themselves to be bankrupt of integrity and facts, and that they may possibly be engaging in dishonest behavior, at best, and illegal fraud at worst. As Orac notes in his discussion of this over at Respectful Insolence, "libel laws should be kept out of science".

I couldn't agree more.

If you would like to contribute to Dr. Barrett and Quackwatch's legal defense, please visit Quackwatch's donation page.

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in this post are my opinions and do not represent statements of fact. Further, these are my personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of my employers or others associated with me.

[In the interest of free and open discourse, I have asked Dr. Barrett for permission to post, in its entirety, his article "How the 'Urine Toxic Metals' Test Is Used to Defraud Patients". At this time, he prefers that the text not be copied.]

Addendum: I also noticed that DDI's initial complaint against Dr. Barrett accuses him of filing "false complaints at various government and regulatory agencies against Doctor's Data." It would seem from this that they might try to bring charges not only of libel, but also some manner of accusation of defrauding the government or anti-trust charges. I'm not a lawyer, though, so I'm not certain where such ideas may lead. If anyone knowledgeable of relevant law reads this and would like to speculate in the comments, please feel free to do so.

5 comments:

  1. People near the headquarters of the killer's attorneys in Chicago might wish to look them up and talk to them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Anonymous

    Unless you also provide a link showing that DDI is guilty of murder or manslaughter, please refrain from using inflammatory language like "killer" here.

    Also, I would suggest that readers support Dr. Barrett by contributing to his defense. Correspondence campaigns may backfire and make matters worse, or at least, more difficult.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The bit about "false complaints at various government and regulatory agencies" sounds to me like a reference to DDI's recent run-ins with authority. I find it strongly reminiscent of the groundless assertion that Bryan Deer was the complainant to the GMC. I believe DDI hopes, like Wakefield's apologists, to use a claim about the origins of charges to argue that said charges should be dismissed.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @David

    Possibly. However, another thought that occurred to me is that they are trying to establish that his articles were written with malicious intent.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Todd, I have a post up. The end of the post is a list of posts on the issue, including this one. http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2010/07/health-consumer-activist-subject-to-legal-threats.html.

    ReplyDelete

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