MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Today I would like to share with you an interesting little exchange that I had a few days ago on TWITTER. Someone who I perhaps should but did not know sent me the following tweet apparently ‘out of the blue’:

“…remember that asthma trial whose results you faked?”

It was clear that the study he referred to was our trial published in THORAX 12 years ago. I found this allegation so absurd that I re-tweeted his tweet, and a third party responded to him by asking: “any evidence for this?”

His answer: ” Yes, I was involved with the study which severely breached its protocols. It should have been abandoned not published”

My reply to this: “Involved as what? I do not recall any breach of protocol”

His next tweet: “Pity, I do. Maybe it’s because you only added your name to the paper”

My response: “Stop telling lies and find a good libel lawyer”

Over the years, I got used to all sorts of attacks, but I feel that this one is quite special. It accuses me first of faking research, then of breaching research protocols, and finally of false authorship of a research paper. To someone whose entire reputation relies on his credibility as a scientist, such very public and entirely false claims are, of course, hugely damaging. I asked myself: Is this libel? Is it defamation? Is it actionable?

Looking for answers, I found an interesting website which explains the relevant English law in some detail:

“A defamatory statement is one which is false and causes damage to a person’s reputation or otherwise does them harm. Libel is the term given to defamation in a permanent form such as in print…

For a person to bring a claim of defamation, the following must apply:

  • The statement has to have been made to somebody other than the claimant. It is not defamation if the statement is not heard by anyone but the claimant.
  • The statement has to be in words
  • The statement may damage the person’s reputation by making people who hear or read the statement think worse of them.
  • The statement may expose the claimant to contempt, disliking, hatred or ridicule.
  • The statement may cause the claimant to be shunned by society or avoided by people
  • The statement must be clearly applicable to the claimant, although they do not necessarily have to be named (e.g. “the head of London Metropolitan Police Force” would be sufficient without explicitly naming the claimant).
  • If someone claims that a person has made defamatory statements about them, the onus is on the person who made the statements to prove that the statements are true.”

Subsequently, I tried to find out the identity of my attacker. He is Tony Pinkus who turns out to be the director of Ainsworth Homeopathic Pharmacy, 36 New Cavendish St  London W1G 8UF. This fact makes my little exchange much more interesting and exciting. In my view, it begs the following questions:

  • Should I ask Ainsworth for an apology?
  • Or Pinkus?
  • Or perhaps I should sue Ainsworth for libel?
  • Or Pinkus?
  • Or should I sue both?

Not being a lawyer, I wonder whether any of my readers might advise me. In addition, I will send this post to Ainsworth and will keep you posted about their reply.

21 Responses to AINSWORTH HOMEOPATHIC PHARMACY: defamation or libel?

  • A screen shot of the Twitter exchange can be seen here.

  • I can’t give legal advice but I do wonder why a person like Pinkus, who has no understanding of science, was supposedly involved in your research? Browsing his website only shows bizarre forms of alt-med, including the primary delusion of homeopathy. Since the Australian example of finding no credibility with homeopathy, is Pinkus trying to shore up a sinking ship by going on the attack at a credible scientist?
    ~
    This is very strange.

    • if I remember correctly, ainsworths/pinkus provided the study medication.as such, he might have seen the study protocol and the final draft of the paper [without any right to input, of course]

  • In the interests of free speech I am uneasy about the use of libel laws unless there is clear material damage to the victim. In this case I think it is sufficient to brand Pinkus as a liar and a rather disreputable purveyor of snake oil.

    Certainly both Pinkus and Ainsworh should retract the lie and apologise. Not doing so should be widely advertised.

    • let’s see whether they do apologise.

    • I have some sympathy with that view, Acleron, but I also think that those who make these evidence-free slurs could benefit from being taught a lesson. Perhaps Pinkus could make a substantial and prominent donation to the Good Thinking Society JustGiving Appeal?

      • good idea! I would certainly consider this as an option.

        • If you were to consider it. from my very limited understanding of the law you would need to be careful how you proposed this: apparently, if it was done in any way that suggested that you were implying “donate ***** to ***** or I’ll sue”, it could be construed as attempted blackmail.

    • I couldn’t disagree more. Libelous and slanderous statements are not protected forms of speech nor should they be given any consideration under the pretense of enhancing or protecting free speech.

      Given that Mr. Pinkus’ assertions were made on the Internet … a medium which makes it nearly impossible to “recall” the assertions once they are made … I think a legal action is definitely worth consideration.

      I recommend getting a consultation from a reputable law firm. If there is no case, they’ll say so.

  • This is a very serious allegation which may be libellous and should be treated as such.
    An apology will not do as such has no value and does not compensate for the harm done to Edzard Ernst’s reputation.
    Unless Mr. Pinkus wrote as a representative of Ainsworth’s it is him personally who is in the frame.

    I am also worried about to whom else he may have made these allegations over the years. Perhaps some of the personalities in Edzard’s recent book?

    A suit in libel is the only way to ensure Mr. Pinkus does not repeat these allegations (unless he can substantiate them), and makes recompense for that which he has done to date.

    He can of course challenge that the research was not properly conducted and enter into scientific discourse about outcomes and conclusions – but that is not what he has done.

    Sally Morgan is a spirit medium who claims to be able to receive ‘messages from those on the other side’.
    Two ladies sat at the rear of one of her shows and hearing a conversation which appeared to be on a radio link between assistants and Morgan, reported to the Daily Mail. Finding evidence that Morgan had a radio earpiece, the Daily Mail published an article exposing the system with commentary from Paul Zenon (like myself, a member of the Magic Circle).

    The suit was settled out of court (£100,000) because the Mail/Zenon had no defence.
    In English libel law it is up to those making statements to prove the case. Morgan needed to say nothing – and she didn’t.
    (Also magician James Randi has ‘exposed’ a system used by spititual healer Peter Popoff).

    So either Mr Pinkus can back up what he has alleged with evidence – in which case Edzard must retire forthwith – or he cannot. In which case Mr. Pinkus will settle immediately.

    Surely amongst us is a lawyer who can help Edzard with a simple letter? Can Simon Singh advise?

  • Why would this man make such an accusation? (See? that’s why–to plant seeds of doubt. Why would such a thing be said if there isn’t some bit of truth to it wonders the casual reader). It doesn’t matter if such things are true or not; it’s out there now and he hopes it will circulate and “go viral”.

    That’s my take on it anyway, but by all means, consult lawyers (and Simon Singh).

  • I think your best first port of call would be Simon Singh. A clever man with an understanding of the legalities and personal experience.

  • THANKS ALL FOR COMMENTS AND ADVICE.
    as promised, here is an update:
    I did send an email to Ainsworths and asked them to answer the questions posed in my blog. so far, I did not get a reply.
    I have decided that I am most unlikely to sue them – but an apology would be in order. so herewith I invite Ainsworths and Pinkus to do the decent thing and apologise.

    • Edzard, an apology will not resolve anything.
      You have been libelled. By Mr Pinkus, not Ainsworth’s.
      He must enter into serious undertakings to withdraw and not to repeat his allegation.
      A simple letter from a lawyer is the least which can be done when dealing with people we know to be economical with the truth. It might suffice. If not, you should seek the protection of the law.

      Or,is there something in what Pinkus alleges?

      • there is certainly no truth in Pinkus’ allegation [as I said before] but I find life too short to engage in a legal battle. if he does not apologise, at least he is publicly shamed for his actions.

        • “Let nothing go by default.”
          There will be no ‘legal battle’ if he responds by withdrawing his allegations and undertakes never to repeat them.
          Otherwise we have his allegations left standing – and that is harmful to your reputation.
          A simple letter from a lawyer should suffice.
          Pinkus will not want to go to law anymore than you do, but making allegations such as these about a professor of high repute without being able to substantiate them is surely libellous and must be taken seriously.
          Best wishes.
          Keep taking the remedies!

      • There is nothing in the Pinkus allegation. When challenged to provide evidence, nothing was produced.

        I applaud Prof Ernst’s stance. Much as we could like to watch a bloodsport from a safe distance the stress, strain and cost is just not worth the candle. Most deplored the court case by the chiropractors against Simon Singh, he won but lost two years which could have been devoted to better things.

        • At the end of the day, it’s all about the cost-benefit ratio of the outcomes. The cost includes not just current financial and credibility aspects, but also their long-term effects.

          There is no way that Pinkus’ accusation can possibly undermine the plethora of evidence-based works by Professor Ernst nor undermine his long-term credibility. Pinkus instantly discredited himself, and has subsequently served to further discredit the reputation of Ainsworth in the eyes of its customers, onlookers, the ASA, and Trading Standards.

          Similarly, Prince Charles has done much to undermine his own credibility by his pathetic, wholly inept, attempts to dismiss the works and ridicule the reputation of Professor Ernst.

  • I understand entirely your reluctance to engage in a time-consuming, expensive and stressful process which can, at best, result in the pre-libel status quo being restored.

    However, not taking legal action means that the lie stays out there and will no doubt be repeated in future, becoming part of anti-science discourse: “Professor Ernst was accused of… It’s interesting to note that he declined to challenge this in a court of law” etc. I’d also worry about a precedent. If no action is taken this time then it may embolden others to act in a similar way.

    It’s an unenviable position for you; you have my sympathy.

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