Bioethics Blogs

Be Wary What You Research: You Might Get Sued

by Craig M. Klugman, Ph.D.

Peter Cohen, Clayton Bloszies, Caleb Yee and Roy Gerona published an article in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis in April 2015 explaining the results of their testing of supplements. The researchers found that a compound, BPMEA, appeared in nearly half the supplement brands they examined and since neither the FDA (supplements are not currently under the purview of the FDA because they are not food products nor are they medications) nor the European Drug Agency has found BPMEA safe for human consumption, no one should purchase these supplements.

The result? Cohen and his colleagues were sued by Hi-Tech pharmaceuticals for libel and defamation of their products. Cohen et al won because the truth (i.e. facts) are a defense and thus are not libel under a lawsuit. Winning, however, was not the aim of the suit. The goal was that “the long and costly legal battle will scare away other academics from investigating the supplement industry.” The CEO of Hi-Tech is also counting on President-elect Trump carrying through on his promise to “open up” libel laws so that the truth is no longer a defense.

From an academic and scientific perspective, this is the equivalent of Galileo being forced to recant that the Earth revolved around the sun because such “heresy” violated belief. For decades now, what gets researched has been heavily influenced by what gets funded. If there is no money to look at a topic, then it is difficult for it to be studied. Thus, funders have been able to control, to some extent, the subjects of scientific study.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.