Nature has finally won its court case against Mohamed El Naschie, see here. This was based on a 2008 Nature story by Quirin Schiermeier, which during the case was removed from the Net, but now is back up. The court found that this article was accurate, not libelous. I had talked to Schiermeier and was accurately quoted in the article. Over the past couple years, I’ve heard a few times from Nature‘s lawyers that the case was in progress, but didn’t know the details. The court judgement has full details, and is kind of interesting reading, it’s available here (thanks to Hamish Johnston for pointing me to this).
I first came across El Naschie when a commenter back in May 2005 mentioned his papers here. It was immediately clear that the journal El Naschie was editing for Elsevier was highly problematic, and surprising that they hadn’t done anything about it long ago. From the court documents it seems that they finally realized how much damage it was doing to their reputation and decided to shut it down, giving notice to El Naschie in June 2007. By then, much of the damage was done. If you talk to mathematicians who support the Elsevier boycott, the story of this journal is one that gets mentioned often as evidence for just how bad Elsevier’s policies have been. It was the Elsevier problem that immediately caught my attention when I took a look at the journal and responded to the 2005 comment.
Neil Turok was brought in for the job of evaluating El Naschie’s papers, and you can read the results in the court judgement. Perhaps the most striking thing about all this is not the weird El Naschie story or the problematic Elsevier story, but that it brings serious discredit to the British court system. This is a case that should have quickly been thrown out by any reasonable judicial system. Instead the defendant was forced to devote huge resources in terms of money and time to mount a defense. Many are pointing out that only a large corporate organization like Nature can afford to do this.
Update: There’s an excellent piece in Nature this week by Quirin Schiermeier, the reporter who wrote the article about El Naschie that led to the lawsuit. While supported by Nature, he had to devote a great deal of time and energy to the suit, and he makes clear the intimidating effect on accurate reporting that the British libel system imposes, with effects reaching well beyond British borders.