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To "Stifle Science"

Lawsuits are having a stifling effect on some research areas, writes Indiana University School of Medicine's Aaron Carroll at the New York Times.

For instance, he notes that Harvard Medical School's Pieter Cohen became embroiled in a lawsuit after replicating parts of a US Food and Drug Administration study of a stimulant. Like the FDA, Cohen found the stimulant to be present in many types of supplements, but that there was limited research on its effect in humans. Carroll writes that the FDA then told manufacturers to remove the stimulant, which led one to sue Cohen for libel.

In a recent commentary in JAMA Internal Medicine, Carroll, Cohen, and the University of Michigan Law School's Nicolas Bagley write that the goal of suing researchers "is to intimidate" and, often, silence them. A fear of being sued, they add, could dissuade researchers, particularly ones just starting out, from pursuing certain research questions.

"In general, however, the courtroom is not the place to resolve scientific disputes," the trio writes in JAMA Internal Medicine. When there are true concerns over a paper's methods or errors, those can be addressed through established channels at the journals and institutions, they add.

They further call on the courts to discourage such lawsuits from being brought.