Thursday, 25 December 2014

Brian Leiter's Christmas Present: Threatening Colleagues with Defamation Suit for Signing "The September Statement" and Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkins with Exposure of Intimate Health Details

Remember The September Statement from earlier this year, signed by 648 academic philosophers in North America and elsewhere against Chicago philosopher and law professor Brian Leiter's unacceptable treatment of his UBC colleague Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkins, ending in Leiter's statement of resignation from the institutional ranking operation he had founded and coordinated up till then, the Philosophical Gourmet Report? If not, a recapture of some of the essential of this sad and disgraceful story is here (start at the bottom to get the adequate chronology). This detailed chronological account is also rewarding.

One would have thought that after this, Brian Leiter would prefer to lay dead and lick his wounds for a while, waiting for the memory of the scandal and his own disgrace to settle, and maybe find new pathways to having himself feel good about himself besides bullying and threatening (apparently mostly female) academic colleagues for one of the other, more or less fathomable, reason found by him to justify such behaviour. Maybe do something meriting a minimal portion of admiration and respect from academic colleagues, perhaps?

Not so at all.

As revealed on Christmas eve by Jonathan Ichikawa-Jenkins, Carrie's husband, Leiter has recently had a Canadian lawyer send a letter to them both, threatening with a defamation lawsuit unless they publicly post a "proposed statement" of apology to Leiter, with the specifically nasty ingredient of a specific threat that such a suit would imply " “a full airing of the issues and the cause or causes of [Carrie’s] medical condition;”. Moreover, the letter asks the Ichikawa-Jenkins to apologise not only for the personal declaration of professional ethos that made no mention of Brian Leiter whatsoever but that for some reason – to me still incomprehensible as long as a deeply suppressed guilty conscience or outright pathology is not pondered – to to be an attack on his person, but also for the actions of other people, such as this post at the Feminist Philosophers blog, and The September Statement itself – implying obviously that all the signatories to that statement would be in the crosshairs of professor Leiter. The full letter of the lawyer setting out these threats is here. The (expected) response from the Ichikawa-Jenkins' lawyer is here, stating the simple and obvious claim that all that's been publicly communicated on this matter – such as making public bullying emails of Leiter –  is protected by normal statutes of freedom of speech.

Following the quick uptake of this news, with comments by The Daily Nous, and Jon Cogburn pointing out the perversity of an academic promoting the abuses of free speech by UK libel law standards, Leiter has posted a comment of his own. He states that Jonathan Ichikawa-Jenkins' brief recapture of Leiter's lawsuit threatening letter is "misrepresenting" it, which – in want of any specifics from leiter's side – seems to mean not disclosing it in full (making every academic book, including Leiter's own works, commenting on the works of others into a "misrepresentation" as defined by Leiter himself). He moreover states that the Ichikawa-Jenkins's dismissal of his legal threat means that "we now have an effective admission by Jenkins and Ichikawa that they misled the philosophical community with their claims in the September Statement". The argument for this bizarre claim seems to be that their legal response is not responding to his lawyers' statement of the September Statement as factually inadequate. What Leiter forgets, however, is that this response is already all over the internet, in the form of Leiter's own emails and public remarks on this affair. On this matter, the onus is on Brian Leiter to prove that he hasn't as a matter of fact written or said the things attributed to him. All that remains beyond this, as noted by The Daily Nous, is apparently that Leiter wants to question that Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkins was as a matter of fact harmed by his behaviour towards her, conveniently forgetting that what his professional colleagues reacted against was his own unacceptable bullying behaviour, and the implications of having him getting away with such breeches from the position of power bestowed on him by being in charge of the PGR. As we now know, this assessment was shared by a sizable enough portion f the PGR advisory board to eventually produce the mentioned resignation of Leiter from his position of influence over this institution.

This utterly bewildering attempt by a philosphical academic at constructing an argument that wouldn't even pass for a 101 essay reminds somewhat of the attempt of Leiter to have me retract statements on my own blog that his harassment of Ichikawa-Jenkins was unprovoked. Apparently, Leiter believes that the fact that he feels something (such as provoked) implöies the existence of something (in this case a provocation) that justifies the behaviour he exhibits due to this feeling. Maybe it is the same thing going on with this lawsuit threatening business of his – since he feels he has the right to treat colleagues as pieces of crap when he feels like it, this is also "factually adequate"? Or maybe he just likes to annoy other people, who knows?

Brian Leiter ends his comment by clarifying ...

Legal remedies may yet be pursued against others among the original signatories and authors of the September Statement.  As I have remarked previously, I do not begrudge those who signed subsequently for doing so given the misleading statements that were presented to them.

As one of those subsequent signatories, I do wonder whether or not the implication that I didn't have the wits to check the relevant facts, such as Brian Leiter's own original bullying email to Carrie Ichikawa-jenkins, before signing could perhaps constitute libel. Perhaps me and the 647 others should open a class action defamation suit against Leiter for soiling our academic reputations by ill-meant slander? Or perhaps not. Perhaps we should stand by the minimal decency standard of civil academic discussion not to try to resolve either factual or normative disputes by threats of force towards opponents.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Special issue of Bioethics: Ethical Implications of New and Future Technical Developments in Prenatal Testing and Screening

One of  my core research fields over the years has been reproductive ethics, especially the ethics of genetic and reproductive technology. In my postdoc period, I published a study on the moral roots of prenatal diagnosis, followed by a number of further explorations of the ethics of reproductive technology, genetic testing and medical screening programmes in general. The last two years, this process has come full circle, due to new revolutionary technical developments regarding prenatal testing and related genetic analysis, and the last year or two, I have been busy presenting and discussing issues related to this several times with Swedish medical professional and medical ethical organisations and actors. In the spring of 2013, I was invited to present my views on this topic at a specially convened international symposium at the Brocher Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland. Out of that event now comes a full special issue on the ethical implications of new and future technical developments in prenatal testing and screening of the journal Bioethics, edited by Wybo Dondorp and Jan van Lith, of Maastricht and Leiden universities, respectively:

The content, of course, features a developed version of my talk at the Brocher meeting – A New Ethical Landscape of Prenatal Testing: Individualizing Choice to Serve Autonomy and Promote Public Health: A Radical Proposal – arguing that the technical advances of prenatal testing should herald the beginning of the end of of large societal prenatal screening programmes. But the issue also features a large number of other contributions from leading names in the field, e.g. Angus Clarke, Zuzana Deans, Ainsley Newson, Steve Wilkinson and Guido deWert, and the full table of content reads as follows: