Dear tech and legal journalists: the underlying dispute in the DMCA case is neither unsavory nor petty

Access is denied notice on a notebook

Dear tech and legal journalists,

In January of this year, I filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in an attempt to protect my blog, The Skeptical OB, from being hounded off the web by someone who doesn’t like what I have to say, and who was raising money and soliciting followers in an express attempt to do just that.

I had no idea that abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was a topic of profound interest in both the tech and legal communities and therefore I was quite surprised to see the case reported in these venues. I am very grateful that others recognize the potential for abuse of the DMCA, but I’m a bit concerned that many have dismissed the underlying issue as unsavory or petty. It is anything but.

I’ll concede that the proximate cause of the lawsuit, the picture of the finger seen round the world is both unsavory and petty, but that should not confuse people. The underlying dispute is about censorship, whether purveyors of pseudoscience should be allowed to censor critics when they cannot counter the scientific evidence that the critics present.

I’m a Harvard educated, Harvard trained obstetrician gynecologist who has spent my entire professional life attempting to ensure safe childbirth for babies and women. I am a respected expert on the issue of homebirth, writing for, and The New York Times among other places, and quoted widely.

I am very effective at what I do; it’s not that hard to be effective when the scientific evidence is on your side. I merely present it in a way that lay people can understand. And in doing so, I threaten a multimillion dollar industry of childbirth paraprofessionals such as homebirth midwives, doulas and childbirth educators.

The scientific evidence on safe childbirth is so clear that no professional homebirth advocates would dare debate me in an open forum, despite multiple offers on my part to do so. Rather, they have attempted to censor me.

As far back as 2007 doulas and homebirth organizations sent multiple complaints to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine (they were dismissed), and as recently as within the past several months, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has received multiple letters from homebirth activists demanding that I not be allowed to speak at a forthcoming ACOG district conference where I am a featured speaker.

While my experience may be the first time that a homebirth critic has been targeted, this is hardly a unique experience for those who fight to correct the misinformation of people who profit from pseudoscience. From Simon Singh, PhD, a critic of chiropractic who was sued for libel, to Dr. Paul Offit, who has tenaciously countered the misinformation of the anti-vaccination lobby and has required a bodyguard for protection from threats against his life, physicians and scientists who debunk pseudoscientific misinformation with scientific evidence routinely face efforts at censorship.

When it comes to the misinformation from the homebirth lobby that threatens the lives of babies and mothers, I’ve found that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Exposing the deaths of babies at homebirth, the efforts of homebirth midwives to escape culpability for injuries and deaths and the misinformation that leads women to choose homebirth in the first place, I’ve found that there is no better antidote than scientific evidence.

My critics obviously agree that there is no better antidote than scientific evidence. That’s why they can’t debate me and why they want to silence me instead. One homebirth activist hit upon filing multiple false DMCA notices against me as a tool for censoring me from the internet. If an activist can do that to me, what’s to stop purveyors of pseudoscience from attempting to use the DMCA to shut down the free flow of information about climate change or evolution? Nothing, unfortunately.

Don’t be fooled by an obscene photograph. This isn’t about a personal dispute and this isn’t about homebirth. It’s hard to debate when science isn’t on your side; how much easier then to censor instead.