Friday, 15 February 2013

Law and logic

I just heard of a new case of a publisher (actually several) threatening another librarian with a defamation and libel suit.  See

The very first paragraph of meaning (after all the preamble of introductions), they claim:
By placing all four of our client's companies on your "list", you have published facts about these companies, by claiming that each and every company is a potential, possible or probable predatory scholarly open-access publisher.  These statements are false, in that our client's companies are not, in fact, predatory publishers.
 Is it me, or are they trying to claim that the four companies in question are BY DEFINITION not predatory?  In essence  that's what these words say to me.  They are saying that it is false that each company is a possible predatory publisher, among other things.  By saying this, they are saying that it is not possible that they are, meaning that, in all possible worlds, Redfame Publishing, for example, is never predatory.  They are claiming logical necessity or an analytical truth, or that these companies are, by definition, not predatory.  I would love to watch the legal proceedings in that case.

Now I know that legal terms are not always to be understood by their proper non-legal definitions, and lawyers are certainly not philosophers or logicians.  But at some point, "The Law" needs to follow some basic logical rules.  You can say that things are not possible simply because the current incarnation is so, unless you're talking about one plus one equaling two, or all bachelors being unmarried.  What I think they really should be calling foul on is the SUGGESTION that these claimed possibilities are indeed facts.  If my name gets put on a list of possible ax murderers, I'm not going to say that couldn't possibly be an ax murderer (although I do not own an ax) since I may go completely insane tomorrow and visit Canadian Tire's ax aisle.  What I will complain is that such a list may make people think that there's some good reason for being afraid of my ax-wielding future endeavours because of this list.

If such a case is allowed to be successfully argued, can we even use the term "possible" anymore?  Everything lies in the realm of possibility to some degree until certainty is achieved.  What we usually mean by "possible" is that we have some reason to believe that this might be the case BUT there are not enough facts to even be practically and publicly certain.  The argument against even the common understanding of "possibility" needs to be on the criteria for making such a judgement.  (Of course, the letter barely mentions these criteria, only arguing that the number suggests lack of justification.  And nowhere does it take to task these criteria specifically.)

(Here's the Scholarly Open Access site itself, complete with blog and the offending lists.  Arm yourself with knowledge.)

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