Slate scrubs article by U of M bioethicist after lawsuit threat

carl elliott.jpg
Carl Elliott says his article was unjustly scrubbed from Slate.
Dr. Carl Elliott, a bioethics professor at the University of Minnesota, has found himself caught in the middle of a fight between a controversial stem-cell company executive and Slate magazine.

Elliott wrote a commentary for Slate called "The Celltex Affair." The subject of the article was Glenn McGee, an executive at a company called Celltex and the one-time editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Bioethics. Elliott argued that McGee's dual appointments were a conflict of interest.

That is, until Slate abruptly scrubbed the piece from its website, writing, "We withdraw the article and apologize to Dr. Glenn McGee." Elliott says his piece came down after McGee threatened Slate with a lawsuit.

"Everything in my article had been reported elsewhere," says Elliott. "Why Glenn McGee picked the Slate piece to fire a threat to, I don't know."

Celltex, a Texas-based company, has been on the bioethics radar for some time now. In an investigation by the science journal Nature, the company was accused of providing adult stem-cell injections to patients in Texas for the purpose of treating conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's. Those kinds of treatments are not yet legal in the U.S.

When McGee announced in December of 2011 that he was taking an executive position at Celltex, bioethicists raised the red flag. While he assured everyone that he would leave the American Journal of Bioethics on March 1, his critics charged him with using both titles during the overlap.

Elliott raised the issue in his piece, which went live on Slate on February 17. 

On February 27, both Elliott and Plotz received a threatening letter from attorneys for McGee charging defamation (read the letter and specific charges of inaccuracy here), and demanding a retraction by the end of business on February 28. Elliott says that the threat of a lawsuit -- not inaccurate reporting -- is the reason his article came down.

"There were a few easily correctable errors in the piece having to do with the address of the journal and an interpretation of the Scientific American articles," says Elliott. "Their concern didn't seem to be how to fix the errors, it was how to we satisfy Glenn McGee and avoid getting sued."

Elliott says he argued for some time with Slate, but ultimately the entire article was replaced with a note from Slate editor David Plotz:

On Feb. 17, 2012, Slate published an article titled "The Celltex Affair: An Ethics Scandal Strikes the World of Bioethics." Because of shortcomings in the editorial process, the article did not meet Slate's standards for verification and fairness and should not have been published. We withdraw the article and apologize to Dr. Glenn McGee.

Almost an hour after Slate yanked the piece and apologized, McGee tweeted that he was resigning at Celltex:

Elliott responded to each of McGee's specific charges, point-by-point. Read his argument here.

Of Slate, Elliott says, "I got the impression that they really didn't know the material that they were editing, to be honest."

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2 comments
Chris
Chris

Seriously, bioethics?....So many diseases, deformities, etc run rampant in our society because their is no natural selection. Things like stem-cell research and genetic engineering are the only things that are going to save humanity from a degrading genetic profile.

Genetic engineering is necessary for the future of our species. 

Glenn McGee
Glenn McGee

The implication that I resigned the same day as the retraction is false.  The claim that Slate was terrified into retraction by a two-person law firm in Austin is hilarious.  The notion that Elliott answered the claims made regarding his many falsehoods, or (what he doesn't mention to you) disclosed his conflict of interest (having been called a "drug mule" in the journal I had edited (in a peer reviewed article to which he replied most viciously toward the editors)) is amazing. Any honest reader paying any attention to his answers to the critical questions would come to the conclusion that his answers were spin and bullshit - and more important, he doesn't answer most of the questions. Dodge, spin, evade, counter-thrust.  This is all a game to Carl, who tweets a new and usually libelous statement most every day (usually using his class' twitter account to do so).  This isn't the last retraction that will be coming, but Carl's is the most important. His lies formed the core of a dozen articles, many of whom ironically praised him for his careful research.  And as to massive pressure, you decide: Slate was asked to retract, days went by without an acknowledgement, and then I personally asked an attorney to help me present these claims to Slate.  I do not believe that an attorney's request for a retraction is unusual.  In fact I'm told that no one would ever make such a request without one, because after all the accusation of libel is a LEGAL one.   So, one more time, how did we come to the conclusion that the mighty Washington Post did no due diligence, ignored Elliott's "honesty", believed it would lose a lawsuit against a public figure whose burden to prove libel was VERY high, and so pulled the piece for reasons that it would have had to LIE about, in its own magazine?  Fear of the mighty two person firm in Austin whose record asking for such retractions, to the best of my knowledge, is non-existent?  I'll give Carl this: he is the most *creative* liar I've ever known.  In three days he's turned the most embarrassing abuse of the responsibility of bioethicists when writing in major journals into a claim about how the mighty hero was crushed by Goliath.  Admit it - it's creative.

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