PubPeer Pushes Back

The founders of the post-publication peer review website file a motion to quash an academic’s subpoena for user information.

Dec 11, 2014
Tracy Vence

FLICKR, BRIAN TURNER

In October, Wayne State University pathologist Fazlul Sarkar brought a lawsuit against users of the post-publication peer review website PubPeer, who allegedly disseminated defamatory statements about the scientist in anonymous comments. In addition, Sarkar and his lawyer subpoenaed identifying information on these users from the site’s founders.

This week, PubPeer pushed back with a motion to quash the subpoena. “The First Amendment protects this information from disclosure, and good cause exists to quash the subpoena,” the post-publication peer review website’s founders and their counsel wrote in a motion filed yesterday (December 10) with Michigan’s Wayne County Circuit Court.

Among other things, in the motion PubPeer argued that Sarkar “failed to plead verbatim the allegedly defamatory words in their proper context,” and noted that none of the anonymous comments that allegedly cost Sarkar a job were defamatory or actionable.

In an opinion piece at Wired, PubPeer’s founders wrote that while the First Amendment right to anonymous speech is not absolute, “it protects those who choose to remain anonymous when engaging in lawful speech.” They added that the outcome of this first legal case brought against the website could have lasting effects on academic freedom.