Nature wins libel battle with Egyptian physicist

A former journal editor has lost his libel claim against the journal Nature over an article reporting allegations that he had abused his position to publish numerous self-authored papers without subjecting them to peer review.

July 6, 2012

Egyptian physicist Mohamed El Naschie filed the defamation claim in the UK courts after Nature published an article in 2008 announcing his retirement as editor-in-chief of the Elsevier journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, which he founded in 1991.

The article noted that 60 of the papers appearing in the journal that year had been written by Professor El Naschie, whose website claims he is a visiting professor at “numerous” universities, including the universities of Cairo and Alexandria.

It reported doubts about the quality of the papers, which combine aspects of particle physics and chaos theory, and suspicions that they had not been subjected to peer review.

According to the pressure group Sense About Science, Professor El Naschie said during last year’s trial - in which he represented himself - that “senior people are above this childish, vain practice of peer review”.

In a ruling released by the Royal Courts of Justice, Mrs Justice Sharp says she is satisfied that the papers “were not the subject of any, or any proper, peer review at all”.

She concludes that the Nature article is “substantially true”, “contains comments which are defensible as honest comment”, and was “the product of responsible journalism”.

Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature, said: “Nature has vigorously defended this article for over three years and we are all delighted that the court has found our journalism to be honest, justified and in the public interest.”

A spokesman for Chaos, Solitons and Fractals said its new editors had now worked with Elsevier staff and external editors to build “a high quality peer review process”.

He added that the journal now had a rejection rate of more than 90 per cent and had added a new subtitle - The interdisciplinary journal of Nonlinear Science, and Nonequilibrium and Complex Phenomena.

“As was noted in the trial, we had raised concerns with Dr El Naschie about the journal and the record of self-publication,” he said.

“We decided that it would be in the best interests of the journal to make changes to the editorial structure, including not renewing Dr El Naschie’s contract, and to implement an electronic submission system to ensure transparency and adherence to high standards of peer review.

“We continue to believe that this was the right thing to do.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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