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Plastic surgeon threatened for comment on ‘Boob Job’ cream

*** Update 16th September 2011 ***

Read the Independent's coverage of the ASA adjudication here.

*** Update 15th September 2011 ***

The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint about an advert for Rodial's `Boob job' Cream.

The ASA reviewed claims Rodial made for their cream, the same claims Dr Dalia Neild raised concerns about last year, and ruled that there is no evidence, and Rodial should not continue to make them.

The full adjudication can be read here

11th November 2010

One of Britain's leading consultant plastic surgeons has been threatened with libel action by the manufacturer of a £125 'Boob Job' cream for speaking out about her doubts of its effectiveness. Dr Dalia Nield of The London Clinic was quoted in an article in the Daily Mail on 1st October 2010 saying that it was 'highly unlikely' the 'Boob Job' cream would increase a woman's breast size.1 The manufacturer, Rodial Limited had claimed that the cream, reported to be a favourite of Scarlett Johansson, can increase breast size by 2.5 cm. Dr Nield said the company had not provided a full analysis of tests on the cream and that if its claims that fat cells moved around the body were true it could be potentially dangerous. Rodial Limited has threatened Dr Nield with libel action. Dr Nield stands by her comments.

This is the latest case of a scientist being threatened with libel action for questioning the evidence for medical claims. Dr Simon Singh was sued for criticising the lack of evidence for chiropractic in the treatment of some infant disorders; consultant cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst is being sued by NMT Medical for speaking about data from a clinical trial of a medical device; Dr Ben Goldacre was sued by a vitamin manufacturer for questioning claims to treat HIV/AIDS with vitamins. The Government has promised to introduce a stronger public interest defence for libel in its Defamation Bill, due to be published early in 2011, which would protect discussions about science, evidence and health care from the stifling effects of England's current libel laws.

Comments

Dr Dalia Nield said: "As a surgeon I am well aware of the necessity for claims on medical products to be based upon rigorous scientific testing, as well as the possible dangers which can result from treatments. It is my duty to speak out when products making these claims are not backed up by evidence. The safety and health of people could be at risk if I cannot do this."

Robert Dougans of Bryan Cave LLP, Dr Nield's solicitor, who also acted for Simon Singh in his libel action, said: "This should not happen to doctors and scientists. They should be in the laboratory or the operating theatre, advancing learning and treating people. They should not be forced to meet with solicitors just because they speak out on matters of public health."

Fazel Fatah, consultant plastic surgeon and President of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) said: "The BAAPS' position is that doctors, who have duty of care to patients, and the public at large, should be able to give their considered opinions and show skepticism, without fear of libel suit, when concerns are raised regarding unsubstantiated claims about products or procedures that are sold directly to the public without available and verified evidence of efficacy and safety."

Tracey Brown of Sense About Science, part of the Libel Reform Campaign2, said: "With every week that passes we hear about yet more doctors and scientists who have been threatened with libel action. Until we have a clear public interest defence scientists and medics will stop asking vital questions and the public will lose out."

Jonathan Heawood of English PEN, part of the Libel Reform Campaign, said: "It seems odd to be suing someone for giving their expert view. Dr Nield spoke out to help protect people's safety. At this rate, the only option for doctors appears to be total silence - which would go against their public spirit and their integrity as doctors."

Mike Harris of Index on Censorship, part of the Libel Reform Campaign, said: "Our libel laws are so restrictive we're a global pariah. It's got to the stage where the US has passed laws to protect its citizens from libel judgements in our High Court. The coalition government has said it will act - but the process needs to be speeded up and radical so that writers, scientists and doctors are protected."

Dr Evan Harris of the Libel Reform Campaign said: "Libel threats by companies, against clinicians and researchers on a matter where the public interest demands the maximum possible scientific and media debate, can be seen as a form of bullying, and is why radical libel reform is both vital and urgent. The cases we hear about - where doctors and scientists, and the newspaper or journal, stand up to the threat of costly and uncertain court action - are only the tip of the iceberg because most will simply be forced retreat in the face of a libel suit."

Simon Singh said: "This is yet another libel threat that demonstrates that the Government needs to act urgently and radically to reform our libel law, which clearly silences critics on matters of public interest. In the last month, I have come across six new libel threats, which in turn means that the public only hears half the story."

Imran Khan, Director of The Campaign for Science and Engineering said: "Science doesn't tolerate criticism - it depends on it. Our tradition of free speech is part of the reason why British science has been so successful down the centuries. But we're now in a position where vested interests can silence their critics by threatening to sue. They don't need to be right - just rich. Our libel laws are far more insidious than in other countries - about 90% of cases here are won by the claimant, and it costs 140 times more to defend a case in England than in the rest of Europe. As well as a free speech issue, it's a public health risk. Do you want doctors or medical researchers keeping quiet about their findings because they don't want to lose their house? That's what we face." 

Further to the story above we have been contacted by Rodial Limited's solicitors, Hegarty LLP, requesting that we do not release this story. Having attempted to silence the criticism of the 'Boob Job' product by Dr Dalia Nield they are now attempting to silence publicity about that. We will not agree to this. We have taken legal advice throughout. Threats against scientific comment are worthy of public attention and we won't be silenced by a lawyer's letter.

For more information email Sile Lane at slane@senseaboutscience.org

Coverage

The Times, Doctor facing libel threat over doubts on 'boob job' cream (Subscription required, p31 of today's edition)

The Guardian, Cosmetic surgeon may be sued for daring to question 'Boob Job' cream

The Independent, Doctor may be sued for criticism of breast enhancement cream

The Daily Mail, The right to speak out: Doctor who questioned efficacy of 'breast-boosting' cream threatened with libel action

The i, Surgeon questions rub-on breast enhancer (p10 of today's edition)

Freelance journalist Claire Coleman's blog, I said I wouldn't blog but...

The Sunday Times, The Truth or Bust - Briefing on Libel Reform (Subscription required, p28)

Index on Censorship, Surgeon who questions 'Boob Job' cream threatened with libel action

Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, The Guardian Science is about embracing your knockers - updated as Rodial begin to play games

The Observer, Now the libel law sharks are going for the little guy

Pulse, Would Scarlett Johansson or Kelly Brook riot in the streets against a fat tax? No, but Mighty Mouse might

Press Gazette, Surgeon faces libel threat over 'boob cream' comments

The BMJ, Surgeon threatened with libel over remarks made about a breast enhancement cream (Subscription required for full article).

Prateek Buch, Consider, evaluate, act, Two chilling reminders of the urgent need for #LibelReform

French Tribune, Cosmetic Surgeon To Be Sued For Questioning 'Boob Job' Cream

David Colquhoun, Improbable Science, UK Libel law threatens science and honesty

TopNews United Kingdom Possible Libel Case Against Surgeon Questioning Claims of 'Boob Job' Cream

 

***UPDATE***

In today's Business Questions in Parliament, Andrew George MP told the House about Dr Nield being threatened for her comments on the 'Boob Job' cream and asked 'Will the Leader of the House commit to libel reform in this session of Parliament?' The response was that the Coalition is committed to introducing a defamation bill in this session (1h 30 mins in). You can also read the transcript on Hansard.

 

1. The Daily Mail article 'Boob job in a bottle: The £125 gel that says it'll make you a half-cup size bigger' from Friday 1st October 2010

2. The Libel Reform Campaign is run by a coalition of three charities: English PEN (Registered charity no. 1125610), Index on Censorship (Registered charity no. 325003) and Sense About Science (Registered charity no. 1101114). Its supporters include the Poet Laureate, the Astronomer Royal, Stephen Fry, Dara O Briain, Professor Richard Dawkins, Monica Ali, Jonathan Ross, Professor Brian Cox and Jo Brand, organisations including Mumsnet, Amnesty International, the NUJ, Christian Aid, the Royal College of GPs, Global Witness and Nature. For more information about supporters and background of the campaign see http://www.libelreform.org/