Last month the stem cell community learned that a patient of the business US Stem Cell Inc./US Stem Cell Clinic, previously known as Bioheart, had filed suit in a Broward County Florida Court against the publicly traded company alleging various charges including damage to her eye.
Now US Stem Cell has more recently filed suit in the same court against one or more anonymous online critics for libel/slander. In this new case, US Stem Cell Inc versus John Doe, et al, the company points to specific instances on stock investing message boards where anonymous commenters discussed the company, and alleges that certain comments constitute libel/slander.
If you are interested in reading the details of this new or the earlier case, you’ll have to search for it on the Broward County Court website using this tool given idiosyncrasies of that website that make it so that one cannot directly link to cases or documents. This is in fact how I found out about the new case when I searched for Bioheart there to see if there was anything new on the patient suit and saw the new suit.
In the newer case, the alleged anti-Bioheart/US Stem Cell comments were made on Yahoo Message Boards and iHub Message Boards. From reviewing the most recent court filings in the case, it would appear that US Stem Cell so far has not been able to identify these commenters so it asked the court to allow subpoenas of Yahoo and iHub to provide the identities of the person or persons who are defendants in the case.
This US Stem Cell situation reminds one of the ongoing case involving PubPeer, where a professor has sued to identify anonymous commenters who he believes caused him injury. Of course there are some major differences, but also a few parallels.
Free speech, public discourse, and transparency are essential to biomedical science including both for academia and in the for-profit stem cell world. I allow anonymous commenters on this blog, but sometimes moderating comments that some individuals make that are extreme such as personal attacks or statements about companies that just go too far is a challenge. There are times I have no choice but to edit or delete them because they violate our comment policy, but I don’t like to do that if it can be avoided so it is a rare event. Also, certain anonymous comments can be some of the best in terms of providing new information or stimulating vigorous discussions. The toughest situation is when comments fall into a gray zone of potentially being useful in terms of providing information or a new perspective, but at the same time including material that is questionable.
These are difficult dilemmas.