Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thank You, Brian Leiter

Last summer, I was horrified when I read a scathing review of my book by Chris Holman. I drafted a hasty response on the invitation of James Hughes at the IEET Blog in which I questioned Holman's reading of my book (as he appeared to address only a few pages of it) as well as his objectivity, due to his long-term connections with the biotech industry. To this day, and to my knowledge, he does not deny consulting or otherwise working on behalf of BIO (he is certainly well-known by BIO), although he says he owns no shares in any biotechs using gene patents. My questioning of his motives and neutrality earned me a rebuke from Brian Leiter, who is a law school professor and author of a well-known blog, as well as a J.D./Ph.D. in philosophy like me (although he teaches in a law school, and not a philosophy department). Leiter is known by philosophers mostly for his Gourmet Report which ranks philosophy departments. Although Mr. Leiter had clearly not read my book, he gleefully publicized Holman's review, and publicly rebuked my response (for features he himself has employed), ignoring my pleas for him to pay attention to the substance of my arguments, and Holman's lack of substance in his review (and even Leiter calls for such potential conflicts to be disclosed when he is the subject of criticism).

Despondent that Mr. Leiter's gossipy coverage might tarnish my reputation, I sought the advice of my mentor, a philosopher of long-standing, international reputation. I was advised to relax. Leiter was not that important in philosophical circles (beyond his rankings, which departments do pay attention to), nor his blog that important. "all publicity is good publicity," I was told. And in fact, my mentor was right.

Stephan Kinsella (a patent attorney whom I have since befriended) read about me through Leiter's blog and came to my public defense, bolstering my arguments frequently with his perspective as a patent attorney. And since Holman's review, the majority of reviews of my book, including in Choice, The Guardian, The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, The Journal of High Technology Law, Metapsychology Online Reviews, Ethical Perspectives, and elsewhere, have been quite positive. Patent attorneys have tended to be negative, just as they have been critical of the ACLU's claims in the AMP v. Myriad case. But even more importantly than any review, the issue has gained terrific traction this year, the public is becoming aware, and there is the real possibility of changing public policy.

I will never fully understand Mr. Leiter's motivations (although he was on the board of the publication that solicited Holman's review, and did personally peruse and clear the review before publication), nor the delight of some in the scandal-sheet style attacks on my claims (or maybe just on me). My arguments have stood the test, and moreover, the same reasoning is motivating courts and institutions to change the law. This is much more than I hoped for. I am happy to withstand the attacks of academics and patent attorneys, as long as the word gets out, and these arguments get heard. Most people understand well that natural products and laws of nature ought not to be monopolized, as Judge Sweet held, and that the end of gene patents will be a step toward justice. I have had the great good fortune this past year to meet courageous people who have stepped beyond the theory, and sought to change things. I have mentioned them in this blog, including Luigi Palombi, the ACLU and its attorneys, plaintiffs in the AMP v. Myriad case, and others. I am thankful for their commitment to this important issue. Finally, I should thank you, Brian Leiter, for helping to make this a phenomenal year for justice and for helping to connect me with so many wonderful activists, working to change the system.

UPDATE: Indeed, justice has fully prevailed. The Supreme Court adopted the reasoning I advocated and invalidated most gene patents, and a 2d edition of my book is coming out in May 2015, with a chapter devoted to the Myriad case which set the new precedent.

1 comment:

Lex said...

You go, Doc! I'm not sure about the "any publicity is good publicity" nostrum, but lousy arguments need airing as much as good ones. Lawyers out of court are maybe like bloggers without an audience - pitching to the wind and making only noise. Anyhow, you give them something to sound against, which can only help the "general public" understand which side they're on. Laws which concentrate power are not, generally, um, popular in the end. Arguments for justice on behalf of corporate giants are playing themselves out pretty well I'd say . . .