Last fall, an Israeli company used a legal threat to persuade the publisher of a peer-reviewed journal to yank a a paper from its Web site by two Swedish linguists that criticized the company’s product, a system that purportedly determines a person’s emotional state by analyzing the sound of his voice. Five months later, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has expressed its outrage over the event. In a statement released yesterday, the academy calls the incident “a serious assault on research freedom.”
The roots of the dispute stretch back more than a year. In the December 2007 issue of the biannual International Journal of Speech, Language, and the Law, phoneticians Anders Eriksson of the University of Gothenburg and Francisco Lacerda of Stockholm University said there was no science behind the Layered Voice Analysis technology produced by Nemesysco Ltd. of Netayna, Israel, which is being tested by municipal governments in the United Kingdom as a means of weeding out fraud among benefits applicants. Last November, Nemesysco founder Amir Liberman threatened to sue the journal’s publisher, Equinox Publishing Ltd. of London, if the paper wasn’t removed from the journal’s Web site. A month later Equinox pulled the paper—although it did not formally retract it.
Members of the Swedish academy decry both Nemesysco’s legal tactics and the publisher’s failure to stand up for the researchers, says Gunnar Öquist, secretary general for the academy. “This kind of threat to scientific communication is not acceptable in a democracy,” Öquist says. Liberman said in February, however, that he threatened to sue not because of the scientific content of the paper, but because the article, entitled “Charlatanry in forensic sciences: A problem to be taken seriously,” targeted him personally.
The academy statement says that such legal challenges are ultimately “a threat ... to the free dissemination of information in society.” In this case, however, Liberman and Nemesysco likely drew more attention to the paper by trying to suppress it. The journal has a circulation of less than 500 readers; the legal spat was covered in the international press and the paper is now available on the internet site PirateBay.org.