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Lancets and libel

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 28 April 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2274
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

    Whether exposing quackery in complementary medicine or challenging malpractice in orthodox medicine, journalists have always needed thick skins and nerves of steel—though deep pockets are sometimes useful too. But, in navigating Britain’s repressive libel laws, modern medical hacks can always turn for inspiration to Thomas Wakley.

    Trained in surgery at St Thomas’s and Guy’s Hospitals in London, Wakley (1795-1862) was disillusioned by the nepotism and bungling that he witnessed. Cutting short his career as a general practitioner to turn poacher, in 1823 he founded the Lancet in a mission to end the “mystery of concealment” in medicine. Noting that a lancet was both “an arched window …

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