The California Supreme Court appeared to dance a fine line Tuesday in a defamation suit against two academics who allegedly tricked the former foster mother of a research subject into revealing secrets about her.

The “sticking point,” as Justice Carol Corrigan put it during the oral argument, was whether researchers go too far if they lie to gather personal information about a study subject. In this case, the two defendants were trying to refute the conclusions of another researcher with whom the plaintiff had originally cooperated.

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