Andrea Bottaro posted Entry 3282 on August 21, 2007 05:45 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/3268

Dr.%20Evil%20copy.JPG
Some of you may have heard about the latest in frivolous lawsuit madness: PZ Myers and his blog’s mothership, Seed Magazine, have been sued for FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS.

The plaintiff of the case is none else than Dr. Stuart Pivar, NYC businessman and art collector, who burst on the evolution/creationism scene a couple years back claiming that, based on conversations he had with the late Stephen J Gould, he could assert for a fact that Gould really opposed the basic tenets of modern evolutionary theory, and the role of natural selection in particular. According to Pivar, Gould only endorsed evolutionary theory (in dozens of books and hundreds of articles, not to mention sworn court testimony!) under some sort of duress from the iron fist of the enforcers of “Darwinian orthodoxy”.

The obvious nonsense was discussed in various articles here at PT and elsewhere, but of course the absurdity of that canard was not enough to deter the usual peanut gallery of gullible Creationists, Denyse O’Leary foremost among them, from getting all excited about the matter.

Anyway, besides liberally reinterpreting Gould’s entire scientific opus, Pivar’s other personal involvement with evolutionary matters at the time was that he had published a well-illustrated tome called Lifecode, in which he apparently proposed some sort of structuralist/developmental interpretation of evolution. In a rather incautious move, Pivar decided to send his book to a real developmental biologist for review: PZ Myers. PZ read it, soundly criticized it at Pharyngula, and apparently never thought of it again until earlier this year, when Pivar sent out some grandiose-sounding press release together with an updated version of the book, both of which PZ once again trashed.

That was enough for Pivar to take his legal gloves off (or put them on, whatever), and hit PZ and Seed with a court complaint, that you can read in its entirety here. In it, Pivar claims that PZ maliciously called him “a classic crackpot”, with the intent of “holding [Pivar] up to ridicule and embarrassment in this specific area of [Pivar’s] professional endeavors”. The claim also states that this has caused Pivar “considerable mental and emotional distress” as well as financial damages, reparations for which, according to the complaint, should amount to the comically overinflated total reported above.

The suit has been discussed on several web sites already, including Scientific American, the Lippard Blog, Overlawyered and PT contributor Timothy Sandefur’s personal blog Positive Liberty. The consensus seems to be that the suit has no legs, but of course if this is a nuisance suit, ultimate success in front of a judge is not the goal. We’ll see what the courts will make of this, and hopefully it won’t be too bad of a hassle for PZ before the matter is resolved.

Addendum: Blake Stacey’s Science after Sunclipse has a handy timeline of the affair, and some more links.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Feel free to comment on the legal, socio-political and scientific implications of the matter, but please refrain from pointless (and far too easy) personal invective, or the thread will be closed.
———–
Update 8/25/07
Peter Irons has sent an open letter to Stuart Pivar. The text is reproduced below, with Mr. Irons’s permission:

Dear Mr. Pivar:

I don’t know if this is a current email address for you; I obtained it from the Internet by accessing some of your 2004 correspondence regarding the NYAA affair.

First, let me introduce myself. I am a lawyer (a graduate of Harvard Law School) and am admitted to practice before several state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court. I also was on the faculty of Boston College Law School and the University of California, San Diego, where I taught constitutional law from 1982 until my retirement in 2004. My legal specialty is First Amendment law, including the law of defamation, about which I have written in several books and law review articles. I mention this background, quite frankly, to impress you with my credentials in this field, which are substantially greater than those of Michael J. Little.

I might also add that I was a close friend of Stephen Jay Gould, from our college days in the 1950s until his death in 2002. Steve and I were neighbors in Cambridge for many years, and talked extensively about his work in evolutionary biology and paleontology. As an aside, if Steve were still alive, I think he would have a viable defamation action against you for your false statements about his views, but that’s a moot point.

Over the past week, I have become very familiar with your defamation suit against Seed Media Group and Professor Paul Z. Myers, about which I learned from several legal and science blogs that I follow. I have carefully read the complaint that Mr. Little filed on August 16 in the Federal District Court in New York City.

In my professional opinion, this is a very poorly drafted complaint, with no legal merit whatever. I won’t discuss its stylistic deficiencies, which are numerous and which show evidence of haste and sloppiness by Mr. Little, which Judge Scheindlin will surely notice.

On a substantive level, the complaint will never survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be based.” You allege defamation by Professor Myers on the sole basis of his characterization of the revised edition of your Lifecode book as the work of “a classic crackpot.” This was in the context of a fairly lengthy review of your book (following an earlier review of your book’s first version) that was not included or even referenced in Mr. Little’s complaint.

As Mr. Little should have known, by due diligence, Professor Myers’ characterization was protected opinion, not a false statement of fact. As such, it is immune from defamation actions. Mr. Little cited, in paragraph 21 of the complaint, a single case to support your action: McFadden v. U.S. Fidelity & Guarantee Co. (766 So.2d 20). I have carefully read this opinion, which has no precedential value in any state or federal court. The claim in Mr. Little’s complaint that in this case “[t]term ‘crackpot’ was considered as actionable as slander per se” in simply not true. This case was remanded by the Mississippi Court of Appeals to the trial court; no trial was held on this question and no subsequent opinion was issued.

More to the point, and a case Mr. Little should have discovered by due diligence, is an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Dilworth v. Dudley et al., 75 F.3d 307 (7th Cir. 1996). For your edification, and that of Mr. Little as well, let me summarize and quote from this opinion, written by Chief Judge Richard Posner, one of the most highly respected federal appellate judges. The case involved a book by a mathematics professor at DePauw University, in which he characterized an article by an engineer and amateur mathematicians as the work of a “crank,” a term that is synonymous with “crackpot.” In upholding the district judge’s dismissal of this defamation case under Rule 12(b)(6), Judge Posner wrote that the term “crank” is an opinion and “is mere ‘rhetorical hyperbole.’ … To call a pereson a crank is basically just acolorful and insulting way of expressing disagreement with [the author’s] master idea, and it therefore belongs to the language of controversy rather than to the language of defamation.” In my opinion, Judge Scheindlin would be more impressed with Judge Posner’s opinion than in dictum from a Mississippi judge. Judge Posner, by the way, also wrote that terms like “scab,” “traitor,” “fake” and “phony” (far more pejorative than “crackpot”) “are incapable of defaming because they are mere hyperbole….” Judge Posner added, “By publishing your views you invite public criticism and rebuttal; you enter voluntarily in one of the submarkets of ideas and opinions and consent therefore to the rough competition of the marketplace.”

So, in my opinion, Judge Scheindlin will promptly dismiss your suit. Assuming, for sake of argument, that she does not, your suit faces several insurmountable evidentiary obstacles. First, your complaint alleges that your Lifecode book, in both the 2004 and 2007 versions, was published by “Ryland Press, Inc.” My research has turned up no such publisher anywhere in the world. There is, in New York and London, a publisher called Ryland, Peters & Small, but during my recent telephone conversation with a member of their staff, I was told they did not publish your book (they specialize in cookbooks and stationery). So you would certainly be asked during discovery to identify and produce records from “Ryland Press,” including sales figures. I also talked with Terry Krohn at Axiom House, which advertises your second Lifecode book; he told me it was not published by him, that he listed it as a favor to you, and that it had no sales to date. It would be impossible for you to prove even one dollar of damages, let alone $15 million.

Finally, you and Mr. Little are subject to monetary sanctions under Rule 11 of the FRCP; I’ll let Mr. Little explain that to you, since he is presumed to know of this potential consequence of filing a meritless suit.

Let me emphasize that I am sending you my opinions as a private party; I do not represent anyone in this suit. You are free to disregard my opinions but, if I were you, I would consider them carefully and instruct Mr. Little to promptly withdraw the complaint.

Sincerely,
Peter Irons, Esq.

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Comment #198162

Posted by Mike O'Risal on August 21, 2007 5:07 PM (e)

As the only things I can think of saying here involve heavy objects falling from the sky, and Christopher Mims has already done such a good job of exposing Pivar for what he is, I’d rather ask the next question. Is there any effort underway to help PZ defray the inevitable costs that will burden him from this ridiculous litigation? He’s put forth a lot of his own time and effort in defending reason for a long time now, and this looks to me like a good time for everyone who appreciates that effort to give something back to him.

Comment #198167

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on August 21, 2007 5:21 PM (e)

I have no clue how legal costs and maneuvers are going to be handled here. PZ has apparently not even been served yet, and Seed can clearly withstand a suit of this kind (assuming they won’t claim they are not liable, and leave PZ out to dry - that will be an interesting dynamics to observe too).

I guess we’ll have to see how far this goes, but if the suit is quickly deemed by a judge to be frivolous and harassing, the defendants would certainly get their legal fees reimbursed, and may even have grounds to counter-sue. Pivar’s purse is apparently quite capacious (certainly more than PZ’s!).

Comment #198168

Posted by Eran of Arcadia on August 21, 2007 5:22 PM (e)

If only they could interpret the Bible in such broad, figurative terms as they view the statements of evolutionary biologists …

Comment #198174

Posted by Arden Chatfield on August 21, 2007 5:38 PM (e)

[Taps foot and glances at watch impatiently while waiting for Larry Fafarman to come and say moronic things about legal matters.]

Comment #198176

Posted by GvlGeologist, FCD on August 21, 2007 5:49 PM (e)

I remember hearing that it is illegal to bring suit against someone with the intent to stifle criticism. I remember hearing about some cases where large businesses did this, without the expectation of winning, merely to drain the resources of critics.

Normally it is large businesses who do this, but in the case of a wealthy “businessman and art collector”, the same argument could be made.

Anyone know what I’m talking about? And could PZ countersue on that basis if I am remembering accurately?

Of course, IANAL.

Comment #198179

Posted by Blake Stacey on August 21, 2007 6:03 PM (e)

Thanks for the plug! :-)

Comment #198185

Posted by peter irons on August 21, 2007 6:17 PM (e)

Since this is all out in the open now, I thought I’d comment as a lawyer who specializes in First Amendment issues, including defamation. First, this is a patently frivolous lawsuit, and will not survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Rule 12(b)(6) is the death sentence for cases like this, which never come to trial. I’m sure the Seed lawyers are now drafting a motion to dismiss, which will almost certainly be granted.

The main reason the motion to dismiss will be granted is that, under well-established defamation law, opinions are protected under the First Amendment, even harsh opinions. The only allegation in Pivar’s complaint of an allegedly defamatory statement is that PZ, in posting a review of Lifecode on his Pharyngula blog, called Pivar “a classic crackpot.” That’s an opinion. There is not a single case, state or federal, in which a court held that the term “crackpot” was defamatory. Pivar’s lawyer, Michael J. Little, cited in his complaint an opinion of the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 2000, as holding that “[t]he term ‘crackpot’ was considered actionable as slander per se…when uttered in reference to a physician by an insurance adjuster.” That’s a really thin reed on which to base a lawsuit. First, the opinion did not hold that calling someone a “crackpot” was slanderous; it simply held that the trial judge had erroneously ruled out a jury decision on this issue and remanded the case to the trial court. This case never went to trial, and no opinion on this question wqas ever issued (not that a federal judge in New York would put any stock in this Mississippi case). So Pivar has no precedential case law to support his claim.

Yesterday, I had an interesting half-hour phone conversation with Pivar’s lawyer, Michael J. Little, who was quite candid with me. Little told me that “when [Pivar] consulted me, I was initially quite skeptical.” And with good reason, since Little obviously knew the case had no merit. But money can buy most lawyers, and Little agreed to draft the complaint. But he also told me, “I don’t know how far we’ll be able to take it,” obviously contemplating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Little told me that Pivar was “quite insistent” on filing the suit, and I would guess Little asked for, and received, a substantial retainer up front.

The bottom line is that, since Pivar’s lawyer himself has little (no pun intended) hope the case will survive a motion to dismiss, PZ has nothing to worry about. But it’s still a nuisance. On the up side, parties who prevail on a 12(b)(6) motion can get an award of attorneys’ fees, as well as monetary sanctions (which can sometimes be hefty)against the losing party.

I have learned a lot more about Pivar, including his alleged “friendship” with Steve Gould (who was my close friend from our college days in the 1950s until he died in 2002), but I won’t post it here.

Comment #198205

Posted by Timothy Sandefur on August 21, 2007 6:52 PM (e)

I’m glad Prof. Irons spoke with Mr. Little. I doubt I’m polite enough. Attorneys are under a moral obligation not to file lawsuits that lack merit, and the plea that one’s client is “insistent” is not an excuse, in my opinion, for filing a case one knows with a virtual certainty to be without any legal basis whatsoever–as is the case here. Attorneys have a bad reputation in this country because they have failed to uphold the standards that the law expects of them, and one of those standards is to act as a counselor, and not merely as a mouthpiece for a crackpot windbag who likes to abuse the justice system. Mr. Little has done a disservice to the courts and to his own client by allowing his name to appear on this matter.

Comment #198211

Posted by John Pieret on August 21, 2007 7:22 PM (e)

… the plea that one’s client is “insistent” is not an excuse, in my opinion, for filing a case one knows with a virtual certainty to be without any legal basis whatsoever …

Not to mention doing a poor job with the paperwork and then, on top of all that, talking about your client’s case in disparaging terms to strangers over the phone. I suspect Pivar found exactly the lawyer he deserves.

Comment #198218

Posted by Ophelia Benson on August 21, 2007 7:38 PM (e)

The Peter Irons who wrote A People’s History of the Supreme Court? Cool. Great book.

Comment #198221

Posted by mgarelick on August 21, 2007 7:41 PM (e)

I love this part: “Myers called Plaintiff ‘a classic crackpot’ fully knowing that statement to be false as a statement of fact[.]” How does one assess the “truth” of such a statement? What exactly is a “crackpot,” and how does one attain the status of “classic?”

Comment #198222

Posted by harold on August 21, 2007 7:43 PM (e)

Countersuit. Countersuit.

Any judge with throw this out of court. Pivar will almost certainly end up with the legal costs.

Creationism has nothing to do with this. You can’t send a book to someone for a review and then sue them for reviewing it unfavorably.

Ironically, it wouldn’t matter if PZ was wrong and Pivar’s crackpot book was right. That’s not the issue. The issue is that he invited a review. I’m sure that if he had asked PZ not to publicly review it, BWAHAHAHA, PZ wouldn’t have. You send a book on a subject to an expert on the subject who maintains a regular publication, you’re inviting a review. If you don’t like the review, too bad.

(The fact that Pivar may have plotted to send it to PZ Meyers, for a bad review, in order to bring a frivolous lawsuit, is of some interest.)

Comment #198224

Posted by Rieux on August 21, 2007 7:46 PM (e)

Not to mention doing a poor job with the paperwork and then, on top of all that, talking about your client’s case in disparaging terms to strangers over the phone.

Yeah! IAAL (albeit not an expert in defamation law)–but I was pretty shocked to read that part of Peter Irons’ story. What kind of litigator runs down his own client’s case over the phone? Whoa…

BTW, if anyone would like to know, all of my clients’ cases are lead-pipe-cinch locks. We’ll win ‘em all.

Comment #198232

Posted by raven on August 21, 2007 8:10 PM (e)

Malicious prosecution From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Malicious prosecution is a common law intentional tort. While similar to the tort of abuse of process, its elements include (1) intentionally (and maliciously) instituting or pursuing (or causing to be instituted or pursued) a legal action (civil or criminal) that is (2) brought without probable cause and (3) dismissed in favor of the victim of the malicious prosecution. In some jurisdictions, “malicious prosecution” is reserved for the wrongful initiation of criminal proceedings, while “malicious use of process” refers to the wrongful initiation of civil proceedings.

There are so many things wrong with this suit, it is hard to know where to start. It is a SLAPP suit.

These sorts of frivolous lawsuits can and do boomerang pretty fast. This could fall under the torts of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, abuse of the legal system, violations of the various new Terrorism statutes, and felony violation of the civil rights acts of the 1960s, to whit, section 241 attempting to deprive someone of their civil rights.

Loser pays court costs. Federal court has jurisdiction unless Pivar lives in Minnesota. On the WC this would almost certainly fall under a SLAPP suit law. FWIW, judges hate these sorts of frivolous lawsuits. They tend to be very smart people and they are also very busy, trying several cases at once.

If you show up in court, in most cases the plaintiff somehow forgets. Document your points extensively at the very start, go for a summary judgement.

Good luck.
Good thing dueling was made illegal or PZ might be facing a challenge here. :>) LOL

Crossposted from the PZ board.

Comment #198234

Posted by Adam on August 21, 2007 8:14 PM (e)

California law: To state a defamation claim, the plaintiff must allege a statement that is provably false. Ferlauto v Hamsher (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 1394. In Ferlauto, epithets about an attorney such as a “loser wannabe lawyer,” a “creepazoid attorney,” a “little fucker,” and a “Kmart Johnnie Cochran” did not constitute slander. “‘Rhetorical hyperbole,’ ‘vigorous epithet[s],’ ‘lusty and imaginative expression[s] of [] contempt” and language used “in a loose, figurative sense” have all been accorded constitutional protection.” Ibid.

Comment #198235

Posted by Littler on August 21, 2007 8:21 PM (e)

Can’t the instigators of this kind of nuisance suits be sued? Pivar is apparently a great litigator. If he were sued for, say, $20,000,000.00, for attempting to abrogate Myers’s right of free speech, wouldn’t this deter, at least Pivar from pushing such suits in the future?
Of course, you’d have to win, and win big. When you’re truly rich, nothing costs anything: you have so much disposable income that you almost literally can’t come to the end of it. He may be cheating his heirs of the million or so every few years that it takes to annoy people through the courts, but he won’t miss it. You have to hit him big.
You can always use the money to set up a foundation for science education.

Comment #198236

Posted by raven on August 21, 2007 8:26 PM (e)

Truth is an absolute defense against slander and libel.

So if Pivar fits the definition of a classic crackpot, he is out of luck. LOL.

I’m not too sure, but I thought if a state has a SLAPP suit law, that this would also be applicable in federal cases tried in the state.

Comment #198237

Posted by Ray.s on August 21, 2007 8:28 PM (e)

IANAL either, but is it normal to have two each of paragraphs 32 and 33? Perhaps only cdesign proponentists do it that way.

Comment #198241

Posted by C.E. Petit on August 21, 2007 8:37 PM (e)

A quick note on SLAPP law in New York:

Although the case was filed in federal court, it will probably select New York state substantive law… and New York’s SLAPP law does apply. Thus, the right term is counterclaim (in the same action), not countersuit (a later lawsuit filed after the first one fails).

More dangerous to the plaintiff, though, is Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b), which requires that any person who signs a pleading — in this case, both the lawyer and the plaintiff signed it (it’s a “verified complaint,” which is lawyerese for “the client signed it, too”) —
* have a good-faith basis in fact and law for the pleading, or a good-faith basis in fact and a good-faith basis for modification or extension of existing law for the pleading, AND
* not have filed the pleading for an “improper purpose”
The judges in the Southern District of New York are notoriously quick to pull the trigger on Rule 11 motions in patently invalid lawsuits. So much so, in fact, that I’m actually suprised that the suit wasn’t filed in Minnesota…

IAAL; my work is 95% in and around the publishing industry and in complex litigation. However, this is not legal advice for any particular person’s situation, or an evaluation of the specific facts in Pivar v. Seed, Inc.. Nor is this disclaimer supposed to make sense to any person who actually reads English.

Comment #198248

Posted by Rieux on August 21, 2007 8:54 PM (e)

In the interest of staving off the “chilling effect” (and daring this kook to sue the entire blogosphere), would it make any sense to engineer an “I’m Spartacus” movement, in which several hundred bloggers post on our sites that, for the reasons PZ has set forth, we too believe that Stuart Pivar is a classic crackpot?

Or would that give Pivar and his stupid book more publicity than they deserve?

Comment #198260

Posted by Raging Bee on August 21, 2007 9:36 PM (e)

Legally, Pivar can’t win. PR-wise, however, Pivar can’t lose: either he wins one against the “Darwinist Establishment,” and manages to stifle and punish criticism; or his ringing defeat and humiliation will be seen – by the kind of people who would happily give their money to fund lawsuits like this – as proof of how said Establishment crushes and punishes dissent by good Christian lambs. Either way, this case will be the ONLY thing remotely resembling the persecution that creationists allege as an excuse for their failure to do any real science; and they will milk it for all it’s worth.

It’s starting to look like Christian creationists are taking lessons from Harun Yahya.

Comment #198264

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on August 21, 2007 9:50 PM (e)

Rieux:
I doubt that would make a difference as far as the outcome of this case.

and Raging Bee:
I think, quite the contrary, that the kind of outcome Pivar is getting is precisely the opposite of what he’d hoped for (i.e. to intimidate PZ into quietly taking down his posts altogether). In fact, right now PZ’s reviews and “summary judgment” are reaching more people than they would have otherwise, and Pivar’s name is being mentioned around the web in association with this sorry affair.

I think that the more web sites link to PZ’s original posts and related commentaries on Pivar’s antics, the worse it is for Pivar. (And wait until someone from DailyKos notices!)

Comment #198266

Posted by stevaroni on August 21, 2007 9:58 PM (e)

I love this part: “Myers called Plaintiff ‘a classic crackpot’ fully knowing that statement to be false as a statement of fact[.]” How does one assess the “truth” of such a statement?

If it were me, I might just entertain the thought of going to trial just so I could have experts up on the stand spiritedly arguing about exactly just what kind of “crackpot” Pivar really was.

Apparently, there’s little argument that crackpotted-ness exists, but is he truly a “classic” crackpot (apparently actionable slander) or simply a run-of the mill crackpot (apparently, one assumes, sufficiently obvious to not be slanderous)?

Comment #198272

Posted by GvlGeologist, FCD on August 21, 2007 10:36 PM (e)

Theo:
Thanks for responding (Sorry to take so long to get back to you. I just got home). A SLAPP is exactly what I was thinking of - I just couldn’t remember the name or acronym.

It’s interesting to see the different takes on whether this constitutes a SLAPP or not, and it’ll be even more interesting to see how this plays out in the courts. I’m looking forward to it.

No one has mentioned this yet, and again, IANAL, but should Mr. Little have discussed his case with another lawyer in any event? I thought Lawyer/Client privilege prevented something like that.

Comment #198285

Posted by TheBlackCat on August 21, 2007 11:25 PM (e)

Raging Bee, I don’t see how even the creationists could possibly twist this to be someone stifling Pivar. He is the one who brought the lawsuit. If there is anyone who can pull it off it is creationists, but I suspect it is probably beyond even their reach (although I may eat my words later).

I know, of course, that creationists don’t like to miss an opportunity to attack “darwinism” and “darwinists”. However, as we have seen in Dover this desire can be overshadowed by their cowardice. In Dover they were running away with their tails between their legs when the water started getting too hot for their liking.

I foresee a similar thing happening here. I suspect they will just ignore this whole affair, play down, “forget about”, or deny the favorable things they have said about Pivar in the past, and hide in their holes until the whole thing to blow over except where they offer a few token “he’s not one of us and we don’t support him” comments when people force them to. Their previous support and kind words for Pivar will be easily forgotten. The metaphor of rats fleeing a sinking ship works in more ways than one in cases like this.

Comment #198293

Posted by Rieux on August 21, 2007 11:37 PM (e)

Andrea, #198264:

I doubt that would make a difference as far as the outcome of this case.

Oh, of course not. I wouldn’t have much respect for the judge if a stunt like the one I have in mind could sway her legal reasoning.

I’m thinking about the potential effect of this lawsuit outside the courtroom–that is, the attempt it constitutes to scare into silence anyone who may dissent from the weird notions of a well-heeled crackp… I mean, litigant. To me, defiant solidarity seems like the right response to that kind of threat.

Comment #198305

Posted by autumn on August 22, 2007 12:20 AM (e)

Why are so many posters here announcing proudly that they are into anal, when it has no relevance to the issue at hand?

Comment #198306

Posted by Registered User on August 22, 2007 12:31 AM (e)

Mr. Little has done a disservice to the courts and to his own client by allowing his name to appear on this matter.

Slander! Slander!

/Pivar off

Seriously, Peevar has just provided some nice free publicity for PZ and Panda’s Thumb, and along with the Dover Case, the lying creationist tax evader dude, this can only help solidify in the public’s mind the fact that creationists of all bible-thumpin stripes are toxic freaking idiots.

MILK IT, PEOPLE. MILK IT FOR ALL IT’S WORTH.

Comment #198308

Posted by TexasSkeptic on August 22, 2007 12:39 AM (e)

Regarding libel and critical reviews:

Follows is a review of the Cherry Sisters’ Vaudeville act, penned by one Bill Henderson, in 1898:

“When the curtain went up on Wednesday evening of last week the Cherries saw a good-natured audience, large enough to fatten their exchequer to the extent of $35, net [Note: $35, in 1913, would be worth ~$760 today; a crude extrapolation from 760 = 35e^kT, T in years, gives a k of ~0.0142; from this, $35 in 1898 would be ~$1230 today, not bad for a night’s work].

“The audience saw three creatures surpassing the witches in Macbeth in general hideousness.
Effie is an old jade of 50 summers, Jessie a frisky filly of 40, and Addie, the flower of the family, a capering monstrosity of 35. Their long, skinny arms, equipped with talons at the extremities, swung mechanically, and soon were waved frantically at the suffering spectators. The mouths of their rancid features opened like caverns and sounds like the wailings of damned souls issued therefrom. They pranced around the stage with a motion that suggested a cross between the danse du ventre and a fox trot, strange creatures with painted faces and hideous mien. Effie is spavined, Addie is knock-kneed and stringhalt, and Jessie, the only one who showed her stockings, has legs without calves, as classic in their outlines as the curves of a broom handle.

“The misguided fellows who came to see a leg show got their money’s worth, for they never saw such limbs before and never will again–outside of a boneyard.
The first glimpse of the Cherries was worth the price of admission. One shriek of laughter swept over the house. Not even in the woods around Sac City, nor in the wilds of Monona county, could three such raw and rank specimens of womanhood be found. The men howled and the women shook with merriment. There were no vegetables thrown, but there was lots of talk. It would take the sisters six weeks to answer the questions that were fired at them.

“At intervals Effie and Addie would jaw back and threaten to stop the show, but the boys never let up. When Jessie came out in her bare feet many solicitous inquiries were made about the condition of her corns, and she was freely advised to trim her toenails. And such feet! No instep, flat …….and Z wide. Jessie, however, is not sensitive. She calmly went on with her part, evidently considering her feet her “strong” suit.

“Finally the program came to an end and the audience left, well satisfied, as a rule, although some who had never heard of the Cherries before were angry because the noise prevented them from hearing the girls.

“The Cherries honestly believe that they are giving an entertainment surpassing anything on the stage, and that their audiences hoot them because they can’t appreciate true merit. They have been systematically stuffed by every manager who has engaged them with the notion that they are away up. If they were not stuck on themselves no money could induce them to stand the jeering they get. But having salted down $60,000 in the bank [by the earlier calculation, this comes out to 2.1 mil in 2007 dollars] and purchased several large farms with the proceeds of their foolishness they are willing to keep it up as long as they can make it pay. Their personal characters are above reproach; they are virtuous both from necessity and choice, as any one will conclude at sight of them. The most skilful [sic] impersonator would find it impossible to burlesque the Cherry girls. They are nature’s own raw material, unique and inimitable.”

The Cherries sued Henderson for libel, $15000 (~500K today), and lost. They appealed, and lost. The judges said, essentially, that if you put your act out there for public viewing, you can’t complain if the public (or any individual member of it) finds your act ridiculous.

Seems to me that, following the judges’ logic, if you put your ideas out there for public viewing, you can’t complain if the public (or any individual member of it) finds you a crackpot.

If the above review wasn’t libelous, PZ’s certainly wasn’t either.

TexasSkeptic

Comment #198309

Posted by Cubist on August 22, 2007 12:55 AM (e)

TheBlackCat wrote:

Raging Bee, I don’t see how even the creationists could possibly twist this to be someone stifling Pivar.

Cat, the reason you “don’t see how even the creationists could possibly twist this to be someone stifling Pivar” is that you assume they’re going to be basically honest.
Bad assumption.
Creationists can easily twist this around to make Pivar look like a victim – all they need to do is stretch the truth beyond recognition, ignore inconvenient facts, and generally lie like f**k about it. Just the same sort of Ninth-Commandment-breaking crapola Creationists always use, in other words.

Comment #198310

Posted by Alexey J. Merz on August 22, 2007 1:25 AM (e)

To me, defiant solidarity seems like the right response to that kind of threat.

Well, then. For the record:

I am P.Z. Myers.

Comment #198313

Posted by Grumpy Physicist on August 22, 2007 1:49 AM (e)

Time to GoogleBomb the term “classic crackpot”.

Oh wait, a quick check of Google shows the top entries (all but the last two on the first page) all refer to Pivar.

Can that be introduced as evidence?

Comment #198317

Posted by Ed Darrell on August 22, 2007 2:55 AM (e)

What exactly is a “crackpot,” and how does one attain the status of “classic?”

I tell my students that they call it a “trial” for a reason, and that one of the chief goals (especially for businesses) is to avoid litigation in the first place, and to avoid having to go to trial in the second place, because even if you win, generally there’s a high price to pay mentally and physically.

BUT, this is one where I almost wish we could count on a trial. What is a crackpot?

Jeremy Bernstein, the physicist, wrote for The New Yorker some years back about how to tell crank science from true genius, with respect to Albert Einstein’s papers submitted in 1905, that contradicted so much of what most physicists would have known then, or could have known. Bernstein’s question was, how could an editor of a journal know Einstein wasn’t a nutter? Bernstein said that the true science paper will demonstrate understanding of the prevailing theory among scientists, and while showing that it may be wrong, do so in a manner as to show how reasonable people could have gotten off on the wrong track, innocently. Most papers from cranks will demonstrate no such knowledge of how scientists think the current theory works (see, for example, almost anything cited by the Discovery Institute, which sometimes seems bent on acquiring the reputation as the place where dying crank ideas go to get a decent stipend for their authors and perpetrators).

The second point is probably more obvious: Bernstein says that cranks almost always see a conspiracy to shut down their ideas; true scientists on the other will, as Einstein did, show how honorable people could miss the key discovery, and instead of grousing will suggest ways that the new idea can be tested and verified or disproven.

So Jeremy Bernstein I propose as expert witness #1 on crankery. (I’ve never seen a photo of Bernstein; he’s near 80, but I suspect would be a great witness in such a trial, due to his personal knowledge of so many characters in science, especially in physics; Bernstein is likely a first-rate judge of crankery in science; and, isn’t it a demonstration of how fast we’re going to hell in this hand basket that Wikipedia has no bio of Bernstein, but Bill Dembski has more space than Bertrand Russell? I mean, isn’t there a God of justice somewhere?)

Then there is Robert Park, another physicist, the guy who has so long written “What’s New,” first for the American Physical Society (APS), and now for the University of Maryland (don’t you just love the ‘opinions are not necessarily those of [the sponsoring institution], but they should be’?) Park’s essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education in January, 2003, lays out the “Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science.” It’s well worth a read: http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i21/21b02001.htm

The Seven Warning Signs of Cancer on the Body Scientific are, as detailed by Prof. Park:

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

I propose Robert Park as expert witness #2 on crank science.

I live in Texas, and I’ve sat through at least 48 hours’ worth of testimony against biology text books at the State Board of Education, and I could use the work. I’d love to be expert witness #3. I wouldn’t even be the writing on the icing on the cake with the other two guys, Bernstein and Park.

The claim Pivar has against Myers should die before it gets to that stage – alas for those of us who enjoyed the Dover trial.

The forces of crankery, crackpottery, and just evil, are doing what they can to frustrate the advance of science in biology. As I have detailed at my blog, Texas has a stiff-necked, hardened-heart creationist as chair of the state education board that reviews biology textbooks; the U.S. has an administration that rules for science views that best line their own campaign coffers rather than what is right; funding for real research is limited; David Attenborough’s television shows are purchased by evangelicals in the Netherlands in order to edit out mentions of evolution; Adnan Oktar can get a court in Turkey to darken a million blogs in Turkey over an offense he perceives in one blogger’s opinion about Oktar’s crank science: We could use some good news.

Comment #198318

Posted by j on August 22, 2007 3:15 AM (e)

Am I missing something, or isn’t this going to get dismissed for lack of jurisdiction? Diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity, and Pivar and SMG appear to both be citizens of NY. (Of course Pivar can fix by dropping SMG as a defendant, and come back to be crushed under a 12(b)(6) if he wants.) Haven’t seen any mention of this, so maybe I’m reading things wrong?

Comment #198345

Posted by Zarquon on August 22, 2007 4:18 AM (e)

Ed, crackpottery is a matter for Science. Therefore it is necessary to use the John Baez Crackpot Index to work out how classic a crackpot is Pivar.

Comment #198364

Posted by John Pieret on August 22, 2007 5:36 AM (e)

Am I missing something, or isn’t this going to get dismissed for lack of jurisdiction?

Probably … assuming Seed is a New York corporation or has its principle place of business there. But the ways of jurisdiction are many and not sexy at all. It does not go to the merits and, one way or another, Pivar can use his money to pursue the action, either by attempting long-arm jurisdiction against PZ in New York state court (or against Seed in a Minnesota court), suing Seed in state court and keeping the Federal action against PZ (further increasing defense costs), or pursuing separate state actions in New York and Minnesota.

Comment #198365

Posted by Frank J on August 22, 2007 5:36 AM (e)

Andrea Bottaro wrote:

According to Pivar, Gould only endorsed evolutionary theory (in dozens of books and hundreds of articles, not to mention sworn court testimony!) under some sort of duress from the iron fist of the enforcers of “Darwinian orthodoxy”.

For years I have said that the most desperate and pathetic anti-evolution argument is the one about how the clergy or politicians who accept evolution are “bullied.” So now we hear that Gould, who is conveniently not here to defend himself, may have similarly been “bullied.”

My irony meter is not just turned off, but placed behind a thick lead shield.

Comment #198370

Posted by Frank J on August 22, 2007 5:55 AM (e)

Alexey J. Merz wrote:

I am P.Z. Myers.

But you look like Demsky.

Comment #198372

Posted by Denis Robert on August 22, 2007 6:14 AM (e)

Hopefully, this will do for this nincompoop what the Dover case did for Michael Behe: expose him for the hopeless fool that he is, and expose his ideas to the full force of the ridicule they deserve.

Comment #198377

Posted by liberal on August 22, 2007 6:29 AM (e)

raven wrote:

It is a SLAPP suit.

While it has obvious similarities to a SLAPP suit, I don’t think it’s a SLAPP.

SLAPP, AFAICT, means a suit against someone who addresses a public issue in a governmental arena. A classic example would be someone complaining about a developer to a land planning council.

The point against SLAPPs is that they interfere with the right, expressly enumerated in the Constitution, of citizens to petition government.

Comment #198382

Posted by Mats on August 22, 2007 6:49 AM (e)

Wait a moment. Wasn’t Gould the one who said, at one time, that Neo-Darwinism was effectively *gasp* dead, or something like that? No wonder that Dawkins

Comment #198383

Posted by Moses on August 22, 2007 6:50 AM (e)

Crackpot most generally means a capriciously eccentric person. In various other uses, the term can mean:

Pejoratively, the term Crackpot is used against a person, subjectively also called a crank, who writes or speaks in an authoritative fashion about a particular subject, often in science or mathematics, but is alleged to have false or even ludicrous beliefs.

Since it looks like PZ has used the word “crackpot” correctly, I’m not too much worried about his using truth as a defense. I would suggest that PZ counter-sue.

Comment #198390

Posted by Phoenix Woman on August 22, 2007 7:16 AM (e)

This isn’t about winning in court – thanks to NYT v. Sullivan in 1964, Pivar hasn’t a leg to stand on – but about a rich man trying to use the court system to bankrupt a not-rich man. Luckily, as Peter Irons has said, this case will not only be dismissed, but very likely with prejudice (meaning that Pivar will be made to eat all court costs).

Comment #198397

Posted by Graculus on August 22, 2007 8:16 AM (e)

But the ways of jurisdiction are many and not sexy at all.

And even if the court doesn’t have jurisdiction, they can pretend they do, so it’s safest to assume that the court will declare that they have jurisdiction.

Comment #198404

Posted by j on August 22, 2007 8:54 AM (e)

And even if the court doesn’t have jurisdiction, they can pretend they do, so it’s safest to assume that the court will declare that they have jurisdiction.

Oh, I don’t think that’s right at all. If there’s no diversity, there’s no way the district court would knowingly take the case, and I don’t imagine Judge Scheindlin would miss this pretty obvious problem. The court has an obligation to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction even if the parties fail to object. I take the comment to mean that courts don’t always live up to their obligations, but why play games here, on a very clear-cut issue? (I.e., either SMG is, as it appears from the complaint, a NY citizen, in which case there’s unquestionably no diversity; or it isn’t, in which case there is.)

And John Pieret is certainly correct that there are any number of other ways Pivar can pursue this. It just seemed to me that this particular complaint can’t get to the merits, and I offered the observation mainly as further indication of the poor lawyering involved here.

Comment #198408

Posted by Joseph O'Sullivan on August 22, 2007 8:57 AM (e)

With libel and defamation cases the plaintiff must show that the things the defendant wrote were false and the defendant knew them to be wrong. If PZ has a good faith belief in what he wrote, Pivar is out of luck. I was surprised to see the suit filed in federal courts because federal judges have little patience for groundless claims.

Comment #198409

Posted by Stephen on August 22, 2007 9:08 AM (e)

In the interest of staving off the “chilling effect” (and daring this kook to sue the entire blogosphere), would it make any sense to engineer an “I’m Spartacus” movement, in which several hundred bloggers post on our sites that, for the reasons PZ has set forth, we too believe that Stuart Pivar is a classic crackpot?

Pivar has certainly done a good job of convincing me that he’s a crackpot.

Perhaps better though would be if a number of biologists wrote their own reviews of the book. Unfortunately I am miserably unqualified to contribute to that. (Well, apart from knowing how many legs a spider has. Incidentally I just asked my 6 year old daughter that, and she got it right without hesitation.)

Comment #198422

Posted by Brendan S on August 22, 2007 10:19 AM (e)

I’ve always seen SLAPP interpreted as when an organization that has resources far outweighing that of the defendant, engages in legal activities (Lawsuits, Cease and Desist action, etc.) specifically targeted to silence opposition, that a reasonable lawyer would understand are unfounded.

Lots of these are Slander cases, where it is very obvious where the boundary of the law is, but they are filled anyway so that the defendant must either silence their legal criticisms, or endure great legal costs and hardship.

Comment #198423

Posted by Brendan S on August 22, 2007 10:22 AM (e)

I’ve always seen SLAPP interpreted as when an organization that has resources far outweighing that of the defendant, engages in legal activities (Lawsuits, Cease and Desist action, etc.) specifically targeted to silence opposition, that a reasonable lawyer would understand are unfounded.

Lots of these are Slander cases, where it is very obvious where the boundary of the law is, but they are filled anyway so that the defendant must either silence their legal criticisms, or endure great legal costs and hardship.

Comment #198424

Posted by SP on August 22, 2007 10:28 AM (e)

Lifecode FYI: Those who want to know for themselves what the book lifecode actually says,
may see www.aninconvenienttheory.com or www.selforganization.com
SP

Comment #198427

Posted by raven on August 22, 2007 10:35 AM (e)

liberal:

SLAPP, AFAICT, means a suit against someone who addresses a public issue in a governmental arena. A classic example would be someone complaining about a developer to a land planning council.

No, it is far broader than that. Any nuisance suit that seeks to prevent someone from exercising their first amendment rights. In fact, the government ones are probably a tiny minority of SLAPP suits.

The most common are the ones on stock financial message boards. Brought by companies against their critics. They invariably lose because the case law here is now voluminous. One of the first SLAPPS I saw was a company who sued stockholders for posting that it looked like they were going bankrupt. Shortly after that, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Talk about frivolous!

Comment #198429

Posted by Wildy on August 22, 2007 10:36 AM (e)

So really all this case is doing is bloating up the courts and wasting the time of many people (except the lawyers) that could be spent elsewhere doing more useful things like dealing with actual legal problems or studying biology?

Comment #198430

Posted by caerbannog on August 22, 2007 10:43 AM (e)

FYI, Ben Stein will be starring in a new movie that exposes the (cue the evil laughter here) evil worldwide Darwinist conspiracy to suppress new ideas in the classroom. See http://expelledthemovie.com for details. Trailer available at http://expelledthemovie.com/playground.php .

(Begin half-hearted attempt to make this message “on topic”).

Be kind when you and your Big Scientist™ friends review this movie, guys…. or you might get sued. If you decide to fight rather than settle, you might end up having to submit to a withering cross-examination by Casey Luskin.

And don’t say I didn’t warn you!!! (And this means *you*, PZ).

Comment #198432

Posted by Aagcobb on August 22, 2007 10:53 AM (e)

Andrea Bottaro said:

“I think, quite the contrary, that the kind of outcome Pivar is getting is precisely the opposite of what he’d hoped for (i.e. to intimidate PZ into quietly taking down his posts altogether). In fact, right now PZ’s reviews and “summary judgment” are reaching more people than they would have otherwise, and Pivar’s name is being mentioned around the web in association with this sorry affair.

I think that the more web sites link to PZ’s original posts and related commentaries on Pivar’s antics, the worse it is for Pivar. (And wait until someone from DailyKos notices!)”

Alas, if only the world really worked that way. I expect that in fact the more harshly Pivar is criticized, the higher his regard amongst creationists will rise. I’m sure that in that group, being called a “classic crackpot” by PZ Myers is as high a compliment as one can get short of being excoriated by Richard Dawkins himself!

Comment #198437

Posted by Glen Davidson on August 22, 2007 11:04 AM (e)

FYI, Ben Stein will be starring in a new movie that exposes the (cue the evil laughter here) evil worldwide Darwinist conspiracy to suppress new ideas in the classroom. See http://expelledthemovie.com for details. Trailer available at http://expelledthemovie.com/playground.php .

Saw O’Leary announce it.

Somehow she thinks, her being a faux journalist (English major, who thinks that asking questions of a few pseudoscientists makes her a journalist), that an economist has great insights into evolution. You know, just like engineers, mathematicians, Moonies (are we to call Wells a biologist, when he mangles everything he touches in biology?), and MDs are the experts on evolution. I don’t remember an economist before this as being one of the anointed ones, though it’s a big tent of clueless types.

Too bad for poor Stein that he has no more sense than that. I sort of have liked him, but I guess just about every right-winger (and I’m not a liberal) has to come up with something that embarrasses everything decent and sensible that he’s ever done.

Jump that shark, Ben, and you’ll be as cool as the Fonz.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Comment #198445

Posted by Julie Stahlhut on August 22, 2007 11:28 AM (e)

Somehow the idea that Stephen Jay Gould was ever subject to duress from any iron fist of orthodoxy makes me want to crack up laughing.

Comment #198447

Posted by dhogaza on August 22, 2007 11:33 AM (e)

Stephen Colbert needs to get Pivar on his show for an interview …

Comment #198448

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on August 22, 2007 11:37 AM (e)

Stephen Colbert needs to get Pivar on his show for an interview …

Nah. Stephen Colbert should get Ben Stein on his show. That’d be worth watching.

Comment #198450

Posted by Glen Davidson on August 22, 2007 11:38 AM (e)

Somehow the idea that Stephen Jay Gould was ever subject to duress from any iron fist of orthodoxy makes me want to crack up laughing.

Yeah, see, he was so good at it that he had us all fooled, just like Pivar says. Whole books, including one very big one on the science involved in evolution, and many articles countering the mindlessness of the YEC version of “intelligent design”, have to be pretty convincing.

In fact, it appears as though his whole career involved little other than covering up his doubts about natural selection by championing it. But unfortunately he died young, so that his finale of exposing “Darwinism” to the very pith of its roots was made forever impossible, and his decades of the lead-up to it were in vain.

Pivar has spoken, and thus we do know.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Comment #198451

Posted by Mooser on August 22, 2007 11:40 AM (e)

The Judge had better think, long and hard, about the consequences of his (or her) decision.
Oh, not the consequences in this life, but in the next!

Comment #198455

Posted by CJColucci on August 22, 2007 11:51 AM (e)

Stuart Pivar knows his way around the court system, having filed about 18 other lawsuits. He sued a client of mine some years ago on an almost equally frivolous theory, and quickly dropped it. The lawyer in PZ’s case was admitted to the bar two years ago. Pivar is a rich man, but either he will not spend for, or cannot attract despite his wealth, a lawyer of consequence to pursue his claims.

Comment #198470

Posted by daenku32 on August 22, 2007 12:22 PM (e)

Quote from AP2 (with some poetic license):
“We talking about scientists here. You might as well be asking gazillion bazillion dollars!”

Comment #198484

Posted by Mr Christopher on August 22, 2007 1:01 PM (e)

I tried to write a review on Amazon where I wanted to mention he’s a classic crackpot but I have to buy something there before I can leave a review..

See the other unflattering reviews here

http://www.amazon.com/LifeCode-Theory-Biological…

Comment #198487

Posted by mark on August 22, 2007 1:05 PM (e)

Pivar claims that PZ maliciously called him “a classic crackpot”, with the intent of “holding [Pivar] up to ridicule and embarrassment in this specific area of [Pivar’s] professional endeavors”.

Besides being an art collector, friend of Andy Warhohl, and celebrity eccentric (i.e., crackpot), how does Pivar qualify as a professional developmental biologist? Reminds me of the janitor who claimed the title of “empirical scientist” in an effort to prove adverse environmental impact of a proposed water well. That guy was a crackpot too; when he was unable to respond to the opposing attorney’s request to explain Theis’s nonsteady ground-water flow equation, the hearing officer told him he could not represent himself as an expert.

Comment #198489

Posted by Hipple, Rev. Paul T. on August 22, 2007 1:10 PM (e)

Finally, the Lord’s Children have someone savvy and intelligent, in the form of a rehabilitated Ben Stein, working on His side.

Proof if there ever was for you evilutionists that He works in mysterious ways that smarty pants professors might not always understand.

Comment #198491

Posted by John Marley on August 22, 2007 1:40 PM (e)

Mooser (#198451):

Was that a joke?
Or are you a drive-by troll?

I can’t tell anymore.

Comment #198497

Posted by Jud on August 22, 2007 2:24 PM (e)

Like Rieux, I wonder why an attorney, who could incur sanctions for filing a suit he knows can’t survive a motion to dismiss, would be so cavalier in confessing that fact over the phone.

Of course, whether Dr. Irons’ own estimation of the meritlessness of the suit colored his impression of what Pivar’s attorney was saying is an entirely different question from whether the suit is meritless, and there I can’t see any reason to think Pivar has (heh-heh) a prayer.

Comment #198498

Posted by Open Minded on August 22, 2007 2:27 PM (e)

Web-law is an emerging field but it takes it’s lead from “real-world” law; as such Pivar and his LifeCode book may win in a court fight because PZ & Seed make no bones about being outrageous commentators. If Pivar shows damages he could score big–I wish it was my case.

The libel claim against PZ Meyer is a blow FOR scientific freedom. Just because Meyer does not like Pivar’s theory he can’t get away with saying as fact that Pivar is a “Crackpot” And by the way, the book LifeCode seems pretty interesting as i saw sample chapters at www.aninconvenienttheory.com

Comment #198504

Posted by Wayne McCoy on August 22, 2007 2:34 PM (e)

I think what needs to happen is for everybody to write a criticism of Mr. Pivar’s work and hold him up to ridicule, then invite him to sue us all. I think the powerful should always be subject to ridicule when they are demonstrably wrong.

Comment #198505

Posted by Glen Davidson on August 22, 2007 2:40 PM (e)

Web-law is an emerging field but it takes it’s lead from “real-world” law; as such Pivar and his LifeCode book may win in a court fight because PZ & Seed make no bones about being outrageous commentators.

You really don’t know anything about first amendment cases, do you? It’s exactly because Seed and PZ make no bones about writing ourageous opinion that it’s so obviously a nuisance lawsuit.

If Pivar shows damages he could score big–I wish it was my case.

I do too, because I’m sure if it were your case it’d be thrown out the first day. You’d be making the defendant’s case that it is only opinion, thinking that you were proving some grand point in the favor of Pivar.

The libel claim against PZ Meyer is a blow FOR scientific freedom.

Yes, just as pseudoscience is a blow for science.

Just because Meyer does not like Pivar’s theory he can’t get away with saying as fact that Pivar is a “Crackpot”

You pretend that you know things like evidence and the like, then you misrepresent Myers (can’t any of you spell?) as if he’d merely called Pivar a crackpot rather than demonstrating that he is a crackpot, with a good competent blog. Is this the case you’d present in court?

And by the way, the book LifeCode seems pretty interesting as i saw sample chapters at www.aninconvenienttheory.com

And your praise for it means what to anyone who knows science, or, for God’s sake, the law?

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Comment #198506

Posted by GuyeFaux on August 22, 2007 2:43 PM (e)

If Pivar shows damages he could score big–I wish it was my case.

You’re a crackpot. There, I just granted your wish; now it can be your case.

Comment #198507

Posted by Vasha on August 22, 2007 2:44 PM (e)

Dear “Open Minded” whom I suspect is a sock puppet (and that’s a statement of my own suspicion therefore cannot be libellous), “real-world” case law makes no distinction for “outrageous commenters” (a pretty exaggerated description of Seed Magazine!) – that too is protected speech, as in the well-known case of Larry Flint.

Comment #198511

Posted by raven on August 22, 2007 2:51 PM (e)

Web-law is an emerging field but it takes it’s lead from “real-world” law; as such Pivar and his LifeCode book may win in a court fight because PZ & Seed make no bones about being outrageous commentators.

Just like the automobile is an emerging form of personal transportation. Or the is an emerging form of illumination.

There is a vast amount of case law on internet communication and several laws that protect it, such as the SLAPP suit laws.

Truth is an absolute defense against slander and libel charges. It won’t be hard to prove that Pivar, in fact, is a classic crackpot. QED

Pivar will lose, it is just a matter of how and when. I suspect he will drop it before it gets too far just to avoid paying too much in court and lawyer fees for Seed and Myers.

Comment #198526

Posted by open minded on August 22, 2007 3:10 PM (e)

Gosh, where does all this blind vehemence come from? I thought science and it’s supporters were supposed to be of an open mind?

Comment #198530

Posted by Eric on August 22, 2007 3:21 PM (e)

What may be interesting is if all the prominant people that supposedly defend this book, such as Dr. Tyson, were called to, at the very least, write some sort of affadavit regarding their belief about the whole thing.

I noted in the complaint that it is Pivar’s belief that Tyson has requested his name be withdrawn from the book not because he feels misquoted or quoted out of context, but because the suit would bring negative attention on him. All Tyson (and perhaps others) needs to do is say “no, I asked you to withdraw it because you misrepresented me” and a sizable chunk of complaint falls apart quickly. If all these people would add “and I think you’re a crackpot”, all the better.

This is all ridiculous, of course. He’s arguing about the use of the word “crackpot.” As slanderous insults go, that’s ridiculously mild and nearly archaic.

Comment #198531

Posted by raven on August 22, 2007 3:24 PM (e)

Gosh, where does all this blind vehemence come from? I thought science and it’s supporters were supposed to be of an open mind?

Yep. And the last place someone interested in open mindedness will be is in court trying to shut someone up with a bogus lawsuit. The essence of Pivar’s lawsuit is an attempt to limit someone’s first amendment rights to free speech because he doesn’t like what is being said. The exact opposite of being “open minded.”

Nice sock puppet by the way. Is your name Pivar by any chance or are you just a drive by troll out on a lark?

Comment #198539

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on August 22, 2007 3:32 PM (e)

“Although a wise man might urge that one suffer fools gladly, this should not be construed as a license for any fool to demand that one do so.”
Fredrick William Kantor

Comment #198543

Posted by Raging Bee on August 22, 2007 3:37 PM (e)

Gosh, where does all this blind vehemence come from?

Gosh, if you actually read the post and subsequent comments, maybe you wouldn’t have to ask the question.

Comment #198544

Posted by Glen Davidson on August 22, 2007 3:39 PM (e)

Gosh, where does all this blind vehemence come from? I thought science and it’s supporters were supposed to be of an open mind?

That’s why we know BS when it’s presented to us as if it were truth or “open-mindedness”. The closed little minds of the IDiots can’t even grasp what the case law tells us about this lawsuit.

Open-mindedness isn’t stupid belief in nonsense, which apparently is what you think it ought to be. The vehemence comes from being told lies by your sort, “open-minded,” since open-mindedness has no value when lies are given the same value as truth is.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Comment #198545

Posted by Stephen on August 22, 2007 3:40 PM (e)

… as such Pivar and his LifeCode book may win in a court fight because PZ & Seed make no bones about being outrageous commentators.

Absolutely. In fact I’m sure you’d agree that PZ is so utterly outrageous that only a crackpot would send a book to him for review.

Comment #198558

Posted by harold on August 22, 2007 3:56 PM (e)

This shows the utter dishonesty of creationists.

Although it is true that Pivar, who seems to have been an interesting and intelligent person, perhaps, in other ways, is, in this matter, a severely misguided crackpot, that doesn’t really make much difference.

He sent his “developmental biology” book to PZ Meyers, who operates a well-known public blog on developmental biology. Meyers read the book and commented on it, as is his right.

Of course, if Meyers had published false factual information about Pivar or the book, there might be a case, but of course, Meyers didn’t do that. He is 100% free to describe the book (and by extension the author) as crackpot, or indeed, in subjective terms far more insulting than that. And this would be true, obviously, even if Pivar hadn’t sent him the book at all, but Meyers had happened to buy it for himself, or check it out of the library.

Indeed, all of us have the right to review any book which is presented to us, in public, in the strongest possible subjective terms, if we choose to do so.

Of course a bad review may hurt sales! But that’s just too bad.

To put it another way, even if I disagreed with Meyers and thought the book was good, I’d find this lawsuit grossly inappropriate.

Comment #198563

Posted by ACW on August 22, 2007 4:45 PM (e)

I’m not a lawyer, but I think I read on another thread that there is no federal SLAPP statute, and this case is being brought in federal court.

Comment #198567

Posted by Stuart Weinstein on August 22, 2007 5:09 PM (e)

Hey PZ, I (Well the NWS anyway) was sued by families of European tourists drowned in the
Sunmatra tsunami.

After all, that earthquake was our fault.

To bad you don’t have a book out. Nothing like a lawsuit to turn a book
into a bestseller. Just ask Al Fraken…

So hurry and write a book PZ.

Stuart

Comment #198576

Posted by tourettist on August 22, 2007 5:57 PM (e)

I thought the Sumatran tsunami was the fault of U.S. Government black ops working with reticulan aliens. The NWS were supposed to have been kept out of that loop. Damned leaks.

Comment #198589

Posted by Sir_Toejam on August 22, 2007 6:34 PM (e)

Hey “SP”!

thanks for finally posting the web addy to your lifecode idiocy I asked you for. I finally got to officially submit it to crank.net for consideration.

I wonder if your inevitable inclusion and ranking on crank.net will be admissible as evidence?

well, anyway, thanks again, Stuart. I’d been waiting a while for you to post that.

Comment #198605

Posted by raven on August 22, 2007 7:55 PM (e)

Don’t anybody get too excited about this case. A frivolous lawsuit like this can drag on for years going nowhere. It isn’t like the judge will give it any priority.

My guess would be a year or two minimum. A lot longer if one side decides to stall and beat around the bushes.

It will fall below the radar screen soon enough for lack of meaningful activity.

A bit like Michael Korn, Xian wannabe terrorist. Famous for 15 minutes, on the run forever with an arrest warrant out on him and no one cares or remembers his name anymore.

Comment #198616

Posted by Freaked-Out Canadian on August 22, 2007 8:49 PM (e)

Three questions:

1) Has Pivar ever owned a pot?

2) Has one of the pots that Pivr owned ever cracked?

3) As far as I can tell, much of Pivar’s hypothesis is based on the model of a collapsed sphere - a kind of “pot” shaped structure - which then mutates into recognizable evolutionary forms. In fact, this description,

“Observations of artificial pseudopod models demonstrate that slow toroidal streaming of a bendable, elastic membrane causes axial wrinkles with tubular borders to form in the interior surfaces which subdivide the figure radially, as the surface is condensed in the incurrent vortex funnel by self-organized folds (plate 3),”

might be said to be describing “wrinkles” or “cracks” in the “pot” form itself.

Just sayin’.

Comment #198649

Posted by Ed Darrell on August 22, 2007 11:23 PM (e)

Gosh, where does all this blind vehemence come from?

None of the “vehemence” from the scientists is blind. It’s fully justified, and well evidenced.

Comment #198667

Posted by Sir_Toejam on August 23, 2007 12:13 AM (e)

I wonder if Pivar will sue all the people who left reviews of his book on Amazon?

here are all the tags the 25 reviewers associated with his grand work:

Tags customers associate with this product (What’s this?)
Click on a tag to find related items, discussions, and people.
Check the boxes next to these popular tags or enter your own tags in the field below
junk science (45)
delusional (31)
garbage (28)
crank (27)

crap (17)
fiction (15)
non-science (14)
crazy (12)

insane (12)
litigious (11)
balloon animals (4)

_________

those are ALL the tags, btw, not just the negative ones.

baloon animals…

heh.

Comment #198682

Posted by Stuart Weinstein on August 23, 2007 2:00 AM (e)

““Observations of artificial pseudopod models demonstrate that slow toroidal streaming of a bendable, elastic membrane causes axial wrinkles with tubular borders to form in the interior surfaces which subdivide the figure radially, as the surface is condensed in the incurrent vortex funnel by self-organized folds (plate 3),”

With prose like that, It should be a best seller…

Stuart

Comment #198735

Posted by Bryn on August 23, 2007 9:04 AM (e)

Can anybody remember what the penalty is for a SLAPP suit?

Comment #198804

Posted by Raoul on August 23, 2007 2:54 PM (e)

It seems PZ should be able to dispense with this lawsuit rather quickly as the contents of the book(s)/ideas of the author weren’t called crackpot…just the unsubstantiated claims of implied support by others. It should be easy to prove that the “crack-pot” label was not a “knowingly false statement”…if anything, it could probably be argued that the label was applied in jest in conjunction with the tongue-in-cheek 12 Steps to Being a Crackpot…
Whatever the real deal is, I really think that most of the aspects of this ‘feud’ have been blown out of proportion.
What really irks me is the line in the lawsuit “fundamentalist Darwinian theory of evolution”… why is it deemed fundamentalist? Technically since the field is not opposed to modernism, ‘we’ would be the opposite of fundamentalist. No one is stockpiling weapons to force its acceptance, nor can anyone claim that a good scientist won’t change his mind when confronted with irrefutable evidence. Fundamentalists are those with unshifting world-views. Hell, I’ll be happy to turn into a theist if a convincing empirical argument can be made. I understand why the crackpot label was applied, why now is the fundamentalist label being thrown in?

P.S. I realize that I have now dragged myself into this nonsense as well. Again, why is attention being given to, what on-the-surface appears to be, a refutable claim and a go-no-where lawsuit. This will only encourage more attention for Pivar as well as more unproductive time-wasting discussion from us.

Comment #199106

Posted by Wildy on August 24, 2007 6:51 AM (e)

Who has read the copy of the complaint?

Did you notice the bits where they were going on about public ridicule?

I guess Pivar needs to get himself a good doctor, you know to get the bullet out of his foot…

Comment #199233

Posted by Mike on August 24, 2007 12:54 PM (e)

“I guess Pivar needs to get himself a good doctor, you know to get the bullet out of his foot…”

It’s like the old saying, before you call the doctor to get the bullet out of your foot, stop shooting at it. Pivar seems to have plenty of ammo left and won’t stop until its gone.

Comment #199291

Posted by Henry J on August 24, 2007 3:06 PM (e)

Re “It’s like the old saying, before you call the doctor to get the bullet out of your foot, stop shooting at it.”

Don’t think I’ve heard that particular saying before.

But one that might fit is “a closed mouth gathers no foot”.

Henry

Comment #199493

Posted by Wildy on August 24, 2007 11:58 PM (e)

So he won’t have a leg to stand on then?

Oh this thread will be closed soon…

Comment #199502

Posted by larkspur on August 25, 2007 12:13 AM (e)

At the very least, assuming PZ is ever actually served, he will incur attorney’s fees and court filing fees. He’ll have to spend time and energy calendaring deadlines and showing up in court when necessary. Should the case ever reach the discovery phase, P.Z. will be buried in discovery requests, including document productions, all of which will require some response, even if it’s just objections.

In the end, Pivar will lose, or be forced to dismiss his case on grounds of redonkulousness. But PZ’s time can’t be recovered, and being awarded attorney’s fees and costs isn’t guaranteed. If PZ has insurance, maybe his out-of-pocket expenses will be minor. But would we be surprised if his rates go up or his coverage is canceled? And if he’s uninsured for this type of crap, can he front the expenses for as long as it takes for Pivar to fold?

This is mean, nasty crap. Apparently Pivar is a litigious millionaire. He really ought to be separated from some of that money.

Comment #199628

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on August 25, 2007 8:15 AM (e)

See update above.

Comment #199669

Posted by larkspur on August 25, 2007 9:41 AM (e)

Just read the update.

Request permission to enter into the record: a huge round of applause for Mr. Irons, with cheering and huzzahs. And home-baked cookies. And applause. Then more applause.

Comment #199768

Posted by fnxtr on August 25, 2007 12:24 PM (e)

I just tried the links provided by SP and got a password window on each link.

What’s the password? “Crackpot”?

Comment #200422

Posted by Wildy on August 26, 2007 9:00 AM (e)

That update was an interesting read.

What’s the bet that Pivar will ignore it and continue with this farce?

Comment #200502

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on August 26, 2007 11:19 AM (e)

Ed Darrell wrote:

The Seven Warning Signs of Cancer on the Body Scientific are, as detailed by Prof. Park:

There is a difference between pathological science and crackpotism. The former can be (as Park’s examples shows) groups or subfields of science who for one reason or other slides into erroneous procedures. This distinction is practical to uphold.

Zarquon refers to Baez crackpot index, which is an empirical method to identify bona fide crackpots.

Comment #200754

Posted by Monado on August 26, 2007 9:14 PM (e)

I doubt that Professor Goodwin wrote anything called “How the leopard changed it’s spots,” seminal or not.

Lifecode received … endorsements from Professor Brian Goodwin (“Goodwin”) Professor of Biology at Schumacher College, England and author of the seminal: How the leopard changed it’s spots

Minimally literate lawyer.

Comment #200758

Posted by Monado on August 26, 2007 9:29 PM (e)

I went to wwww.selforganization.com and all it says is Under Construction.

Please excuse any typos: I’m fending off a kitten with one hand.

Comment #200796

Posted by thalarctos on August 26, 2007 11:55 PM (e)

Request permission to enter into the record: a huge round of applause for Mr. Irons, with cheering and huzzahs. And home-baked cookies. And applause. Then more applause.

That letter was so good that I needed a cigarette after reading it.

Comment #200938

Posted by Monado on August 27, 2007 8:01 AM (e)

Around the time of PZ’s second book review (mid-July), I left a comment on Denyse O’Leary’s blog where she complained about “Pharyngulites” trashing Pivar’s book. I left this comment:

Denyse,
A set of pretty pictures about how something might happen is not a theory. A theory is a well-tested an explanation of a mechanism. A hypothesis is a guess at how something might happen, based on what we know. A hypothesis suggests experiments that we might try. If a hypothesis passes a few experiments and none disprove it, we can start thinking of it as a tentative theory. But, in the case of morphogenesis, we already know that limbs do not form by pinching off from a torus - they bud from the embryonic body. We also know quite a lot about how hox genes help to guide formation of limbs by providing chemical gradients that informs cells of where they are in the body. (Please forgive any over-generalization as I am not a working scientist.}

However, Mr. Pivar’s self-labelled theory does not take ento account what we already know. Instead, he draws some elegant pictures that have no basis in reality. He does not have a theory. He does not have a hypothesis. He has a Wild-assed Guess.

When you get the book, don’t forget to look up the people quoted as reviewing it to find out whether they actually said what was quoted or whether it was taken out of context or fabricated or some combination thereof.

It’s very funny that Mr. Pivar thinks there are too few genes to account for morphology. I just finished reading a 14-year-old science popularization book, recapping the research of the 1970s and 1980s, which explains that each gene has from one to twenty other genes which promote and regulate its activity, telling it when to turn on or off. Mr. Pivar might be interested in reading it – it’s called “The Secret of Life” by Joseph Levine and David Suzuki.

As a fellow Torontonian, I hope that you can inject a little more objectivity and rationalism into your articles.

UPDATE: Here’s what was quoted:

Here’s the other one [comment]:

As a fellow Torontonian, I hope that you can inject a little more objectivity and rationalism into your articles.

Well, fellow Torontonian, don’t move to my neighbourhood, there’s a dear. What YOU mean by “objectivity and rationalism” is “behaving like the pharyngulite mob.” Some of us have standards.

Way to miss the point, Denyse!

Comment #200970

Posted by Raging Bee on August 27, 2007 9:23 AM (e)

Well, fellow Torontonian, don’t move to my neighbourhood, there’s a dear.

So Denyse not only refuses to address any of the substantive points, but all she can manage is a pathetic attempt to warn you away from her general area. What a stupid cow.

Comment #200985

Posted by Wildy on August 27, 2007 9:55 AM (e)

Monado wrote:

I doubt that Professor Goodwin wrote anything called “How the leopard changed it’s spots,” seminal or not.

Lifecode received … endorsements from Professor Brian Goodwin (“Goodwin”) Professor of Biology at Schumacher College, England and author of the seminal: How the leopard changed it’s spots…

Minimally literate lawyer.

Regardless of how much Pivar has lied in that complaint there is actually a book written by Professor Goodwin called How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity.

Comment #200995

Posted by hoary puccoon on August 27, 2007 10:26 AM (e)

I think the point was, Prof. Goodwin never wrote a book called, ‘How the leopard changed IT’S spots.’ There are apparently still a few editors in the possession of blue pencils.

Comment #201138

Posted by Monado on August 27, 2007 8:21 PM (e)

And there should be enough commas to bracket non-defining information that can be removed from the sentence without damaging it, i.e. Prof. Goodwin, Professor of Biology at Schumacher College, England, and…

Lawyers are supposed to care about the meaning of their sentences. That kind of mechanical grammar that lets you know what is what in the sentence should be as natural to a lawyer as breathing. (No TRUE lawyer— formerly “No TRUE Scotsman…”)

Comment #201140

Posted by Monado on August 27, 2007 8:24 PM (e)

On the bright side, if a man of Stuart Pivar’s insight and intgegrity is the source of the rumor that Stephen Jay Gould wouldn’t have signed the “Steve list,” we can all breathe a sigh of relief and consign it to the trash bin of history along with Darwin’s fabricated deathbead confession.

Comment #201141

Posted by Monado on August 27, 2007 8:25 PM (e)

Sorry, “…deathbed conversion.”

Darn kittens!