So Sue Me

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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.

113 Comments

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.

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!).

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

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

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.

Thanks for the plug! :-)

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.

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.

… 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.

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

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?”

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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!)

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)?

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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…

“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.

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

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

Oh this thread will be closed soon…

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.

See update above.

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.

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

What’s the password? “Crackpot”?

That update was an interesting read.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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…”)

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.

Sorry, “…deathbed conversion.”

Darn kittens!

you should know what Mr. Pivar and Mr. Little did to my family

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Andrea Bottaro published on August 21, 2007 5:45 PM.

Ryan Nichols, Are ID and Theology Inseperable (sic) ? was the previous entry in this blog.

Alternative routes and mutational robustness in complex regulatory networks is the next entry in this blog.

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