PZ of Pharyngula Sued for Libel August 20, 2007

PZ of Pharyngula Sued for Libel

This seems to be the gist of the argument:

PZ Myers at Pharyngula, one of the most popular blogs in the world, reviews a book called Lifecode. It’s not a very positive review. He refers to the book and its author often over the course of several posts.

[Author Stuart] Pivar is a classic crackpot, and Lifecode isn’t a science book by any measure. There is no theory there, and no evidence or observation. I can’t believe any scientist would be taken in by it.

The author, Stuart Pivar, gets mad and sues for libel.

There’s possibly a little more to it:

For instance PZ (and CSICOP’s Intelligent Design Watch) have accused Pivar of being mixed up with the Intelligent Design movement. (I believe the exact word PZ used in describing Pivar was “crackpot.”)

An email from PZ to SciAm Observation’s blogger says this:

Huh. I’d heard some noise from Pivar threatening to sue, but this is the first I’ve heard of any formal action being taken. Since I’m a defendant (one who hasn’t been notified of his status!) I suppose I should just shut up at this point and let justice run its course.

Since I’m a blogger, though, I can’t completely shut up. I will just say that this is Pivar’s attempt to squash a negative review of his book, which I posted here. Nothing in the review was motivated by personal malice, and I actually am inclined to favor structuralist arguments in evolution … but I’m afraid my honest assessment of Pivar’s work is that it does not support his conclusions. I still stand by my review, and now I’m a bit disturbed that someone would think criticism of a scientific hypothesis must be defended by silencing its critics.

SciAm adds:

A quick search of the database of the New York state court system reveals that since 1986, Stuart Pivar has been named as a plaintiff in 25 different cases filed with the New York State Unified Court System (and a defendant in two).

More on this to follow…

(via Scientific American Observations)

***Update***: The Lippard Blog says this:

The complaint claims that Myers’ remarks led to Neil de Grasse Tyson withdrawing a review of the book and causing “considerable mental and emotional distress,” tortious interference with the plaintiff’s business relationships as a “scientist and scientific editor,” and “loss of book sales and diminished returns on ten years of funded scientific research in special damages” exceeding $5 million.

The three claims of the complaint are, first, for declaratory relief in removing defamatory statements from the web and an injunction to prevent further such statements; second, for $5 million in special damages from the “tortious interference with business relations”; and third, for $10 million in damages for defamation, emotional distress, and loss of reputation.

Seed Media Group may be able to have itself dismissed as a defendant on the libel claim via the safe harbor on online publication of defamatory statements by a user of a site, which has been successfully used as a defense by America Online (in Zeran v. AOL and Blumenthal v. Drudge and AOL) and ElectriCiti (in Aquino v. ElectriCiti).

Wired magazine’s blog says this:

Maybe if Myers hadn’t included a long, technical evaluation to the balloon animal snark, Pivars might — theoretically — have had a very outside shot at a case. But in that post and elsewhere, Myers gets into the scientific flaws of Pivar’s theories. What he says falls well short of the American definition of libel, which requires that a claim be false.The meat of Myers’ criticisms are quite substantial.

Pivar’s case is clearly empty. And given his wealth, he can undoubtedly afford better legal advice. So what’s the deal? I’m guessing that it’s just a PR stunt. What better way to sell your book than get the blogosphere boiling, in the hope that the lawsuit becomes a full-blown — and wholly undeserved — controversy?

And here I am, covering it. Damn the system.

[tags]atheist, atheism, PZ Myers, Pharyngula, Lifecode, Stuart Pivar, CSICOP, Intelligent Design, Scientific American[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Karen

    If every offended author could get a libel judgment because their book got a bad review, we’d be in a lot of trouble. I don’t think he’ll get anywhere.

  • JoshH

    Pivar, yanking the judge by the sleeve: “He’s a big meany doo-doo head. On his blog he wrote something negative about my meaningless book.”

    Judge: “Oh no! You mean something bad was written about something on a blog?!?!”

    I can see the judge laughing Pivar out of court. This is just ridiculous.

  • I somehow doubt that Neil de Grasse Tyson would withdraw a review of a book because of something PZ (or anyone else) said on a blog.

  • I have a lot of respect for Jim Lippard so I’ll take his word for it. Maybe PZ should just stick to just the facts in future book reviews. These kinds of things have a habit of snowballing.

  • Richard Wade

    On the surface it looks like a petty and frivolous lawsuit. It could even be a calculated publicity stunt. Even if it gets thrown out people have heard about the book. Look at how all of blogaria is buzzing about it. Myers should definitely countersue.

  • Andrew

    This makes me sick. Our tax dollars at work! Like anyone other than Pivar is damaging his “reputation”…

  • Atlegalbar

    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 http://www.aninconvenienttheory.com

  • The commenter here “Atlegalbar” is most likely Pivar’s PR flack, Matthew Rich, who posted similar comments at numerous other blogs covering this lawsuit, including mine.

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