Remember that Stuart Pivar fellow who wrote a book called LifeCode (2004), a book which purported to advance a new theory of developmental biology — a theory which would, naturally, overturn everything biologists have figured out so far? Well, here’s a quick refresher:
- On 7 November 2005, PZ Myers reviewed LifeCode on his old blog. The upshot is that pretty pictures do not a body of evidence make.
- This past July, on the twelfth to be specific, Myers reposts his review on ScienceBlogs.com, because Pivar started promoting his book again.
- Down in the comments, my Pharynguloid pals and I started noticing that the laudatory quotes Pivar had stuck on LifeCode couldn’t be traced back to their purported sources. In particular, an endorsement from Neil deGrasse Tyson turned out to be a chimera: the first part from an unrelated NOVA interview, and the second completely fabricated.
- On the seventeenth, Myers posts his review of Pivar’s new edition. In Pivar’s illustration, a spider has ten legs. The money quote from Myers: “This book is a description of the development and evolution of balloon animals.” Later, Mark Chu-Carroll will agree that, in the end, Pivar’s claim “just doesn’t hold up to the least bit of scrutiny.”
- The next day, PZ makes note of the puzzling endorsement situation. He says that he’s written several of the people whose names Pivar invoked, and Neil deGrasse Tyson had written back: “Tyson replied, and has said that part of the quote is an out of context reference to a completely different subject, and that another part is a fabrication. He has asked that Pivar remove his name from his website, which he has not done. Tyson’s name is also prominently used on the back cover of his book — I don’t see that going away, either.”
- Stuart Pivar sends an e-mail to my place of employment, using our generic departmental e-mail address; an administrative assistant eventually notices the message and forwards it to me. The text follows.
Dear Dr Stacey,
Thank you for your interest in Lifecode. It presents a solution to the ultimate systems problem, living taxonomy. The model is considered very serious now by many. But it freaks out biologists into cognitive dyfunction.
Robert Hazen is a prominent NASA scientist in this field . His review recommending publication is appended.
The review of PZ Myers may be also seen today. Please note that he not an embryologist.
May I send you a copy of the book?.
Note: there were no actual appended items.
OK — followed all that? Now, you better be sitting down for this. Via ERV, I just learned that Stuart Pivar is suing PZ Myers and the Seed Media Group.
Jim Lippard summarizes the shenanigans:
The complaint claims that Myers’ remarks led to Neil de Grasse [sic] 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.
Holy frivolous litigation, Batman!
At the SciAm blog, Christopher Mims observes that checking the New York State court system’s database reveals fifteen cases since 1986 in which Stuart Pivar has been the plaintiff (and two in which we was the defendant). All of them are listed as “disposed.” PZ writes in an e-mail to Mims,
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.
Prof. Myers’ wisest course of action may be to “shut up,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to keep fingers away from keyboards. Far from it:
- Jason Rosenhouse, “Would Stephen Jay Gould Have Signed the ‘Steves’ List?” (9 November 2005).
- Mark Frauenfelder, “Writer sued for a negative review in a blog post” (20 August 2007).
- Ted Frank, “Blogger sued for book review” (20 August 2007).
- Jim Lippard, “Libel lawsuit against Science Blogger P.Z. Myers” (20 August 2007).
- Christopher Mims, “PZ Myers, ScienceBlogs.com’s lead blogger, is being sued for libel” (20 August 2007).
- SA Smith, “Kook Sues PZ — NOT a Joke” (20 August 2007).
- Brandon Keim, “Pseudoscience not Selling? Just Sue a Science Blogger for Libel” (20 August 2007).
- Daylight Atheism, “A Legal Development” (20 August 2007).
- Scott Pilutik, “stuart pivar v. seed media group, llc and paul z. myers” (20 August 2007).
- Ian Ramjohn, “And the magic word isâ€¦crackpot” (20 August 2007).
- John Pieret, “Crackpot Suit” (20 August 2007) and “Crackpot Suit, Part Deux” (21 August 2007).
- William K. Wolfrum, “Crackpot sues noted science blogger for calling him a crackpot” (21 August 2007).
- JLT, “ PZ Myers und die Seed Media Group werden verklagt” (21 August 2007).
- Timothy Sandefur, “Pivarâ€™s Libel Suit Against PZ Myers” (21 August 2007).
- Teresa Nielsen Hayden, “Some idiot is suing PZ Myers” (21 August 2007).
- Phil Plait, “PZ being sued by ‘crackpot’” (21 August 2007).
- Andrea Bottaro, “So Sue Me” (21 August 2007). See in particular the comment by attorney Peter Irons.
- PZ Myers, “No comment” (21 August 2007).
- Chris Clarke, “Crackpot thug Stuart Pivar sues PZ over book review” (21 August 2007).
- Susannah A., “Is it censorship season or something?” (21 August 2007).
- Ed Darrell, “P. Z. Myers sued for libel; what is crackpot science?” (22 August 2007).
- Kathryn Cramer, “Background to the Stuart Pivar Lawsuit: Money as ‘a Form of Behavior’” (22 August 2007).
- John Lynch, “Epic Takedown of Pivar” (24 August 2007).
- Monado, “Stuart Pivar is a classic crackpot” (27 August 2007).
- PZ Myers, “The inevitable has occurred” (28 August 2007).
- DarkSyde, “Is There Anything Doughnuts Can’t Do?” (30 August 2007).
- PZ Myers, “I’m beginning to feel a bit sorry for the guy” (30 August 2007), with a comment by DarkSyde.
- Christopher Mims, “Busted: PR Flacks who ran afoul of the science blogosphere, including a brand new flack for Stuart Pivar who showed up right here on this blog” (31 August 2007).
- Blake Stacey, “PR Flacks for Pivar!” (31 August 2007).
- CP Staff, “Monkey’s Uncle” (5 September 2007).
- PZ Myers, “Last little whimper of the Pivar story” (6 September 2007), with a comment by Peter Irons.
- PZ Myers, “Altenberg 2008 is over” (19 July 2008).
When I think of the people I’ve angered on the Internet, this kind of censorship-by-intimidation gives me pause. . . and then makes me want to load up on 1.21 jigawatts of caffeine and sound a barbaric yawp over the networks of the world.
UPDATE: As I did for Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, I’m going to collect links on this subject and list them on this post. I don’t plan to gather everything, but pages which offer original insight or information will be welcome.
UPDATE (25 August 2007): You may recall that attorney and retired law professor Peter Irons commented at the Panda’s Thumb, calling Pivar’s complaint “a patently frivolous lawsuit.” At the time, Irons wrote,
I have learned a lot more about Pivar, including his alleged â€œfriendshipâ€ with Steve Gould (who was my close friend from our college days in the 1950s until he died in 2002), but I wonâ€™t post it here.
Irons has followed up this comment by writing to Pivar himself. Before taking apart Pivar’s complaint, Irons notes,
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 thatâ€™s a moot point.
To summarize the rest, the supposed precedent cited in Pivar’s complaint is worthless, and the precedent which does apply — Underwood Dudley‘s dealings with a litigious math crank — is entirely in PZ Myers’ favor. Furthermore, “Ryland Press, Inc.,” the publisher of both versions of Lifecode, suffers from a severe case of nonexistence. On top of that, Axiom House, which advertises Lifecode, chose to do so as a personal favor to Pivar himself, and has not sold any copies.
So much for the millions of dollars, eh?
UPDATE (28 August 2007): Woo hoo! Peter Irons reports that Pivar’s attorney withdrew the suit today! He says,
PZ, thanks for mentioning my small contribution to convincing Pivar that his case was crap. Let’s see, over the past 9 days I’ ve put in about 40 hours on this case, and I charge $200 an hour, so PZ owes me $8000. Just kidding: I did this because I admire PZ and despise rich bullies like Pivar. Here’s my pay: a commenter on one blog said “I want to have Peter Irons’ baby.” Wow! and another said, “Let’s send him home-baked cookies.” Chocolate chip, please. Seriously, if this kind of time-suck can happen to people like PZ, it could happen to anyone who says “boo” to a crackpot. But maybe Pivar’s humiliating back-down will prevent other crackpots from trying the same tactic. Now, back to whittling on my front porch.
But in a bizarre and shocking twist, Stuart Pivar’s lawyer — Michael J. Little — is now threatening Irons with noise of legal action.
UPDATE (13 September 2007): For the epilogue to this affair, see my post Stuart Pivar: Man and Myth.