First, an announcement: Brent Rasmussen has the sixty-ninth Skeptic’s Circle up at his place. Rasmussen taps into that deeply American mythos, the aquifer of imagery which we specialists call “the Western.” Science After Sunclipse is represented by my two entries on Stuart Pivar, the hapless businessman who wrote a silly book, tried to sue the professor who gave it a scathing review and earned the moniker “classic crackpot,” bestowed upon him by an unsympathetic Internet.
In and of itself, that sounds like a nice legend too, doesn’t it? “Businessman versus blogger,” a hero tale for the Wild West Web.
But myths have their underside, and the closer we poke at a myth, the more interesting the telling becomes. The story of Cain and Abel might be an adaptation of a Sumerian fable; all that business about Cain finding a wife and needing a mark to protect him from the other people — what other people, if his was the only family on Earth? — may be the residue of a polytheistic age, when Yahweh was only supreme thunder-bringer of one patch of land, and Genesis was the origin story of his people alone. (In ancient Ugarit, Yahweh was the son of Elyon, the Most High.)
And what of our modern story? The clash between Pivar and PZ Myers is such the perfect Slashdot item; could there be more to it than that?
Matt Snyders of City Pages got a quote from Pivar himself, although it’s hard to tell whether it comes from their 27 August interview (before the suit was withdrawn) or later, when the air came out of the affair:
“The real issue got sidelined,” he [Pivar] said, explaining that his biggest beef is with Seed Media Group, the organization that oversees Myers’s blog.
Peter Irons, the retired law professor who shredded Pivar’s complaint and uncovered a great deal of interesting information, noticed that the original complaint named Jeffrey Epstein as a director of Seed Media Group. (That same complaint also repeats the lie that Neil deGrasse Tyson had endorsed Pivar’s book.) Now, Epstein isn’t a director of SMG, so what’s going on here? Irons says,
I had an interesting talk the other day with a writer for Vanity Fair, who’s working on a big story about Epstein, focusing on the under-age sex [charges] pending against him. The Vanity Fair writer told me that Epstein put up a big wad of cash to set up Seed, and that Pivar and Epstein (formerly friends) had a falling out. My own guess (speculation at this point) is that someone at the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard, which Epstein initially funded with $6.5 million, turned down Pivar’s request to endorse his Lifecode book. The sex charges just added fuel to Pivar’s effort to “get” Epstein, with PZ’s “crackpot” comment giving Pivar a convenient hook.
I’ve added a few links for scholarship’s sake.
Was Pivar’s real target the Seed Media Group? If Irons is correct and PZ was only “caught in the Pivar-Epstein crossfire,” then what a tragedy — “Businessman versus limited-liability corporation” is hardly as Slashdottable as “businessman versus scientist”! Of course, Pivar did take the trouble to write to me, so I doubt he’s completely unattached to his crackpot notions of embryology.
Other interesting entries in this fortnight’s Circle include RationalWiki’s article on non-materialist neuroscience (their site seems to be in between providers), the Socratic Gadfly on Lynn Margulis, and Jeff Perado’s challenge to AIG. All in all, an excellent hosting job by Brent Rasmussen!
I was told when I grew up I could be anything I wanted: a fireman, a policeman, a doctor — even president, it seemed. And for the first time in the history of mankind, something new, called an astronaut. But like so many kids brought up on a steady diet of westerns, I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero — that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth, and justice. And in my heart of hearts I still track the remnants of that dream wherever I go, in my endless ride into the setting sun.
— Bill Hicks, Revelations (1993)