Pivar vs PZ

I sometimes read PZ Myers' popular blog Pharyngula. PZ is a biologist and an atheist who does not suffer foolishness gladly. Unfortunately his critique of the shoddy science in a book called Lifecode has led to a libel suit (pdf).

In this ridiculous suit, "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."

How does one determine the parameters for calling someone a classic crackpot? My definition would definitely include someone who fictitionalizes relationships with noted scientists and cooks up pseudoscience, then launches malicious lawsuits because he can afford to.

"The specific area of [Pivar's] endeavors"? Pivar is a businessman and not a scientists, so how are we to take this book to reflect professional activities? Perhaps the lawyer was thinking of the oldest profession and believed that Pivar was prostituting himself to creationism. Nah! Nobody prostitutes themselves to creationism, do they? It's probably just lawyer talk to make the law suit sound legitimate.

As to considerable “considerable mental and emotional distress”, my sister is a psychiatrist and told me that in her professional opinion, "anyone who suffers so much distress over being called a "classic crackpot" would be better advised to spend his money on a good therapist rather than a lawyer."

America is a dismayingly litigious nation, but it is not libel to speak the truth and Myers is a credible expert on developmental biology, so his criticisms are likely valid and the suit is unlikely to succeed. Let's hope not! As the Friendly Atheist points out, the book's author, whose science is indeed shoddy, may be following the adage that no publicity is bad publicity.

PZ is wisely remaining silent on the issue.

Update: Pivar withdrew the suit. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear exactly how this decision was reached. Scientific American informs us that Pivar has threatened others through law suits. Could Pivar and his lawyer have come to their senses because of issues addressed in a letter from a law professor? The ridiculous case of the torus versus pharyngula has certainly excited a torrent of negative assessments of Pivar and his book. PZ was gentlemanly about the nonsense.

Sites Elsewhere: The Panda's Thumb : Scientific American : the Lippard Blog : Overlawyered : Positive Liberty : Science after Sunclipse (timeline)

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