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August 21, 2007

Some idiot is suing PZ Myers
Posted by Teresa at 08:02 AM *

PZ Myers—biologist, academic, tireless crusader for science and reason, and proprietor of the weblog Pharyngula—is being sued for reviewing a book. The plaintiff, one Stuart Pivar, has charged PZ Myers and Seed Media with assault, libel, and slander.

Let’s go over that again: Pivar published a book; he got bad reviews; he’s charging assault. Yes, it really is that dumb. But speaking from experience, even if all you’ve got is a lackwit suing you on patently ridiculous grounds, it’s still damned irritating. (And sometimes funny. But irritating.)

Pivar thinks he’s come up with a revolutionary idea for how evolution works. He wrote a book about it, which he published in two versions, both attractively illustrated. The first, LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization, was reviewed in Pharyngula. The gist of PZM’s review:

I will say this: it is very pretty. Pivar has a website for the book, with some of the artwork on display. It’s visually striking stuff.

Unfortunately, it has almost nothing to do with reality. His theory (which is also explained on a website) is all about topological manipulations of embryonic forms, and he uses the artwork to show his models for how the embryo is distorted by physical forces to generate various structures…and they simply do not bear any relationship to cell and tissue movements in any embryo I’ve ever seen. …

I’m afraid all of these artistic inventions are in the service of a theory that is unappealing, uninteresting, and without the slightest bit of predictive power. Here is his idea, briefly: all cells and embryos are donuts, and how they turn themselves inside out determines their future morphology.

When Pivar put out his second version of the book, PZM reviewed it too:
Pivar has put out a new version of his book, Lifecode: From Egg to Embryo by Self-Organization. I’m sorry to say it doesn’t address any of my criticisms, and is even worse. This is not a scientific theory, and it isn’t even a collection of evidence: it’s a jumble of doodles. I read through it all this afternoon (there really isn’t that much to read), and I have to conclude it says nothing about the development or evolution of biological organisms, although it is relevant to something else.

What seems to be new in the book is a set of experiments, of sorts. Pivar’s model of development has long been that we achieve the diversity of organismal form by starting with a torus, and that fluid movements and distortions of the toroid form lead to the more elaborate forms at the end of development. The donut is the unifying principle underlying everything (hmmm, makes one wonder if there is a tie-in to the new Simpsons movie). So what he’s done in this work is make some flexible plastic toroidal tubes filled with fluid and flexed them and twisted them, and taken some pictures. These balloons of fluid, as you might guess, buckle and wrinkle in predictable ways—ways that, in Pivar’s interpretation, leap to be represented as morphogenetic events. A tube that is bent, for instance, makes a series of wrinkles with an even distribution that look, very vaguely, like maybe you could pretend they are segments.

So he does pretend. At length.

… The doodles in this book bear absolutely no relationship to anything that goes on in real organisms, but after staring at them for a while, I realized what this book is actually about.

This book is a description of the development and evolution of balloon animals.

It’s that bad.

If you’re tempted to criticize PZM for his unkindness, go read the reviews in full. Both of them fully engage with Pivar’s theories, and discuss them at length. PZM even finds a few kind things to say about the books. Really, they’re model reviews. Pivar’s only cause for dissatisfaction is that PZM comprehensively dismissed his theories: not grounds for legal action.

The case has been reported by Christopher Mims in Scientific American. Reduced to more or less its topic sentences, the piece says:

Stuart Pivar is a wealthy New York businessman who also was or at least claims to have been a close friend of noted evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould.

PZ has made a number of unfavorable but, on balance, not in my opinion excessively mean-spirited reviews of Pivar’s book.

Stuart responded by leaving a number of comments on PZ’s blog expressing his displeasure, and according to PZ:

I’ve got a mailbox full of his frantic hallooing, some of which claims I “have transcended the barrier separating protected commentary from libel.”
So, it looks like Mr. Pivar has made good on his threat to sue for libel. I’ve no doubt he believes he has a legitimate case, but of course the bar for proving libel under U.S. law is quite high.

There’s probably a lot of other things going on here, as well. 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.”)

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).

This is either harassment or cluelessness. Whichever it is, Pivar’s lawyer is at fault for helping him pursue the case.

If it is a matter of cluelessness, I think we’re going to see more cases like it. A lot of people out there have some notion that the New York Times is allowed to make unfavorable remarks about their ideas or business practices or prospects for success, and that Library Journal and Publishers Weekly are allowed to print unkind reviews of their books; but they aren’t nearly as clear on the idea that webloggers can do it too.

Addenda:

Someone whom I believe is unconnected with the case has e-mailed me a .pdf of the complaint Stuart Pivar filed against PZ Myers and Seed Media Group. Apparently what set Pivar off was the use of the word “crackpot”. Tough noogies. Anyone can see it’s true.

I’m puzzled by “Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and money damages for defamation and libel per se premised upon diversity of citizenship.” Wonder what that’s about.

Woo! Get this:

“Plaintiff discussed the LIFECODE project on numerous occasions with Professor Stephen Jay Gould, who, until his untimely death in May 2002, was working on a refutation of the fundamentalist Darwinian theory of evolution, a position of scientific orthodoxy that LIFECODE questions.”
I have serious trouble imagining Stephen Jay Gould going along with a revolutionary theory of embryological development that doesn’t match anything we know about the actual development of embryos. It’s a good thing for Pivar that the dead can’t sue for libel.

Hmmm. Pivar says that his book was “reviewed” by an odd assortment of scientists. He says that PZM’s motives for calling him a crackpot can only have been malicious, since PZM knows that no such assortment of scientists would endorse or review a crackpot’s work. He seems to have no notion that PZM’s judgements might be based on scientific expertise, independent of anyone else’s endorsement of the book. Hang on, there’s something I need to do …

Yo, Stuart Pivar! You’re a crackpot. Yes, you are. Get used to it.

Back to the filing.

Pivar is asking for total damages of fifteen million dollars, plus PZ Myers has to take down those reviews. He says he’s been made to suffer humiliation, anxiety, emotional upset, public ridicule, public embarrassment, impairment of his good name, gross impairment to his professional reputation (as a manufacturer of plastic containers? I doubt it), and public impairment of his abilities and integrity. I say that if he’d really suffered all those things, the experience would have taught him the difference between impairment and disparagement.

This demonstrates once again, as if it needed demonstrating, that trying to retaliate for bad reviews is always a mistake. If Pivar had left the matter alone, some fraction of Pharyngula’s readers would have remembered PZM’s reviews of the books, and a much smaller fraction might have remembered Pivar’s name. Now he’s well on his way to becoming middling famous as the crackpot who sued PZ Myers. He has no one to blame but himself.

More:

Read the entire filing (.pdf). (Thank you, Michael Weholt.)

Kathryn Cramer on Stuart Pivar and Andy Warhol.

Blake Stacey, in Science after Sunclipse, lays out the gory details, then says:

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.
Comments on Some idiot is suing PZ Myers:
#1 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:36 AM:

The levels of lame-i-tude are apparently quite high and rising ...

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Can people be sued for not reviewing a book?

(Life in the 21st Century is turning into an Onion spoof.)

#3 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:41 AM:

Surely lawsuits trump actual science? Isn't that how modern America works?

#4 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:43 AM:

Had I lolcat-fu, this is where I'd put in the link to "I r rich importnt guy u not be making funny about mee plz" (insert image of cat in ludicrous posture, your choice).

Now I want a doughtnut. Can I sue PZ Myers for that?

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:59 AM:

1) Any fool can sue.

2) Lots of fools do.

This is an example of the ABM (Author's Big Mistake) writ large.

#6 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 10:05 AM:

This is strange considering the goings on in Turkey where a whole heap of Wordpress blogs were effectively blocked from Turkish users because of their harsh criticism of the author of a poorly constructed creationist tome. It would seem Mr. Pivar, though not seeking the same ends, is operating along the same lines by suing his critics rather than actually addressing the criticism. And if that's not a sign of intellectual cowardice, I don't know what is.

#7 ::: Daniel Spector ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 10:15 AM:

Of course, I doubt Herr Pivar has any intention of actually winning the suit.

If he is a successsful businessman (wealthy) and angry, he will merely spend enough money to ruin PZ Myers' life.

To fight this as a non-dirty suit would be at least $50k. If it is a spite-suit, there will be endless depositions and requests for "continuances" which will take away from Myers productive time for- possibly- years and every dime Myers has ever earned.

I wish that there was a fair way to defend against a wealthy person with a belly full of vitriol and a team of lawyers... but other than offering to settle and go bankrupt that way, I doubt there is.

With liberty, and justice for....

#8 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 10:32 AM:

We have no barritry law in the United States. This kind of case is why we need one. I think this loser should go to JAIL for using the courts this day.

Myers' best hope is that a reasonable judge will dismiss the case with prejudice.

#9 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 10:36 AM:

Is "assault" included metaphorically? How about arson, then, because the reviewer flamed him? Or rape?

#10 ::: Patrick ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 10:57 AM:

Oh, come now. Defending a suit this frivolous isn't a 50 grand proposition. In fact, the inclusion of assault may be a favor to PZ- it flags the guy as a kook.

#11 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 11:00 AM:

Suing over a negative review strikes me as an excellent way to bring to the public's attention the full extent of the true badness of one's book. If one had written a really bad book and wanted to make sure everyone was clear on that fact, this would be an superb tactic to deploy.

The situation reminds me of this bit from Monty Python:


Interviewer: Why didn't you call the police?

Vercotti: Well I had noticed that the lad with the thermo-nuclear device was the Chief Constable for the area. Anyway a week later they came back, said that the cheque had bounced and that I had to see Doug.

Interviewer: Doug?

Vercotti: Doug (takes a drink) I was terrified of him. Everyone was terrified of Doug. I've seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than see Doug. Even Dinsdale was frightened of Doug.

Interviewer What did he do?

Vercotti: He used sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire.

Cut to map.

Presenter: (voice over) By a combination of violence and sarcasm, the Piranha brothers by February 1966 controlled London and the South East. In February, though, Dinsdale made a big mistake.

#14 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 11:06 AM:

#12--Thanks, skwid--the fact that you used a balloon cat makes it all the more apropos.

Thanks to you, I am able to find the strength to forgive PZ Myers (and Teresa) for making me want a doughnut!

#15 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 11:26 AM:

Many homeowner's and renter's insurance policies provide coverage for libel suits.

But when I tried to get mine to cover me, they refused -- even though I had specifically asked them about libel coverage at the time I bought my policy. Fortunately, I was never actually sued -- I guess the bad guy's lawyers realized that he couldn't win in New York.

But if I am sued and am denied coverage, I could win big.

#16 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 11:53 AM:

Unfortunately, considering how long the lawsuit went on about the man who lost his pants at a dry cleaners' store, it is not all that difficult to find a judge willing to hear a frivolous case.

If that happens, then I agree that Pivar isn't interested in "winning" the case, only in destroying Myers' life by ruining him financially.

Isn't this similar, in fact, to that spate of lawsuits filed pre-emptively by corporations to stop lawsuits from being filed against them by (smaller, less financially able) private citizens? I apologize for not remembering more of the particulars, but I recall people saying it was a dirty trick, since the corporations had unlimited funds and could just keep filing and filing until the opposition just gave up or went broke.

#17 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 12:51 PM:

John L, those are usually called SLAPPs- Specific Lawsuits Against Public Participation- and are one of a handful of tactics that can be used against activists (and people who won't sell their land to developers) without rising to the level of harassment or coersion. The most usual tactic is to sue for economic damages caused by, say, responding to a Draft EIS or reporting environmental damage to the proper authorities or refusing a new easement. The tactic was popular for a few years, but since the things cost the government as much money as they do the parties to the suit, patches get made to the legal code to protect citizen participation in the planning process.

Now they just start the rumor that you're about to put any real estate you own on the market, and your time is eaten up by getting rid of the circuling land vultures.

(Bitter? Me, bitter?)

#18 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:08 PM:

Any sensible judge would throw the case out on its face, assuming Mr. Myers has a good lawyer; I doubt one could make a prima facie case of libel based on this.

The elements of libel are that the defendant publish (blog review, check) an assertion of fact ("balloon animals," check) which damages the plaintiff (loss of sales/reputation, check) and which is false (oops).

An assault claim is laughable on the face of it.

The pity is that Mr. Myers will have to spend the money to defend against this, and it won't stop Mr. Pivar from doing it again, and again.

I've heard about this happening with regards to a certain Saudi prince, who keeps filing libel suits in the UK to keep publishers from printing books linking him to international terrorism. It's not that he wins the cases, but they can't keep defending them, so they stop publishing.

It is totally a misuse of the legal system, and yeah, bears a lot of similarity to that jackass ALJ in DC who has appealed his dismissal of the dry-cleaning suit. Argh.

#19 ::: martyn44 ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:19 PM:

Distressing to see the shades of Robert Maxwell and James Goldsmith stalking the land again (two British businessmen - well, Maxwell was Hungarian if you want strict accuracy - of dubious business ethics and political views joined at the hip by frightening avarice and arrogance who reached for their learned friends at the first hint of criticism)

Maybe Mr Myers should ask Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye, an organ sued by both gents on numerous occasions) for advice. In the meantime, is there a defence fund?

#20 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:29 PM:

Robert Maxwell was...well, it's complicated. According to everyone's least favourite online encyclopedia:

Robert Maxwell was born Ján Ludvík Hoch in the small town of Slatinské Doly, Carpathian Ruthenia, the easternmost province of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia (now part of Slatina-Doly (in Russian Solotvino [Солотвино]) Ukraine, into a poor Yiddish-speaking Jewish family. In 1939, the area was reclaimed by Hungary to which it had belonged for a thousand years.
Maxwell was nicknamed the 'Bouncing Czech' on account of his rotund figure. (A cheque 'bounces' when they isn't enough money in the account on which it has been drawn.)

#21 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:31 PM:

Can't PZM ask that the suit be dismissed with prejudice?

#22 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:35 PM:

It doesn't matter that the case is nonsensical. If you fail to have your lawyer show up in court and make both a written and verbal rebuttal of all the silly claims, you are likely to lose at once via default judgement. Paying a lawyer to do that is expensive. Losing is very expensive.

If you don't believe this, I suggest that you look into the E360 vs. Spamhaus case in Illinois - Spamhaus (one of the major antispam organizations, based in the UK) had a multi-million dollar default judgement issued against them, largely written by the plaintiff, a major US spammer. That was after they did file thorough briefs arguing against the suit on grounds of failure to show jurisdiction and failure to show damages. Fortunately they had some valid points of law to argue on the appeal, and were allowed to appeal.

Yes, I'm greatly simplifying that case, but my point remains: It is usually disastrous to fail to respond fully and thoroughly to a nuisance lawsuit - and that is an expensive proposition for anyone of ordinary income.

#23 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:46 PM:

As someone who's been in a roughly similar situation, I would be very surprised if Seed Media did not provide PZ with representation, which will have been paid for already through Seed's very expensive insurance policy covering such things.

Not that this is any less of an outrageous annoyance, of course. But I'm betting PZ won't have to get his checkbook out for a bit.

#24 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:08 PM:

I have been the defendant in a civil suit which went all the way to jury trial (but not to verdict - last-minute settlement).

When you are sued, you have already lost. It's likely to cost you $5,000 to make the lawsuit go away - if you are very lucky. If you are unlucky it could cost you tens of thousands of dollars to defend even a dumb lawsuit.

#25 ::: CJColucci ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:16 PM:

I've been thinking about entering the private sector and hanging up a shingle. If PZ wants a NY lawyer, this can be my first case.
Note to Disciplinary Committee: This is humor. I'm not soliciting a case.

#26 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:19 PM:

Xopher @ 8:

Actually, we have barratry laws in the US -- it just depends on what state you are in. In California barratry is a crime. According to the California Penal Code:

158. Common barratry is the practice of exciting groundless judicial proceedings, and is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months and by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000). 159. No person can be convicted of common barratry except upon proof that he has excited suits or proceedings at law in at least three instances, and with a corrupt or malicious intent to vex and annoy.

#27 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:19 PM:

Assault, libel and slander? How the hell can a written document do all three? I think that PZM's categorising of Pivar as a 'crackpot' may be, ahem, generous.

(Help! I'm being assaulted by rogue pixels!)

#28 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:20 PM:

By the way, any news on Bauer, et al, vs. Glatzer, et al?

(Also, did I put the right number of commas in that?)

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:23 PM:

There was a fellow named Pivar,
a mean sort of dustbin-diver.
In suing PZ
He sank up to his head,
and his case was not worth a stiver.

#30 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:31 PM:

Bill 28: I don't think they're talking about it. I think that when they can we'll see a front-page post.

Fragano 29: Wait a minute, those two short lines don't...oh right, of course they do. Duhh.

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:46 PM:

Xopher #30: Z for his hat.

#32 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:54 PM:

Fragano 31: [*]

#33 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:10 PM:

Ah, the joy of pro se litigants. (I haven't checked, but I just bet Pivar is pro se: no sane lawyer would take this case on, and if one had he would have got the utterly insane assault charges removed.)

I predict this never gets to trial. (In the UK, at least, PZ could expect to be awarded costs as well.)

(of course IANAL, but my cousin is; maybe there's some genetic element ;} )

#34 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:17 PM:

Doesn't New York have an anti-SLAPP law?

If Pivar isn't pro se, I foresee Rule 11 sanctions against his attorney.

Whether or not he is, the term "vexatious litigant" seems likely to be in his future.

#35 ::: Ben M ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:43 PM:

There's a famous case of a math crackpot sueing Underwood Dudley, author of "Mathematical Cranks", for defamation. Dudley's crime, of course, was pointing out the errors in the crackpot's supposed refutation of Cantor's Diagonal Argument.

The crackpot lost, of course, and the decision was upheld in a (very entertaining) appeals court decision by Richard Posner. (Dilworth v. Dudley, 1996. Worth a read.

http://www.law.emory.edu/7circuit/jan96/95-2282.html

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:58 PM:

Bill (28), Barbara Bauer's lawsuit (brought against a semi-random assortment of writers, weblogs, and the Wikipedia Foundation) continues to drag on. She's abysmally stupid. She thinks that if she creates enough fuss and fluster on the internet, the high Google ranking of the Twenty Worst Agents List will somehow go away.

#37 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 04:56 PM:

I'm not doubting the PZ Meyers has to appear in court and respond. But I'm wondering if once he appears if a judge is not likely to respond favorably to a motion that the suit be dismissed with prejudice - that is that it be dismissed and the Plaintiff prohibited from refiling.

#38 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 05:16 PM:

Gar Lipow (#37): Just appearing in court and responding is likely to cost PZ Meyers a couple of thousand dollars.

Oh, a competent attorney can probably get the case thrown out for a couple of hundred dollars. But many attorneys are not competent, and picking one of them would be a costly error.

TNH (#36): ... and of course the reality is the bigger fuss she makes, the more people link to the original list, and the higher its Google rank becomes.

#39 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 05:25 PM:

IANAL and in the UK as well, but here assault is about the threat of violence and has to do with causing fear, rather than battery, the actual use of violence. So in theory, you could assault someone in a book review*. Everyone's favourite online encylopedia gives a brief explanation on a disambiguation page.

* Battery, not to be confused with barratry, could be committed with a book review, but probably not as part of one.

#40 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 05:33 PM:

here assault is about the threat of violence and has to do with causing fear,

Well, here too, but imminent fear. Having someone a continent away say nasty things about you does not justify a claim of assault. And there's nothing quoted in this post that would justify putting poor Mr. Pivar in imminent fear of an offensive touching. (Yes, that's the common-law standard: an offensive touching is battery, and it can be as simple as a tap on the shoulder, if the toucher reasonably knew the touchee would find it offensive.)

(Now I'm having flashbacks to Torts class...)

#41 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 05:36 PM:

TNH writes in #36:

She thinks that if she creates enough fuss and fluster on the internet, the high Google ranking of the Twenty Worst Agents List will somehow go away.

The Twenty Worst Agents List? Why would she think that the high Google ranking of the Twenty Worst Agents List would decrease rather than increase? It seems more likely to me that as time goes on, as Mitch Wagner suggests, people will only create more links to the Twenty Worst Agents List.

#42 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 05:49 PM:

Not only imminent, I think, but "credible" is required also. (That's a weaker standard than "reasonable person", but stronger than "paranoid nutcase".)

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 06:02 PM:

Nix (33), it was a good guess, but Pivar's not a pro se litigant. His lawyer is Michael John Little.

#44 ::: Former 1L ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 06:31 PM:

A few comments after reading the complaint (which I hope will be put up somewhere on the web soon).

1. There is no claim for assault. The NY court system seems to lump together various forms of personal injury tort claims together in case listings.
Pivar is suing for "Tortious interference with Business relations" [sic on the capitalization] asking "at least $5 million" and "Libel per se" for "at least $10 million."
Pivar also demands that "Defendants Myers and SMG [Seed Media Group] . . . immediately remove such statements from all web-sites [sic] under their control; and Defendants be enjoined from continuing to issue libelous and defamatory statements about the Plaintiff."

2. Pivar is not acting pro se. He has an attorney, who is apparently also a notary public. According to the NY State attorney directory, Pivar's lawyer went to law school in the UK (although he is obviously licensed in NY).

3. The copyediting is unusually bad, even for a court document. The complaint refers to a book called How the leopard changed it's spots and the possessive of Myers is Myers' throughout (well, except when it's Myer's). There is no mention of any Myers other than PZ, or of any Myer at all.

4. The suit does not refer to PZM's review of the original edition of Lifecode, only to his comments on the updated edition.

5. Pivar's overall theory is that "the foreword, review and endorsements confirmed Lifecode as a serious scientific addition to the theoretical enquiry and important debate between the leading Darwinist and neo-Darwinist polemicists." By overturning this previously "confirmed" understanding, PZM supposedly damaged Pivar's reputation and business to the tune of "at least" $15 million.

6. Quote presented without comment:

"Myer's [sic] defamatory remarks were made with actual malice; Myers called Plaintiff 'a classic crackpot' fully knowing that statement to be false as a statement of fact and in reckless disregard of the truth about Plaintiff because Myer's [sic] knew full well, [at] the time of publishing his defamatory statement that no scientist holding the international reputation of any of [Robert] Hazen, [Dimitar] Sasselov, [Brian] Goodwin or [Neil de Grasse] Tyson would endorse or review the work of a crackpot." [These men wrote the "foreword, review and endorsements" of the updated edition]

#45 ::: Former 1L ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 06:42 PM:

The sentence TNH mentioned, "Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and money damages for defamation and libel per se premised upon diversity of citizenship", gives the overall outline of Pivar's claim.

Pivar is asking for injunctive relief (a court order that those nasty statements be removed) and money damages ($15 mil) and a Federal court has jurisdiction because Pivar is a citizen of New York and PZM is a citizen of Minnesota (diversity of citizenship).

#46 ::: cathy ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 07:29 PM:

I wish that there was a fair way to defend against a wealthy person with a belly full of vitriol and a team of lawyers... but other than offering to settle and go bankrupt that way, I doubt there is.

There are steps that can be taken. In terms of dealing with the lawsuit itself, one can file a motion to dismiss. If the law is on one's side, then costs and attorneys fees can be obtained upon victory either at verdict or when a motion for summary judgment is granted. If the case is in federal court, then making a low-ball Rule 68 offer of judgment is a good strategy. That way if you lose and the verdict comes in at or below what you offered in settlement, the other side has to pay you your trial costs. [It is really fun and satisfying when this happens. I defended a case where the jury only awarded $1 in damages against one of 2 defendants. Because I had made a rule 68 offer of judgment, plaintiff wound up owing for the cost of 6 deposition transcripts, the trial transcripts, the witness subpoena fees, witness transportation costs, etc. She wound up owing us $15K]

If the case is frivolous, then the lawyer may have violated the rules of professional ethics by proceeding with the case. File a complaint with the bar disciplinary committee.

If this guy has filed enough cases that have been dismissed with prejudice, one can attempt to have the court issue an order barring him from bringing a lawsuit without the court's permission, although that's generally a more common occurance with obviously crazy pro se litigants.

#47 ::: Dave Menendez ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 07:43 PM:

I keep wanting to read "Pivar" as "Pixar", which puts an odd spin on this whole affair.

#48 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 07:49 PM:

Fidelio @4

Ask and ye shall receive (bravely modelled by my cat Nikita)
Importnt cat is Importnt

#49 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 07:59 PM:

#44 Former 1L: A few comments after reading the complaint (which I hope will be put up somewhere on the web soon).

http://www.discord.org/%7Elippard/pivar-v-seed.pdf

#50 ::: Susan Kitchens ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 08:34 PM:

Slightly off topic but worthy of Particles sidebar link (then again, it may be ON topic, in a twist on, well, weird science):

Unicorn Museum

#51 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 08:40 PM:

Obviously, the only thing to be done is for everyone to post copies of the reviews and link to everyone else's copies of same.

And maybe post pdfs of them on torrents.

#52 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 08:45 PM:

PZ is fortunate that Seed was sued in New York. Seed has its main office there, so PZ and Seed won't have the additional hassle of dealing with managing a distant court case.

Also, it's probably convenient for testimony by Neil de Grasse Tyson.

#53 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 08:58 PM:

Doesn't New York have an anti-SLAPP law?

Jack Idema sued Columbia Journalism review and Columbia Univeristy and a cast of thousands in connection with a CJR article about him. Not only did Idema lose, but the judge told Idema to pay Columbia's substantial court costs. The reason for his loss had to do with the anti-SLAPP laws, as I recall.

(Idema threatened to sue me as part of a claimed very elaborate conspiracy against him. Though I did get a weird but menacing letter demanding unfettered access to my email account, ostensibly from his attorney but probably written by him, nothing ever came of it.)

#54 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:13 PM:

There are some juries one just wants to be on.

"Your honor, the jury finds that the review was way nicer than this book deserves."

#55 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:29 PM:

I'm not sure I understand this theory, but if I do, then he's trying to prove that ontogeny only appears to recapitulate phylogeny because that's what things shaped like zygotes with the physical properties of zygotes do for strictly mechanical reasons (but only if they're zygotes).

This reminds me a great deal of Kirk Cameron's banana proof for the existence of a personal God.

#56 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:45 PM:

#55 julia: This reminds me a great deal of Kirk Cameron's banana proof for the existence of a personal God.

I'm not sure that video is something Church -- er, I mean, Kirk -- wants people seeing. It looks to me like proof we descended from, well, monkeys.

#57 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 09:47 PM:

I was thinking of his explanations more in terms of the Theory of Correspondences: what a thing looks like is what it is/becomes/influences/relates to.

#58 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 10:06 PM:

OK, I can see that.

I guess I took my interpretation from a results-based standpoint - the "evolution" of the fetus is a pretty graphic indication that we have relatives elsewhere in the food chain, so if he could discount that...

#59 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 10:19 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @#27

Assault, libel and slander? How the hell can a written document do all three?

Write the review on a singing greeting card that you've programmed to sing the bad review at your victim.

Then, poke him in the eye with the card.

#60 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 10:19 PM:

Someone in the mid 90s on the 16th Street Mall in Denver actually handed me a serious testifying "bananas are proof of God" pamphlet. I've thought about it ever since... What's with the strings? What's with the chalkyness? The hazard of the peel? What, is god a slapstick vaudevillian?

Best comment on that YouTube video:
kimosabelarry (14 hours ago)
I just ate a banana that was curved AWAY from my face.....?...why me, God? Why me?

#61 ::: Gursky ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 11:44 PM:

Xopher@30;

That line took me a good minute, too.

All of this puts me in a position if I'm ever asked about my thoughts on tort reform, particularly in light of the earlier discussion here.
"Yes, I believe in reforming torts for fun and profit, but not in Tort Reform."

#62 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 01:58 AM:

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey @ 28

I'd guess the database pixies are on strike; I get this error message when I hit the link you provided:

Microsoft OLE DB Provider for ODBC Drivers error '80040e14'

Serves 'em right for using Borg Tools for the Enterprise.

#63 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:07 AM:

#18: the doings of that litigious Saudi prince featured in a recent Grumpy Old Bookman posting.

#64 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:13 AM:

cathy @ 46

although that's generally a more common occurance with obviously crazy pro se litigants.

This pot is obviously more than just crazed; he's thoroughly cracked.

#65 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:21 AM:

Mary Dell: That sounds like a good idea, actually. Maybe the judge could order that as part of the final settlement.

#66 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:23 AM:

Madeline F @ 60

What, is god a slapstick vaudevillian?

Do you really need more evidence than this?

#67 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:42 AM:

Two Dumb Questions for those in the U.K. that have been Private Eye readers:

1) What was Goldenballs, and why do the few books about Private Eye that end up in the USA mention it without explaining what in blazes it was?

2) I know that as part of the legal deal with her husband Private Eye agreed never to mention Tina Brown again. Since I'm not that thrilled with her skills as an editor (and killing Eustace Tilly? Yeah, sure...), were they going after her for something she'd edited, or written, or what?

#68 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:09 AM:

All right, Bruce, I'll bite. What the heck-o-la is that?

It reminds me of the audio slapstick evinced by the Australian Lyre Bird video. Halfway through, one becomes convinced one is actually watching a Monty Python skit. This is usually somewhere between the car alarm bit and the chainsaw bit.

#69 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 04:08 AM:

#67 Goldenballs: the short version is that the financier Sir James Goldsmith effectively tried to shut down Private Eye in 1976, by not only suing the magazine but issuing scores of writs against its UK distributors, wholesalers and retailers. Private Eye launched a "Goldenballs" appeal to raise defence funding. The case is discussed at some length in Patrick Marnham's The Private Eye Story (1982); the then Eye editor Richard Ingrams published his version of events as Goldenballs (1979).

#70 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 05:13 AM:

Teresa@43, I'm surprised. I do sort of wonder what that lawyer was thinking...

#71 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 05:17 AM:

Seth@54, the book wasn't as bad as all that. I mean, it did have some redeeming qualities. (To wit, the pictures *were* very pretty. Shame about the theory, for which 'crackpot' is almost too kind.)

#72 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 05:41 AM:

Nicole #68: I think it's a Bird of Paradise with its wings spread out - Attenborough's Planet Earth TV series had footage of it. Unbelieveably weird, beautiful and funny watching it dance.

#73 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 06:18 AM:

Bruce @67: It is probably safe to say -- now he's dead, and has no reputation to libel -- that Sir James Goldsmith would have made a very fine Bond Villain indeed. He already had the maniacal plans and the utterly cracked personality; just give him a submarine lair (or rent him the Barclay Brothers' castle) and you're all set.

#74 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 06:35 AM:

Mary Dell #59: Now that's an idea!

#75 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 07:28 AM:

"no scientist holding the international reputation of any of [Robert] Hazen, [Dimitar] Sasselov, [Brian] Goodwin or [Neil de Grasse] Tyson would endorse or review the work of a crackpot."

Three of those people aren't biologists, and therefore clearly have less credibility than Myers in this field.

The other currently teaches at an institute described by Wikipedia as "an international centre offering transformative learning for sustainable living, and runs holistic education courses," and apparently "has advocated a unification of science and the humanities." Not saying he's a crank, as I've never read any of his work so can't be entirely sure, but those look like signs of one to me.

#76 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 07:32 AM:

"no scientist holding the international reputation of any of [Robert] Hazen, [Dimitar] Sasselov, [Brian] Goodwin or [Neil de Grasse] Tyson would endorse or review the work of a crackpot."

Three of those people aren't biologists, and therefore clearly have less credibility than Myers in this field.

The other currently teaches at an institute described by Wikipedia as "an international centre offering transformative learning for sustainable living, and runs holistic education courses," and apparently "has advocated a unification of science and the humanities." Not saying he's a crank, as I've never read any of his work so can't be entirely sure, but those look like signs of one to me.

#77 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 07:35 AM:

Hmmm. I'm sure I only pressed submit once.

#78 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 08:28 AM:

#48--Thank you, Sica. Nikita is the very image of bored superciliousness in that picture, lovely spots and all.

#79 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 09:11 AM:

Nicole @ 68

That is a male bird of paradise in full sexual display. It's postings like that which have given Making Light it's X rating, keeping child-like Wikiadmins from entering.

This behavior is one God's favorite bits of slapstick. She's done it over and over, mostly in Phylum Vertabrata, but to a lesser extent in Arthropoda ("Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it"). To my eyes, this is one of the silliest versions. And yet, try as I might to restrain myself from anthropomorphism*, I can't shake the feeling that the bird is just terribly pleased with himself.

* If there were a postmodern homosexual African-American dance troupe which refused to do routines involving motions other than human, e.g., animal movements, would they be called the Anthro Afro Pomo Homos?

#80 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 09:15 AM:

Ben M. @ #35: Thanks for the citation. I am delighted to hear that the term "lazy, stupid, crap-shooting, chicken-stealing idiot" has been held to be non-defamatory.

Jules @ # 75, yeah, I recognized Tyson as an astronomer. And as for "I discussed my ideas with Gould"--Stephen Jay Gould discussed creationism with a lot of people; that didn't make him a creationist.

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 10:22 AM:

Bruce 79: Yes, they would. And since I'm gay and own a condo in Hoboken, I'm a pomo homo Hobo homeowner.

#82 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 10:45 AM:

#48 -- Indeed, nikita looks rich and important! You have a gorgeous kitty there...

#83 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 11:47 AM:

In addition to being illegal, barratry is a violation of many codes of ethics and can get lawyers disbarred. If Mr. Pivar is using the same lawyers in all his cases, Mr. Myers might be able to mount an effective counterclaim and get Pivar's lawyers to drop the case.

It's much harder in the US to reclaim legal fees in a frivilous lawsuit than it is in the UK, but it is far from impossible.

#84 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 12:14 PM:

From the "hope-he-countersues-and-buys-a-nice-summer-home" dept, this story has made its way to Slashdot, and the resultant discussion has many a high point...

As a side note, my LOLcat in #12 is now my most viewed image in Flickr...Fluorosphere, thou art mighty!

#85 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:05 PM:

The comments in Skwid's Slashdot link called attention to Lifecode's current Amazon tags:

junk science (24)
delusional (19)
garbage (16)
crank (13)
fiction (11)
crap (9)
crazy (7)
insane (5)
non-science (4)
litigious (3)

#86 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:07 PM:

IAAL, usual disclaimers: this is not legal advice, I don't practice in New York, this is merely my take on the case as presented on a blog post, and I don't have a copy of the complaint (but would dearly like to take a look at that PDF, hint hint).

Pivar's attorney: The link doesn't show who his attorney is. He may be in pro per (filing his own self, not with a lawyer), like the $54 million pants judge. Yes, lawyers are bound by ethical and professional obligations not to assist in lawsuits they know are frivolous, and yes, there are penalties if they do.

Injunctive relief: That means you want the court to order somebody to do or not do a thing. Again not having seen the complaint, I'd guess he wants PZ to pull the review or apologize or something.

$15 million dollars: I understand that it used to be the case that civil filings in New York had to contain something called an "ad damnum", meaning a plaintiff would have to put a ceiling on the amount of damages sought so as to put the defendant on notice. Obviously you want to pick a high number. I had thought that NY abolished this requirement, but perhaps Mr. Pizer doesn't know that. Or he really thinks he is owed $15 million.

SLAPP: Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Some states have specific anti-SLAPP laws intended to prevent those with deep pockets from using lawsuits to silence critics.

To fight this as a non-dirty suit would be at least $50k: Where did you get this number?

Unfortunately, considering how long the lawsuit went on about the man who lost his pants at a dry cleaners' store, it is not all that difficult to find a judge willing to hear a frivolous case: Please don't believe everything the US Chamber of Commerce and its puppets tell you, as you seem to have confused the court system with the slushpile. Judges aren't allowed to simply decide which cases they think are dumb, without regard to procedure or law, and throw them out summarily. (The saga of Mayo ex rel Satan and His Staff is a result of a judge who did just that.) In the "pants lawsuit", the case dragged on exactly until it could get in front of a judge and the court was able to rule on the merits of the lawsuit, at which point it was thrown out. The case "dragged on" because the cleaners, understandably, tried to reason with Pearson.

#87 ::: markg ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:43 PM:

I'm surprised most of the commenters here seem to think this is going to be expensive for the defendant. The penalties for bringing a frivolous lawsuit means the plaintiff, Pivar, is going to end up paying the D's costs and attorney fees. If I were the defendant I'd find the highest priced attorney available to defend me, to run up Pivar's costs as much as possible.

#88 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:09 PM:

Jules (75), that institute sounds like the kind of idea humanities types like a lot more than scientists do.

Bruce (79), if they had a lot of attitude about it, they'd be the Anthro Afro Pomo Homo Mofos.

#89 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:17 PM:

markg @87: if one is brought to court for something like this, does one pay the lawyer in regular installments during the course of employment, or only after everything's wrapped up?

If it's the former, then it could well be expensive for Myers (or Seed Media) - the expectation of damages/fees from Pivar doesn't necessarily mean that Myers has the money on hand to pay the lawyer till the suit is settled in his favor. Assuming that it is. Or I could be wholly mistaken about how this works, since I have (luckily) never needed the services of a lawyer.

#90 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:18 PM:

By the sounds of it, Pivar wouldn't care.

#91 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:18 PM:

markg (#87) There is no guarantee whatsoever that the defendant will get his costs awarded. There are plenty of bogus lawsuits which are dismissed in which the defendant is out his expenses. See, e.g., Emarketers America vs. Bogus List of Victims.

#92 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:25 PM:

Myers called Plaintiff 'a classic crackpot' fully knowing that statement to be false as a statement of fact and in reckless disregard of the truth

Perhaps Pivar prefers to think of himself as a modern crackpot?

#93 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:43 PM:

Jules #75-76: it's particularly sweet that one of Pivar's alleged endorsements is from someone at an international holistic something-or-other... because Pivar has been popping up on various blogs to say why PZ Myers is a big mean phony, and one of his reasons is that PZ's online publisher received an Utne Independent Press Award, and Utne sometimes dabbles in far-out things like holistic studies: so clearly PZ Myers is one of those far-out fringe hippie people. I wish I could find the link for this, I read it just this morning - couldn't help devouring all the coverage, it's like a train wreck.

#94 ::: donna ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 04:26 PM:

Pivar is not a crackpot. He's a freaking moron.

And an idiot.

And a jerk.

#95 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 04:35 PM:

They are also discussing this at Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog since he makes it almost his second job to smite bad science and anti-science crackpots.

http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2007/08/21/pz-being-sued-by-crackpot

Some of the comments though will give you the cramps or the giggles.

#99 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 05:24 PM:

From an essay entitled WHAT ART SAYS ABOUT MONEY by Charlie Finch from Artnet, this fascinating passage:

This is more than making a living, or refusing to: It is the love call of currency at its most fetishistic. Steve Rubell famously showered Andy Warhol with buckets of bills at Andy's birthday bash. No artist was more the victim, and yet exploiter, of money lust than Warhol, wandering the souks of Soho with Stuart Pivar buying up everything in sight then dumping the unopened packages in his closets at night, full of unsatisfied shame. The pull of mammon was murderous even on someone so intelligent. For money is a form of behavior, abstract, hidden and irrational.
Wow.

#100 ::: G.R. ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 05:45 PM:

Someone should tell PZ's or Seed Media's lawyers that there appears to be a lack of federal subject-matter jurisdiction from the face of the complaint. I don't know whether the Second Circuit treats LLCs as corporations or partnerships, but either way, it doesn't look like there's complete diversity of citizenship.

(Yes, I'm a lawyer; but no, this isn't legal advice to anyone, just a comment in the course of a discussion on a topic of public interest.)

#101 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 06:26 PM:

If I were the defendant I'd find the highest priced attorney available to defend me, to run up Pivar's costs as much as possible.

Only if you were a very rich defendant. Even if you get 100% of your costs back, you're paying up front.

TNH, do you have a link to the PDF of the complaint?

#103 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 06:45 PM:

Mythago, #101:

Michael Weholt posted this link earlier in the thread, and it works for me: http://www.discord.org/%7Elippard/pivar-v-seed.pdf

#104 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 06:46 PM:

Fidelio @78 and David Harmon @82

I've passed the compliments on :) Nikita is my only cat but I'm a hobby photographer and I've taken several thousand photos of her already (yeah I know...) she's even been famous on the internets

#105 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 06:48 PM:

David Langford: Thank you--now I know what's being referred to. I'll clearly have to go hunting for "The Private Eye Story" which I'd seen at a Seattle Vanguard at one point, and will look for a copy of "Goldenballs" as well. (The magazine itself occasionally shows up at newsstands in the Seattle area, but is usually dropped after a couple of weeks--which is why after ten years of looking I have four copies total.) Now if I could get the Tina Brown thing explained...

Charlie Stross: You make me glad that our local billionaires are relatively benign: the Gates family has been doing "good works" in the local community since before Bill was born (which is why the Gates Foundation didn't surprise me), and outside of forcing a stadium down our throats and buying a yacht so large he bought a private submarine to go with it Paul Allen's activities (museums, saving the Cinerama and restoring it to full-Cinerama projection capability) have been pretty low-key as well. (My complaints have to do with whoever handles the Cinerama for the two weeks a year that Paul Allen has the option to use it. I've been trying to help a guy that's shooting NEW Cinerama/Kinopanorama films and restoring old ones to get hold of somebody at Vulcan that can schedule them, but there seems to be a strong current of "not invented here" to fight.)

Of course New York residents have Donald Trump, who appears to be auditioning for a position with ZOWIE after being rejected by KAOS...

#106 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 07:11 PM:

Heh. Four hours after #85, the list of Amazon tags is:

junk science (40)
delusional (29)
garbage (25)
crank (24)
crap (15)
fiction (15)
crazy (12)
non-science (12)
insane (9)
litigious (9)
stuart pivar (2)
absent-minded (1)
alice in wonderland (1)
art (1)
balloon animals (1)
bryan talbot (1)
clown (1)
clown college (1)
creative thinking (1)
dog crap (1)
fantast (1)
flim flam (1)
graphic novel (1)
junk science crackpot crank garbage ball... (1)
lame (1)
lawsuit (1)
weak (1)
wtf (1)

#107 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 07:30 PM:

Xopher: And since I'm gay and own a condo in Hoboken, I'm a pomo homo Hobo homeowner.

Yes, but do you live in Lower Hoboken? (A pomo homo Lo-Ho...)


Since my husband and I are both bi and own a condo in Boulder, Colorado, we may, in fact, be pomo BoCo so-so homo homeowners. (Please do not add a "bobo" to that litany. We would not approve. We may be tempted by ThinkGeek from time to time--who isn't? Look! Sonic screwdrivers and USB turntables!--but "bobo"? Nono.)


Jen Roth: Perhaps Pivar prefers to think of himself as a modern crackpot?

Kathryn Cramer: To make all this weirder, it appears that Stuart Pivar is an art collector, friend of Andy Warhol, and a founder of the New York Academy of Art.

Oh, now, that is too much. He really is a pomo crack-po SoHo mofo.


Does this train wreck have a caboose?

#108 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 07:59 PM:

It would be nice to think that any judge will throw this out and assess Pivar for costs. However, the problem with going to court is that you never know when a judge is going to crack, or whether a "personal quirk" will overflow onto the bench. Massachusetts has been entertained recently by one Ernest B. Murphy, a Cellucci appointment (not utterly damning, but no certification of quality) who won a 3-million-dollar libel judgement against the Herald for stories that should certainly have gotten him kicked off the bench if they were true. Unfortunately he wasn't contented with that sum and sent the Herald an extorting letter (complete with instructions not to show it to anyone else) demanding more.

It would be nice to think that federal judges are more carefully vetted, but the Shrub administration has been doing its damnedest to make sure that isn't true.

#109 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 08:05 PM:

When Eeyore saw the pot, he became quite excited.

"Why!" he said. "I believe my Balloon will just go into that Pot!"

"Oh, no, Eeyore," said Pooh. "Balloons are much too big to go into Pots. What you do with a balloon is, you hold the balloon "

"Not mine," said Eeyore proudly. "Look, Piglet!" And as Piglet looked sorrowfully round, Eeyore picked the balloon up with his teeth, and placed it carefully in the pot; picked it out and put it on the ground; and then picked it up again and put it carefully back.

"So it does!" said Pooh. "It goes in!"

"So it does!" said Piglet. "And it comes out!"

"Doesn't it?" said Eeyore. "It goes in and out like anything."

"And," said Eeyore, "this supports my wonderful theory about Embryonic Morphogenesis. First we have something going in and out. Then we have an Elastic Spherical Surface within a Spherical Surface of less Elasticity. Finally, we have a Balloon! This proves Everything!"

"I'm very glad," said Pooh happily, "that I thought of giving you a Useful Pot to put things in."

"I'm very glad," said Piglet happily, "that thought of giving you something to put in a Useful Pot."

But Eeyore wasn't listening. He was taking the balloon out, and putting it back again, as happy as could be....

#110 ::: Greg M. ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 08:06 PM:

Nicole @ 68--I misinterpreted your comment and thought the video *was* an elaborate hoax. When the camera shutter noise went off, my thought was "Ha! That's so fake!"… until it turned out to be real.

Astounding bird, really (coughs in an embarrassed manner, looks around).

Having just gotten three bad reviews this summer for a play I wrote, including a scorching one from the Village Voice, I'm astonished at the juvenile mentality that would make one think one is entitled not to get them. Grow the f--- up, already, Pivar. Sympathies to P.Z.

#111 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 09:02 PM:

#110 Greg M.: Having just gotten three bad reviews this summer for a play I wrote, including a scorching one from the Village Voice, I'm astonished at the juvenile mentality that would make one think one is entitled not to get them.

Jesus Christ, Greg, I just checked your webpage. You are in the Playwrights Workshop at Iowa?? I graduated from there! I've got the scorched-earth reviews to prove it! Not to mention DNA remnants still haunting apartments on Lynn and Johnson Streets, no doubt. Of course, I was there years ago. Which isn't to say I don't still have corn tassles waiting in the wings, stage-right. Do they still make you write for Midnight Madness, or have the mercifully done away with that? Lemme know if you need a place to stay if you ever visit NYC. We can compare bad notices as we wander the East Village wondering where the hell all the real art went.

#112 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 09:27 PM:

Sica @ 104, Nikita is famous on my internet -- I recognize her from kittypix, where I can't stop talking to her pictures.

("Get it! Get it, Nikita! Get that featherstick! You got to get it! Rawr!")

Lovely to see you here!

#113 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 10:22 PM:

Hi there, Iowa people! It makes me laugh that I didn't find any Midwest fandomish people until I came here, and suddenly they're everywhere.

#114 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 11:14 PM:

Nicole 107: I do, actually, though it's called "Downtown." Also, I've been pretending to be stupid lately (when smart guys do stupid things).

So I'm a pomo Hobo (Lo-Ho) faux-dodo homo homeowner.

#115 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 11:27 PM:

This thread is reminding me of the Marcon I went to many years ago, at the Ho Jo Mo Lo No Co OH.

#116 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 11:33 PM:

Todd, thank you.

He does indeed have a lawyer. One who needs to proofread his pleadings better, by the way.

#117 ::: Greg ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 11:46 PM:

Michael @ 111
"Midnight Madness" has now morphed into something called "No Shame" every Friday night, and it's entirely optional (you show up with an original, under-five-minutes piece, and present it to the crowd). I'd love to meet you the next time I'm in NYC!

#118 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 11:56 PM:

markg (#87):

I'm surprised most of the commenters here seem to think this is going to be expensive for the defendant. The penalties for bringing a frivolous lawsuit means the plaintiff, Pivar, is going to end up paying the D's costs and attorney fees. If I were the defendant I'd find the highest priced attorney available to defend me, to run up Pivar's costs as much as possible.

MarkG, that assertion simply does not stand up to reality. It's like saying, "If you're not guilty, you have nothing to fear from being arrested!" or "He must know what he's doing - he's President of the United States!" It's how things are supposed to work, but all-to-often don't in the real world.

(signed) PoMo SanDiego Hetero Bobo Homowner

#119 ::: Rhoadan ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 12:21 AM:

If the Wikipedia article is accurate, LLC's are treated as partnerships.

#120 ::: G.R. ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 01:16 AM:

119: Wikipedia doesn't give a cite (or a breakdown by circuit) but appears to be correct as relevant here. I'm not going to fire up Westlaw for this, but according to Google and Findlaw the Second Circuit addressed this question in Handelsman v. Bedford Village Assocs. Ltd. P’ship, 213 F.3d 48, 51 (2d Cir. 2000), holding that an LLC is like a partnership. Its "citizenship" for diversity purposes is therefore the residence of each of its members or owners.

That means that Pivar's complaint fails to allege the relevant jurisdictional facts as to Seed Media. He alleges only the state in which it was organized and its primary place of business, which would do for a corporation; but not the domiciles or even the identities of the owners.

Based on Seed Media's website it would appear that the founder and chairman of Seed Media lives in New York. Assuming that he still owns a share of the company (which seems like a reasonable assumption), then Seed Media would count as a New York citizen and complete diversity would indeed be absent (as well as improperly alleged).

#121 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 02:19 AM:

Joel Polowin @ 109

I believe the correct name for that field of research is Moronic Embryogenesis.

#122 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 03:45 AM:

Nicole @ 107: If you're devotees of The Ethical Slut's philosophy, you could be bonobo pomo BoCo so-so homo homeowners.

(This is reminding me of the time when I was twelve and my older brother and I made ourselves sick laughing with caveman jokes: what do you call their teeth? australopithecuspids; what do they eat for dessert? australopithecustard; what do they spit in? An australopithecuspidor...)

#123 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 05:22 AM:

#113 Diatryma: Hi there, Iowa people! It makes me laugh that I didn't find any Midwest fandomish people until I came here, and suddenly they're everywhere.

Of course, one of our hosts, Patrick, is an old Iowa City boy. We all find each other, eventually. Mysteriously. The Call of the Mild-mannered, I guess. Except very few of the people I know from Iowa are genuinely mild-mannered. It is a guise we cultivate to lure outsiders out onto the prairie, after which they are never heard from again.

#124 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 07:24 AM:

Is there anything out there (other than Pivar's claims) about Pivar's relationship with Stephen J. Gould. I know, via Gould's collaborations with excellent museum photographer Rosamund Purcell, that Gould was fascinated with collectors of natural history specimens. (See Gould & Purcell's Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors, for example.)

Pivar is known to have collected in this area.

#125 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 08:06 AM:

Michael Weholt @123:
It is a guise we cultivate to lure outsiders out onto the prairie, after which they are never heard from again.

We must not look at prairie men
Nor read what they compose.
Who knows upon what keys they typed
Their mild mannered prose?

#126 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 08:24 AM:

Kathryn: there's this, from somebody who was a friend of Gould's:

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.

Strongly suggests that there's more to the story than Pivar claims.

He also, after talking to Pivar's lawyer, says:

Pivar’s lawyer himself has little (no pun intended) hope the case will survive a motion to dismiss

and suggests that PZ's quite likely to be able to get an award of his attorney's fees.

#127 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 08:46 AM:

There's also a comment from C E Petit on the same thread, making clear the possibility of a SLAPP claim and the possibility of sanctions for both Pivar and his lawyer for bringing the claim.

#128 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 09:40 AM:

And, for instance,Xopher could be a vegan, which would make him a tofu pomo homo Hobo homeowner. With a twist.

#129 ::: zuzu ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 01:18 PM:

Pivar's attorney is a solo practitioner who was only admitted to New York in 2005. Which tells you a lot -- Pivar can afford a high-priced attorney, but doesn't have one. Undoubtedly, the First Amendment attorneys at the firm he usually uses laughed in his face.

In addition, it's pretty clear that his experience is in state court rather than federal; aside from not pleading the LLC citizenship properly (which will sink the case in federal court), he included a verification, which is generally not required under federal procedure but is under state procedure.

The judge assigned to the case, Shira Scheindlin, is no GOP hack. Moreover, she writes very thorough opinions, so it will be interesting to see what she writes if she doesn't throw it out for lack of diversity.

#130 ::: zuzu ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 01:32 PM:

I’m puzzled by “Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and money damages for defamation and libel per se premised upon diversity of citizenship.” Wonder what that’s about.

It's poor drafting, but what he's saying is that he's seeking injunctive relief and money damages for defamation and libel per se (which is libel that is so bad, like saying someone has a loathsome disease, that you don't even have to prove damages to win; damage to your reputation is presumed), and that the basis for bringing the case in federal court is diversity of citizenship of the parties. Not just any case can be brought before a federal court; it needs to either deal with a federal question (i.e., it's based on federal statutory or constitutional law), or it's a suit between citizens of different states, the theory being that a state court would favor its own citizen. Plus, the claim is for more than $75K. Diversity only works if each plaintiff is diverse from each defendant -- so, because it's likely that one of the owners of Seed Media is a citizen of New York, and the plaintiff is a citizen of New York, there's no diversity. If he were suing PZ only, there'd be diversity.

#131 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 02:00 PM:

Bruce 128: I'm a vegetarian, but not a vegan. Still, I don't think that entirely spoils it.

#132 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 02:51 PM:

Actually, though it's quite difficult to do, one can libel the dead (the things one learns in j-school). One, the case has to arise in Calif., or Tenn. Two it involves (as I recall) making defamatory claims against them, which so injure their reputation that living family members become tainted with the shame of it. The same, again, as I recall, holds true in the UK.

But it's almost impossible, barring a great celebrity on the part of the dead person, to get such a case past the point of pleadings.

As someone has, no doubt, already pointed out, the "diversity of citizenship" is a way to make a federal case out of it. Could have been done with the monetary claim (more than 75,000 dollars, if I recall my torts class correctly; yes, I took paralegal courses for fun), but the diversity claim makes it a slam dunk, and keeps it from ending up in a court the plaintiff might not like as well (say New York, which has ruled other such cases to be SLAPP, and awarded costs to the defendant. Pivar's lawyer would most assuredly want to avoid that sort of thing being possible.

I am more amused at the libel per se claim. It's possible (though really hard to imagine) that a per quod claim could be made. But per se is such that no need to show actual damage is required. The libel is so offensive that it's mere existence does harm (like alleging a phsysician knows himself to be an asymptomatic carrier of a something like Typhoid).

Since Pivar doesn't have an extant reputation; which would be so affected by a review of these books, in the field, I can't see a per se claim.

Per quod would still be hard, it would require the comments to have some relevance to things which still affect the reputation of Pivar, and (unless he's some sort of recognized scholar in a field which requires original research, I don't see it).

The other way that might happen would be to imply that, somehow, in the writing of these works, he compromised some, integral aspect of his public persona.

If he were, e.g., a dietetically observant Jew, saying he had been a judge in a barbeue competition, without saying he limited himself to beef/chicken, and then listing the winners of the pilled pork category could be seen as libel per quod.

I don't see how he can win, in either case, and mostly this is going to be an expensive hassle for PZ Meyers.

#133 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 03:48 PM:

String additions:
as an advertising gimmick + promo
moving without haste + slo-mo
with Japanese bells and whistles + domo
with stomach analgesic + bromo

#134 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 05:29 PM:

Xopher 131: ovo-lacto pomo homo Hobo homeowner! Hurray!

#135 ::: Eskwaya ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 05:30 PM:

I take some issue with your post. I read the legal complaint and it does not accuse anyone of assault. However, the Court system categorizes cases by codes. The court here has categorized this case with code 320, which is "Assualt Libel & Slander." But there is no allegation of assault in the complaint. But the case still seems ridiculous. This Pivar guy clearly thinks he's something special. He name-drops all over the place. The complaint is also poorly plead. For example, I understand that PZ Meyer's comments are in the context of a book review (although that's not made clear in the complaint) but it never says that Pivar authored any books, only that he edited "Lifecode." The complaint does not explicitly say PZM referred to Mr. Pivar as a "crackpot." It just says the words were used with intent to slander, etc. I also looked up the attorney for Pivar: it seems he was only admitted to practice law in New York in 2005 (2 years ago at best), that he went to law school in England, and the only other case I could find in New York State where he is listed as the attorney, was in his own divorce action. Perhaps Pivar knew that the lawsuit was frivilous and hired an attorney who may not be sophisticated enough to know that he may take the fall for Pivar if the gauntlet falls for bringing what appears to be a frivolous lawsuit.

#136 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 05:58 PM:

Electric Landlady 134: Not only that, my most famous fannish act was being the scantily-clad waiter at the Hugo Losers Party at...um...the year before Glasgow, wherever that was. A couple of people tipped me by pushing dollar bills into my swimsuit.

So that makes me an ovo-lacto pomo faux-dodo gogo homo Hobo homeowner.

I also play African drums, and have learned some of Babatunde Olatunji's drum language, but not very well.

Ovo-lacto pomo faux-dodo so-so Gun-go-do gogo homo Hobo homeowner.

My famous Black Hole Brownies are intensely chocolate (ask someone who was at the party at our Host's house where there was a theremin), because of my very enthusiastic use of a particular ingredient.

Ovo-lacto pomo faux-dodo cocoa so-so Gun-go-do gogo homo Hobo homeowner.

I am small in stature, and given to base puns.

Ovo-lacto pomo faux-dodo cocoa so-so Gun-go-do gogo low low homo Hobo homeowner.

The application of having a cute butt, being a singer of hackneyed rounds, and sometimes behaving as if I have approximately 20% of my actual intellect I leave as exercises for the reader. I could go on, but that would be a nono.

#137 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 06:32 PM:

Eskwaya @ 135

See #44.

#138 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 08:23 PM:

Xopher (#136): That was Noreascon 4 in Boston (2004).

Also, can you sneak 'bonobo' into that list?

#139 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 12:51 AM:

Oh Xopher, if only you were Jewish!

... gogo low low homo Hobo Hebrew homeowner.


Maybe you could convert?

#140 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 01:02 AM:

Xopher, I live in No(rth) Po(le), and you make me go "Ho Ho".

Oh, woe. Fo sho.

#141 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 02:04 AM:

What, no Tibetan dumplings? No Northern California First Peoples? No Howard Johnson'seses? No extinct island birds? How about some West African carbohydrates? Southeastern USA candy Clusters? Hostess cakes? Dog-Faced Boys? Fleischer Brothers cartoon clowns? QuidQuid ProPro? Yourboatgentlydownthestreamses? Just mediocre? Little dogstoo? Bad reasoning? TicTacToe? String-and-wotsit toys? (Must be there; I guess I missed it.)

Zo.

#142 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 02:16 AM:

Bruce 139: Then I could be a Jew too, that's true.

I once read a murder mystery* in which the key to the whole plot is the moment when the detective finds a pool of sticky semiliquid in the bathroom of a brand-new house, and thus figures out that the victim was making kosher beer just before his death.

It was a new-loo Hebrew-brew goo clue.


*V'z ylvat. V znqr gur jubyr guvat hc.

#143 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 02:21 AM:

Ron 141: Yourboatgentlydownthestreamses? Just mediocre? String-and-wotsit toys?

1. See "hackneyed rounds."
2. See "not very well."
3. See (admittedly obscure) "reasoning [at] 20% [of my] intellect."

#144 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 11:08 AM:

Xopher, I bow before your ovo-lacto pomo faux-dodo cocoa so-so Gun-go-do gogo low low homo Hobo homeowner mojo.

And then I cackle with glee.

#145 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 01:43 PM:

If you were from Arizona originally, you could be a Ovo-lacto pomo faux-dodo cocoa so-so Gun-go-do gogo low low homo Hobo homeowner from Show Low.

#146 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 02:01 PM:

and the only other case I could find in New York State where he is listed as the attorney, was in his own divorce action

Ouch.

Most of Pivar's cases seem to have been pro se - not sure why he suddenly decided to get a lawyer.

#147 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2007, 11:17 AM:

Xopher -- IIRC you've mentioned Renaissance-era choral works; do you also like Cajun music? If so you could be an ovo-lacto pomo faux-dodo fais do-do cocoa so-so Gun-go-do gogo low low homo Hobo homeowner....

#148 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2007, 11:32 AM:

Jen 145: Alas, I'm from Michigan.

CHip 147: I do! And I also like Rameau and Couperin, so now I have ovo-lacto pomo faux-dodo fais do-do Rococo cocoa so-so Gun-go-do gogo low low homo Hobo homeowner mojo.*

If you pronounce this it sounds like you're speaking a creole (npi) of Swahili and Japanese. (Too bad I'm not also a Creole, huh?)

*Thanks also to Electric Landlady.

#149 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2007, 11:46 AM:

Xopher: Someone call Stephin Merritt, I think we have the title track of the next Magnetic Fields album!

(In the interview packet that goes along with 69 Love Songs he talks about repetitive sounds like this, and says that he wishes Desmond Tutu were a Zulu. It's why he writes lyrics like "Reno Dakota/I'm no Nino Rota.")

#150 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 03:55 PM:

This, from the Sunclipse link, made me smile

it freaks out biologists into cognitive dyfunction.

I wonder if cognitive dyfunction might have something to do with the disconnect between
The review of PZ Myers may be also seen today. Please note that he not an embryologist.

and
The complaint claims that Myers’ remarks led to Neil de Grasse [sic] Tyson withdrawing a review of the book

Unless I'm very much mistaken, he not an embryologist either...

#151 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 04:10 PM:

Xopher @148
Alas, I'm from Michigan.

So comment 125 is to your address too, then.

#152 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 08:31 PM:

The crackpot's not suing anymore:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/08/the_inevitable_has_occurred.php

#153 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 12:57 AM:

Yeah, what Jen said. Here's a clicky link: The Inevitable Has Occurred.

Turns out PZ had serious big guns working pro bono for him, which he absolutely deserved.

Also, there's a cameo by an erstwhile fluorospherian in the comments, in case you were wondering what he was up to. (And no, he hasn't changed a bit.)

#154 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 10:46 AM:

#154: Yeah. He was called out by another commenter, too. No more need be said.

#155 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 11:03 AM:

The suit's withdrawal also gets noticed here.

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