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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Blogger PZ Myers Sued for Libel

PZ Myers who writes the Pharyngula blog, has the 3rd largest Minnesota blog (behind Captain's Quarters and Powerline). He is now getting sued for writing two negative reviews of a book that he was asked to review. Now the author of the book is suing him for $15 million.

From Panda's Thumb:

Anyway, besides liberally reinterpreting Gould’s entire scientific opus, Pivar’s other personal involvement with evolutionary matters at the time was that he had published a well-illustrated tome called Lifecode, in which he apparently proposed some sort of structuralist/developmental interpretation of evolution. In a rather incautious move, Pivar decided to send his book to a real developmental biologist for review: PZ Myers. PZ read it, soundly criticized it at Pharyngula, and apparently never thought of it again until earlier this year, when Pivar sent out some grandiose-sounding press release together with an updated version of the book, both of which PZ once again trashed.

That was enough for Pivar to take his legal gloves off (or put them on, whatever), and hit PZ and Seed with a court complaint, that you can read in its entirety here. In it, 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.

The suit has been discussed on several web sites already, including Scientific American, the Lippard Blog, Overlawyered and PT contributor Timothy Sandefur’s personal blog Positive Liberty. The consensus seems to be that the suit has no legs, but of course if this is a nuisance suit, ultimate success in front of a judge is not the goal. We’ll see what the courts will make of this, and hopefully it won’t be too bad of a hassle for PZ before the matter is resolved.

Wired Science:

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

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

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

Update: Scientific American's Christopher Mims just wrote to say, "What if PZ didn't work for Seed? If people start going after individual bloggers without the resources to defend themselves, that would have a chilling effect on the whole field." He's right. And it's a scary thought.

Overlawyered comments on the suit.