PZ being sued by “crackpot”

Contributed by
Aug 21, 2007

There comes a time in every debunker's life when they are threatened with a lawsuit. It's the bar mitzvah of skepticism.

The story is generally the same. Skeptic writes an article debunking some form of nonsense, author of said nonsense gets a bee in their bonnet (the archaic form of "wild hair up their butt"), said author says they will sue the skeptic, said skeptic laughs it off.

I've had my share of emails and letters, generally ALL IN CAPS, saying that I am preventing some Earth-shattering result from coming to fruition and keeping the author -- who compares himself to Einstein, Galileo, and Newton -- from getting what they deserve.

The irony is obvious: they are getting what they deserve: a logical spanking. And generally, that's the end of it. The crank never follows through, and we're done with it.

But this time it's different. A guy by the name of Stuart Pivar has written a tome that says that genetic biologists have their profession all wrong, and that only he knows the truth. In a blog entry (and some followups) PZ Myers pointed out that the guy is clearly wrong. I am no biologist, but it only takes a glance to see that this guy is, um, maybe not terribly accurate.

PZ called him a crackpot, and perhaps that's where the trouble lies. Pivar is suing PZ. Normally this can be shrugged off as just another goofball rattling the cage. Unfortunately, Pivar is a wealthy businessman, and can actually afford to follow through. Most times the cranks make threats, but can't afford a lawyer, and even if they could, the lawsuits have no merit.

Nor does this one, in fact. Besides the use of that single term, PZ takes apart the science and lack thereof of Pivar's book. There can be no libel if no lie is committed in an attempt to defame, and PZ told the truth. In a sense, this is just more cage-rattling, even if it goes to court. But a judge will quickly dismiss the case, I would imagine.

In fact, and I almost hate to say this, I rather hope (just a little) it does go to court. Most judges take a very dim view of frivolous lawsuits. It's pretty cut and dry that PZ is innocent, and Pivar is trying to shut him down due to a negative review. If it goes to court, Pivar might be in for a lot more than he bargained for.

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