Talk about hot off the wires, the following was filed last Thursday, and if the lack of discussion of it on the usually endlessly self-examining ScienceBlogs is any indication, no one there has any idea about it either.
update - comments that just came in from PZ are at the end of this post
(I found this through the magic of google alerts, and full disclosure: I used to work for Seed and I recruited PZ to join ScienceBlogs.)
From Justia.com, aka your tax dollars at work (it's a database of federal district court filings):
v. Seed Media Group, LLC et al
Plaintiff: Stuart Pivar
Defendant: Seed Media Group, LLC and Paul Z. Myers
Case Number: 1:2007cv07334
Filed: August 16, 2007
Court: New York Southern District Court
Office: Foley Square Office [ Court Info ]
Presiding Judge: Judge Shira A. Scheindlin
Nature of Suit: Torts - Injury - Assault, Libel, and Slander
Cause: 28:1332 Diversity-Injunctive & Declaratory Relief
Jury Demanded By: Plaintiff
For those of you who don't know (and I'm guessing that most of you have no idea what the heck any of this is about, nor should you) here's the tale as well as I've been able to sort it out from PZ's varied, and quite frank, posts on the subject:
1. PZ Myers is the blogger behind the science blog Pharyngula. He's a developmental biologist, and his writings on the subject are lucid, enjoyable, even occasionally funny. When he's not writing about development and evolution, (or evo-devo) he's often on about his other favorite subject, the Richard Dawkins / nu-atheism movement. Which, as you might imagine, makes him rather controversial among folks who aren't on board with that particular ideology.
2. 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. Stuart recently came out with a book called Lifecode which, according to its Amazon page
represents the publication of a theory of biological self-organization based on the discovery of a unique geometric configuration with the property to generate the shape of all animal and plant form.
The theory of biological self-organization maintains that body form results from patterns arising in living tissue due to simple mechanical forces rather than by genomic code; the genes are responsible only for individual traits.
3. PZ has made a number of unfavorable but, on balance, not in my opinion excessively mean-spirited reviews of Pivar's book:
I've been reading a strange book by Stuart Pivar, LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization, which purports to advance a new idea in structuralism and self-organization, in competition with Darwinian principles....
I was disappointed.
I will say this: it is very pretty.
Lifecode: From egg to embryo by self-organization
Now Pivar has put out a new version of his book... I'm sorry to say it doesn't address any of my criticisms, and is even worse.
4. 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."
5. 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. Under libel law, Pivar's case is weakened by the fact that he is a public figure--he's written about in the New York Times and he wrote a book, after all.
6. 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.")
7. It's too bad this couldn't have been worked out some other way. I sincerely hope it doesn't have a chilling effect on the cantankerous dialog that is constantly swirling through the science blogging community... you know, that place where restraint is in short supply and you never have to guess what someone actually thinks of you, your work, your parentage or your politics.
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).
From an e-mail from PZ:
Huh. I'd heard some noise from Pivar threatening to sue, but this is the first I've heard of any formal action being taken. Since I'm a defendant (one who hasn't been notified of his status!) I suppose I should just shut up at this point and let justice run its course.
Since I'm a blogger, though, I can't completely shut up. I will just say that this is Pivar's attempt to squash a negative review of his book, which I posted here. Nothing in the review was motivated by personal malice, and I actually am inclined to favor structuralist arguments in evolution ... but I'm afraid my honest assessment of Pivar's work is that it does not support his conclusions. I still stand by my review, and now I'm a bit disturbed that someone would think criticism of a scientific hypothesis must be defended by silencing its critics.