More foot-gunning in the Shermer debacle

John Loftus, ex Freethought Blogger who left because not enough Christians were engaging with his posts so he could convert them, who subsequently founded and then left Skeptic Ink for the same reason, is now blogging at his original Blogspot blog about PZ Myers and Michael Shermer. (A hint, good sir — you may want to actually target your intended audience with your posts.) In his post, wherein the only possible reasons he proffers that PZ Myers might have published the rape allegation — made against Michael Shermer by an unnamed source whom he trusts — involve either naivety or malice, Loftus published the following addendum:

In a personal email to me Shermer categorically denies these accusations. If what he said about his accuser gets out, it will be apparent to most all reasonable people that PZ Myers published a bold-faced lie. He recklessly tried to destroy another person’s reputation without regard for fact-checking.

As Stephanie Zvan asked, what could Shermer have possibly said that would make it so that just by his mere refutation, his innocence would be so patently true that it would be like a lightning bolt revelation from on high, that the accuser would be so tarnished by only what he told you that she could not possibly be correct under any circumstances? But there’s another layer to this, beyond Stephanie’s justified anger at this patently immoral and empathy-free defense: Shermer’s lawyer could not possibly have vetted this statement. The reason for that is fairly obvious, but Ace of Sevens explains quite succinctly:

If I understand the legal situation here, Shermer may rattle a bit, but doesn’t want to name his accuser.

* The main thing he has going for him in a defamation suit against PZ is it’s hard for PZ to prove his story is true while protecting his source’s identity. Prove that someone really did tell PZ that Shermer raped her and the case won’t survive summary judgment. He could sue her instead, but she’s probably not famous and he’d have less to gain.
* To add to the above, Shermer seems to be admitting that he knows someone really did accuse him and PZ didn’t just make it up. That goes against the narrative in his cease-and-desist letters and that most of Shermer’s defenders are using. If he admits PZ was repeating an accusation that was was actually made and acted in good faith, his whole case falls apart without PZ naming anyone. I hope PZ’s lawyer is aware of this communication.
* If the accuser is identified, he loses the main thing holding her back from giving more details, which will probably only serve to make Shermer look worse. Right now, he can pass this off as a vague, anonymous accusation and he’s better off if it stays that way. Outing her would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.
* Plus he could get sued for defamation himself if he tries publicly humiliating her. He’s a public figure and she probably isn’t, so he’d be in more legal danger.
* My suspicion is that Shermer doesn’t know who the accuser is, but has a strong suspicion. This is an attempt to intimidate her by making her think that’s he’s identified her and keep her from coming forward with any more to avoid reprisal. His slimy insinuation that he could cause serious damage is correct, but it wouldn’t work out well for him either, so this is hopefully just a bluff.

Emphasis mine. And — SPOILERS for the end of my post — Shermer has apparently since walked back what he said to Loftus.

Bearing in mind that I am not a lawyer, by my understanding, this is the lynchpin of Shermer’s case: defamation generally requires the information provided be false. PZ Myers reported that someone he knows had accused Shermer of sexual assault. If Shermer does know of someone who has made such an accusation, then PZ Myers reported the truth. Does it matter whether or not the actual allegation is true at that point? From the legal case against PZ, I’m going to guess absolutely not. A case against the accuser might hinge on the truth of her claims of being assaulted, though. PZ avowed that he had no way of knowing whether or not the allegations were true, but he felt it absolutely morally imperative that because he trusted the victim, the information needed disseminating, in order to keep others from potentially being victimized — with the acknowledgement that he was doing so at personal cost.

In much the same way as we skeptics warn others of the potential harm of psychics, medical charlatans, and other con artists, even in absentia of these people being legally tried and convicted, we humans generally want to warn others of potential breaches of our trust. That is, after all, how reasonable people deal with credible allegations which are multiply corroborated by others, if they have a functioning sense of empathy and an ability to look at the statistics regarding false allegations for a particular crime and decide, on balance of probability and weight of the corroborated parts, the allegations have a chance of being be true.

I don’t think Shermer’s lawyers were particularly happy about this though, because Loftus later reports, in reply to someone asking directly if Shermer knew who his accuser was:

Initially he didn’t. Then he thought about it and thought he did. Now he tells me he doesn’t. Don’t make too much of this. He’s trying to guess, that’s all, just as anyone would.

Either Shermer does know who has accused him, or he’s decided that it might not be the person he originally tried to nut-and-slut to Loftus. If the former, PZ walks; if the latter, there’s an acknowledgement that more than one person has said the same thing about him. Are there any lawyers in the house who can confirm my suspicions here?

Regardless of whether I’m right or not, Shermer, some advice for what my advice is worth: stop talking. You are NOT helping your case. You might be inflaming your fanbase but you’re seriously undercutting your own credibility and possibly wrecking any case you have. Save it for the courtroom, for your own sake.

More foot-gunning in the Shermer debacle

105 thoughts on “More foot-gunning in the Shermer debacle

  1. 101

    While there doesn’t appear to be enough to convict Shermer or say with any certainty what he did or didn’t do, the story can serve as a good cautionary tale. Watch your wineglass, and not just to keep from getting drunker than you actually want- whoever is just pouring without your consent could be slipping something into your drink as well.
    This story may or may not play out as true. But it will at least prevent men at skeptic/secularist/atheist conferences from refilling wineglasses without being asked it. And that alone could prevent alot of stupid mistakes.

  2. 102

    […] August 26th, 2013 PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF John Loftus claims to have personal email from Michael Shermer suggesting that he knows who made the accusations against him, and that if anyone else heard what Shermer told Loftus, Shermer’s innocence would be obvious. He then later walks all of that back when Shermer apparently suggests he DOESN’T know who made the accusation, and was just guessing. I cover this episode on my blog. […]

  3. 103

    I was actually sued for libel–$8.25-million–by Al Seckel, a once-prominent skeptic who ran Southern California Skeptics. He claims (falsely) that Shermer’s Skeptic Society is merely a continuation of his now-defunct SCS, and Shermer got to know him pretty well (though he wishes he hadn’t). Seckel sued me for exposing his phony credentials and reporting on the many fraud charges made against him. The lawsuit involved all the libel issues discussed in this thread. Some documents in the case are available to the public at, since it was a Federal case. Seckel is currently the defendant in this fraud case: This is also a Federal case, so documents are available.

  4. 104

    […] August 26th, 2013 John Loftus John Loftus claims to have personal email from Michael Shermer suggesting that he knows who made the accusations against him, and that if anyone else heard what Shermer told Loftus, Shermer’s innocence would be obvious. He then later walks all of that back when Shermer apparently suggests he DOESN’T know who made the accusation, and was just guessing. I cover this episode on my blog. […]

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