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.

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

  1. 51

    That’s okay, I hear someone’s planning on setting up an Imagination Defense Fund and I’ll contribute all my imaginabucks to it to subsidize the imaginary monkey on your imaginary back.

    Thanks for answering the Rieux Signal. It is much appreciated. 🙂

  2. 52

    I’m pretty sure that every person who says “you can’t believe this because you’re a scientist and scientists…” is not an actual scientist.

  3. 53

    Lawyer, here, and I’ve even filed a petition alleging defamation, and we won!!! (Defendant didn’t show up, default judgment, but why sweat the details).

    I have nothing to add to the above legal analysis. It’s been covered quite thoroughly. The burden needed to show libel of a public figure just cannot be met. I would think the Myers just questioning Carrie Poppy about whether she believed the story would be enough to defeat any attempts to show “reckless disregard.”

    Usually I would predict that a lawsuit would be filed simply because filing a lawsuit is a relatively meaningless act, but Shermer should be really concerned about a face-saving crusade as it could cause the woman making the allegations to become more specific or, worse for Shermer, cause other women to come forward. I see little benefit to Shermer from pursuing this.

    Did PZ contact Shermer prior to throwing that grenade, and if not, why not make a simple query even if it was just to add “I asked Shermer to comment and he told me to fuck off”?

    In addition to what other folks have brought up, Myers could have either approached Shermer with the story we saw or added details and information so Shermer would know exactly who was making the allegation.

    If Myers just presented him with the anonymous (to Shermer) story, what possible comment could he have? “Nope, I didn’t do it.” He obviously can’t provide an alibi or otherwise give an account of why the story is wrong since he either would have no idea to what it referred or would just deny.

    If Myers gave Shermer enough information to provide a coherent response, that would almost necessarily involve disclosing the woman’s identity on some level, thereby allowing Shermer to intimidate the person into silence.

  4. 54

    @Rieux

    Aren’t Wikipedia entry and you talking about something slightly different? The Wikipedia article you linked to says: “The publisher must entertain actual doubt as to the statement’s truth”
    Your stratement “which involves a publisher’s recklessness pertaining to hir assertion’s falsity”.

    They are quite different when you realize that we have not 2, but 3 types of decision about claims: found true, found false, found impossible to determine. If so, then truth would include “found true, while “doubt as to the statement truth” would include {found false, found impossible to determine}, and “falsity” would only include only {found false}. Also all features of a claim such as lack of details, specifics, it’s unfalsifiability, vaguenes, ambiguoity should lead directly to increasing “doubts as to the statement truth” because of falling into {found impossible to determine}.

    In this sense the citation you provided from a court sentence contains wrong logic, as it is only 2 valued (true or false), rather than 3 valued. The citation was: “you are not saying something definite enough to allow a jury to determine whether what you are saying is true or false”. So this sentence is not compatible with the way the world works (reality), but it may not matter for the legal system?

    Why is it important. First off-topic – as atheists we always have to explain the difference between 3-values (belief in a god, belief in a god’s non-existance, lack of belief in a god without determining it’s non-existance) and 2-values (“you either believe a god exist or believe a god doesn’t exist”). Back on topic – these two are very different in the types of claims that are allowed – in areas like let’s say talking about remote past of very old people, when most eyewitnesses are dead, and possible material evidence let’s say destroyed during II World War, or just expired and was deleted from archives – the general “doubt about truth value” would be much more prohibitive for the publisher, while the need to prove something is false would be almost impossible to prove for the defamed. So there’s a huge difference.

    In my evaluation of PZ actions: I don’t suppose that the state of his mind was that what he was publishing was false. But when it comes about doubting about the truth value of such accusations in the sense of him not being able to determine that the claims are true – especially as a scientist, who is used to evaluate quality of evidence – I suspect this was the case, that he was doubting it heavily and was unsure that they are true.

  5. 55

    Aren’t Wikipedia entry and you talking about something slightly different? The Wikipedia article you linked to says: “The publisher must entertain actual doubt as to the statement’s truth”
    Your stratement “which involves a publisher’s recklessness pertaining to hir assertion’s falsity”.

    …you just said that to a lawyer?

    *sigh*

  6. 56

    @imnotandrei
    ” No. Saying “These are the limits of my direct knowledge” is not the same as going “Therefore I doubt everything beyond this limit.” ”

    Of course. We have beliefs. Are you suggesting that PZ Myers is a naive believer in whatever victimization claim women say? Wouldn’t it be the solution that Shermer seeks? A lawsuit that might be lost because of freedom of speach (good for Shermer – he’s a publisher), but during which PZ is forced to admit that he is a naive believer, lacking critical thinking skills when it comes to claims of victimization from women?

  7. 57

    In my evaluation of PZ actions: I don’t suppose that the state of his mind was that what he was publishing was false. But when it comes about doubting about the truth value of such accusations in the sense of him not being able to determine that the claims are true – especially as a scientist, who is used to evaluate quality of evidence – I suspect this was the case, that he was doubting it heavily and was unsure that they are true.

    Your suspicions are noted and accorded the level of trust in truth-value — namely, that as a person with an established position on the subject, you are imputing thoughts to a person you do not know on the basis of a misunderstanding of how scientists (as opposed to science) works — that lead to the conclusion you wish to draw — that they deserve.

    Which is to say, none.

  8. 58

    [email protected]:

    A lawsuit that might be lost because of freedom of speach (good for Shermer – he’s a publisher), but during which PZ is forced to admit that he is a naive believer, lacking critical thinking skills when it comes to claims of victimization from women?

    Yes, and he’ll also be “forced” to “admit” that he is a poopyhead! And that cats are cute and cephalapods are ugly!

    What bizarro legal procedure are you imagining here? PZ has already “admitted” that he did not personally witness the rape — he said it in the initial post! If Shermer’s goal is to “prove” that PZ is relying on the information presented to him by the victim and the corroborating accounts that PZ has referred to, then mission accomplished, no need for a lawsuit, because PZ said it up front.

    And if hyperskeptical rape apologists like you want to rant that this makes him a “naive believer” who “lack[s] critical thinking skills,” then you can continue to knock yourselves out, but courts have better things to do with their time. (And, I suspect, Shermer has better things to do with his money.)

  9. 59

    GrzeTor, there are varying levels of confidence one can have in any proposition. That the level of confidence has not risen all the way to scientific certainty (which itself is never 100%) does not have to equal the kind of doubt you’re presuming. There’s a wide range between that and “naive belief.”

  10. 60

    I should say, I can think of absurd things that Shermer-via-Loftus could have in mind as factors that should have made it clear to PZ that Doe was lying: say, “It’s extremely well known that Jane Doe hasn’t left Mongolia for the last 30 years, and that Shermer’s never been there.”

    an interesting hypothetical indeed, as this is very close to what has happened with the Slymies’ false rape claims against Avicenna (who of course has neither the time nor the money to pursue the actual malice of such a false charge). Grrrrrr, these people.

  11. 61

    A lawsuit that might be lost because of freedom of speach (good for Shermer – he’s a publisher), but during which PZ is forced to admit that he is a naive believer, lacking critical thinking skills when it comes to claims of victimization from women?

    That would be a bit tricky. You’d have to show that Dr. Myers has been fooled multiple times by transparently-false claims about victimization of women. Do you see the problem? They wouldn’t have to just be false, they’d need to be transparently false, such that no reasonable listener would believe them.

    Do you have any examples of this happening? Certainly the “Jane Doe” account isn’t transparently-false; it’s internally consistent and doesn’t contain any obvious implausibilities.

  12. 62

    GrzeTor @54:

    Aren’t Wikipedia entry and you talking about something slightly different?

    Could be. I’m not terribly invested in Wikipedia’s synopsis of the law. I care far more about the law. I strongly suspect you’re seriously misinterpreting the Wikipedia entry, but really, who cares? It’s a gloss on defamation law, not an authoritative or binding authority.

    The Wikipedia article you linked to says: “The publisher must entertain actual doubt as to the statement’s truth”
    Your stratement “which involves a publisher’s recklessness pertaining to hir assertion’s falsity”.

    Indeed. My statement is a paraphrase of the more important half of the definition of “actual malice” from New York Times v. Sullivan, the key U.S. Supreme Court decision in this area. Wikipedia appears to be trying to paraphrase the same standard, though more loosely.

    They are quite different when you realize that we have not 2, but 3 types of decision about claims: found true, found false, found impossible to determine.

    That is utterly irrelevant to the NYT standard. Under your analysis (based on a garbled reading of a Wikipedia entry that’s itself a distant paraphrase of NYT), every single factual statement that everyone ever makes without 100% “found true” certainty would constitute “reckless disregard of whether [the statement] was true or false.” Which is ridiculous.

    As any mathematician or logician can tell you, just about no statement regarding the world around us can be conclusively proven (“found”) true. Your notion that everything stated to a less-than-absolute certainty is therefore stated with reckless disregard for truth is just a laughable idea about everyday epistemology, not to mention about the standards of review that courts of law apply every day within defamation litigation.

    If so, then truth would include “found true, while “doubt as to the statement truth” would include {found false, found impossible to determine}, and “falsity” would only include only {found false}.

    Given that the NYT Court’s analysis is the fundamental authority at issue here, that is very clearly not what the Wikipedia entry means by “The publisher must entertain actual doubt as to the statement’s truth.” The mere recognition that the assertion at issue has not been conclusively proven true is very obviously not the standard for “actual malice.” In this context, the online encyclopedia clearly does not mean the same thing you do by the phrase “entertain actual doubt.”

    Your Wiki-misreading-based analysis of the basic foundations of defamation law is simply flatly wrong. A defendant in a defamation action need not have proven the truth of the matter asserted in order to avoid a court finding of “actual malice.” And I really doubt you’d want to live in a world in which that is the standard.

    I invite you to read the NYT v. Sullivan decision, in which the Court makes clear that a number of the statements that the Times published were in fact false—and yet the Court held that the Times could not be held liable for defamation because the paper lacked “actual malice.” How could that possibly be compatible with your analysis?

    We’re talking about actual law as it works in actual cases, not about how you can mangle a single inartful sentence from Wikipedia into a crazy standard that would massively expand the scope of actionable defamation.

    In this sense the citation you provided from a court sentence contains wrong logic, as it is only 2 valued (true or false), rather than 3 valued. The citation was: “you are not saying something definite enough to allow a jury to determine whether what you are saying is true or false”. So this sentence is not compatible with the way the world works (reality), but it may not matter for the legal system?

    The legal system, in the hands of defamation plaintiffs, would be a runaway freight train mowing down innocent people left and right if it accepted your very silly notions about the “actual malice” standard.

    The accusation that PZ quoted in his grenade post could, hypothetically, be true. It could also be false. That is not directly relevant to the NYT “actual malice” standard. What is relevant is (1) his knowledge regarding and (2) his attitude toward the accusation’s truth or falsity. PZ and others have established that PZ took steps to establish the credibility of the accusation. Under the terms of NYT, that all-but-indisputably establishes that he did not act with “actual malice.” (Under the far less important terms of the Wikipedia entry, it shows that he didn’t “entertain actual doubt” regarding the truth of the accusation.) It’s the NYT standard, and not your irrelevant ideas about epistemology, that matter here.

  13. 63

    I’m not sure what to call this feeling I have seeing people who’d be likely to scoff at an anti-vaxxer’s Google University education thinking that a few hours at the Wikipedia School of Law makes them legal experts. Whatever it is, it’s giving me a headache from all the head-shaking.

    And I know that’s possible, because I have a medical degree from WebMD.

  14. 64

    Thank you to the lawyers who weighed in. Always better to have people who actually know what they are talking about than speculation based on stuff people half-remember from watching Law & Order.

  15. 65

    @GrzeTor
    “The publisher must entertain actual doubt as to the statement’s truth”
    I’m willing to admit that by “actual doubt” you can understand “i’m not reallly sure” -wich you do- or “I’m pretty sure it’s false” -wich Rieux explained it’s what the law means, or at least what judges think the law means.
    I will “admit that [I am] a naive believer, lacking critical thinking skills when it comes to” what Rieux claimed, as it seems that he has a reputation of being a lawyer here, he sounds as a lawyer, what he says semms pretty more logical and he provided jurisprudence, instead of believing your interpretation of wikipedia’s interpretation of law.
    So you can ask to remove my True Skeptic (TM) card

  16. 66

    @Rieux “I invite you to read the NYT v. Sullivan decision”

    Why do you give me an example that not only doesn’t match what PZ did, but is exactly opposite at the exactly one of the points I’m making? The advertisment in NYT matched patterns like: opinion, fact reporting, invitation for discussion. For example these statemen can be classified as fact reporting “As the whole world knows by now, thousands of Southern Negro students are engaged in widespread non-violent demonstrations in positive affirmation of the right to live in human dignity as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” or “In Orangeburg, south Carolina, when 400 students peacefully sought to buy doughnuts and coffee at lunch counters in the business district, they were forcibly ejected”. Following sentence matches opinion: “Decent-minded Americans cannot help but applaud the creative daring of the students and the quiet heroism of Dr. King.” and this one is an invitation to debate: “We must heed their rising voices–yes–but we must add our own.”. What’s more – the gist of the entire adverisment was about general public problems of that time, rather than being a call for lynching a particular person.

    What PZ did was far away from fact reporting – in fact it was more about consciously hiding the crucial facts (where, when, what, to whom) from the public. Instead he only provided a set of outrageous words and phrases like “coerced, raped, could not consent, unethical behavior, victim, really bad, sense of futility, assaulted, has no recourse, no way out” and associated these words and phrases with Michael Shermer. The actual facts he made a mystery. So let’s call this pattern Accusation Via Mystery. The problem with Accusation Via Mystery is that it is dataless, informationless, unfalsifialble up to the point that the accused is unable to defend himself in a public debate or provide a proof of his innocence. Accusation Via Mystery doesn’t provide time and place of alleged wrongdoing, so the accused is unable to provide evidence that he was somwhere else then. Accusation Via Mystery doesn’t provide the name of the accuser, so that the accused is unable do defend himself via proving the accuser is unreliable. Accusation Via Mystery doesn’t provide a description of place and act, so the accused is not able to prove that the description doesn’t match the physical reality (eg. the hotel doesn’t have the elevator, or the monitoring camera recording don’t shows the accused behaving the opposite way to the claimed one). With such features it doesn’t support a public debate, it’s more of a hindrance as public debate requires information. If Accusation Via Mystery is madeBasically then the only way to get a confirmed information necessary for the public debate is to go to the court and use it as a vehicle to obtain the information.

    So you need a better example, that matches what happened now. Or perhaps there’s going to be a new precedent?

  17. 67

    @ GrzeTor, 65

    Legal reasoning — I recommend you study it a bit before you come back here.

    (From this point on, IANAL; I am just trying to save some real lawyer’s time. 😉 I am, however, a student of the law, as a layman.)

    The reason that NYT vs. Sullivan is controlling here is not because the facts of that case are tremendously close to the facts here, but because it establishes the “actual malice” standard for a public person.

    Indeed; ” Factual error, content defamatory of official reputation, or both, are insufficient to warrant an award of damages for false statements unless “actual malice” — knowledge that statements are false or in reckless disregard of the truth — is alleged and proved. Pp. 376 U. S. 279-283.”

    If a newspaper, publishing false statements, is not subject to libel claims due to a lack of “actual malice”, a blogger, whose statements have an indeterminate truth-value, is even less likely to be subject to said claims. Indeed — that bit cited from the actual decision — means that even if Myers’ source is proven to be lying, unless PZ can be shown to be in “reckless disregard of the truth”, he’s not guilty of libel.

    So your entire lengthy paragraph about “Accusation Via Mystery” is irrelevant to the law at hand.

    If Accusation Via Mystery is madeBasically then the only way to get a confirmed information necessary for the public debate is to go to the court and use it as a vehicle to obtain the information.

    Libel law was not designed to “get confirmed information for the public debate”. I don’t know if there’s an official term for it, but I believe that suing people for the sole purpose of dragging information out of them in discovery is frowned upon; I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong there.

  18. 68

    @imnotandrei, 66

    First of all I’m surprised that you are saying that the law and interpretation of it is this or that in a way that suggests that it is some static entity, rather than a dynamic system that tracks both the changing real world outside, as well as creativity of lawmakers, as well as trends in judges thinking and philosophies.

    What is even stranger, that the case you cite is the one that significantly changed the system? Notice these words from the case you cite “Cases which impose liability for erroneous reports of the political conduct of officials reflect the obsolete doctrine […]”. Notice words “obsolete doctrine”. This new precendent was needed because old stuff didn’t reflect actual reality at the time of the case.

    Unfortunately the law you cite doesn’t reflect the reality now. Techniques of propaganda and PR, that can be used to harm people with words, are next generation compared to then, media is completly different after the advancement of the Internet, and we can do things better now, like measuring and quantifying stuff which some areas of law avoid like a plague using words instead. Old doctrines are obsolete – they don’t reflect modern world. Does it sound familiar?

  19. 69

    It’s possible that, if there’s an actual libel suit, the court will see it as a new problem and will try to set a new precedent, in which case there will be appeals, and if every level of appellate court agrees that there’s a new precedent to be set here, it’ll eventually work its way up to the Supreme Court, where their decision will determine what the new precedent will be, and the case of Shermer v. Myers will be cited for centuries to come.

    It’s far more likely that they’ll rely on existing relevant case law, despite the fact that a Wiki-educated layman thinks that the decision doesn’t apply and is “obsolete doctrine.”

    Yes, the law is a dynamic system that tracks with the changing world. It’s also a conservative system that avoids sweeping changes whenever possible.

  20. 70

    I should amend that to say that the court is a conservative system that avoids making sweeping changes from the bench whenever possible. The kinds of sweeping changes that GrzeTor seems to expect of libel law are matters for the legislators, as far as I can tell. The court interprets law, it generally doesn’t rewrite it.

  21. 71

    we can do things better now, like measuring and quantifying stuff which some areas of law avoid like a plague using words instead.

    Try to get this through your head (though I should point you at Steersman, over on another thread, who says that Myers’ supporters are trying to undercut the rule of law, while you’re over here advocating tossing out decades of precedent because, well, it’s different now.):

    The legal system operates on precedent. Sometimes that precedent is changed. However, *nothing* you’ve suggested gives them any reason to do so.

    You’re trying to change the law to get the result you want in one case; that’s what this boils down to. When someone posts an accusation, they’re disrespecting the law — when you want to change the law to punish them, that’s just fine.

    Hell of a double standard you’ve got there.

    To address the last little bit: and we can do things better now, like measuring and quantifying stuff which some areas of law avoid like a plague using words instead

    You can’t get falser than “false”. The Times standard is: Factual error, content defamatory of official reputation, or both, are insufficient — so if falseness wasn’t enough, then “measuring and quantifying stuff” won’t matter here, unless you’ve come up with some brilliant algorithm to measure reckless disregard — a GrzeTorometer, as it were — and I doubt you have.

    You can close your eyes and wish as hard as you want that libel laws were different than they are; you can write your Congressman and suggest they be changed. But when it comes to assessing cases *here* and *now*, or in the very near future, going “But it might be different here!” is not a valid argument.

  22. 72

    @Tom Foss 68, 69.

    In the topic of obsolescence of laws and lack of numbers as a big problem – consider for example this whole issue of qualification of who is public and who is private person. In the past a simple qualification might work – there were few people present in TV or newspapers – public, average person was not in media – private. Now hordes of normal, average people have websites, blogs, are in the social media, have their own Internet radio or TV. So should they have little legal protection from defamation – was this the intent of lawmakers, that the average person, doing what’s average behavior nowadays has ?

    Besides not all channels are even watched, so where in the law or interpretations are the popularity numbers that would allow anyone deterministically qualify a persona on the internet as public or private? So that anyone is able to know whom he is dealing with without the need for court cases to determine that after the event. You can’t solve this without numbers – right now there’s no sharp difference between professional celebrities and normals, but continuity from the least popular to the most popular, densly packed at any point in between. No numbers = no predictability of outcome of your action in a court = no justice.

  23. 73

    Shermer’s lawyers can argue that Shermer isn’t a public figure, and that’s certainly a possible take. But as you note, the Internet has, if anything, broadened the definition of a “public figure.” Of course, “guy who runs a magazine and an organization, and who has appeared on television many times” is going to qualify, I think, regardless.

    But the problem you outline doesn’t seem to be one the courts alone can solve. The changing social landscape needs to be addressed legislatively, with laws that clearly define what the limits of public and private figures are for the purpose of these sorts of issues. Or they may need to scrap the distinction altogether and come up with a universal guideline that determines what constitutes libel or slander, possibly opening up the “actual malice” defense to everyone or finding some middle ground between the standards that currently exist.

    But I don’t think that’s going to help Shermer out, especially with a do-nothing congress, and I think in general the law (outside of Britain) is going to (and should) err on the side of people being more free to make claims/statements than on the ease of shutting down criticism with SLAPP lawsuits.

  24. 74

    @imnotandrei, 79

    Do you really have so much difficulty to find a better match for PZ vs. Shermer potential case than some lawsuit from 60s that was about the important social problem of communicating racism, issue of what can be said about an elected political official, as well as what’s allowed in advertisment secions of printed newspapers?

    If this was a valid precedent to PZ vs. MS case then it would just mean that this whole US legal system is based on a fallacy of overgeneralization. That is first an important, novel case is solved well. But then the conclusions from this case are overgeneralized to the extreme, being applied to the cases that are 180 degree different in crucial aspects (post 65). It’s also a known fallacy of cherry picking if lawyers are able to cherry pick a single definition from a case, and throw away a context that was the gist of it. Shouldn’t it be – the cases don’t match, are divergent in crucial aspects – so the older one is not a precedent to the newer one? It’s not as much about changing a precedent, but using it appropriately, only when patterns match. So it would mean that a precedent that corrects what should be a precedent to what to which is needed, or some explainatory legislative action.

    So what would you do then if no precedents match the case at hand – you simply need to read the law as it’s written in the statues and apply it directly, literally. If it is not possible because it lacks some clarity – do a new precedent that fits the case – but then use it only for following cases that match, without overgeneralization or cherry picking. Isn’t it simple?

    ———————

    About some of your examples: “You can’t get falser than “false”. The Times standard is: Factual error, content defamatory of official reputation, or both, are insufficient ” I’ve explained clearly that making unfalsifiable Accusations Via Mystery against someone is much worse for the accused than an accusation that is an instance of Fact Reporting. Because facts – even falsified ones – are falsfiable, the accused is able to defend himself via showing that they are not true. An Accusation Via Mystery is designed specifically make it impossible for the accused to defend himself – it is thus much worse than stating some details erronously.

    Besides it’s not even what the citation you provide was about. In that case the main point, the gist, the whole sense of the statement was both valid and important for the public interests; there were some errors in details, which is expected – some percent of errors is what humans do. In MS vs. PZ case it would be about the status of the most important point of the blog post – the main accusation form anonymous source – how that is related to reality.

  25. 75

    The NYT case is relevant to libel cases involving the standard of “actual malice” because it is the case where “actual malice” was defined. It’s not, as far as I understand, about the cases “matching,” but about how the existing law is interpreted for cases–what you suggest is “simpl[e].” If the law, as it is written, includes “actual malice” as the clause, then you turn to the NYT case to determine what constitutes “actual malice.”

    But here’s what I don’t get, GrzeTor: there is at least one actual lawyer posting in this thread who has disagreed with your interpretation and understanding of the way the legal system works. What makes you think you’re a better judge of how the law works than someone who actually has expertise in how the law works?

  26. 77

    GrzeTor, listen to Tom Foss, because you sure aren’t listening to me — but I’ll give you an example.

    The case controlling what warnings the police have to give a suspect is Miranda v. Arizona,, in which the suspect (Miranda) was arrested on charges of rape and kidnapping. The precedent, however, applies to *any* criminal case, because that is the issue of law that was determined within the argument. Similarly, as has been pointed out repeatedly, the “actual malice” standard was described and determined by NYT v. Sullivan

    I’ve explained clearly that making unfalsifiable Accusations Via Mystery against someone is much worse for the accused than an accusation that is an instance of Fact Reporting.

    From the point of view of the law, it doesn’t matter; indeed, if you are going to argue that there is no way to determine the factual status of the accusation, then it becomes a matter of opinion — which moves it out of the realm of libel altogether, because opinion is protected.

  27. 78

    .. 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.

    Yep. That sounds like good advice to me. Well written & agreed here Jason Thibeault.

    I’m no lawyer but I’d probably add that Shermer would likely be very well advised to drop this whole case and maybe apologise not just to PZ but especially to (all) the woman (& man) and then also rest of us. ”

    Plus he’d be well advised to learn from this and behave very differently in future.

  28. 79

    Tom Foss @69:

    The kinds of sweeping changes that GrzeTor seems to expect of libel law are matters for the legislators, as far as I can tell. The court interprets law, it generally doesn’t rewrite it.

    The “actual malice” doctrine is (according to the Supreme Court) a requirement of the First Amendment (applicable to the states through the 14th). So any attempt to narrow or limit it would have to come from the Court or a constitutional amendment, not the legislature. Congress can broaden the protection for free speech legislatively, as with Communications Decency Act section 230 immunity, but it can’t strip protection below what the Court determines the Constitution requires.

  29. 80

    Several other folks have done a rather good job of responding to GrzeTor’s ignorant nonsense, but still I feel drawn to add my two bar-licensed cents. And I don’t know the meaning of the word “succinct,” so here goes nothing.

    @65:

    Why do you give me an example that not only doesn’t match what PZ did, but is exactly opposite at the exactly one of the points I’m making?

    Because I, unlike you, have an elementary understanding (actually more than that, but it’s only the elementary level that’s necessary here) of how reasoning from legal precedent works. Your notion that the facts of New York Times v. Sullivan don’t “match what PZ did” (which is in fact bullshit—but we’ll leave that for later) is irrelevant: that is a decision of the United States Supreme Court that sets out a constitutional limitation on all defamation suits brought by public figures. It binds every court of law in the United States of America. It places beyond dispute several ground rules that apply to every such lawsuit. Whining that it “doesn’t match what PZ did” is ignorant idiocy, because it doesn’t matter whether the facts of NYT “match” (especially in your ludicrously blinkered subjective opinion); the requirements set out in that case bind every court that Shermer could possibly sue PZ in regardless. Under NYT, in any defamation suit Shermer brings against PZ, Shermer would be constitutionally required to prove “actual malice,” and his “actual malice” showing would have to meet the criteria the Supreme Court provided in that case. That’s the law. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. It’s the law. If Shermer can’t prove “actual malice” under the NYT standard (or else show that he’s not a public figure—but good luck), he loses. Indisputably and unquestionably. Your caviling is based on nothing but your severe ignorance of the manner in which American law works.

    The advertisment in NYT matched patterns like: opinion, fact reporting, invitation for discussion.

    What kind of freakish Pavlovian psych experiment do you think you’re participating in here? This is not “pattern matching,” it is (hypothetical) litigation. The only relevant “pattern” being matched is that the hypothetical lawsuit in question is a defamation action. Michael Shermer is hypothetically suing PZ Myers on the grounds that Myers allegedly published one or more assertions of fact that defamed Shermer. Meanwhile, in 1960 L.B. Sullivan, the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Montgomery, Alabama, sued the New York Times on the grounds that the Times allegedly published one or more assertions of fact that defamed Sullivan and the police force he commanded. That’s the “pattern.” That’s what matters. You shoving various facts into absurd boxes marked “opinion,” “fact reporting,” and “invitation for discussion” is entirely meaningless.

    [T]he gist of the entire adverisment [at issue in NYT] was about general public problems of that time, rather than being a call for lynching a particular person.

    First, like your whole fixation on “matching” various categories that you think the statements in the respective publications fall into, your “gist” bit is both irrelevant and flatly wrong. There were numerous specific allegations of fact in the challenged advertisement, and Sullivan sued precisely because he believed (in some instances correctly) that they were false. “Gist” is an absurd irrelevancy.

    More importantly, though, you are straightfacedly analogizng what happened to Shermer to “a call for lynching.” That is disgusting, pal. Fuck. You. Being accused of sexual assault is not commensurate with being threatened with racist mob murder. How dare you pretend those are comparable?

    What PZ did was far away from fact reporting….

    Abject bullshit. The basic premise of any Shermer lawsuit would necessarily be that PZ’s post was “fact reporting,” and that the central “fact report[ed]” was false. Insofar as his post wasn’t “fact reporting,” by black-letter law it’s not defamation. Shermer’s attorneys, we can all be thankful, are well aware of that basic legal reality.

    Again, one notable factual parallel between the facts of NYT and Shermer’s allegations in his hypothetical lawsuit against PZ is that some of the statements the Times printed were in fact false. As a result, Sullivan’s complaints about the Times‘ publication was, in that respect, correct: the publication had stated false notions about him and his police force. The reason NYT would be particularly helpful for PZ in the hypothetical lawsuit, besides setting out the “actual malice” standard in the first place, is that it shows that the mere falsity of Jane Doe’s account still wouldn’t prove that PZ defamed Shermer. And that’s a massive problem for Shermer’s case, regardless of your silly nonsense about “matches.”

    – in fact it was more about consciously hiding the crucial facts (where, when, what, to whom) from the public.

    Again, that’s bullshit—but more to the point, it’s simply entirely irrelevant to defamation law. PZ has no legal obligation to provide you with “facts” that you whinge are “crucial.” Failing to provide you (or Shermer) with that information isn’t defamation. Go ahead and ask Shermer’s counsel. (He might charge you a heavy fee to set you straight, though. Wish I could.)

    Instead he only provided a set of outrageous words and phrases like “coerced, raped, could not consent, unethical behavior, victim, really bad, sense of futility, assaulted, has no recourse, no way out” and associated these words and phrases with Michael Shermer.

    Tough shit. That’s not defamation. It’s not actionable. You can ask Shermer’s counsel.

    The actual facts he made a mystery. So let’s call this pattern Accusation Via Mystery. The problem with Accusation Via Mystery is that it is dataless, informationless, unfalsifialble up to the point that the accused is unable to defend himself in a public debate or provide a proof of his innocence.

    Tough shit. It’s not defamation. It’s not actionable. You can ask Shermer’s counsel.

    Accusation Via Mystery doesn’t provide time and place of alleged wrongdoing, so the accused is unable to provide evidence that he was somwhere else then. Accusation Via Mystery doesn’t provide the name of the accuser, so that the accused is unable do defend himself via proving the accuser is unreliable.

    Boy, you’re just itching to stalk, harass, and generally destroy Jane Doe, aren’t you? It hurts that you’re not in a position to make her life a living hell. Well, tough shit: your inability to do that doesn’t make PZ’s publication defamatory. It’s not actionable. You can ask Shermer’s counsel.

    Accusation Via Mystery doesn’t provide a description of place and act, so the accused is not able to prove that the description doesn’t match the physical reality (eg. the hotel doesn’t have the elevator…

    Oh-what-a-giveaway!

    …or the monitoring camera recording don’t shows the accused behaving the opposite way to the claimed one).

    Tough shit. It’s not defamation. It’s not actionable. You can ask Shermer’s counsel.

    With such features it doesn’t support a public debate, it’s more of a hindrance as public debate requires information.

    Tough shit. Both PZ and Jane Doe have the First Amendment right to free expression; they don’t have to “support” your precious “public debate” (a blatant pretextual euphemism for brutally harassing an innocent rape victim). Failure to “support a public debate” is not defamation. It’s not actionable. You can ask Shermer’s counsel.

    If Accusation Via Mystery is madeBasically then the only way to get a confirmed information necessary for the public debate is to go to the court and use it as a vehicle to obtain the information.

    Oh, do tell! Courts are in the business of enabling defamation plaintiffs “to get a confirmed information” (wha?) “necessary for the public debate” now? What in the world gives you that ridiculous idea?

    So you need a better example, that matches what happened now.

    The hell I do. You’re playing Shermer here, pal—and the plaintiff has the burden of proof in any civil action. It’s your job to come up with legal authority to prove your case. Given the ignorant idiocy of your legal theory (which starts by chucking NYT v. Sullivan over your shoulder), good goddamn luck.

    Or perhaps there’s going to be a new precedent?

    Not based on your illiterate nonsense, no, there won’t.

    @67:

    First of all I’m surprised that you are saying that the law and interpretation of it is this or that in a way that suggests that it is some static entity….

    Bullshit. Once again, that is simply your ignorance talking. Law—and especially constitutional jurisprudence, which is what we’re talking about here—is a precedential system that is designed to change extremely slowly and carefully, and discard old foundational concepts only on extremely rare occasion and with overwhelmingly pressing justification. That’s not “static,” though it can look that way to people who know so little about it.

    Unfortunately the law you cite doesn’t reflect the reality now.

    Yeah, try telling that to an actual judge! See how many seconds it takes for her to throw you out on your ass.

    Techniques of propaganda and PR, that can be used to harm people with words, are next generation compared to then, media is completly different after the advancement of the Internet, and we can do things better now, like measuring and quantifying stuff which some areas of law avoid like a plague using words instead.

    Bullshit. Abject bullshit. There is nothing whatsoever about the PZ/Shermer controversy that could not have taken place with the technology available in NYT‘s 1960—or for that matter the Bill of Rights’ 1789. Accusing a public figure of a serious crime—even via your precious “Accusation Via Mystery” (which we native English speakers call innuendo)—has been entirely practicable for many centuries.

    Moreover, NYT v. Sullivan has coexisted with overwhelmingly widespread Internet use for decades, now, and there has been no indication that any court, least of all the U.S. Supreme Court, believes that the justification for “actual malice” standard is any less pressing in the Internet age than it was in 1960. Clueless as you are about the entire topic, this matter is not the first time that public figures have been accused of serious crimes on the Internet by people whose identities the accused was not aware of. Decades’ worth of Internet-age defamation law have done nothing to cast NYT into doubt; why should some legally illiterate nobody’s burning need to get PZ Myers change anything?

    Old doctrines are obsolete – they don’t reflect modern world.

    Your comprehension of the “doctrines” in question here is about as impressive as your facility with definite articles.

    Given how poor your understanding of said “doctrines” is, why in the world should anyone see your notions about those doctrines’ supposed obsolescence as credible?

    @71:

    In the topic of obsolescence of laws and lack of numbers as a big problem – consider for example this whole issue of qualification of who is public and who is private person. In the past a simple qualification might work – there were few people present in TV or newspapers – public, average person was not in media – private.

    Wrong. Again, your ignorance is vast. That has never been the legal standard for “public figure”s under NYT. Why do you continue shooting your mouth off on topics you know so little about?

    Now hordes of normal, average people have websites, blogs, are in the social media, have their own Internet radio or TV. So should they have little legal protection from defamation – was this the intent of lawmakers, that the average person, doing what’s average behavior nowadays has ?

    That is a well-examined issue. Courts have dealt with it in depth. You could research what they’ve concluded, but why should you, right, when you can just blather online instead?

    So should they have little legal protection from defamation – was this the intent of lawmakers, that the average person, doing what’s average behavior nowadays has ?

    (“Lawmakers”? Is that what you’re calling the U.S. Supreme Court now?)

    That issue is an extraordinarily old one. If you talked less and read more, you might know that. And you might know the current state of the law, too.

    Besides not all channels are even watched, so where in the law or interpretations are the popularity numbers that would allow anyone deterministically qualify a persona on the internet as public or private?

    Nope. Totally irrelevant. Severe ignorance of the legal standards in question. You’re embarrassing yourself.

    No numbers = no predictability of outcome of your action in a court = no justice.

    Asinine. You want “predictability of outcome of your action in a court”? Let me introduce you to a fabulous group of people: they study the law, and then they offer to help people like you understand the law and the impact it may have on you. They often have to charge you money for this service (they need to put food on the table, same as anyone else), but given the significance of the consequences that law can often have on private parties, the service they provide is often very valuable nonetheless. A fair number of folks don’t like these people, but I promise, most of them are actually very nice, intelligent, and committed to making the world a better place, Do you want to guess who they are? And why it might be sub-optimal to blunder your way into their subjects of expertise with barely the slightest understanding of (if not sneering contempt for) what they do and how the law works?

    @73:

    Do you really have so much difficulty to find a better match for PZ vs. Shermer potential case than some lawsuit from 60s that was about the important social problem of communicating racism, issue of what can be said about an elected political official, as well as what’s allowed in advertisment secions of printed newspapers?

    Your ignorance is astounding. NYT v. Sullivan does not cease to be the seminal precedent on American defamation law just because you can ridiculously mischaracterize it. (It’s “about the important social problem of communicating racism, issue of what can be said about an elected political official, as well as what’s allowed in advertisment secions of printed newspapers”? That’s just breathtakingly wrongheaded.)

    If this was a valid precedent to PZ vs. MS case then it would just mean that this whole US legal system is based on a fallacy of overgeneralization.

    No, you just are flatly clueless about how judicial precedent works. Your bizarre resistance to the entire concept does not change the manner in which Supreme Court precedent binds every portion of the American legal system. What you call “a fallacy of overgeneralization” is the way the American judicial system, and the English common-law system it derives from, have worked for several hundred years. If you don’t like it, once again: tough shit. Judicial precedent is the law, and it binds everyone in the U.S. (and the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and (with minor revisions) effectively the entire rest of the world).

    Shouldn’t it be – the cases don’t match, are divergent in crucial aspects – so the older one is not a precedent to the newer one?

    Sure; you can try to distinguish a prior precedent. But that requires actual understanding of the concept of precedent, and indeed of which “aspects” of precedents are actually “crucial.” Your mangling of NYT, in the service of a silly personal vendetta, indicates rather strongly that you don’t have the slightest idea of how to do that.

    If it is not possible because it lacks some clarity – do a new precedent that fits the case – but then use it only for following cases that match, without overgeneralization or cherry picking. Isn’t it simple?

    No, in fact, it’s not. Especially when dishonest ignorants with massive axes to grind refuse to accept that foundational Supreme Court decisions are binding law. When they blather about irrelevancies such as “the important social problem of communicating racism” as a ridiculous diversion to legal holdings they don’t like. When, in short, neophytes who have no idea what they’re talking about think they can play lawyer in order to sock it to their enemies. In that kind of situation, things can get very difficult indeed.

  30. 81

    I wrote:

    Judicial precedent is the law, and it binds everyone in the U.S. (and the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and (with minor revisions) effectively the entire rest of the world).

    Oops: Canada, too. My apologies to our gracious host.

  31. 82

    Judicial precedent is the law, and it binds everyone in the U.S. (and the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and (with minor revisions) effectively the entire rest of the world).

    I have to ask — is this also the case in “code-based” legal systems, like Germany? I know precedent has respect there, but I didn’t think it was quite as …forceful as it is in common-law systems.

  32. 83

    Whew, Rieux on fire today!

    Grze Tor, go home. You’re lost; you’re so abysmally wrong-headed that you couldn’t make a valid point if we took up a collection and paid you to.

    There’s not one single valid thing you can add to the subject besides “I was wrong, I admit it, I’m sorry I was such an ass and wasted all your time”.

    Don’t bother coming back unless that’s what you’re coming back to say.

  33. 84

    You’re exactly right, imnotandrei. Judicial precedent is a less important and powerful thing in jurisdictions that aren’t common-law based (such as most of Europe)—but it matters nearly everywhere.

  34. 86

    And there it is again: Shermer said to me in some email that none of you will ever see or be able to verify that he didn’t do it. And we’re just supposed to take it on faith that such a thing actually exists? But the rape accusations were made by Bitchez B. Lyin, and besides, PZ made up the whole thing for page hits. Fucking Magnets, how does this work? I frequently suck at picking up technical gaming rules and social cues, but really. (What? The WCHM piece can move anywhere on the board to attack a one of the less privileged ones? The fuck?)

  35. 87

    Indeed, Ace @84: it’s a very broad standard. PZ is almost certainly a public figure as well. (Not that that matters for the hypothetical lawsuit in question; it’s only the plaintiff’s public-figure status that makes a difference for the analysis, not the defendant’s. FWIW (very little), the New York Times unquestionably was and is a public figure, too.)

    As the NYT Court explains, the public-figure and “actual malice” standards are an extraordinarily important means of protecting the First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Without those standards (or some other rule that performs similar work), the powerful could all too easily silence any critical commentary on anything they do. There’s an underlying cost-benefit analysis involved: upholding those First Amendment rights has long since been deemed more fundamental and important than private parties’ desire to root out any and every published challenge (including, inevitably, some that are based on falsehoods) to their reputations.

  36. 88

    imnotandrei

    I have to ask — is this also the case in “code-based” legal systems, like Germany? I know precedent has respect there, but I didn’t think it was quite as …forceful as it is in common-law systems.

    They have more of a “guideline” effect. Unless, of course, it’s the constitutional court. In that case it usually means that the legislative have to make a law that complies with the ruling.

  37. 93

    Thanks, Fern!

    (Truth be told, I’m procrastinating from writing a Rule 12 motion brief. The Complaint in question is so pathetic I’m going to try to talk my client into filing/threatening a Rule 11 motion as well. Unfortunately, there are experienced litigators who reason just as poorly as GrzeTor….)

  38. 94

    Thanks, Rieux. That was more fun than watching the demolition of a creo-troll or the merciless schooling of a dudebro (and educational to boot! Learning via shadenfreude is fun!).

    I still find it amazing (though I probably shouldn’t) that in the age where practically the entirety of human history, law, science art etc can be discovered, investigated and confirmed via computer, phone or even smart TV there are still people more than happy to spout endlessly on topics they don’t even have a cursory understanding of. The amazement continues when they encounter somebody who has a deep, professional understanding of said topic and they double down and insist that that person is just wrong because of Reasons™. As it goes with creationists and scientists, so too, it seems, with armchair advocates and actual lawyers.

  39. 96

    Just saw a tweet that says “AmazingAtheist” “knows Shermer’s accuser” and says “she’s not credible.”

    I am not sure why he thinks he has any sort of credibility on this or any other topic….flying hate monkeys notwithstanding.

  40. 98

    This is copied from a thread on another forum – which got locked while I was composing my answer – so out of frustration at not getting to have my say, I’m dropping it here:

    [Patrick writes]
    Hotshoe,

    Your interpretation of the law is at odds with what I’ve learned.  In particular, I don’t believe you will find a case that protects defamatory claims about sexual assault just because they are made against a public figure.  If Myers had said that his target was an unskeptical, irrational, poor writer and speaker, that would probably be covered.

    Are you a lawyer or have you consulted a lawyer on this case or on a similar case? No? I freely state that I am not a lawyer and have not ever played one on TV, but I have been listening to a lawyer about this case, and I did take notes on his specific answers. Comments I have made here reflect what I have been told by that lawyer, not merely “what I’ve learned” from wikipedia or expertlawdotcom. Feel free to disbelieve me; in fact, you should disbelieve me to avoid hypocrisy, since I am “anonymous” to you, and everything I have told you is second- or third-hand to you, of which you should be thoroughly skeptical.

    [Patrick writes]
    In any case, we’ll all have to wait to see how this plays out.  My hope is for one of two clear resolutions.  Either Myers proves his claim and a sexual predator gets locked up or Myers is forced to retract his claim and apologize plus pay enough to discourage others from making such defamatory statements without proof.  Unfortunately, I suspect the result will be muddier.

    Do you realize that the first of your hopes is impossible in this case, under our legal system? It is completely impossible that “a sexual predator” will get locked up in this case, because it is not and never will be a criminal case. If Shermer fails to prevail in a libel suit – if he even does sue to begin with, which is doubtful – then that’s it. Afterward, he goes home. He doesn’t get arrested, doesn’t get charged by the state with a crime, doesn’t get tried, and most certainly doesn’t get locked up. I’m surprised you got mixed-up about that.

    But then, Shermer wouldn’t get locked up even if it were a criminal trial. We know that! Only 3 percent of rapists will ever serve a day in prison. Prison sentences only occur in the cases which fit the CSI script of rape: a strange man dragging a woman, screaming, into the alley, or a school teacher raping a prepubescent student. We know Shermer would never be convicted, much less given jail time. He doesn’t fit the “bad guy” script.

    I’m confident the most likely outcome is that Shermer will take the advice of his lawyers and not file a libel suit, will wait for the story to blow over – which it will, people have short attention spans if nothing more is made out of the “gossip” – and a few years from now no one will care at all.

    Except, perhaps, (we hope) a few women will remember and choose not to trust Shermer with their wineglass.
    .
    .
    .
    The lawyer I mention, above, is of course our wonderful Rieux. Thank you for the education, Rieux!

  41. 99

    Could PZ also defend himself by claiming he was drunk when he published that article and so was not in a position to know exactly what he was doing?

    I am not a lawyer, but if I understand correctly, if you are drunk when you commit a crime, the law considers that to be a mitigating factor, as it is well known that inebriation impairs your judgement so that you do things you regret afterwards.

  42. 100

    No sweat, hotshoe. Thanks for the shout-out.

    Steven: no, I don’t think so. PZ is being accused of a tort (libel), not a crime. Intoxication is almost never a defense to torts. (And even if it were, he’d have to explain why he hasn’t taken the allegedly alcohol-induced post down when Shermer demanded he do so.)

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