There are good lawyers, and there are…

'the law' by losiek on Flickr
In the recent and ongoing efforts preserve, rehabilitate, and ultimately strengthen the Morris Theatre, two local lawyers have played (and continue to play) crucial positive roles. They have donated time, expertise, and enthusiastic support, and it’s hard to imagine any of this progress being made without their assistance.

Every profession (most definitely including education) has its low-lifes and losers, however, that do their best ot make everyone look bad, and endless reams of lawyer jokes have to be based on something. Well some some of those cephalopods in wigs are apparently assisting a “scientific” author who’s either very thin skinned or very greedy or both. Stuart Pivar is the author of Lifecode, which PeeZed panned twice (two editions, so two chances to be bitten, you see). Pivar has apparently had enough of this whole idea of peer review of scientific work and is suing PeeZed and Seed Media (who manage the whole Scienceblogs site where PeeZed’s Pharyngula lives). He’s looking for a total of $15 mil, apparently arguing that Paul’s comments have damaged book sales, bruised his ego, etc., blah, stuff.

I don’t claim to be on top of all the details (it is, not surprisingly, complex and will take a while to fully unfold), but it would appear that at least part of the problem is the PeeZed (and various of his regular commenters) helped determine that at least one of the book jacket blurbs (which was also used on-line to promote the book) was partly out of context and partly an outright fabrication. Oops.

Suing is apparently more fun than admitting to a mistake, so Paul’s now been sucked into the mire of “Holy frivolous litigation, Batman!“. Not surprisingly, much blogging is happening on the subject, so you can read til your vision blurs (or your stomache turns). PeeZed’s saying nothing (on advice of counsel), Panda’s Thumb has a nice piece (complete with a photo of Dr. Evil!), this piece on Sunclipse has the whole timeline complete with links, and this Scientific American blog post has more detail on the specifics of the legal filing.

I wonder what the impact of being a “commercial” blogger instead of a “private” or “academic” blogger has on all of this? Would Pivar be less (or more) likely to sue if Paul was blogging on the U of M blog cluster instead of ScienceBlogs? In what way would that change both the offense and defense in the case? I have good reason to believe that the U’s lawyers would happily and aggressively defend their faculty in such a case, but I suspect that Paul’s contract with Seed means that it’s their lawyers who get to handle this ball.

I don’t think there’s much anyone can do at this point but watch and wait as the lawyers unwrap and rewrap this puzzle. I always have this naive hope that the courts will recognize this sort of thing for the vicious, intimidatory tactic that it is, but “naive” is the key word there, and I am often wrong.

Thanks to losiek for the cool photo.

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