“The Happy Atheist”, PZ Myers on Atheists Talk »« How Funny Is That?

Shermer Speaks

Note to self: Self, if you ever want to keep something quiet, and you see an email–hell, any kind of communication–from Ian Murphy, delete it unread. Unplug the phone. Smother the pigeon. Whatever.

I’m just going to point you to the interview and let you read for yourself how Murphy got Michael Shermer to comment on the current situation (and, oh, you should read it), but here’s the relevant quote:

I haven’t been charged with anything. An anonymous woman told another anonymous woman to tell PZ Myers that I raped her at some unspecified time in the past at some unspecified conference which was alleged reported to unspecified persons who allegedly covered up whatever it is I allegedly did. You print that and you are party to defamation along with Myers. My attorneys are keeping track of everything that could amount to damages to my reputation, and in the court of public opinion it doesn’t matter if the claim is completely made up, people will just believe it. That’s why we have laws against libel and defamation and why no good editor at Salon or anywhere else you would submit such a story would ever run it because they would then open themselves up to libel. In any case, any publication of any substance would have it vetted by an attorney first, who would remind them and you of the ethics of journalism and the law against defamation.

Well, no. A woman PZ has met and finds trustworthy asked Carrie Poppy for a reintroduction by email to PZ. Carrie did that and bowed out. Then this woman, whose identity is being shielded by PZ (from someone who, as we can see, doesn’t have the strongest dedication to getting the details right) told PZ her story of being raped by Michael Shermer. PZ published the story as is. You can read it in her own words.

So that’s Shermer’s take on things. I just have to wonder, does it really matter to Shermer that the conference isn’t specified? How many different places does he think stories like this could have come from?

Updated to add a second bit of musing: How hard is it, really, to say “I’ve never done any such thing and I resent the living hell out of the accusation”?

Comments

  1. says

    That’s the chilling part, frankly. That Shermer doesn’t know who his accuser is.

    How many of them are there, Michael? Do you do this at every conference? For how many years? When did you start raping women at conferences? How often do you get women drunk to have nonconsensual sex with them? If you don’t know, doesn’t this bespeak a certain — well — immorality in your general behavior?

    The questions are endless…and of the sort that tend to get asked in depositions for lawsuits.

  2. Vicki says

    That exchange does leave me wondering when, if ever, Shermer talked to his lawyer. The time to say “No comment,” if you mean it, is before commenting. Or maybe after a one-sentence statement. Not “The charges are false… I have not been charged with anything… if you print my statement that I haven’t been charged with anything, I will sue you.”

  3. says

    All the comments from that “side” of the issue seem to stipulate that Michael Shermer likes to get women alone, get them shitfaced, and then have sex with them… and too many times for any of them to know which time we’re talking about THIS time.

    … I did sort of think this was satire though?

  4. says

    Is he saying that sentence with “allegedly” and “anonymous” in a lot is defamatory? So anyone printing it is defaming him and his lawyers are collecting people quoting him as evidence of libel O_o …

    Doesn’t sound like someone thinking too clearly.

  5. carlie says

    Oh wow, you’re right, that whole piece has to be read to be properly appreciated. Brilliant.

  6. Metalogic42 says

    “How hard is it, really, to say “I’ve never done any such thing and I resent the living hell out of the accusation”?”

    Um, he did say that: “It’s a completely false charge. There’s no story here.”

  7. says

    HA! Should have read the linked buffalobeast.com article by Ian before commenting. impressive trolling of Shermer there. So yeah, he was not thinking too clearly is an understatement of epic proportions.

  8. Anthony K says

    That’s the chilling part, frankly. That Shermer doesn’t know who his accuser is.

    How many of them are there, Michael? Do you do this at every conference? For how many years? When did you start raping women at conferences? How often do you get women drunk to have nonconsensual sex with them? If you don’t know, doesn’t this bespeak a certain — well — immorality in your general behavior?

    The questions are endless…and of the sort that tend to get asked in depositions for lawsuits.

    I don’t know how much of a thing this ‘unspecified person, unspecified conference’ is. It’s possible that he’s just being all legal-beagle or something.

    I do know that when the police stopped me and told me they had evidence of me assaulting someone (I hadn’t), I did not respond with “Who, when and where?” Instead, I laughed*, because I didn’t need specifics to know that I had never assaulted anyone.

    *FYI, laughing at cops is the wrong answer. They really don’t seem to like that.

  9. says

    Carlie, it’s a real exchange. They couldn’t have run it without massive disclaimers otherwise. Also, Ian is the guy who called Scott Walker pretending to be one of the Koch brothers a few years back. Stunt journalism is a big part of what he does.

  10. Pteryxx says

    So that’s Shermer’s take on things. I just have to wonder, does it really matter to Shermer that the conference isn’t specified? How many different places does he think stories like this could have come from?

    …after a moment, I thought “So that’s why the rumored game plan was ‘bag ONE hottie at each conference’. It lets the bagg-er use which conference as a proxy for which incident.”

  11. carlie says

    Ok, thanks Stephanie – it was just so perfectly bizarre that I had trouble comprehending that Shermer would be that dumb.

  12. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    Shermer also doesn’t seem to notice that blogs aren’t magazines, among other things. They are personal, and have communities. Someone with a blog (or social media page, or whatever) will talk to their friends/community in a manner that magazines will not.

  13. yazikus says

    Wow. Carlie I had the same thought as you. Pretty poignant piece of writing. I wonder if Shermer will respond now.

  14. jenBPhillips says

    Comedy Gold.

    ROFL at “because anonymous will fuck your shit up…”

    Well played, Ian.

  15. Johnny Vector says

    That right there. That’s how trolling is done. The word has almost lost its meaning, so many people use it to mean “saying something stupid”. In my book, just saying something stupid is to trolling as a child’s crayon drawing is to a Monet.

    For one thing, always troll up, never down. Then, play so hard to the trollee’s need to keep talking that he doesn’t even notice that he’s looking like even more of an asshole than you are. First rule of holes, Mr. Shermer. It’s also the first rule of trolls.

  16. ildi says

    I like this part:

    Ok then! If I don’t hear from you, I’ll take your silence as a sign that you’re totally good with this interview happening to you (I certainly have no complaints).

    And if I do hear a peep out of you, it’s because you just [ain't] understanding what’s happening here.

  17. Pen says

    Hmmm… Well, that interview was close to the moral equivalent of getting someone so drunk they don’t know who they’re going to bed with or why. One thing leads to another, eh, Shermer, and it’s not easy to be so rude as to tell someone to get lost or ignore them? Before you know it, they’re using your own politeness to trip you up! If you didn’t want to consent to your words being published, why did you not simply refrain from responding?

    I wonder if he or anyone else will learn the appropriate message from this?

  18. says

    I’m not a lawyer, but I imagine an important principle in suing for defamation is “don’t misrepresent the allegation”. Embellishing the allegation, as Shermer has just done with this anonymous intermediary nonsense, seems extremely unwise.

  19. Jacob Schmidt says

    Where do I know Ian Murphy from? I’ve been giggling on and off since I started reading his article.

    How hard is it, really, to say “I’ve never done any such thing and I resent the living hell out of the accusation”?

    Shermer did explicitly write that he was innocent. Or are you trying to say that self serving words are near useless?

  20. Jackie: The COLOSSAL TOWERING VAGINA! says

    Pen,
    If you think that interview is “close to the moral equivalent” of rape, you are one seriously twisted individual.

  21. R Johnston says

    Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the stern talking-to Shermer’s gonna get from his lawyers.

    Maybe it’s just an irrational bout of optimism on my part, but I’m guessing that “find yourself another lawyer” is highly likely to be a part of that conversation. Clients who publicly–and he knew he was talking to a reporter who hadn’t promised to keep quiet so no bullshit excuses about “off the record” and his statement not being for public consumption–and blatantly lie about the facts of a case in a way that makes them and their lawyers look ridiculous and entirely lacking in credibility are likely to be told to drop their case or find a new lawyer.

  22. says

    You print that and you are party to defamation along with Myers. My attorneys are keeping track of everything that could amount to damages to my reputation, and in the court of public opinion it doesn’t matter if the claim is completely made up, people will just believe it. That’s why we have laws against libel and defamation and why no good editor at Salon or anywhere else you would submit such a story would ever run it because they would then open themselves up to libel.

    Only if it’s false! Ever hear of freedom of the press? Did Woodward and Bernstein get Nixon’s lawyers to sign off on his reports? Nice try at intimidation. Who knew Shermer was for the thawing of peaches…

  23. says

    @R Johnston, dunno about the US but a well paid libel lawyer (Carter-Fuck being the famous ones in the UK) will milk their egotistical clients dry without batting an eyelid. Pretty much their only redeeming feature …

  24. maudell says

    I don’t understand this whole ‘sexual assault = conviction’ thing. In every other sphere of human relationships, we tell each other when someone is untrustworthy. What that means is that young and less young women will be more aware of their surroundings when they are around him. Is it that Earth-shattering that women won’t be drinking alone with him as long as before? That’s too high a price for him to pay for half the population to feel respected amongst atheists? I haven’t heard of anyone saying Shermer must go to jail.
    Mr.Deity mentioned having witnessed the assault of Ashley Paramore, yet he didn’t believe it when he saw it (he assumed they were playing, it was too blatant). He asked other men not to make that mistake (right before rehashing 18th century victim blaming on the woman in Shermer’s case). People see assault all the time and don’t act on it, or assume it is not really happening. I was assaulted a few metres from my boyfriend before and he thought ‘I misunderstood the guy’s intentions’. This happens all the time. For people who are so much into science, they sure aren’t interested in empirical research regarding sexual assault. It’s not hyperskepticism. They are sinking at a truther level of denialism.
    Finally, what is that whole ‘journalism’ bullshit? Since when is PZ liable to journalistic rules? A journalist would not compare belief in God to Santa Claus either. Are pretty much every atheist blog breaking his own made-up rule about blogs? Does Shermer thinks the catholic church should have sued PZ over the cracker desecration? I can’t imagine this would have passed NYT editors. Would a serious journalist compare criticism to him saying something sexist (it’s more of a guy thing) to a witch hunt and dictatorships? Because following his framework, that’s libel (outside the fact that it is utterly ridiculous). What about how he conveniently forgets to mention the other independent sources and acts like PZ relayed hearsay?
    It’s so interesting how so many libertarians cease to be libertarians when it comes to criticism about them. Criticizing authority (him) = Stalinist oppression, and him criticizing others must be protected by absolute free speech. Got it. Hypocrite.
    PZ was writing about community affairs. The organizations have been taking this issue lightly for too long. I am happy prominent atheist women are speaking up about their experience. Still, the message is pretty clear: if you are not a known and respected female activist, you have no recourse. Especially if you are somewhat of a feminist. Obviously, famous atheist women don’t have much power either (re: Dr. Stollznow), but they have more power to let people know about the abuse. I am so grateful for them to speak out and risk their livelihood to make the community better.

  25. R Johnston says

    @28:

    If Shermer’s actually already paid something significant for this case and hinted that he could be strung along then he’s even more clueless than I imagine him to be. All he’s gotten so far is a half-assed C&D letter researched and written by a first year associate over the course of his lunch break.

  26. CaitieCat says

    That. Was. Awesome.

    And the picture, with his little thumb pointed at what he apparently considers to be his main asset – was hilarious. :D

  27. loren says

    “A woman PZ has met and finds trustworthy”

    I haven’t seen where PZ claimed that he’s met the woman in question. He has only said that she is “known to me”, and that Carrie Poppy was responsible for putting the woman in touch with PZ.

    https://twitter.com/pzmyers/status/367138518037839875

    And in no comments I’ve read has PZ clarified that he’s personally met the woman. Depending on how you interpret “known to me”, he may not have ever directly corresponded with her prior to last week.

  28. Al Dente says

    As shown by Shermer’s blowup over Ophelia’s mild criticism of something he said, Shermer hates people pointing out his faults and crimes. Murphy played to Shermer’s narcissism to get him to say several damning things.

  29. says

    loren, PZ said something in a discussion in person a week ago that I interpreted to mean that he has met her. I probably should have checked that more closely against what has been printed publicly before saying it, but it’s a bit late to take it back now. I also don’t consider that to be big news, given the level of trust he’s demonstrated.

  30. Who Cares says

    I think someone needs to deflate his ego if just the little bit of massaging it received allows to override the idea expressed in the first reply ( That is keeping his mouth shut).

  31. says

    Actually, the “journalism” bit is another red herring. It’s irrelevant. In fact, PZ is every bit the journalist as anyone else; and the blog post is every bit as much a “journalistic” article as a story published in the New York Times.

    There are zero requirements to becoming a journalist – the First Amendment guarantees that. Sadly, though, the First Amendment does fuck-all to protect journalists, and everything to protect publishers.

    A good journalist would investigate the story, of course. And print what he/she finds out — both sides of the story — including the allegations. So, Shermer’s blusters is — again — just that.

    In fact, a great story would be “Noted Skeptic Sues For Defamation Over Rape Claim”. Sell a lot of newspapers. So, the “responsible” journalist would be all over this like stink on shit.

    Which makes me wonder why more-legitimate news outlets haven’t been all over this.

  32. Sindra says

    Amazing. I can’t believe he thought fake legal threats would protect him. He’s looking worse every time he opens his mouth.

  33. Wanda says

    You people are idiots. The “interview” is not real. Read this from the “Support the Beast” page:

    “Since its inception in 2002, The BEAST has been at the vanguard of political commentary, satire, and gonzo reporting. Sadly, this pays very poorly, so you should give us some money. Thanks.”

    Gonzo reporting means that there is no claim of objectivity and I hope you know what the other two mean. The bottom line is, this ISN’T real. It’s just a guy poking fun at the whole situation, which is deplorable. However, if you really think Shermer took part in this, you may want to get your skepticism meter checked out.

  34. says

    I think it is telling that he doesn’t deny the accusation.
    .

    He is very precise. He wasn’t charged with anything. As for denying any specifics, it makes me wonder if there have been multiple ones and he wants to avoid accidentally letting it slip.

    The truth is that a casual observer has seen Shermer’s disregard for women over the last few years.

  35. says

    F #16 said:

    Shermer also doesn’t seem to notice that blogs aren’t magazines, among other things. They are personal, and have communities. Someone with a blog (or social media page, or whatever) will talk to their friends/community in a manner that magazines will not.

    True. Although, as has been pointed out elsewhere, it’s routine for magazines and other press outlets to conceal the identities of and details that could be used to identify sexual assault victims (in some jurisdictions such publication bans are enforced by law). Even when they name the rapist. Even when there is no conviction or even arrest.

  36. Jacob Schmidt says

    I think it is telling that he doesn’t deny the accusation.

    From the interview: “There’s nothing to say Ian. It’s a completely false charge

  37. says

    I don’t think anybody’s mentioned yet how awesome the title is. “Famed Skeptic/Trigger Warning Michael Shermer”! :D

    Anyway, I have a question for any lawyers who happen to read this. One of Shermer’s apologists over in the comments at The Beast (Crotalus) is making a weird legal claim which I’ve seen a few others of that type floating, and which seems to be the basis for the pitters’ self-congratulatory conviction that this is the beginning of the end for PZ and all the #FTBullies. So I’d be curious to hear this claim analyzed by somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about.

    Specifically, Crotalus implies that PZ’s revelations ought to be considered libel “per se”, with the implication that the burden of proof in a libel case would be on the accused libeler rather than the purported libelee, even in the U.S. According to the ol’ googlepedia, “per se” libel applies when the statements at issue are sufficiently nasty, such as allegations of criminality or sexual misconduct, and does indeed put the presumption on the side of the plaintiff. However, Crotalus then further claims that the “public figure” defense (a la NYTimes v. Sullivan), which requires proof of “actual malice”, doesn’t apply in such cases. This I can’t seem to find any information on either way. I doubt it really matters all that much in the grand scheme of things, since there are plenty of other good reasons why what PZ did is obviously not libelous, but I’d love to see this lovely little slymepit talking point debunked if somebody can do it.

  38. says

    Clients who publicly–and he knew he was talking to a reporter who hadn’t promised to keep quiet so no bullshit excuses about “off the record” and his statement not being for public consumption–and blatantly lie about the facts of a case in a way that makes them and their lawyers look ridiculous and entirely lacking in credibility are likely to be told to drop their case or find a new lawyer.

    y’all are missing the really hilarious part:
    That BS about PZ getting the information indirectly through Carrie Poppy? He told the same BS to his lawyers, who believed it.

  39. says

    Anne, see the discussion starting here for a lawerly take or two on the case. The interesting thing about libel per se is that it requires the information spread to be false. So by assuming that libel per se applies in this case, Crotalus is assuming that Jae Doe wasn’t raped by Shermer. It’s an interesting assumption to pin all your hopes for the downfall of a network on.

  40. hjhornbeck says

    Your honor,

    I direct your attention to Exhibit A, an interview conducted between Ian Murphy and the defendant. In that interview, the defendant states:

    An anonymous woman told another anonymous woman to tell PZ Myers that I raped her

    Now I ask you consider Exhibit B, a cease and decist sent by the defendant to the plaintiff on August 12th, 2013. On page three, their representative quotes an unnamed informant as saying:

    The anonymous woman who wrote to you through Carrie is known to me,

    The representative goes on to state:

    Attached heroto is a screen shot of the original updated Entry with the reference to an individual named “Carrie,” whom we are informed and believed is Carrie Poppy

    Note the contradiction between Exhibit A and B, your honor; in the second, the defendent is alleging the accusation of rape came from an anonymous source via an anonymous source, while the first demonstrates the defendent knows the anonymous accusation is from a source known by the defendent.

    We conclude the defendent not only made a false statement about the plaintiff in their interview, they made a statement they knew was false.

    Now, I draw your attention back to Exhibit A, your honor, specifically the line by the defendant immediately after the one discussed earlier. It reads:

    You print that and you are party to defamation along with Myers. My attorneys are keeping track of everything that could amount to damages to my reputation

    We contend that this demonstrates malicious intent, your honor, through the intentions of the defendent to launch lawsuits against anyone who would repeat the accusations against him communicated by the plaintiff.

    In sum, we believe we have demonstrated the defendent made statements they knew were unsubstantiated, misleading, and defamatory against the plaintiff with malicious intent. We are forced to conclude the defendant has libeled the plaintiff.

  41. says

    Stephanie @51,

    Thanks for the link, but I’d already read that and, rereading, I’m not seeing anything there that directly addresses the claim “Sullivan doesn’t apply in a per se case,” or, indeed, any mention of per se libel at all. The presumption in all of that discussion seemed to me to be that Sullivan is a perfectly appropriate precedent here, which is why I was asking about whether the “per se” thing affects that at all. My guess is, “hell no and the pitters are full of Dunning-Kruger and wishful thinking as usual”, but it would be reassuring to hear some lawyerly type substantiate that.

  42. eigenperson says

    Take a look at California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1700 and 1701, which apply to statements about a public figure on a matter of public interest. If you read them, you’ll notice that even in the case of defamation per se (1700), the plaintiff must prove actual malice (that the defendant “knew the statement(s) [was/were] false or had serious doubts about the truth of the statement(s)”).

  43. Al Dente says

    Anne C. Hanna,

    IANAL but I believe the proper term for what the pitters are doing is “wishful thinking.”

  44. eigenperson says

    [Note: Since I forgot to say it in my last post, I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Just because these posts have legal terms in them doesn't make them legal advice (let alone good or accurate advice).]

    As long as we’re talking about legal stuff, if you’re interested, take a look at Carney v. Santa Cruz Women Against Rape (1990), 221 Cal. App. 3d 1009. (Trigger warning: The appellate opinion recites the facts of the case.)

    The alleged incident is very similar, though the case features a letter from the alleged victim retracting her claim. Also note that in Carney, the plaintiff is a private figure, so the New York Times standard doesn’t apply. (I suspect Shermer would not be a private figure.) So if you’re speculating on litigation outcomes, perhaps this would be an example of a worst-case scenario for PZ.

  45. says

    I *heart* the shit out of that “interview”, especially the parts where Shermer says nothing he wrote can be quoted. It’s beautiful. Truly beautiful.

  46. says

    One of the lessons of this whole thing is to get a lawyer before you write about any serious accusation. Especially if you think you, or your publisher might get sued.

  47. hjhornbeck says

    [oh, and since all the cool kids are doing it: I is not a law-knowing person, and can't hand out actual law-like stuff. I'm only qualified for snark.]

  48. Subtract Hominem says

    And the picture, with his little thumb pointed at what he apparently considers to be his main asset – was hilarious. :D

    Thanks a lot, CaitieCat. Now I’ll be stuck mentally replacing “skepticism” with “penis” wherever I read it.

    Although, come to think of it, many in The Movement™ have been treating them like synonyms already.

  49. Martha says

    @45

    I think it is telling that he doesn’t deny the accusation.

    Yes, exactly! Shermer’s wording reminds me strongly of Lance Armstrong’s “denials” about using performance-enhancing drugs. As I recall, he never said he didn’t do it; he just said that he got tested more often than any other athlete in the world, and they’d never found anything. I was sure he was a doper as soon as I heard that– he sounded like a politician.

  50. Dana Hunter says

    Oh, my heck, that was epic! I didn’t think any interview with Shermer would make me laugh, but this nearly bruised my ribs I LOLd so hard. And the picture – priceless.

    Oh, to have been listening in to the conversation with Shermer’s lawyers afterward…

  51. jaggington says

    Well played, Ian Murphy, well played.

    A bit late to this thread, but can I ask where this theme of Shermer not knowing who is accuser is has come from? (e.g. Kevin #1) I would assume Shermer’s lawyer would have strongly advised him not to publicly name his accuser, however certain he might be of her identity, for the time being at least. Probably at about the same time he was given a pro forma response for dealing with the inevitable interview requests.

    Similarly, a lot of people seem to be assuming the grenade passer was drunk, although her words were “… coerced me into a position where I could not consent”. Drunk is surely just one explanation? Is preying on women who are too drunk to explicitly give consent really such a cornerstone of so many men’s seduction technique that such men can’t imagine any other explanation?

  52. Hahmo says

    Do you people… yes i said you people ! :P … do you even read the same text i read?

    “That’s the chilling part, frankly. That Shermer doesn’t know who his accuser is.

    How many of them are there, Michael?”

    You aren’t able to come up with any other explanation why one wouldn’t know who her/his anonymous accuser is? If you can’t come up with one competing hypothesis… ain’t that a bit of a tell… of what color glasses you have. Or you just don’t have the mental tools for thinking.
    And that seems to be the majority of people in this place. Maybe that you are afraid that it is blaming the victim if one suspects that Shermer is not guilty just because he has been accused of some crime. Or maybe you even believe that you would be blaming victim if you don’t flame at Shermer as you do…

    Possible male victim… Shermer… Well… Who would care of him.

  53. Konradius says

    Another hilarious part that wasn’t featured in the comments so far:
    From the first comment of the lawyer of this webpage:

    You’re not calling him a rapist. You’re just asking questions

    (my emphasis)

  54. David Marjanović says

    Pen [comment 21],
    If you think that interview is “close to the moral equivalent” of rape, you are one seriously twisted individual.

    That was very bad wording indeed, but I think I know where the idea comes from: Murphy’s questions constantly reminded me of bullying – the mocking, trolling tone that implies “I’ll make you say what I want you to say, and then I’ll laugh at it”. I couldn’t have done that. I absolutely couldn’t have done that.

    Still, Shermer was not bullied into contradicting himself by saying: “There’s nothing to say[,] Ian. It’s a completely false charge.” Well, apparently there was something to say.

    Also, the photo from Wikipedia and the legend Murphy added? Priceless. Saves my day. Even without the thumb, the way Shermer is posing in that picture tells volumes about him.

    In fact, a great story would be “Noted Skeptic Sues For Defamation Over Rape Claim”. Sell a lot of newspapers. So, the “responsible” journalist would be all over this like stink on shit.

    Which makes me wonder why more-legitimate news outlets haven’t been all over this.

    Because there’s no such thing as a noted skeptic. All these people are flatly unknown outside of pretty narrow circles. None of them, except maybe Dawkins, is a celebrity or politician.

    I think it is telling that he doesn’t deny the accusation.

    Yes, exactly!

    Once again, he does deny it right in his second e-mail: “It’s a completely false charge.”

  55. D. C. Sessions says

    Specifically, Crotalus implies that PZ’s revelations ought to be considered libel “per se”, with the implication that the burden of proof in a libel case would be on the accused libeler rather than the purported libelee, even in the U.S.

    The skeptical community seems to have forgotten Barrett v. Rosenthal.

  56. Robert B. says

    As I said in the original Pharyngula thread: though things like this are usually part of a pattern of predatory behavior, if Shermer actually could recognize a victim from that very vague account, he would have to be really frigging stupid to say so. It would be very suspicious if he knew exactly who it was he hadn’t raped, if you see what I mean.

  57. Wanda says

    To Stephanie Zvan:

    My thoughts.

    First, I think the reporter is satirizing the people at FtB and elsewhere and not Shermer. At least that is how it reads to me. Second, until Shermer confirms that he had the email exchange, I see no evidence to suggest that this is real. Third, this reporter has put himself square in sights fo Shermer’s lawyers if he did contact Shermer and then printed the “interview” without permission. So, given all three of those factors, I lean twoard thinking that the interview is a farce.

    Whatever the case may be, we can know this isn’t objective and that the person has no problems making light of a very serious situation. Those should tell us that nothing he wrote should be trusted, taken at face value, or used to inform our opinions on this matter.

  58. Wanda says

    To D. C. Sessions:

    That case does not deal with people like PZ who are the original posters of information, it deals, instead, with people who redistribute information from another location. So, PZ doesn’t get immunity from that particular ruling, though the people at The BEAST might. I say might because they are not redistributing the information if they have actually conducted an interview that Shermer told them they could not. In that case, it is a fresh, new item and they are likely to be sued. What is more, the court made it clear that if the plantiff can demonstrated that the defendent knowingly republished a falsehood or a statement in reckless disregard of its truth, then the defendent need not be the originator of the story. So, the ruling is very specific and leaves lots of room open for suit. Basically, if you don’t know the statement is false or if you don’t recklessly publish a statement you think to be true, then you are safe. Reckless, though, is a very low burden for the plantiff to prove.

    If Shermer is considered a public figure, and I would guess that he would be, then per se will not apply for the most part. He will have to demonstrate malice. The burden for malice in such cases isn’t particularly great. There is a chance, however, depending on jursidiction and interpretation fo the messy, messy defamation laws in the U.S. that a serious enough charge, like felony rape, may still fall under per se.

    Regardless of the outcome, lawsuits in and of themselves can be hugely destructive. People end up bankrupt, develop stress-related illness, and more. It is never pretty.

  59. Forbidden Snowflake says

    First, I think the reporter is satirizing the people at FtB and elsewhere and not Shermer. At least that is how it reads to me.

    Your feelings aren’t arguments. People have stated reasons why they consider the interview to be mocking Shermer. What can you point to within the text that you think supports your interpretation?

    Second, until Shermer confirms that he had the email exchange, I see no evidence to suggest that this is real.

    Sure you do. You see an interview that contains replies with Shermer’s name on them and a statement from the interviewer claiming that he indeed conducted the interview. You don’t see any statement from Shermer denying that the interview took place, so the only reason you actually have to doubt that it took place is “surely he wouldn’t say that”. I’m sure you understand that kind of judgment is vulnerable to confirmation bias.

    Third, this reporter has put himself square in sights fo Shermer’s lawyers if he did contact Shermer and then printed the “interview” without permission.

    You mean the part where Shermer answered his questions after he introduced himself as a reporter and asked for an interview didn’t count as permission?

    Whatever the case may be, we can know this isn’t objective and that the person has no problems making light of a very serious situation. Those should tell us that nothing he wrote should be trusted, taken at face value, or used to inform our opinions on this matter.

    No, applying humor to a situation does not disqualify anyone from having an opinion on the subject or introducing facts into the debate. Do try a better ad hom.

  60. CaitieCat says

    For those not interested in reading the usual protestations, let me present a tl;dr version of Wanda’s assertions, in italics below:

    I PLEAD! SPECIALLY! EXTRA-SUPER-SPECIALLY! SURELY YOU CAN SEE HOW SPECIAL AND EXTRAORDINARILY UNLIKELY IT IS THAT THIS SPECIAL MAN I SPECIALLY ADMIRE COULD HAVE DONE A THING WHICH SOME PEOPLE MIGHT DISAPPROVE OF!?!?!?

    Therefore lawsuit, threat, bluster, special plead.

    QED.

    TTFY.*

    * Translated That For You. I have a real honest licence** to translate!

    ** Yes it can be spelled that way, I’m writing in my more-or-less-native Canadian English. Look it up. :P

  61. says

    First, I think the reporter is satirizing the people at FtB and elsewhere and not Shermer.

    You hold your thinking in too high esteem.

    If instead you relied on knowledge… like f’rinstance learning who the writer Ian Murphy is and what his positions are and what his past work is like, you’d know how foolish your thinking was.

  62. Vicki says

    Hahmo @67:

    Possible male victim… Shermer… Well… Who would take care of him.

    Not his friend D. J. Grothe, that’s for sure:

    http://www.morethanmen.org/2013/08/07/dj-and-me/

    Yes, a man “jokingly” threatened with gang rape by a noted male skeptic. The people here at Freethoughtblogs have talked about that. Where is Grothe’s denial or apology?

    Right. I forgot. The “possible male victim” here isn’t a man being raped, it’s a man being accused of rape.

  63. says

    How hard is it, really, to say “I’ve never done any such thing and I resent the living hell out of the accusation”?

    Bingo.

    I also would imagine it wouldn’t be hard to say, “there was one incident, I recall, where someone was hanging out with a group of us drinking after the reception at xxx in yyy year. they were pretty out of control and followed me into an elevator and I had to evade the situation … perhaps that’s the incident that this all refers to. anyhow, it went no further than that.”

    But, no, that’s not Shermer’s tack. Why not? Because he’s probably filled so many glasses so many times that he hasn’t got any idea which 3 of the small army of women he’s mashed on is accusing him. It sounds like this has been his modus operandi for decades.

    I’ve got to thank the US Government for the training it’s given me in the last decade, in how to detect lies. One of the main things I look for now, as an indication of lying, is not responding with information, but rather responding with the response that allows the broadest room for maneuver. Suppose someone comes up to you and asks, angrily (clearly something unknown is wrong) “Where were you last night?!” The honest person is going to answer, “I had curry and a bottle of red wine and played Warcraft from 9 ’till midnight, mostly doing raids with my guild. Why? What’s wrong?” The sneak is going to answer, “Why? What are you asking about?” Because the sneak isn’t sure which of the many sneaky things they’re up to, that they’re being asked about. So they get the challenger to put their cards on the table, face-up, while they still haven’t shown a thing.

  64. says

    The burden for malice in such cases isn’t particularly great. There is a chance, however, depending on jursidiction and interpretation fo the messy, messy defamation laws in the U.S. that a serious enough charge, like felony rape, may still fall under per se.

    Charles Carreon, is that you?

  65. trinioler says

    Wanda @ 72:

    Hell NO. People being interviewed or questioned by journalists/reporters/random emailers do not need to give their consent for the interview responses to be published.

    Imagine if this was a law. Do you think Daniel Ellis could have published the Pentagon papers? How about any number of disastrous interviews politicians and other powerful people have had over the years?

    Think hard and long on this, and how such a law would harm democracy, proper running of government, etc.

    If you speak to a reporter and you say something embarrassing to you, its your own damn fault.

  66. says

    I just finished reading the ‘interview’ – that’s hysterical! That’s level 4 trolling – although I’m not a high enough level trolling judge to discern accurately between level 4 and level 5…

    I wonder if the “famed skeptic” in the title was a deliberate reference to Jen’s edits, or if it’s one of those marvelous accidents life sometimes hands us.

    And that picture. Still chuckling.

  67. says

    To all the people giving me legal advice: don’t bother. Stop speculating pro or con. Your views don’t help.

    I have a lawyer. I’m listening to him. Period.

  68. eigenperson says

    PZ, is that a request to stop discussing the legal issues at all, or just to stop discussing them with you?

    Personally, I like thinking about legal issues, just for myself. But if you would rather that I not do so out loud, then I won’t.

  69. says

    Apologies, PZ. I did not mean to annoy you by bringing it up — like eigenperson, I was just interested for my own reasons, not trying to inject myself into your doing of whatever it is you need to do. I will not participate in further public speculation if that’s your preference.

    For what little it’s worth, I appreciate what you and your correspondents have done on this issue, and I hope you’re all able to weather the resulting difficulties. Good luck.

  70. says

    You can talk about whatever you want…just be aware that everything people say is so disconnected from reality, and I’m just smirking at the silliness of it all.

  71. says

    until Shermer confirms that he had the email exchange, I see no evidence to suggest that this is real

    two options:
    1)hyperskepticism at its most hilarious, claiming the interviewer’s own words as “no evidence” until evidence in one’s favor shows up, in the form of the interviewee’s own words

    2)projection; they would completely fabricate such an interview and then lie about it, so they assume Murphy is doing the same.

  72. says

    That exchange does leave me wondering when, if ever, Shermer talked to his lawyer. The time to say “No comment,” if you mean it, is before commenting.

    having a lawyer doesn’t do any good if you are so narcissistic that you think you know better than your attorney. Attorneys complain about this all the time- their clients ignore their advice, screw things up, and then blame their attorney for it later. People like that hear whatever they want to when they get advice.

  73. Anthony K says

    Wanda, everyone will be surprised to learn, arrived here via the slime pit.

    It’s the bizarro rule-making that gives it away.

    Whatever the case may be, we can know this isn’t objective and that the person has no problems making light of a very serious situation. Those should tell us that nothing he wrote should be trusted, taken at face value, or used to inform our opinions on this matter.

    Well, I guess we can write off the pit then, as they have no problem making light (‘just jokes’, photoshops) of a very serious situation (the complete destruction of skepticism and sexy funtimes by the FTBullies.)

    That’s what you meant, Wanda? Your buddies are untrustworthy and should not be taken at face value or used to inform our opinions?

  74. says

    You can talk about whatever you want…just be aware that everything people say is so disconnected from reality, and I’m just smirking at the silliness of it all.

    mocking an attorney-at-LOL in internet court is a serious offense, sir!

  75. says

    PZ @89

    You can talk about whatever you want…just be aware that everything people say is so disconnected from reality, and I’m just smirking at the silliness of it all.

    Its unsurprising that in a situation like this all the advance speculations are mostly wrong. It’s good to know you can smirk at it, though. I’m just impatient — I want the slymepitters to be wrong *now*. :D

  76. pneumo says

    At this point Shermer would benefit form being proven a rapist. At least then he wouldn’t look so silly.

  77. says

    Shermer’s baloney detection kit borrowed by the late Sagan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O79MaPrqOCg Follow these steps. But, for people who think he should have outright said, “I didn’t do it” – Did you know that it can be considered an admission of guilt and held against him in a court of law? He cannot say “anything” other than what his attorney has advised him, so don’t make this about your suspicions. Or you are not using logic, reason, empirical evidence or is it someone trying to make a case for their particular claim? What’s the right thing to do? Think, people.

  78. says

    Laura Cordova-James @97, Did you notice the thing in the linked interview where Shermer said a whole bunch of stuff his lawyers probably advised him against saying? I’m not going to assert that his inability to just say, “Sorry, no comment,” and leave it at that is necessarily proof of anything other than the mass of his ego and the volume of his Dunning-Kruger-itude, but he’s surely well beyond “[not] say[ing] ‘anything’ other than what his attorney has advised him”.

  79. pneumo says

    Hang on a minute: saying “I didn’t do it” is admission of guilt? How does that work?

  80. D. C. Sessions says

    having a lawyer doesn’t do any good if you are so narcissistic that you think you know better than your attorney.

    The term of art is “controlling the client.” I have papers here where my attorney actually informs the Court that he did, indeed, control his client (me) — in contrast to the other party who had already established a history of going against advice. Without going into detail, it turned out rather better for me as a result.

    So, yeah, attorneys don’t appreciate clients who “go maverick.” And that includes judges.

  81. John Phillips, FCD says

    Marcus Ranum #81, Actually, any time someone comes up to me and starts angrily demanding to know where I was at time x, my usual response is, who the fuck are you to demand anything from me. Never volunteer information, not until you at least know why you are being interrogated, if then, and I say that as a relatively honest person with little to hide.

  82. says

    Marcus Ranum #81, Actually, any time someone comes up to me and starts angrily demanding to know where I was at time x, my usual response is, who the fuck are you to demand anything from me. Never volunteer information, not until you at least know why you are being interrogated, if then, and I say that as a relatively honest person with little to hide.

    I guess I should have specified that the person asking had some basis for doing so. Sheesh.

    I disagree about volunteering information. To filter things requires me to give a shit. Now, in a situation where I give a shit – like, say, it’s a cop asking me – then I’m more careful. But I have always believed that feeling the need to be guarded around someone acknowledges that they have power over you. Consider that.

  83. b. - Order of Lagomorpha says

    @ Pneumo #99

    Hang on a minute: saying “I didn’t do it” is admission of guilt? How does that work?

    I guess it’s much like saying, as Mr. Shermer did: “…I shall consider that intentional deception on your part and then you as a party to defamation.” How repeating exactly what someone says can be defaming the person that said it in the first place has thoroughly gasted my flabber. Quote mine or take it totally out of context, sure. But repeating what they said in full? What?

  84. John Phillips, FCD says

    Marcus, it’s not so much a case of feeling guarded in the situation you described, just a ‘who the fuck are you to interrogate me so MYOB’ attitude. Whatever his imagined problem with me is, and none of my friends would dream of approaching me in such a manner, and not just because I am unlikely to do something to anger them that much, he could try asking politely. I might then respond positively to his question, but anyone approaching me in such a manner can go hang, whatever imagined wrong I am supposed to have done.

    To me, responding in any other way gives them power over me. For in my experience, someone starting out with that tone will rarely be satisfied with your answer unless it corresponds to the answer they are already looking for. Which will rarely be a positive one for you, or they wouldn’t have approached you in that manner in the first place. Easier to nip it in the bud with a MYOB from the off in my experience. In most cases it brings them up short and causes them to pause, at which point they usually apologise and explain why they are asking in a less aggressive manner. Admittedly, a few might react even more negatively, at which point they’ve lost anyway. YMMV.

  85. alwayscurious says

    LOL, Hilarious! I’m sure his lawyers are berating him up & down for opening his mouth on the topic. Ian, your abilities are amazing!!

  86. says

    Stephanie: your link to the interview took me to a porn site, and my PC-security software says it caught a bit of malware there; then I had to use the task-manager to close MSIE. Wassup widdat?

  87. says

    It would be very suspicious if he knew exactly who it was he hadn’t raped, if you see what I mean.

    In fairness, if his defense is that the sex was consensual, then yes, it would indeed be plausible for him to know who he’d had sex with (assuming he cared enough to remember their names, of course).

    Also, I’m with John Phillips here: if someone demands an account of your private actions, without first showing good reason to do so, then the appropriate initial response is somewhere in the “What’s it to you?” area. Protecting one’s own privacy, and refusing to divulge personal information on demand — even of the most trivial sort — is not, and should never be considered, evidence of guilt.

  88. b. - Order of Lagomorpha says

    @ Raging Bee

    You might want to check your computer for ad-ware and malware. :( The link’s working fine for me on both my Apple laptop and the Linux desktop…

    If you’re using Explorer, I’m not sure what tools are available to you other than deleting your cookies, clearing your temp Internet files and running an ad-ware/malware/virus scan. On Opera, you can uncheck “Enable Automatic Redirection” and that’ll help. If you’re on Firefox, you can use an add-on called “No Script” that’ll also help.

  89. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    See, we’re having fun here. You need to relax, baby. Oh! One more thing: You said “anonymous” women accused you of “rape.” Do you mean they were associated or otherwise affiliated with the nefarious online hacktivist collective known as Anonymous?

    Because Anonymous will fuck your shit up, I have read in Ohio. Good thing you’re not in Ohio!

    OK, my absolute best, talk/don’t talk, you’ll be judged by an Internet of your peers,

    Perfection. Murphy FTW! $20 neither Shemer nor his religiously fawning fanbois got that.

  90. says

    @107: thanks, buit I just tried what you recommend (I use MS IE), and still got the same warning. The Beast site’s clearly been compromised — by malware configured for MS IE, apparently — and it’s in their court to fix it.

  91. Gregg Krowe says

    If you’ve ever been libeled, you will sympathize with Shermer who may in fact be innocent.. If Shermer in reality has done this than he will pay the piper shortly. If not, PZ has caused harm to Shermer’s life and career in some measure already. I have to wonder what Michael’s wife is thinking. So far this amounts to character assassination, libel and slander. PZ obviously needs to handle this in the appropriate fashion, i.e. through the police and lawyers. Shame on PZ for handling it this way. I hope Shermer is innocent. If he isn’t, may justice prevail.

  92. b. - Order of Lagomorpha says

    @ Raging Bee #109

    I’d take a check with one of the Windows boxen, but they’re not allowed anywhere near the Internet for good reason. :) Since you likely don’t want to rehit their website, I’ll pop them an email. When I googled to see if anyone else was reporting a problem, I found a report from 2008 on their blog, but the reporting parties turned out to be the infected ones–BB couldn’t find any virii wandering their site. :/

  93. tomh says

    @ #109

    I’ve been there every day for the past week or so with a well-protected IE 10 and have had no problems reported. Was just there, in fact.

  94. Anne B says

    Anne @53, the doctrine of defamation per se doesn’t switch the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant. In an ordinary defamation case, the plaintiff has to prove actual damages from the publication. If it’s “per se” defamation, there is no requirement for showing actual damages. The law presumes that certain types of statements are damaging per se. For an example, see Celle v. Filipino Reporter Enterprises Inc., 209 F. 3d 163 (2d Cir 2000) – suit by public figure required proof of falsity and actual malice, but not damages, where the statements were defamatory per se.
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5435204028221633142

  95. Rieux says

    I know I’m days late to the issue, but (as an attorney whose initial lengthy comment on this blog has been quoted a few times) I think I ought to weigh in.

    Anne C. Hanna @49:

    Anyway, I have a question for any lawyers who happen to read this. One of Shermer’s apologists over in the comments at The Beast (Crotalus) is making a weird legal claim which I’ve seen a few others of that type floating, and which seems to be the basis for the pitters’ self-congratulatory conviction that this is the beginning of the end for PZ and all the #FTBullies. So I’d be curious to hear this claim analyzed by somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about.

    Specifically, Crotalus implies that PZ’s revelations ought to be considered libel “per se”, with the implication that the burden of proof in a libel case would be on the accused libeler rather than the purported libelee, even in the U.S. According to the ol’ googlepedia, “per se” libel applies when the statements at issue are sufficiently nasty, such as allegations of criminality or sexual misconduct, and does indeed put the presumption on the side of the plaintiff. However, Crotalus then further claims that the “public figure” defense (a la NYTimes v. Sullivan), which requires proof of “actual malice”, doesn’t apply in such cases.

    Again I should lead with the disclaimer that, while I have been a practicing litigator for more than ten years, I’ve never tried a defamation case. Nonetheless, the assertion Anne imputes to Crotalus is abject bullshit.

    The clearest indication of this is that New York Times v. Sullivan IS a libel per se case. (Go ahead and read the opinion. You can even search for the phrase “per se.” It’s right there.) In NYT, the trial court in Alabama decided that the Times was liable for defaming plaintiff Sullivan on a libel per se theory. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Alabama court’s decision, specifically holding, pursuant to the First Amendment, that a public figure like Sullivan could not prevail on a defamation claim (even though he was alleging libel per se!) without showing “actual malice” (that is, (1) knowledge on the Times‘ part that the allegedly defamatory statement was false or (2) reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity).

    The NYT Court specifically held that “actual malice” is a Constitutionally mandated prerequisite for every defamation claim filed by a public figure. There is no loophole to that.

    Anyone who’d like to dig a little further into the basics of defamation law can find out what difference defamation per se actually makes. It’s irrelevant to the NYT actual-malice standard, but it does relieve the plaintiff’s burden to show that he has been harmed by the published statement. As a result, if Shermer were to sue PZ for libel, he wouldn’t have to prove that he’d lost business or otherwise suffered economic or other injury as a consequence of the “grenade” post; presuming Shermer could show that this case fits into the defamation per se category (and he probably could), that injury would simply be taken as a given. But the fact that Shermer is legally presumed to have been harmed by the statement doesn’t demonstrate that (1) the statement is false or (2) the statement is libel. Obviously.

  96. says

    abject bullshit

    My favorite technical term! :D

    Thanks for the detailed explanation, Rieux. I guess I was foolishly assuming that they must’ve had some source that I couldn’t find that made this claim make sense, because I couldn’t believe they’d be dumb enough to just completely misconstrue how the whole thing worked. I guess that’ll be a lesson to me to never underestimate the depths of willful misunderstanding even self-proclaimed skeptics will sink to when they want to believe something really hard. :/

  97. Rieux says

    On other fora, I’ve seen PZ critics (ones who know more law than I gather Crotalus does) trying out the ideas that (1) perhaps Shermer isn’t a public figure and (2) perhaps PZ acted with actual malice.

    Those are certainly less-stupid legal theories than the “defamation per se means you don’t have to show actual malice!” bit, but both of them seem extremely long-odds to me.

  98. Anthony K says

    Just think: when the invisible hand messiah comes to bring us all liberty, but only when the last government regulation has been delegislated, we’ll all have to turn to lawyers to interpret every possible claim of damage for us. What a wonderful boon to the poor that will be! Is the well I paid to have dug tainted with cyanide? Better call my lawyer! Is the complete collapse of my tumbledown shack that caused the death of my two children the fault of the framers or the concrete pourers? I’ll take the tuition I would have paid for my kids and retain two lawyers, one for each lawsuit! It’ll be okay, because Michael Shermer once wrote an article about how pirates only killed some of their victims in order to most efficiently spread terror! Hooray for limited government, except for the part of government that writes tort law! Yippee!

  99. says

    The first thing that stands out most glaringly to me, in the cease and desist letter linked by hjhornbeck @52 above, is the use of scare quotes around the word “rape”:

    …that he somehow “raped” her or is a sexual predator who would coerce women into nonconsensual sexual intercourse.

    No doubt the argument would be that they are quoting a specific word from The Entry, as it is called in the letter, but that’s definitely not the effect when you read it. Nor do they quote “coerce”, which is another term from The Entry.

    Oh sure, he “raped” her. Like that’s a thing.

    It’s also curious that they distinguish “rape” from “nonconsensual sexual intercourse”, as if they were two separate concepts. One is basically the definition of the other.

    (The second thing I noticed is that what isn’t present in the legal denial. I realise it’s probably just lawyerliness and not stating one jot more than is strictly required. But while he denies he ever “coerced a woman into sexual intercourse, at a conference or anywhere else”, it doesn’t exactly rule out getting women blind drunk and having sex with them, if you don’t consider that coercion…)

  100. hjhornbeck says

    On other fora, I’ve seen PZ critics (ones who know more law than I gather Crotalus does) trying out the ideas that (1) perhaps Shermer isn’t a public figure and (2) perhaps PZ acted with actual malice.

    It strikes me that Shermer isn’t the only plaintiff in this case. Accusations of malice have been directed at Myers by the SlymePit for years, and they claim to have no shortage of documentation. Shermer’s lawyers are no doubt wading through their hate network as I type, gathering up all the evidence they can.

    If Shermer’s lawyers went the malice route (and given their options, that seems likely), the SlymePit would probably be a key part of their case. I’d find it terribly amusing if that happened, and the judge handed down “not guilty.” All those years spent obsessing over Myers, and yet the SlymePit couldn’t produce enough evidence to show malice? That would hurt, if it happened.

  101. says

    Accusations of malice have been directed at Myers by the SlymePit for years, and they claim to have no shortage of documentation. Shermer’s lawyers are no doubt wading through their hate network as I type, gathering up all the evidence they can.

    How desperate do they have to be to consider the SlymePit a source of plausible evidence? That’s just funny.

    The only malice they’ll find documented there is that of the authors.

  102. freemage says

    Tomh: Tell me about it. Anyone know any internet-obsessed bookies?

    And yeah, this interview was priceless–almost as much so as Wanda’s incessant denials that it ever happened.

  103. revjimbob says

    Kevin –
    ‘That’s the chilling part, frankly. That Shermer doesn’t know who his accuser is.’
    Any accused person should have the right to know what he is being accused of, and who is doing it, in order to defend himself.
    To deny him that, then use that as some kind of evidence of his guilt just shows how prejudiced you are.

  104. Sili says

    I wouldn’t mind terribly to have an official pronouncement that Shermer is not a public figure.

    I find it hard to believe he’ll accept such a judgement.

  105. Rieux says

    Okay, hjhornbeck @120, but I have this irrepressible urge to go all anal-retentive attorney at this point, possibly incorrectly. (A law license and SIWOTI Syndrome are a dangerous combination.)

    The first point I feel obligated to emphasize here is that “actual malice,” the standard mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court in NYT v. Sullivan, has almost nothing to do with the word “malice” as it’s defined in an ordinary English dictionary. It would do no good for Shermer to prove (via Slymepit “evidence” or otherwise) that PZ despises Shermer or wants to destroy his career or anything of the kind; that’s not “actual malice” under the definition the Supremes provided in NYT, regardless of what Webster’s will tell you.

    In order to win a libel suit against PZ, Shermer will be obligated to prove (1) that PZ knew that the statements he published in the “grenade” post were false or (2) that PZ acted with reckless indifference to the truth or falsity of those statements. That is all, those are the only things, that “actual malice” consists of. (And they’d have to pertain to the very specific statements in the post; some supposed malicious stuff PZ has said at other times about other people would be irrelevant to the case.) Proving that PZ is a big dishonest meanie would get Shermer nowhere.

    Keeping the lay term “malice” and the legal term of art “actual malice” distinct is crucial here.

    Then, the suit we’re all hypothesizing is a civil action, not a criminal one. If Shermer were to sue PZ and the case were to go to trial (rather than settle or get thrown out on a preliminary motion, either of which is a very real possibility), PZ would be found liable or not liable to Shermer for defamation. That’s very different than guilty or not guilty, which are the most common verdicts in criminal trials.

    Sorry for the anal-retentiveness. Might be an occupational hazard.

  106. Vicki says

    tomh @121

    I gather that some British bookmaking firms will take bets on just about anything, except for a short list of things that are legally forbidden. Those include the outcome of a UK legal case: if Shermer sued PZ in England, they couldn’t give you odds on the outcome of that.

    But you probably could get someone to take your bet on “Michael Shermer will not sue PZ Myers for libel before the end of 2014.” No idea what odds you’d get, though.

  107. says

    If you’re using Explorer, I’m not sure what tools are available to you other than deleting your cookies, clearing your temp Internet files and running an ad-ware/malware/virus scan. On Opera, you can uncheck “Enable Automatic Redirection” and that’ll help. If you’re on Firefox, you can use an add-on called “No Script” that’ll also help.

    First off, don’t use Explorer at all. Opera is a better choice, Firefox + noscript is good. But the biggest bang for your buck is to never ever ever ever ever do anything on the internet as the local administrator. Always read your email, surf the web, work, etc, using an unprivileged account. Or don’t use Windows at all. Most of the malware droppers now are going after java (90%) and flash (10%) and if you don’t install java you’re ok there, and if you have noscript and surf as an unprivileged user, you’re going to block over 99% of the attacks that might work against you. Leaving a few hundred thousand more.

    Let me put it to you this way: when I take notes about a client, I do it in old composition notebooks that go into a woodstove when I close the project out.

  108. hjhornbeck says

    Rieux @126:

    No worries. My knowledge of US law ranges between zero and none, so any form of retentiveness is a learning experience.

    Marcus Ranum @128:

    Everybody seems to forget about Lynx, for reasons I can’t fathom… ;)

    Everyone placing bets:

    Put me on “doesn’t file suit.” While Shermer’s ego is not to be underestimated, he’s listened to experts and evidence in the past and even moderated his views accordingly. He’ll probably come up with some silly reason to dodge court, then do his damnest to isolate Myers from any skeptic event.

  109. says

    hjhornbeck @129:

    …then do his damnest to isolate Myers from any skeptic event.

    Since Myers has already “divorced himself” from the Skeptic Movement, Shermer’s damndest isn’t going to require much effort.

  110. hjhornbeck says

    Dave W @130 and Raging Bee @131:

    I honestly don’t know how much Shermer can do. Given that the two largest skeptical organizations may have been covering up harassment and assault for years, and that his skeptic fans have been falling all over themselves to defend their brave hero, however, he has many sympathetic ears in the skeptical community. It wouldn’t take much flexing to get Myers drummed out of any conference he dared attend.

    Having said that, I seem to have really shitty judgment at the moment:

    I did nothing wrong–legally or morally–and I intend to defend myself and prosecute Myers until he issues a retraction and apology, as stated by my attorney. –Michael Shermer

  111. says

    hjhornbeck @132: My point is that Myers doesn’t seem to have had much to do with the two largest skeptical organizations for years now. He seems more tied to events like Skepticon (which Shermer’s cronies have denounced already as being more about atheism than skepticism, with no ill effects on the event itself) and SkepchickCon. In other words, I think Shermer’s sychophants have done the worst they can do to Myers already, and he seems to have not noticed. “Like water off a duck’s back” seems incredibly apt right now.

    If my assessment is correct, the only thing Myers has to worry about are the financial liabilities of a lawsuit – won or lost – and if Shermer decides that his best course of action is to drop that, then Myers gets the best of all possible outcomes: no change whatsoever. (Except for getting to converse with Ken White – soooo jealous that nobody is suing me for defamation…)

  112. Rieux says

    Dave W.:

    If my assessment is correct, the only thing Myers has to worry about are the financial liabilities of a lawsuit – won or lost….

    My understanding is that Popehat was endeavoring to line up pro bono representation for PZ. If that effort is successful, PZ’s financial liabilities from winning a lawsuit would potentially be $0. (On the other hand, he could be on the hook for filing fees, witness fees, other incidental expenses, etc. Still, chicken feed next to losing.)

    Meanwhile, Emery’s fundraiser for Shermer appears to have netted $1,245 to date. I’m guessing that’ll buy him, oh, about 2.7 hours of his lawyers’ time. What a relief for him, I’m sure.

  113. says

    So, Michael Shermer, according to many witnesses, has for years had a pattern of propositioning women inappropriately and getting them drunk. Several women have come forward to say that he did the same thing to them, whether they mean simply getting them drunk or whether his tactic succeeded is not clear. The woman who corresponded with PZ and told her story wanted to protect future victims. But she is afraid of reprisals or retaliation by Shermer. I’m sure she also wishes to avoid the avalanche of insults, death threats, and rape threats that have been consistently launched against women in the skeptical community when they speak up about sexist discrimination and harassment or even creepy propositions. She and PZ apparently believe that if she keeps her name and the date confidential, she can avoid retaliation because Shermer will not know which of his victims is speaking up. It’s safety in numbers! And that suggests that they believe there are many victims.

  114. says

    Lawyer Rieux @126 wrote

    …to win a libel suit against PZ, Shermer will be obligated to prove (1) that PZ knew that the statements he published in the “grenade” post were false or (2) that PZ acted with reckless indifference to the truth or falsity of those statements. That is all, those are the only things, that “actual malice” consists of.

    So a good practical example of actual malice is the libellous nonsense quoted here, where Slymepitters blithely change a first-person statement about an adult male taking his daughter’s teenage friend across a state line and miles from home, where he demands a “hand job” to take her back, into an allegation of two teenagers getting drunk and having sex in her bedroom, then her having second thoughts the next day, and accuse her of making a false report. Unbe-fucking-lievable.

  115. vladimir bogdanov says

    Quite frankly I find the interview and the interviewer distasteful and annoying. Why is all this repugnant vitriol against MS??? If the allegations have ANY weight to them, why not bring it to the proper authorities in the first place? This online vigilantism is really the most distasteful and abhorrent way to go about it. I do hope MS sues PZ for all he’s worth. I used to have enormous amount of respect for PZ until this incident. And since when exactly pouring a lady a glass of wine has been a crime???

  116. says

    If the allegations have ANY weight to them, why not bring it to the proper authorities in the first place?

    Try reading this.

    And since when exactly pouring a lady a glass of wine has been a crime???

    Since it was used to drug someone for facilitating another crime. You do understand that alcohol is a drug, yes?

  117. vladimir bogdanov says

    I hope you do realize that alcohol is legal since the end of the Prohibition, yes? And I hope you also would agree that unless an adult (regardless of gender) is forced to consume alcohol and have it literally poured down his/her throat, it is the person who chooses to accept and consume the drink who is responsible for doing so?

    I don’t see where offering someone a drink or even refilling their glass comes anywhere close to rape. I have offered to refill many a glass in my time but never so with the intention to have sex with the hapless drunk victim. At the same time, I have had plenty of sexual encounters with current and past girlfriends after having consumed a glass or few. Does that make me a rapist???

  118. says

    You do understand that legality makes alcohol no less a drug, right? And that drugging someone for illegal purposes with a legal drug doesn’t make those illegal purposes any less illegal, right? And that there are tricks of misdirection that make it impossible for someone to track and thus to be responsible for the amount they drink, right? And that you are a rapist if and only if you didn’t have the consent of the people with whom you had those sexual encounters, right?

    And that what is being alleged here is that Michael Shermer used that misdirection to drug someone with a legal drink and then rape her, right?

    Now go away. I’m tired of dealing with jerks who think they’re so important I need to answer their 101-level consent questions.

  119. vladimir bogdanov says

    The only thing I do realize is you just can’t help but fail to realize..

    Simply offering an ADULT a drink is illegal how??

  120. says

    Nobody said it was.* “Simply offering” is not at all the behavior that’s been described with respect to Shermer, alcohol, and women. So if that’s your beef, you’re irrelevant. Now, I already told you once. Go away.

    *Though there are in fact circumstances under which a bartender or server can become liable for serving adults.

  121. tomh says

    vladimir bogdanov wrote:
    “I used to have enormous amount of respect for PZ until this incident.”

    And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

  122. says

    And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    And if I had a buck for every person who says that prior to their ramblings I could buy it…

    BTW, many jurisdictions have laws that make it illegal to give a drunk person more alcohol. They have laws that say that if you’re a bartender and you notice a guest is drunk you have to prevent them from driving.

  123. hoary puccoon says

    This has been gone over — but one more time–

    I’m one of several women who reported getting more drunk than we realized because someone else kept topping off our wine glasses. Note well: nobody *offered* me another drink. Nobody said, “Would you like another?” and waited for me to say yes or no. I knew I was drinking a little more than usual. But I didn’t realize I was really plowed until I stood up.

    In my case, luckily, the man who did it was just trying to be polite. But I didn’t realize how much I’d drunk. And neither my husband nor the man’s wife– who were sitting right across the narrow table from us– did either. That’s how easy it is to let this happen, even if the person doing the pouring isn’t trying to distract you from how much you’re drinking.

    If someone is using this technique deliberately, it’s really hard not to fall into the trap, unless somebody has warned you about it in advance. Which, you might note, is exactly what Jane Doe has tried to do.

    So vladimir bogdanov, et. al., please have a little integrity and drop this meme about “just say no when someone offers you another.” This isn’t about someone making a clear offer and waiting for a clear yes. And I think you know that.

  124. says

    Up until this all started appearing, I didn’t know much about Michael Shermer, but had a generally positive mental image of him as part of the skeptical community. Now: 1) It’s obviously disturbing to think he might be a rapist; 2) It’s disappointing to find that he likes Ayn Rand; 3) I wonder if there even is a “skeptical community”. Sounds more like a dysfunctional political party. Shermer seems like a jerk, at the least; Myers probably shouldn’t have printed an anonymous accusation. (And it’s particularly disappointing to find there are “skeptics” who seem to simply follow one person or another, rather than examining propositions critically.)

    It’s not “hyper-skepticism” to say that the burden of proof rests upon the accuser. It’s ordinary skepticism, and also the result of thousands of years of slow social progress in the area of criminal justice. We need more evidence. It doesn’t matter whom we like or dislike.

    Now, if it’s true that several women make similar claims about Shermer, they need to be willing to give sworn statements, by name, with as many specifics as they can, and find corroborative witnesses if possible, and present either criminal charges or lawsuits. Otherwise, all we have are anonymous claims, and rumors. A smear campaign if false; inadequate if true.

    Shermer’s denial being essentially meaningless. Innocent people deny accusations because they’re innocent; guilty people deny accusations because they don’t want the consequences of confession. Hell, sometimes guilty people go out of their way to say things that “only innocent people would say”, like in 1988 when presidential nomination candidate Gary Hart, accused of having an extramarital affair, defiantly invited reporters to follow him around and see that he was a regular, faithful husband — and then went out on his boat (actually called Monkey Business) with his girlfriend. People with big egos (like anybody who’d ever run for President, or — my impression — Michael Shermer) are capable of amazing lapses of judgement.

  125. DC says

    Anne C. Hanna: In NYT v. Sullivan, the underlying statements were libelous per se. So, even libel per se is protected absent actual malice. But “malice” is not the dictionary definition of malice (evil intent), but instead refers to knowledge that the statement is false. PZ’s typically amusing and caustic demeanor is not “malice.” PZ may be able to defend (in court) on the basis that he believed the statements made by the anonymous source.

    But all this talk about legal issues is a side show. PZ will never be able to justify harming Shermer by reporting years-old sex-regret as rape. It is merely plausible, while the harm to Shermer is assured, and PZ’s stated goals are unachievable (if Shermer’s next conquest is to dumb to perceive the conquest in action, she is too dumb to keep PZ’s warning in mind, so he slimed Shermer to no good effect).

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