But will they come when you do call for them?

Peter Irons wrote a letter to Murray Gell-Mann.

Dear Dr. Gell-Mann,

You may (or may not) know that Stuart Pivar has included on the jacket and promotional materials for his new book, On the Origin of Form, a purported endorsement by you of the book, which reads: “This is the discovery of the connection between the laws of physics and the complexity of life.”

Mr. Pivar used the same quote, attributed to you, in promoting his previous book, Life Code.

I have learned that this quote is drawn from promotional material written by the publicist for your book, The Quark and the Jaguar, which reads: “This is Gell-Mann’s own story of finding the connections between the basic laws of physics and the complexity and diversity of the natural world.”

I have raised with Mr. Pivar and Jon Goodspeed, editorial director of North Atlantic Books, the distributor of On the Origin of Form, the question of whether you in fact have authorized Mr. Pivar and Mr. Goodspeed to use the above quote in promoting the book. Neither has yet replied, which prompts this message to you.

In a comment posted on August 14 on the science blog Pharyngula, Mr. Pivar has written, in response to my questions, that “Murray Gell Man (sic) has visited my lab three or four times in the past year, has read the book and compared it to the statement on the cover of his own book….” He seems to be asserting that you havee given him verbal authorization to use the above quote in promoting his book.

However, most reputable publishers have a standard practice of requiring that authors provide them with written authorization from potential “blurbers” of quotes attributed to them. I’m sure you will agree this is a reasonable practice, to protect publishers from possible complaints or even lawsuits from persons whose words are used without authorization.

By way of background, I understand that North Atlantic Books has already held up distribution of Mr. Pivar’s book after receiving a complaint from Dr. Robert Hazen, an eminent geologist at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, that Mr. Pivar intended to use excerpts from private communications between him and Dr. Hazen in promoting the book, selecting only those few favorable comments about the theory proposed by Mr. Pivar, and deleting the more numerous critical comments. This is a practice known as “cherry-picking” or “quote-mining,” to which Dr. Hazen understandably objected. Mr. Pivar has threatened to sue Dr. Hazen for demanding that his largely negative review be used in its entirely, or not at all.

I have a simple question: have you authorized either Mr. Pivar or Mr. Goodspeed, in writing, to use the quote attributed to you in promoting Mr. Pivar’s book? You may have done so, or will do so in response to this message, in which case this issue will become moot.

I would very much appreciate a response to this message.


Peter Irons, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor of Political Science, Emeritus
University of California, San Diego

And what do you know, he replies out of the vasty deep!

Dear Professor Irons,

The answer is No. I never authorized using any endorsement by me of
Stuart Pivar’s book. I did hear that something of the sort might
happen and called to prevent it, but I was too late.

Murray Gell-Mann

I smell another lawsuit on the horizon.