Evidence, not lawyers

lawyer cartoon 2So, Ian Wishart, author of the book Air Con, is threatening to sue The Herald Newspaper and one of its columnists for defamation! (See Air Con author preparing to sue Herald, and Hot Topic.) The offensive sentence? “Only this week breakfast TV host Paul Henry flirted with stupi-duty by lending support to Ian Wishart’s AirCon, a book that the excellent Hot Topic (www.hot-topic.co.nz) noted ‘appears to come from another planet’” (see Chris Barton: Climate debate adrift on rising tide of lunacy). (The word “supi-duty” was a parody on a critical missive the Herald had received from a climate change denier).

Seems pretty mild to me – hardly worthy of legal action. After all it was Paul Henry who was accused of flirting with “stupi-duty.” Yet Wishart is threatening legal action  and also that “he may widen the lawsuit to include Renowden as well.” Renowden is the author of  the critical review of Wishart’s book on Hot Topic (see Somethin’ stupid…).

Why the threat?

So this is how Wishart tries to bring reviewers of his books into line? I made several unsuccessfyl attempts to get a review copy of Air Con. Perhaps I should be thankful that I  may not have been considered tame enough to receive one. I might also be threatened with legal action now.

Seriously though, why the legal threats? Surely there is no serious ground for them? Wishart can’t seriously expect to win such a lawsuit? Has he lost the plot?

I think he has two motives:

1: Publicity. Some authors will do anything to promote their book. Legal stunts are not new. And there is the old adage “no news is bad news.” Interestingly, though, my perception is that it is usually the purveyors of bad products who are the most likely to resort to defamation charges (consider the MaxiCrop case in New Zealand and the Chiropractors in the UK see Suppressing science).

2: Intimidation. Such legal action may have no chance of winning but companies can still be intimidated. They can often end up treating such litigious people with kid gloves. Editors may tell the journalists and columnists to go easy. Again we saw this effect of the MaxiCrop case pn the sensitivity of Crown research Insitutes in New Zealand (see Suppressing science).

Whatever. Legal intimidation is a sign of weakness. I would have thought that if Wishart was confident of his message he would rely on the facts, on the evidence, not the lawyers.

Similar articles:
Evidence should trump “legal muscle”
“Scientific” debate on the internet
Suppressing science
Beware the Spinal Trap

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43 responses to “Evidence, not lawyers

  1. Not entirely surprising. The NZ Chiropractic Assn made similar threats following an editorial in tne NZ Journal of Medicine, as I recall. And of course, there’s the Simon Singh case…

  2. That’s the Ian Wishart publication cycle playing out. First the wildly unbalanced publication, then the wierd self promotion (in the third person) and at last the legal threats.

    “Some of his prior efforts. (that’s all from a quick google-search. I’m sure there’s more).

  3. WIshart also vigorously defended “Absolute Power” at Poneke last year

  4. Yes, and he got plastered.

  5. Plastered? Did you get right to the end of that exchange or just imagine it the way you wanted it?

  6. Plastered?

    Yes, he did.

    Did you get right to the end of that exchange [?]

    Have you done the same, or even read that exchange at all? (You would know the answer if you had; that you ask indicates that you haven’t actually read it yourself!! I’ll give the spoiler away later.)

    or just imagine it the way you wanted it?

    Ask yourself the same question.

  7. Wishart is, fortunately, one of the small minority of Kiwi’s who believe in the literal translation of Christian Bible – six day creation, talking snakes, Noah and his ark – the works!

    Trying to debate anything he “believes-in” and thinking you will change his mind or dent his “beliefs” is wasting your life-span and valuable drinking-time.

    ‘Global Warming is a Hoax’ is merely his new hobby-horse.

    Something else will come by shortly, spark his imagination and tap into his paranoia.

    Leave him alone and he’ll shrivel-up.

    More reading here:

    http://www.sillybeliefs.com/wishart.html

    Ta.

    Paul.

  8. Pingback: Stupi-duty and Wisharts works of political fiction at The Standard

  9. Wishart talks about reviewing without reading the book (which for all I know is not the case). Malicious reviewing has been classed as defamation before.

    But… quoting what can only be called an opinion and saying defending the book is stupid is not a review.

  10. lyndon – I’m not clear on your point.

    I didn’t review the book (Wishart and/or his publishing company obviously didn’t want me to otherwise they would have responded to my request for a review copy).

    Renowden did review the book – and his review was obviously more that an opinion.

    For Paul Henry to “flirt with stupi-duty” is clearly not new – he’s well known for that.

    I can’t see that Wishart is at all serious about his legal threat. he hasn’t a leg to stand on – as most of the commenters at his blog are pointing out.

  11. You do realise the legal jeopardy you place yourself in by repeating and drawing attention to the sentence don’t you!?!?

  12. @Madeleine. I’ll have to think about that, it might almost be worth the funds to see how that would play in court.

    Problem is that I don’t know enough about Wishart to even come up with a good enough bit of defamation. I think that I am with Paul the Canterbury Atheist, ignore the shrill pundit searching for a renta crowd.

    The problem is, that people such as Wishart seem to actually play a role in knowledge acquisition for a lot of people (like Rush Limbaug??, bill o’reilly etc in the states). Perhaps this is an area where some of the epistemologists that have posted here earlier might have some valuable input. Where do these pundits fit in in terms of knowledge? How do everyday people gain knowledge on issues such as climate change? How can this be improved?

  13. P.S. Chiming in from my holiday in sunny Barcelona. So I am finding it a bit hard to care too much.

    Not completely without stress however. I had always wondered what happens when you lose your passport in a foreign country :-)

  14. Ken you are not seriously defending the method used by the reviewer are you? One should surely not review a book one has not read.

    Speaking of Wishart, Ken have you read the latest edition of Investigate? You are cited in it. Page 28 of the Sept 09 edition.

  15. Madeleine,

    I’m no lawyer, but if someone is just repeating someone else’s words that are already in the public domain, I doubt there would be a lot that anyone can do unless they can show that they are factually inaccurate and causing genuine long-term injury and even then I’d imagine it’d be difficult to do much. If the statement in question is just an opinion (not a “fact”), as a book review is, I doubt he could do anything; anyone is allowed to have whatever opinion that they like of an author’s book after all.

    I personally have dipped into portions of Wishart’s book Eve’s Bite in the bookshop and I thought what I read was complete, utter, twaddle. There! Is he going to sue me? Couldn’t if he tried: I’m entitled to my opinion. It’s called freedom of speech…

  16. Madeleine:

    1: Are you suggestion the Wishart should turn his legal attention on me for what I have written in this post? Or even that Paul Henry (who was the subject of the quoted sentence) should?

    I can understand why litigious people often try to close down normal discourse (and I suggested this was one of Wishart’s motives) but I can’t see anyone really taking Wishart seriously on this one.

    2: What is your problem with the reviewer (Gareth Renowden) – as he clearly did read the book? I, myself, wanted to review the book but Wishart/his publishing company obviously didn’t want me to. Pity, as I had reviewed Morgans book and thought this would be a good companion review.

    As I haven’t read the book I can’t actually comment on it. Though having seen some of the comments on Wishart’s blog I can imagine that it is not objective.

    3: No, I don’t get Investigate. Is it something to do with my request for a review copy of his book? Perhaps you could pass on the cited bit you mention. I don’t imagine I will bother actually submitting a response to the journal – although it could be useful for something on this blog.

  17. Defamation law is an area in which I have some experience both in terms of my law studies and in terms of my very public defamation actions.

    Heraclides defamation law is capable of biting very wide. Anyone who repeats, draws attention to or in any way helps spread the defamatory statement can get done – write down to the publishers, the printing press, the web host even if some of those people had no knowledge of what was written. As long as a person is identified, can point to a defamatory statement that was repeated to at least one 3rd party then the defamed can net everyone and anyone involved in repeating or disseminating it.

    So yes Ken, your repeating it and permitting Wishart’s character to be discussed in a negative manner in relation to it places you, your internet provider and your blog host at risk of being included in any action anyone alleging defamation brings. Such a person may choose not to pursue you or any of the above but they are entitled to if they choose to.

    If I were you I would do some editing and I would cease publicly speculating to Wishart’s motives too. While you and other internet commenters cannot see that Wishart has a case, he may well have.

    I know Wishart to some degree and I can tell you that he pretty well versed in defamation law; it is a subject he and I have discussed more than once (though we have not discussed this particular matter). Further he is not prone to saying anything without a raft of facts to back himself up with – despite popular caricatures of him.

    A lot of stuff gets said about Wishart and people have fairly polarising opinions about him but one thing you’d have to agree on is that he does not shout defamation every 5 minutes. The fact he has alleged defamation in this instance is interesting and I would strongly doubt it had anything to do with wanting to shut down debate. He is not known for being shy of having a scrap or taking anyone on, he usually toughs it out or fights back or ignores it even in situations where he could claim defamation if he chose to. I suspect that with his book sales at stake protecting his reputation is all the more vital to him and while proving pecuniary loss or risk of such loss is not essential for defamation of a person (it is for an entity) it really helps to strengthen a case.

    From my limited understanding as to why Wishart thinks this statement is defamatory, part of his argument is that the person who trashed his book or his evidence whatever it was later admitted to not having even read it – I am not sure if you and I are speaking of the same person Ken, I got my info from TBR. If this is the case, one does have to wonder on what basis the person can justify making such statements – you yourself rightly admitted Ken that as you hadn’t read the book you can’t actually comment on it. It would absolutely wrong for you to write a damning review of a book currently for sale and get it published in a trusted publication if you had not read it – the risk the sales of the book would be very real if the reviewer was someone the public trusted and it is just not responsible or just to do something like that.

  18. As for your mention in Investigate Ken, see our blog post Contra Mundum: A New Column in Investigate Magazine.

  19. Madeleine,

    You haven’t actually addressed what I pointed out. I pointed to the nature of what is said, of which you make no comment in your reply. My post in fact obliquely recognised the issue of repeating material, if it is genuinely defamatory, which you appear to not have deduced.

    I would suggest you read my post again.

  20. You linked to this much Ken, from Wishart’s media release:

    Ian Wishart … says Herald columnist Chris Barton has gone a bridge too far by defaming him without first reading the book.

    … when such allegations are leveled even though Barton has not actually read Air Con and instead relied on a discredited review by a rival pro-anthropogenic global warming author, …

    A negative review based on a genuine appraisal of the book is perfectly fine, but for the Herald to publish Barton’s vitriol on the basis of someone else’s … review is ridiculous. …

    “Barton has admitted to me that he has not read Air Con, but claimed he was entitled to take a swipe at me on the basis of Gareth Renowden’s review …”

  21. Ken,

    Is there any chance I could have the icon replaced?

    Also, how are these icons assigned in the first place?

  22. Heraclides, that is because the nature does not matter. If the words given their plain meaning meet the standard it is defamatory. They can be opinion, fact, speculation, gossip, whatever.

    You simply stating you think bits of Eve’s Bite were complete utter twaddle would not meet the standard for defamation. If you got into why and you said things that were not reasonably held (maybe you based your assessment from reading someone else’s review and you had not in fact red the book) or that were factually wrong to back up your assessment you might meet the standard for defamation – especially if you said it in a manner where those reading or hearing your words thought of you as authoritative and if there was a risk that your words would affect the sales of the book.

  23. A lot of stuff gets said about Wishart and people have fairly polarising opinions about him but one thing you’d have to agree on is that he does not shout defamation every 5 minutes.

    Say what? He’s averaging at least one threat per book – though I don’t think any of them have actually been brought…

  24. Well that is news to me David W.

    Even if that is so, if someone is defamed they are entitled to act on it, they are not obligated to sit back and do nothing because other people don’t get how the words in question have harmed them.

    As to whether they have actually been brought, it is a rare defamation action that ends up in court. Most are settled. The risk at court is huge – millions are possible these days – so it is not worth it.

  25. Hericlades,

    Gravatar, upload an image in it becomes associated with your email address on an site that groks gravatar

  26. Madeleine – are you involved with Wishart’s legal action? If not – why so sensitive about it? Surely you have come across, perhaps even uttered on your own blog, or even here, far worse comments than Barton’s? Why support Wishart’s whining?

    You can read Chris Barton’s article at Chris Barton: Climate debate adrift on rising tide of lunacy. This is what Wishart is complaining about. Most commenters think he hasn’t a leg to stand on (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t go ahead with it). I have seen this sort of legal bluster before (and had some directed at me). The perpetrators usually intend only to prevent information about them or their products getting out.

    Chris Barton was not reviewing the book. he said only he had read Renowden’s review. Are you claiming that Renowden didn’t read the book?

    Sadly, many reviewers of books are rather remiss on the reading side. I have certainly noticed this with many reviewers of Dawkins’ books. (There is a whole evangelical industry there). Often they don’t get past the title. I myself was misinformed about Dawkins on the basis of reviewers’ comments about “The Selfish Gene” 30 years ago. I am now more discerning – and very thankful that I actually got around to reading Dawkins. I now enjoy his writing and can see why he is so popular.

    Madeleine – your link doesn’t actually describe what is said about me in Investigate. I would like to see if it is worth considering legal action for defamation!

  27. Well that is news to me David W.

    There are some links at the top of the thread (some of them are more vague threats of ‘legal options’ than accusations of defamation)

    Even if that is so, if someone is defamed they are entitled to act on it, they are not obligated to sit back and do nothing because other people don’t get how the words in question have harmed them.

    Of course, but by arguing that Ian doesn’t bring suits willy nilly you’ve admitted that a persons past record on these matters is part of how we should form an opinion about the latest example.

    As to whether they have actually been brought, it is a rare defamation action that ends up in court. Most are settled.

    I don’t think any of Ian’s threats were settled either.

  28. Heraclides, I have changed the randomly generated avatar setting – for a change. But as David says -have a look at gravatar where you can generate your own.

  29. You’ve contradicted yourself in your own post. Your second paragraph makes the point I was making, that the nature of what is said matters. You could please read people’s posts before objecting to them? I think I expressed myself clearly enough that you should not be objecting like you are.

    You appear to be objecting to me, merely because you “want” me (the person) to be wrong, not what I’ve written.

    Regards “maybe you based your assessment from reading someone else’s review and you had not in fact re[a]d the book”, so what? We all use the opinions of others whose judgement we respect to form opinions about things that we have no first hand knowledge or expertise about. It may not be the best approach (it isn’t), but we do all do it. I’m very skeptical that, that alone has any real weight, it’ll come back to what was said I would think.

    Just to poke a little friendly “food for thought”: Christians’ “worldview” is based deferring to the bible for things that you have not determined for yourself. Would you suggest that every time a Christian deferred to what was said in the bible as the basis of their opinion, that automatically makes them susceptible to defamation claims because they didn’t determine it for themselves, first hand? ;-)

  30. Thanks, Ken. I’ll look at gravatar when I find time. Knowing me I’ll take ages to find something suitably “sciency”! *Thinks* maybe I’ll find an alpha-helix or generate one myself.

  31. No I am not associated with Wishart’s action, like I said I have not even discussed it with him.

    I simply tried to give you some advice to safe-guard yourself. I was being friendly as I was aware you may not have realised the risk you were in. If you do not want to listen fine, but know that the fact that my advice was public will simply make your continuation with this line of discussion less defensible.

    I may have had worse things said about me – I’ve had some spectacular abuse on my blog that came in just last night – but I am not standing in Wishart’s shoes on this one; I don’t have a book for sale that is at risk, I don’t publish a magazine that is my family’s major source of income, I don’t have a public profile as big as his and as tied to my income as his is, and as I am aware that defamation is far more complex than you seem to think it is. So I am absolutely not prepared to comment or speculate to the strength of Wishart’s case – I don’t have the spare few hours needed to do so properly at my disposal and I sure as hell cannot afford to get it wrong – this is literally a case of how willing one is to put their money where their mouth is – if I thought he was wrong I sure as hell would not say so publicly or at least would not cite the reasons or repeat the statement.

    The link tells you it was not to do with your book review intentions, it also tells you that as we are not yet clear on the copyright issues we cannot reproduce it. However, it does suggest at the very least you might want to pick the latest copy up and browse it next time you are in the supermarket aisle or not, up to you.

  32. Heraclides I did not contradict myself, the problem is that to explain some of the nuances would take up too much space so I generalised. There are subtleties you are missing.

    David W my statements do not commit me to an admission that a persons past record on such matters is part of how we should form an opinion about the latest example. Read the context.

    Anyway I have had enough of casting my pearls. I was trying to be helpful but if some of you want to put yourself at legal risk that’s your choice.

  33. Madeleine – I would take your description of “friendly advice” more seriously if I had seen you give advice in worse situations. Like when your mates from Thinking Matters described me as a “fool” and a “moron.”

    I don’t think you have any concerns about my legal situation – you are interesting in defending Wishart’s silliness.

    Now, wouldn’t it be much better if we were actually discussing the scientific claims made by Wishart, or those criticised by Wishart? After all, the scientific claims are of far more importance than name calling – or devious promotion of book sales.

  34. It was genuinely meant but think what you want.

  35. It was genuinely meant but think what you want.

    Ok then.
    I think Ian Wishart is an idiot who spreads disinformation about science issues.

    I also happen to think that people who believe in a 6000 year old Earth are delusional nutters and make the Christian community look stupid.
    With “friends” like the YEC’ers, Christians don’t need enemies. :)

  36. @Madeline. I know Wishart to some degree and I can tell you that he pretty well versed in defamation law;

    It would behoove someone whose profession is muckraking , to be pretty well versed in defamation law. Perhaps not so well versed in irony :-)

  37. Madeleiene,

    You said “the nature does not matter”, then when on to say that it. Furthermore you “explained” to me the some of very things I pointed out to you, as if it were something against what I’d written. So I’m left asking you to read what I wrote.

  38. Madeleine – if you are genuine – why haven’t you delivered similar concerns to others who have taken Wishart’s press release and commented on it? Why pick me out?

    Just the latest I am aware of is in The Standard (Stupi-duty and Wisharts works of political fiction).

    Better get on to them with your “concern.”

  39. Marion Delgado

    Wishart.

    He’s the touchiest little ball of psycho on the intertubes or off them, frankly.

    If you wish a good laugh, look at my review of this epistle, and Ian’s (many, affronted) comments. I have to add that before my review, there were only 2 by his friends and/or fellow cultists, quite Moonie-like, and yet he was already advertising it as a 5-star book on Amazon. In, that is, actual advertising. He didn’t get the Regnery* memo that only sales on Amazon can be gamed into a pretense of quality.

    *Revisionism and Denial Center. A propaganda publisher in the States.

  40. I assume your review is actually on Amazon – I’ll look there.

    He actually sent me a review copy so it’s going to be interesting to see his reaction to my review. So far I know that I will have to criticise his sneering style and his huge reliance in quotes. One chapter had only 20% of his own writing in it!

    Sent from my iPod

  41. Marion Delgado

    Madelaine I don’t know NZ law, but in the States you’d probably be sanctioned.

  42. Marion Delgado

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=New_Zealand_SLAPPs

    http://www.answers.com/topic/vexatious-litigation-2#New_Zealand

    NZ does seem to give vexatious litigation more leeway than average, if it’s not against the Crown. And NZ case law is that cyberspace is publication for defamation purposes.

    However, I note with interest that the free legal advice we’ve all wished for from time to time apparently comes with no citations, is expressed in a threatening tone, and doesn’t address the legal aspects of any situation it’s advising on with any specificity.

    I think the grapes really are sour.

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