Popehat Signal: Dutch Blogger Sued In Florida For Criticism of Junk Science

New Popehat Signal courtesy of Nigel Lew.  Thanks, Nigel!

New Popehat Signal courtesy of Nigel Lew. Thanks, Nigel!

It's time for the Popehat Signal, in which I request help for people whose speech is threatened by bogus and censorious lawsuits.

Pepijn van Erp blogs about science and pseudoscience from the Netherlands. He praises good science and skewers and critiques the bad. Wait a minute. Is that the Jaws theme playing? Yes. Yes it is — because blogging about junk science is a great way to get threatened or sued. In my experience, purveyors of "non-mainstream" science are unusually litigious and sensitive to criticism. You've seen it here at Popehat with "atavistic" cancer theorists and vaccine truthers and naturopaths and fans of questionable cancer remedies and AIDS deniers. I blame the crystals.

Pepijn wrote about a guy named Ruggero Santilli. I see that Wikipedia, which has a four thousand word article about Bigfoot, notes that some scientists view Santilli as a "fringe scientist."

Image of Professor Santilli courtesy of http://www.i-b-r.org/Prof-Santilli-faces.html, used for criticism and reporting.

Image of Professor Santilli courtesy of http://www.i-b-r.org/Prof-Santilli-faces.html, used for criticism and reporting.

Why is he viewed that way? Well, you can read Pepijn's post about Santilli's claim that he discovered a new type of gas from specially distilled water. Or you could read Pepijn's post about Santilli's claim that antimatter produces "antimatter-light" that can be focused using concave (NOT convex. NEVER convex.) lenses.1 Santilli, unhappy, threatened to sue over the posts, claiming that Peijin van Erp has not only defamed Santilli, HE'S DEFAMED ANTIMATTER:

antimatter

[Why have scientists not accepted Santilli's theory of magic gas and anti-light? According to one of his supporters it's because of Jews.]

Pepijin's letter in response is everything you could hope for, pointing out that Santilli was threatening the wrong people by targeting his associates, that Santilli's threats of Dutch criminal charges were bumptious, that he had explained the factual basis for his opinions (which were framed as opinions), and that one of the articles was three years old and past the statute of limitations according to a helpful article on the threatening lawyer's own web site.

Santilli was not satisfied and has now filed suit in Florida, as one does. The lawsuit — which you can find here — is odd. Santilli has sued Pepijn van Erp, naturally. He's also frivolously sued van Erp's blog host, Hosting2Go, even though Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act plainly makes the host immune from defamation suits over the content supplied by a blogger. He's also sued Frank Israel, head of the Dutch Skeptics Foundation, apparently because van Erp is a member of that foundation. (Flailing at skeptic foundations associated with skeptic bloggers is classic censorious-junk-scientist behavior).

The arrogant, entitled, malicious, censorious, and frivolous-to-the-point-of-sanctionable nature of the lawsuit is best captured by this paragraph:

It is recognized in the scientific community that when one disagrees with the scientific findings of another, the proper forum for challenging the science is through respectful debate, research and publication of peer reviewed articles based on inconsistent scientific findings and is not customarily attacked through blogs without peer review.

Yeah, peons. You're not allowed to question antimatter-light on your blogs.

Anyway, through his attorney Joseph E. Parish, Santilli is suing over the terms "fringe scientist", "mad professor", and "cunning scam artist". In my view, van Erp's posts very clearly establish these as opinions based on stated facts. Moreover, the inclusion of the host is simply vexatious, and the inclusion of Israel is inexplicable. This is thuggish harassment of criticism of junk science.

Van Erp (and possibly Israel) could use help. Even though the case is rather patently meritless, it could cost a ruinous amount of money to defend. I do not understand that skepticism makes people rich, and very few people can afford modern litigation, even when they are completely in the right. I understand that they can contribute to their defense but that they are hoping that an attorney admitted in Florida will accept the case at a price point bearing in mind the First Amendment issues involved.

As always, your freedom to speak — and mine — depend upon lawyers standing up against vexatious and unethical censorship-by-litigation like this. If you are a Florida attorney and would like to help, please contact me at ken at popehat etc.

Let me end with this: what kind of "scientist" responds to criticism of their scientific theories with litigation rather than proof?

  1. At Stanford, I took the "Physics for Poets" track that allowed liberal arts imbeciles like me to fulfill the tech/bio/math requirements for graduation. I wrote a paper speculating about antimatter based on a Robert A. Heinlein article speculating about antimatter from the 1950s. I seem to recall that my thesis was that antimatter was something to be examined carefully. I got a B+. I'm not sure but I think that might be white privilege.  

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Comments

  1. Michael says

    I read this too quickly and became very confused upon learning the state of Israel had been named as a defendant in this lawsuit.

  2. F. says

    "I read this too quickly and became very confused upon learning the state of Israel had been named as a defendant in this lawsuit."

    I had the same moment of confusion, but I thought it was related to "[Why have scientists not accepted Santilli's theory of magic gas and anti-light? According to one of his supporters it's because of Jews.]"

    (I later realized my mistake.)

  3. Phil Carta says

    IANAL and would appreciate someone explaining "has purposely availed himself to the jurisdiction of Florida." May I assume it implies the defendants somehow agreed to be sued in Florida?

  4. Robert Reese says

    How can the state of Florida preside over a trial of a foreign national who has written these posts while in his or her own land, and remains there? Can't Pepijn simply ignore this mad professor? If someone in Italy, for instance, chose to sue me in Sicily, I'd just laugh and tell them where to stuff it; I'm not beholden to Italian laws and Sicilian courts have no jurisdiction here.

  5. Toom1275 says

    "what kind of "scientist" responds to criticism of their scientific theories with litigation rather than proof?"

    The kind of "scientist" who doesn't have any proof to offer as a response, of course.

  6. TimL says

    It is recognized in the scientific community that when one disagrees with the scientific findings of another, the proper forum for challenging the science is through respectful debate, research and publication of peer reviewed articles based on inconsistent scientific findings and is not customarily attacked through blogs without peer review.

    A rare entry at Popehat where I can comment and not feel like an incompetent doofus.

    First, and IANAL, but who gives a fuck about what is "recognized in the scientific community" when it comes to free speech? If that was true, he should sue in a "science court" rather than a legal court.

    Second, I repeatedly, frequently, and openly challenge the scientific conclusions of other researchers in numerous forums that do not involve peer review (although I don't write a blog), including formal/invited presentations at national/international conferences. I am very reluctant to ever openly write such criticisms in a peer-reviewed manuscript, however, because I disagree with the opinion that the peer-reviewed literature is a proper place for disagreements. Science writing is exceptionally boring, if for no other reason that I have never seen a reference to one's taint.

    Third, it is true that many peer-reviewed journals also publish "Discussions" in which previously published manuscripts are openly criticized (and the authors are allowed a rebuttal), but these "Discussions" are very uncommon and they are not peer-reviewed (i.e., they carry the same degree of peer-review-ed-ness as a blog).

    This statement is a colossal load of dung on at least three levels.

  7. Dudefella says

    "IANAL and would appreciate someone explaining "has purposely availed himself to the jurisdiction of Florida." May I assume it implies the defendants somehow agreed to be sued in Florida?"

    Sort of.

    In order to hear a case, courts must have authority over both the issues (AKA "subject matter jurisdiction") and the parties (AKA "personal jurisdiction"). Purposeful availment goes to the second, personal jurisdiction.

    There are a number of ways a court can have personal jurisdiction over a party. One way is if the party expressly consents to the jurisdiction of the court. Plaintiffs, for example, always expressly consent to the jurisdiction of the court they're suing in. Or you can sign a contract (in fact, you probably have) in which you expressly consent to the jurisdiction of the courts of a particular state.

    But there's no contention here Van Erp expressly consented to the jurisdiction of the Florida courts. Rather, the contention is that Van Erp "purposefully availed" himself of Florida's jurisdiction. And basically what that means is: If you actively seek the benefits that come with doing business in a state — if you "purposefully avail" yourself of those benefits — you can't then disclaim the downsides that come with doing business in the state. And one of those downsides is the possibility of being sued in that state as a result of your conduct in that state.

    Traditionally, purposeful availment was easy enough to prove. (Yes, there were cases on the margins; these cases populate law school casebooks but aren't useful for much else.)I'm a California resident, but if I take a road trip to Oregon, I am purposefully availing myself of the use of Oregon's roads. So if I cause a crash while I'm driving and I'm sued in Oregon, I can't then thumb my nose at Oregon's courts.

    In the internet age, it gets trickier. Setting aside Great Firewall-type issues, websites can be read — can generate traffic — anywhere in the world. And that ordinarily confers a benefit on the website. But at the same time, it's not true that, merely by publishing a website, you can consented to the jurisdiction of any court in the world.

    And, to be honest, that's where my knowledge of personal jurisdiction in the internet age ends. I had a decent sense of where the jurisprudence was ten years ago, but I haven't kept up with it at all, since it's not relevant to my practice.

  8. David Addams says

    On the phrase "has purposely availed himself to the jurisdiction of Florida."

    That has to do with something called personal jurisdiction. A plaintiff has to establish that the jurisdiction in which they are suing has the authority to haul someone into court.

    That requires the defendant to have connections to the jurisdiction in question (Florida in this case).

    The problem for this nincompoop is that there don't appear to be ANY connections to Florida.

    The defendants weren't in Florida when served, and the filing just states a basic "you have jurisdiction"

    Lack of personal jurisdiction should be the first response by the defendants, and unless the plaintiff can prove connections to the State of Florida that should get the case dismissed.

    (I see someone else posted on this while I was typing.)

  9. Dudefella says

    I should add as well (since my 11 o'clock got canceled and there's real work I'm avoiding), there are two kinds of purposeful availment; call them purposeful availment pianissimo and fortissimo.

    Take my "driving in Oregon" hypo. I've purposefully availed myself of Oregon's roads, and if I hit someone there, the injured party can sue me in Oregon. But that doesn't mean that I'm amenable to suit in Oregon for all purposes; my contacts with Oregon don't go that far. If I enter into a contract with another California resident, for example, and it's to do work in California, if I then breach that contract, I can't be sued in Oregon just because I drove to Portland once. The Oregon courts have specific jurisdiction over me: jurisdiction arising solely out of, and connected to, my road trip there.

    But let's say I'm a California resident, but I own a business that consistently does business with Oregon. I advertise in Oregon; I ship my products to Oregon; I buy supplies from Oregon-based suppliers. While I'm on the job in California, I injure an Oregon resident. Can the Oregon resident sue me in Oregon, or is he obliged to sue me in California? The answer isn't clear. The Oregon court would have to determine whether my contacts with Oregon were so longstanding and so pervasive that the Oregon courts had general jurisdiction over me; that is, that I could be sued for anything in Oregon, no matter whether my wrongful conduct actually happened there.

    The test for all of this isn't a mathematical equation; rather, it's basically "does it feel fair?" Should this particular guy anticipate being served in this particular state for this particular thing (or for anything)? Or would it come as a bolt out of the blue: Why am I being sued in Oregon, of all places?

    Without knowing more about both the law of personal jurisdiction as it applies now to websites, and this particular defendant, I can't speculate here. But I hope this helps to understand the issue.

  10. DRJlaw says

    @Robert Reese

    How can the state of Florida preside over a trial of a foreign national who has written these posts while in his or her own land, and remains there? Can't Pepijn simply ignore this mad professor?

    No. *loud hand clap* Bad, Robert Reese, bad…

    The answer to a crazy cross-jurisdictional lawsuit is never to ignore it. That ticks off testy judges, results in crazy default judgments from lazy judges, and puts good judges in a bind because they have literally nothing to work with — judicial notice simply is not that flexible.

    You get off your keister and hire a lawyer to file a comparatively brief and cheap motion to dismiss. The plaintiff has the burden of proving personal jurisdiction. You only need to deny it and, for good measure, include a few factual assertions concerning where you wrote the material and how you disseminated it (hint: posting to a Dutch web hosting service probably will not get the plaintiff theee). By doing that you can force the plaintiff to jump through all sorts of hoops while staying on the good side of a judge who probably doesn't want this sort of case to begin with…

  11. Robert Reese says

    @DRJlaw

    What, then, could a Florida judge do to Mr. Van Erp if he chooses to simply ignore the lawsuit? And doesn't the plaintiff need to prove that the defendant was served if the defendant doesn't show? Doesn't this need to be filed in Federal court since the other party is not in the state?

  12. deskmerc says

    #TimL
    "Science writing is exceptionally boring, if for no other reason that I have never seen a reference to one's taint."

    You may look forward to my new paper which will be titled "An exploration into the use of taint as novel microbial growth media", which should ease your concern.

  13. Argentina Orange says

    @Ken

    No mentioning your podcast appearance?

    You are also a brave, brave man for entering the comments section there.

  14. Rabbit Scribe says

    NEVER ignore a lawsuit, EVER. In absolutely no way, shape, manner, form or function should lawsuits be ignored. If you absolutely must ignore a lawsuit, you should fail to ignore it anyway. We expect and appreciate your careful and ongoing attention to this matter.

  15. En Passant says

    Robert Reese says November 10, 2016 at 1:05 pm:

    @DRJlaw

    What, then, could a Florida judge do to Mr. Van Erp if he chooses to simply ignore the lawsuit?

    I'm not DRJlaw and I don't play him on TV.

    But, the answer depends in part upon Florida's long arm jurisdiction statute, if Florida has one. Knowing nothing of Florida's statutes, I would hazard a guess that as wacky as Florida might be, it probably does not have a statute giving state courts jurisdiction over someone residing and writing from the Nederlands who has not purposely availed himself of the benefits of jurisdiction by the state of Florida.

    So tentatively, I think the answer to your question is "nothing" except record a judgment against Mr. Van Erp, as long as Mr. Van Erp never sets foot in Florida, or avails himself of Florida's laws.

    And doesn't the plaintiff need to prove that the defendant was served if the defendant doesn't show?

    Service of process is also a matter of state law. Typically, the plaintiff makes a sworn declaration that defendant was served notice of the lawsuit in accord with the state court's rules. Unfortunately, it is possible that service of process can be accomplished in some jurisdictions by "publication", or notice of the lawsuit published in a "newspaper of record" or some other means specified by state law.

  16. Patrick Maupin says

    Why have scientists not accepted Santilli's theory of magic gas and anti-light?

    A new spin on gaslighting.

  17. Docrailgun says

    Trump has said he'said going to change the law to stop the awful , terrible, nasty people from writing yoooooge lies so maybe the plaintiff is just getting the proverbial ball rolling?

  18. Terry says

    I love your blog even though a lot of the time I'm dog-paddling with my nose about 1 mm above water (the legal stuff gets dense but I love that part, too), but this really threw me:

    "I do not understand that skepticism makes people rich,"

    The phrasing is so odd, I can't even figure out exactly what it means. I *think* I know, but I'm not sure. Sorry for this niggling comment. If you've time, maybe a clarification?

  19. Chris R says

    I do see one small thing where Santilli may have an actual reason to complain. Based on the available information, the application of the term 'cunning' seems to be quite incorrect.

  20. DRJlaw says

    @Robert Reese

    What, then, could a Florida judge do to Mr. Van Erp if he chooses to simply ignore the lawsuit? And doesn't the plaintiff need to prove that the defendant was served if the defendant doesn't show? Doesn't this need to be filed in Federal court since the other party is not in the state?

    My practice doesn't involve civil collections. That being said, if you want to visit the U.S. for a conference, travel through the U.S. to reach another destination, or own U.S. assets, having a "bajillion" dollar default judgment against you in Flordia is going to probably decrease your quality of life. It's also possible to take a judgment obtained in one jurisdiction and seek to enforce it in another. It's not easy, but now you're arguing with your own court as to why it should ignore the judgment made in another court while the lawyer seeking to enforce the judgment is screaming about collateral attacks on the final judgment of a court and you're explaining why you couldn't be bothered to deal with it until now.

    Service of process in this case would not be difficult. You have a well known individual in a developed country (and member of the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extra-Judicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters), and you can use whatever process is allowed in that country or the Letters Rogatory process authorized by the Hague Convention. "Your" court makes a request to "their" court and "their" nationals serve them, meaning that you've satisfied RCP 4(f) or its state equivalent if the state hasn't modeled its rules on the FRCP.

    And no, this does not have to be in Federal court. The claims are based on state law torts, so they can be handled in either state court or Federal court if there's diversity jurisdiction. It could be removed to Federal court at the request of the defendant, but that means that the defendant would have to… file papers in that court. *dramatic sting*

  21. Matthew Cline says

    Odd. Usually when a scientist (real or alleged) sues a critic, it's over medical science or biological science with medical applications. Unusual to see one over pure physics.

  22. Zetopan says

    "Unusual to see one over pure physics."

    Santilli's claims have nothing even remotely related to "pure" physics. It is 100% bovine excrement. IANAL, but I do know physics when I see it.

  23. Encinal says

    Perhaps he should file his own suit against the "scientist" in a Dutch court.

    @TimL
    #4 Did this guy *present* his claims in peer-reviewed journals to begin with? \

    @Rabbit Scribe
    What if I get an email stating that a lawsuit has been filed against me in Nigeria?

  24. Jim Tyre says

    At Stanford, I took the "Physics for Poets" track that allowed liberal arts imbeciles like me to fulfill the tech/bio/math requirements for graduation. I wrote a paper speculating about antimatter based on a Robert A. Heinlein article speculating about antimatter from the 1950s. I seem to recall that my thesis was that antimatter was something to be examined carefully. I got a B+. I'm not sure but I think that might be white privilege.

    I took AP Physics in high school, aced it. After I said something snarky in class, the teacher explained antimatter:

    Mr. Tyre, I don't mind, and you don't matter.

    Then he threw an eraser at me.

  25. Allen says

    I have to admit Santilli's bullshit is world class. I think he's at the point where he believes it himself. He probably does think he has been defamed.

  26. albert says

    I wonder about the kind of lawyer that takes these cases. According to the the Parrish Law website*, "…The Parrish Law Firm, P.A. has seen success and growth through its committed representation of clients with meritorious claims…."

    Does Parrish think this claim is "meritorious"?

    A casual perusal of his "Areas of Law" indicates, to me, that he's stretched a little thin. That's lots of ground for one man to cover, IMO.

    Then there's this little gem:
    http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/news/2016/04/01/five-bay-area-attorneys-disciplined-by-state.html

    The guy's a personal injury lawyer. In the Pleistocene (pre-Internet) Era, we had another term for them….
    ————–
    * http://www.parrishlaw.myarchitech.com/attorney-profile.aspx
    . .. . .. — ….

  27. OrderoftheQuaff says

    He's free to ignore the lawsuit IFF he's resolute never to set foot in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave or any area under its legal control (Guam, etc.). I don't know anything about Dutch law or court procedures/attitudes, but I suspect that a Dutch court would be reluctant to honor a foreign judgment from a foreign court that didn't have personal jurisdiction, any more than if…

    Somebody in the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan gets offended by a comment I posted on the internet and somehow IDs me and serves me. I'm never going there and I wouldn't be bothered to defend there. He gets a default judgment and tries to get an American court to enter judgment confirming it. My declaration in support of motion to dismiss for invalid originating court jurisdiction goes in part "I didn't want to hire a Kazakh lawyer to defend myself there, because I learned from the Borat movie that he would just spend the entire fee on underage hookers."

    Defaming antimatter itself? If antimatter weren't a second-class, weaker sister to conventional matter, there would be more of it around us in nature now, wouldn't there?

    If he does decide to defend himself in Florida, he should know that his very first appearance/filing there should be a special appearance for the sole purpose of contesting personal jurisdiction, because if he makes a general appearance, he waives his issue. This motion would be fairly easy to put together, as motions go, and high-percentage, somewhere between a layup and a slam-dunk.

    At the same time, a letter to the Florida State Bar "This lawyer has filed a manifestly frivolous, vexatious lawsuit against a Dutch guy (enclose copy of lawsuit, because Bar discipline people need laughs too) and after we get the Florida courts to confirm this fact, we will be asking you to impose professional discipline…" and copy the offending lawyer on the whole thing, to give him something to think about.

  28. Daran says

    Let me end with this: what kind of "scientist" responds to criticism of their scientific theories with litigation rather than proof?

    A fringe one, obviously.

  29. DoctorX says

    This is awesome, and I hope a lawyer steps up to the plate and crushes this [CENSORED–Ed.] asshat.

    –J.D.

  30. En Passant says

    OrderoftheQuaff says November 11, 2016 at 7:21 pm:

    Defaming antimatter itself? If antimatter weren't a second-class, weaker sister to conventional matter, there would be more of it around us in nature now, wouldn't there?

    Aunty Matter makes up for scarcity by being the meanest, craziest suicide bomber on the block.

    You don't tug on Superman's cape
    You don't spit into the wind
    You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
    And you don't mess around with Aunty Matter.

    Unless you believe deeply and sincerely that you're actually a bunch of gamma rays and neutrinos trapped in a human form, and you feel distraught until you can become your true self.

    At the same time, a letter to the Florida State Bar "This lawyer has filed a manifestly frivolous, vexatious lawsuit against a Dutch guy (enclose copy of lawsuit, because Bar discipline people need laughs too) and after we get the Florida courts to confirm this fact, we will be asking you to impose professional discipline…" and copy the offending lawyer on the whole thing, to give him something to think about.

    Yesss!

    An excellent example of Aunty Barrator.

  31. Fasolt says

    …is not customarily attacked through blogs without peer review.

    Is he saying that you can attack someone in blogs after a peer review? I believe I am a peer of Mr. Santilli. After careful peer review, I call bullshit on his "findings". Feel free to attack him in blogs. You're welcome.

  32. Fasolt says

    [Why have scientists not accepted Santilli's theory of magic gas and anti-light?

    Because they don't believe in Unicorns or Unicorn farts. The magic gas is Unicorn farts. The anti-light radiates from the evil Unicorns.

  33. Cynthia Virtue says

    The reason the suit is in Florida is because the antimatter scientist's journal or whatever it is, gives that as its address. This is linked from the post about the scientist's many names.

    ISTITUTE PER RICERCHE DI BASE, ITALIA 
    ORGANIZATION

    MAIN SCIENTIFIC AND ADMINISTRATIVE ADDRESS

    Institute for Basic Research
    P. O. Box 1577, Palm Harbor, FL 34682, USA
    Tel. +1-727-934 9593, Fax +1-727-934 9275
    E-address ibr@gte.net

  34. Phil Carta says

    Gigantic THANKS to Dudefella, David Addams and the others who civiliansplained the personal jurisdiction concept. Great mini-education. As a scientist and engineer, this case is of great interest to me and, should I ever need to discuss it with anyone, it is critical that I understand this issue. Plus I am now prepared for travel to Oregon.

    And I also learned not to make a question about what something means appear as if I had already made assumptions about what it meant. ;)

  35. BadRoad says

    @albert

    I wonder about the kind of lawyer that takes these cases. According to the the Parrish Law website*, "…The Parrish Law Firm, P.A. has seen success and growth through its committed representation of clients with meritorious claims…."

    Does Parrish think this claim is "meritorious"?

    He may not be committed to the representation of this particular client, although technically that sentence says nothing about his representation of clients with meritless claims.

    @OrderoftheQuaff

    Defaming antimatter itself? If antimatter weren't a second-class, weaker sister to conventional matter, there would be more of it around us in nature now, wouldn't there?

    I haven't seen a satisfactory explanation for why there isn't more antimatter. Or rather, why there isn't roughly equal amounts of matter and antimatter (and vanishingly small amounts of both, since it nearly all should have mutually annihilated).

  36. Mad Bob says

    >> Let me end with this: what kind of "scientist" responds to criticism of their scientific theories with litigation rather than proof?

    That's easy: climate scientists
    RICO

  37. Lagaya1 says

    Mad Bob-

    Of course that's a silly person. But you overlook the fact that scientists have already offered plenty of evidence. An overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree on it.

  38. Asher Yatzar says

    Yesterday, at Synagogue, after we had our vote to set the Interest Rate for the next quarter, we did in fact vote to suppress Mr. Santilli.

  39. machintelligence says

    Does Parrish think this claim is "meritorious"?

    He may be confusing meritorious with meretricious.

  40. staghounds says

    "What kind of "scientist" responds to criticism of their scientific theories with litigation rather than proof?"

    Michael Mann does.

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