Pharyngula

Stuart Pivar sues Robert Hazen

Stuart Pivar is on a rampage again — he has rallied his lawyers and is on the attack. Not against me, fortunately, but against Robert Hazen, biochemist and author of the excellent book on abiogenesis, Genesis. His crime is that Hazen said a few generous things about Pivar’s work once upon a time, Pivar inflated the remarks into a wholesale endorsement of his cockamamie theories, and when Hazen saw he was being touted as a True Believer™ in the evolution of balloon animals, he demanded that Pivar cease and desist.

Now Pivar claims this is a cruel attempt to silence the promulgation of his theory. I’ve put his full complaint below the fold.

SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK

COUNTY OF NEW YORK


STUART PIVAR,

Index No.

Plaintiff,

-against-

COMPLAINT

DR. ROBERT M. HAZEN,
(Declaratory
Judgment)

Defendant.


Plaintiff Stuart Pivar, by and for his complaint, states and alleges as follows:

PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

“Stuart Pivar’s book, On the Origin of Form, contains ideas that deserve full scientific scrutiny, especially in light of the turmoil roiling evolutionary biology at present….This is a seismic event for science. Conventional evolutionary biologists are right to be very worried about this, because it has the potential to trigger the complete collapse of Modern Synthesis Biology.”

Mark A.S. McMenamin, PhD
Paleontologist, Professor of Geology
Chair of Earth and Environment
Mt. Holyoke College

1. This is an action for Declaratory Judgment brought pursuant to New York CPLR ยง 3001.

2. In 2007, Stuart Pivar asked several NASA scientists, among them Dr. Robert M. Hazen, to peer review a paper he had submitted to the Astrobiology Journal called The Simulation of Phyletic Form by a Novel Topological Algorithm (Complaint Exhibit 1). The premise of Mr. Pivar’s theory, briefly stated, is that the body form of any species is encoded not in the DNA but in the patterned structure of the primordial germ plasm – the universal predecessor of the egg. Forms of life, moreover, can be simulated by the deformation of a simple geometric surface called the torus. This is a simple, easily understood model of self-organization comprehensible to even non-scientists. At the time Mr. Pivar submitted his paper, the Hypothetical Theory Editor, Norman Sleep, agreed to consider it for peer review and asked Mr. Pivar to nominate several scientists to review his article. Among those chosen for their expertise in cell membrane were Andrew
Pohorille, David Dreamer, David des Marais, Rocco Mancinelli, and Jack Shostack, each of whom proceeded to either mock or to ignore Mr. Pivar’s request for peer review. As a result of the shabby treatment by Pohorille, Dreamer, David des Marais, et. al., Astrobiology Journal editor-in- chief Sherry Cady abandoned any attempt at peer review of Mr.Pivar’s paper, thereby dropping the entire matter of publication in her journal. The motivation for this rejection by the scientific community could best be explained by the inherent bias of peer review scientists who have a financial vested interest, such as research grants and teaching positions, in preserving their pet theories, while rejecting, without honest peer review, the ideas of “outsiders.” When Mr. Pivar contacted Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, complaining about this state of affairs, in which peer review scientists with clear conflicts of interest in
protecting their scientific domain from encroachment were allowed to treat a publicly funded agency, such as the Astrobiology Institute, as a self-congratulatory club of gate keepers more interested in preserving their financial well being than in pursuing real science, Mr. Pivar’s complaint was met with the same sort of callous indifference demonstrated by Sherry Cady and her colleagues. Mr. Pivar went on to point out that the NASA Astrobiology Institute grants $15 million annually to its own scientists to study the origin of life, presumably so they can recognize life forms when they observe them in space. These scientists publish their theories of how life all began in peer review journals of which they are the editors. Their work is primarily based on the theory of the so-called Darwinian Synthesis, which states that life is formed by the natural selection of mutations resulting from errors in the DNA code, a theory which is also known as
“the Modern Synthesis,” an idea that has held sway for 75 years, after it was introduced by a group of biologists in the 1940′s. Mr. Pivar further explained that twenty- five years ago evolutionary biologists like Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould decided that there was no code for the form organisms take in their genome In fact, no code has ever been discovered, and it is now generally accepted that the genes do not encode the form of the animal or plant will take, but instead, supply the materials of construction as the body self-organizes as do crystals. Scientists since the eighteenth century have sought to learn how self-organization works by studying patterns in the early stages of embryogenesis. In light of this uncertainty concerning the Form life takes, Mr. Pivar was appalled to discover that the NASA Astrobiology Institute only funds investigations based on” the Modern Synthesis.” Papers on Self-Organization are rejected out of
hand for publication in the NASA controlled Journals. The pernicious effect of this controversy is amply illustrated in what happened when Mr. Pivar finally did receive a lengthy, serious review of his work (Complaint Exhibit 2) by a distinguished scientist and author by the name of Dr. Robert M Hazen. which is the subject of this action for declaratory judgment.. Despite his initial interest in Mr. Pivar’s ideas. Dr. Hazen later recanted his review – no doubt due in part to his concern for his standing in the scientific community. In an act that can only be described as one of intellectual dishonesty, Dr. Hazen then began complaining that he would sue the publisher of Mr. Pivar’s latest work On the Origin of Form (Complaint Exhibit 3) scheduled to be published by North American Books if his original correspondence with Mr. Pivar was used in promoting this most recent work. The practical result of this interference has been the disruption of
Mr. Pivar’s relationship with his publisher, along with the cost and delay of having to revise the book’s promotional material, thereby hindering the book reaching the public.

THE FACTS

2. Stuart Pivar is a scientist and author who lives and works in New York City.

3. Upon information and belief defendant Dr. Robert M Hazen is a scientist, author and educator who works and resides in Washington, D.C.. Dr. Hazen also transacts business in New York State.

4. On or about Saturday, July 18, 2009, in an email addressed to Jon Goodspeed, (Complaint Exhibit 4) Editorial Director of North Atlantic Books, the defendant made the following threat concerning the publication of Mr. Pivar’s book, On The Origin of Form:

Dear Mr. Goodspeed:

I am writing to insist that you immediately cease and desist using my name
in the promotion of a forthcoming publication by Stuart Pivar. I have
never endorsed Mr. Pivar’s ideas, nor has he obtained my permission to
quote from any personal correspondence to him from me, especially as he
has repeatedly done so out of context in a manner to suggest that I
somehow endorse his ideas.

I am contacting the legal counsel of the Carnegie Institution and will be
forced to take more extreme action if you persist in using my name in this
unauthorized manner.

I will write a more detailed exposition of my unfortunate dealings with
Mr. Pivar next week on my return from fieldwork in NW Vermont. In the mean
time I trust that you will honor my request.

Sincerely,

Robert M. Hazen

5. In response to the defendant’s threat of legal action, Jon Goodspeed was forced to write Mr. Pivar (Complaint Exhibit 4) the following email dated July 21, 2009, which read in part:

As you know, North Atlantic is acting only as your distributor. We did not get involved substantially, or impact in any material way, the editorial or art in your book. We are merely distributing the book for you. With that in mind, we ask you not to get us involved in this situation with Dr. Hazen. We can be useful and helpful to you, but only in a logistic context. We provide credibility and Random House distribution, and we will get your book into the osteopathic and alternate-health markets. Let us do what we can, and please keep us out of matters that do not pertain to us. Otherwise, you will create a situation in which it is impossible for us to continue working with you.

In addition, North Atlantic’s business ethic is one that promotes respecting the wishes of others, especially when it involves the books we publish or distribute. We think Dr. Hazen’s request is reasonable when he asks that you not use his material in your campaign. We hope that you respect his wishes.

Sincerely,

Jon Goodspeed

6. The defendant’s reaction to Mr. Pivar’s use of his earlier comments on Mr. Pivar’s theories of self-organization were troubling to Mr. Pivar, who expressed his concern to Dr. Hazen in a July 20, 2009 e-mail:

Dear Robert Hazen,

I thank you again for giving my paper such a lengthy and detailed review in 2007, finding it plausible and worthy of further investigation. But now [you] make an about face. Why? I quote your 2007 review:

The following review is of a paper which sets out the premise of On the Origin of Form:

Review: A New Paradigm of Evolution and Development by Stuart Pivar and colleagues
Robert Hazen, Ph.D.
Professor, Carnegie Institute for Science, NASA Institute of Astrobiology

“Strengths: To me, the most intriguing and original aspects of this work are the design of the toroidal model and the closely-observed characterizations of the modes of its deformation (for example in Hall et al. manuscript, pages 2-3 and Plate 1). I am not an expert in this area of topology and mechanics, but I’m sure there is a place for a more rigorous mathematical exploration of the relationships among such variables as length, width, viscosity, forces, and resultant segmented morphology. However, even the qualitative presentation is fascinating and seems worthy of publication.

“The extension of the mechanical model to embryo morphogenesis is also intriguing and would seem to bear further study, perhaps with photographic documentation. As drawn in the many fine illustrations, there does appear to be a correspondence between the segmented model forms of Plate 1 of the article and volume to early stages of embryo development. Plate 10 is especially dramatic and has some of the gratifying aesthetic quality typified by the best 19th-century natural history illustration. It would be nice to see corresponding embryo photographs.

“Finally, I am sympathetic to the references to “self-organized structures” as an underlying theme to aspects of embryo development. To me, that phrase implies that individual cells are responding to local (presumably chemical and mechanical) stimuli in their division, shape, apoptosis, etc. This idea makes a lot of sense, and it points to specific experiments that can be performed on developing embryos. After all, if an embryological form can be altered by specific chemical or mechanical stimuli, then we’ll gain insight into development. In fact, I suspect that there’s a significant literature on exactly this kind of experiment.

“Taken together, these three aspects – the behavior of the mechanical toroid, the observations of early embryonic stages, and the concept of self-organization – might conceivably be woven together more tightly to produce a predictive model of the evolutionary sequence of embryo development. ”

Sounds like a pretty good endorsement to me. A predictive model of the evolutionary sequence of embryo development is the holy grail of biology Now you say you never said any of that. I wonder what influenced you to change your mind so radically as to deny your own official statement.

Here is a Rashomon-different version of the events than yours re the Evo-Dinner.

Dimitar sat me next to you because he accepts the plausibilty of the model and thought you would be interested. You were, to the point of writing a review after a month of emails, and were kind enough to recommend it to Drs.Olds and Trefil at George Mason. I wish I had the persuasive powers you give me in inducing you to do something you didn’t want to. The entire e-mail exchange is available to see.

Now you have written a new review contradicting the first. You now reject the model out of hand making no reference to the content of the book which includes 57 plates accurately predictive of causative models for a wide variety of morphological phenomena, along with the explanation of differences with observed embryology, a subject I have studied since you were, forgive me, a germ plasm. You say the model is wrong but never say why.

I realize that if this model is correct then much work being done in this field is wrong. If there is no code for form then millions are wasted looking for it. Note that geneticists no longer generally believe that the genes code for form, and biology is still at a loss to explain it. The book presents a form-predictive model of the origin of complex life by self-organization. It has been called plausible by prominent scientists. No one has ever demonstrated that it is wrong, only condemned it out of hand as you have.

In 2007, at the time you wrote the first review, ten NASA astrobiologists, editors of the three peer review journals in astrobiology rejected my model of life origin with bogus, insulting rejections. Now the 33 astrobiologists on the NASA Origin of Life Focus Group each received a copy of the book. Only you responded. The NASA Astrobiology team at SETI each were sent a copy, and may yet respond. The NASA Astrobiology Magazine publishes self-organization models of life origins but refuses to publish this one.

NASA clearly does not want this theory published.

This simple self-organization model seems to inspire extreme reactions. This is not because it is wrong.

Try re-reading it, and then show which part or parts is wrong, and why. That’s falsification.

You have not done that. I believe you cannot rise to this simple challenge. If this model cannot be shown false, then the Modern Synthesis may well be wrong, as is now widely believed, and NASA is wasting millions.

I suspect that you and this group of astrobiologists are impelled by extra-scientific motives including the suppression of dissenting ideas by the editorial control of the peer-review process. This is a very serious matter which questions the very integrity of the NASA Astrobiology Institute .

Stuart Pivar

7 On July 19, 2009 the defendant sent an e-mail to Mr. Goodspeed
(Complaint Exhibit 4) that was a poisonous, unflattering and inaccurate description of the events of the defendant’s relationship and correspondence with Mr. Pivar, which has adversely affected Mr. Pivar’s relationship with Mr. Goodspeed and North Atlantic Books, while delaying promotion of Mr. Pivar’s book due to the changes necessary in the book’s promotional material to accommodate the defendant’s request not to use his original, and more favorable, review of Mr. Pivar’s work.

Dear Mr. Goodspeed:

This message will serve as a more detailed follow-up to my message from
yesterday regarding the unauthorized use of my name in the promotion of
“On the Origin of Form, Evolution by Self-Organization” by Stuart Pivar. I
wish to review the chronology of events that has led to this point.
1. I first met Mr. Stuart Pivar on November 9, 2006, following the keynote
lecture I presented at a celebration marking the start of the new Origin
of Life Initiative at Harvard University. Astrophysicist Prof. Dimitar
Sasselov was my host, and he sat me next to Mr. Pivar at the dinner that
evening. Prof. Sasselov indicated that Mr. Pivar was a potential major
donor to the new Harvard program and asked me to be attentive to him and
his ideas. To be blunt, Mr. Pivar was extremely unpleasant at this
otherwise celebratory dinner. He monopolized my time for more than half an
hour during the dinner, alternately describing his theory and berating me
for my ignorance on certain aspects of developmental biology and evolution
(which are not my fields of expertise). He also insisted that I read his
materials (which he would soon thereafter send me) and endorse his new
hypothesis.

2. During the following weeks and months I received multiple copies of his
writings by FedEx and repeated e-mail and phone call demands that I read
and endorse his ideas (more than 50 contacts by his estimate). Pivar’s
contention has been that it is unethical for scientists to ignore new
ideas. I have copies of many of these e-mails if you wish to see them.

3. Reluctantly, and in an effort simply to halt the flood of unpleasant
messages, I prepared a rather lengthy, and I had hoped constructive, but
ultimately negative review of the Pivar 2006 publication “Biological
Structuralism.” I did try to emphasize what I thought were interesting
(though completely untested) ideas. My review, from January 1, 2007, is
attached in its entirety. This review was sent to Mr. Pivar as a personal
communication. I hope you will agree that this review, which took most of
my New Year’s Day in 2007, is neither mean-spirited nor is it uninformed.
But it is in no way an endorsement of the Pivar hypothesis, and it raises
very serious questions about the scientific and social mechanisms by which
Stuart Pivar has been so aggressively pushing his ideas. Again, I did not
authorize publication of this review in any form, and I hoped that this
effort would end all interactions with him. My e-mail message to him on
January 1, 2007, included the following statement: “I think you have made
some interesting observations, but you do not have a complete story, and
your qualitative ideas certainly cannot yet hope to displace the existing
successful, predictive paradigms of natural selection, genetic
inheritance, and developmental biology.”

4. To my shock and dismay, I learned in July 2007 that Mr. Pivar had
excerpted and published selected paragraphs from my long review to make it
appear that I somehow endorsed his hypothesis. Of the 5-pages of review
that are attached to this e-mail, only the four paragraphs under the
heading “strengths” were included. The excerpt appeared as the final page
in “The Geometric Origin of Living Form” by Pivar, which was published by
Dalton Press in 2007. I quickly wrote Mr. Pivar and insisted that he never
excerpt my review and that any use, for example any web posting, must
include the entire review. His response was that he did reprint “the
full-page science part” but “In the rest you claim ignorance of biology,
obviously diminishing the value of what you say.” None of my extensive
criticisms of his hypothesis were included. In any case, I had hoped that
this matter was concluded.

5. Sadly, I now find that my January 1, 2007, personal correspondence
reviewing Stuart Pivar’s work is still being excerpted on the web site
that you cite below, and that my correspondence now being used for
promotion of his publications. This repeated quoting of my personal
communication out of context is unethical and against my specific demands
dating back two years.

8 This July 19th e-mail (Complaint Exhibit 4) to Jon Goodspeed
complaining of Mr. Pivar’s behavior also contained the following negative review of Mr.
Pivar’s work:

If you wish to publish my professional and scholarly opinions of Stuart
Pivar’s work then I offer the following text, which, if you choose to use
it, must be printed in its entirety without editing or alteration of any
kind. Furthermore, I reserve the right to publish this review in any other
venue, including print and web-based media:

Review of “On the Origin of Form: Evolution by Self-Organization” by
Stuart Pivar, Published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA (2009).
ISBN 978-1-55643-886-8
By Robert M. Hazen
Carnegie Institution of Washington
19 July 2009

Good science often begins with an original idea; however, new ideas by
themselves are not always good science. Nor can one impose new hypotheses
on the scientific community without a rigorous, predictive framework
buttressed by reproducible observations. The topological model of Stuart
Pivar and colleagues, by which self-organizing multi-toroidal surfaces are
credited with phenomena spanning the origin and evolution of life,
exemplifies such a weak and scientifically unsupported hypothetical
construct. In a series of pamphlets and edited compilations, including
“Biological Structuralism” (2006), “The Origin of Natural Design”
(undated), “The Geometric Origin of Living Form” (2007), and most recently
“The Origin of Form” (2009), Pivar and colleagues promote a mechanistic
version of morphogenesis based on the properties of a folded multi-torus,
while vigorously attacking the prevailing paradigms of morphogenesis
through genetic inheritance and natural selection.

Pivar has had ample opportunity to contribute to science by investigating
the physics of a folded torus, compared and contrasted with careful
imaging studies of actual embryonic development at the cellular scale. In
these contexts, Pivar often invokes “self-organization” as the central
principal – again a field where new experiments could make useful
contributions by documenting the chemical mechanisms by which the supposed
toroidal forms might spontaneously arise. However, in Pivar’s exposition
one finds little of predictive value and no experimental effort to apply
rigorous methodology to the problem of multi-cellular morphogenesis.
“Evidence” in these volumes appears to consist of recounting qualitative
embryological development ideas of the pre-1950 era, amplified by ever
more fancifully elaborate and colorful artists’ conceptions of elongated
“doughnuts” turning into diatoms, or fruit, or all manner of animals from
butterflies to babies. This weak illustrative “evidence” presented for
Pivar’s model is further undermined by attacks on much more rigorously
documented paradigms, for example when Pivar calls the Neo-Darwinism “the
dogma installed by committee in the 1940s.”

New ideas are the lifeblood of science, but most new ideas are wrong. It
requires hard work and perseverance to gain a foothold. If there exists
some portion of truth in Stuart Pivar’s toroidal hypothesis it will take
much more than the contents of the present volume to convince the
scientific community.

9. The defendant’s act of intellectual dishonesty in repudiating his earlier review
of Mr. Pivar’s work in favor of a more negative one (presumably to save face in the
scientific community) has hurt Mr. Pivar’s reputation and interfered with his relationship
with his publisher and with the promotion of his book. The defendant has also falsely accused Mr. Pivar of using his original review without “permission” and with publishing it on Mr. Pivar’s website in excerpts designed to look as if he was endorsing Mr. Pivar’s views. Although Mr. Pivar posted the complete review on his website (Complaint Exhibit 5) in good faith for everyone to read, he is now forced to remove it at Dr. Hazen’s insistence. In doing this, the defendant has apparently chosen to join the “gated community” of scientists and their journals, like the ones funded by NASA and the Astrobiology Institute, who hide behind “peer review” as a means of discouraging the work of other scientists, whose theories contradict the cherished views of researchers more interested in preserving their financial futures than in advancing the interests of science.
10, As a result of the foregoing an actual controversy exists between the plaintiff and the defendant concerning the right of the plaintiff to publish the defendant’s review on the plaintiff’s website.

11. The plaintiff has no adequate remedy at law.

WHEREFORE, the plaintiff respectfully requests that the Court enter a Declaratory Judgment:

1. Declaring that the plaintiff has the right to publish the January 1, 2007 review of his work by the defendant on the plaintiff’s website.

2. Directing the defendant to stop interfering with the publication and promotion of the plaintiff’s book On The Origin of Form with his threats of a lawsuit.

3. Granting the plaintiff such other and further relief, as may be just, with the costs of this action, and reasonable attorney’s fees.