Previously, I wrote about Ben Radford hiring a lawyer to sue me for libel, though the lawyer ultimately failed to ever pinpoint exactly what I ever wrote that was defamatory. Because I took his lawyer’s advice to hire my own lawyer immediately, I asked for help from all of you in covering the thousands of dollars required to do so. It turns out that lawyers are crazy expensive.

Now, Radford has circulated a letter denying his initial attempt at bullying by threat of a lawsuit, while suggesting he may yet sue if I dare to respond in a fashion he finds unacceptable. His letter is filled with misinformation, and I don’t think anyone is entitled to getting the last word, especially when it comes to prominent skeptics. Strap in: this is going to be a long one.

Statement Regarding Watson Blogs August 24, 2015

Blogger Rebecca Watson, in several recent online posts, has claimed that I threatened her with a defamation lawsuit. I am not currently suing nor preparing to sue, her or anyone else.

Just to reiterate, here is what Radford’s lawyer wrote to me:

…if you continue to publish with knowledge of the accusations’ falsity, or in reckless disregard of whether the accusations are false, you can be held liable for defamation. I urge you to discuss this with another lawyer knowledgeable in the area of defamation.

Accordingly, please remove from websites and other social media accounts controlled by you all of Stollznow’s accusations…Mr. Radford will not sue you for defamation if you take these steps. Accordingly, taking these steps will…protect you from legal liability to Mr. Radford.

Why would Radford’s lawyer urge me to take steps to protect myself from Radford suing me, if at no point Radford was prepared to sue me? The only logical conclusion I can draw here is that either Radford was planning to sue me when the letter was sent last month but changed his mind after I made his actions public, or else Radford was bluffing in order to bully and intimidate me into removing all the posts he found to be too critical of him.

She is one several (sic) bloggers who repeated accusations about me that were false and defamatory and that have since been retracted by the accuser. Watson, the first of the bloggers I contacted, ignored earlier requests to remove posts.

I have never been contacted by Ben Radford to remove any posts, prior to the letter from his legal team threatening a lawsuit. Let me be clear: his claim is absolutely false, and appears to be invented purely for the purpose of justifying the bullying threats of a lawsuit.

After she took no action, my lawyer notified her, correctly, that she risks a defamation lawsuit as long as she leaves the false accusations online.

Again, if Radford was never prepared to sue me, how was I risking anything by not responding to the letters I never received? Who would be filing the defamation lawsuit? It is a grand mystery at least as puzzling as that of the chupacabra.

Several prominent web sites, including ScientificAmerican.com and Slate, willingly complied with previous requests to remove defamatory materials about me when shown evidence of their falsity.

I am not in charge of Scientific American or Slate, and so I have no knowledge of their process (though from an outsider’s perspective, it looked as though SciAm removed the post upon request of Center for Inquiry, not Ben Radford’s legal team). My lawyer’s requests for the correspondence was met with a list of requirements that I could not use, disclose, or publish the correspondence. No thanks.

I’d hoped Rebecca would be receptive, as skeptics have a long history of working to correct injustices and help exonerate those falsely accused (for example people convicted based on faulty eyewitness testimony, as well as false claims that emerged as “recovered memories” or in bogus “facilitated communication” sessions).

I’m not sure what Radford has to do with any of those examples, but linking yourself without any reason to the laudatory actions of others is time-tested and often successful, provided the reader doesn’t ask too many questions. Any connection to the Stollznow matter is a leap as well, seeing as how his case never even saw the inside of a courtroom, nor were the complaints against him based on any kind of pseudoscience — unless Radford views a woman’s accusations of sexual harassment as, by default, pseudoscience. Also, without any threat or demand from Radford, I updated my original post with the news that Stollznow had apparently signed a retraction, leaving it to the reader to consider the rights, wrongs, and implications.

Regarding the false accusations about me she wrote, “I don’t know if [Radford’s accuser] is lying, and at this point I don’t care.” Rebecca’s stated indifference to whether or not she has encouraged others to spread false accusations about me of serious and repugnant conduct is revealing.

My full quote (in a comment) was “As I wrote in the post, I don’t know if she’s lying, and at this point I don’t care.” And as my post makes clear, my concerns about both the accuser and the accused led me to my personal view that time spent on the dispute is not time well spent. I identified Stollznow’s statements as accusations and allegations from the beginning, and I indicated my doubts when the facts warranted. Twisting my statement into the conclusion that I “encouraged others to spread false accusations about (Radford) of serious and repugnant conduct” is a necessary move to justify the original demand from Radford’s legal team that I “request of others that any statements or content provided by you or attributed to you likewise be removed from their web sites.” Again, this “request” is what Radford’s legal team considered necessary to avoid a defamation suit.

Instead of simply removing a handful of false claims (and thus helping restore the reputation of a person who she concedes may well have been wrongly maligned), Rebecca has chosen to cast herself as a victim.

Radford alludes to a “handful of false claims,” but for weeks has refused to reveal exactly what I wrote that was false or defamatory, despite being asked by my lawyer several times in my attempt to facilitate a rational discussion.

As for being a victim: “victims” aren’t known for fighting back.

This is not a free speech issue; no one is being censored, silenced, or deprived of their rights. Rebecca and other bloggers may say whatever they like.

No one is being censored or silenced! But if I don’t remove three long blog posts about Ben Radford, Ben Radford will sue me. I mean, he won’t sue me, but he could sue me. Which he might.

However if what she writes is defamatory (a statement made knowing it is false or with reckless disregard for its truth), she can be held liable for damages.

Again, several weeks have passed with no word from Radford or his legal team specifying what I wrote that was defamatory. Also, Radford’s use of the passive voice here is telling: I can be held liable for damages, from whom? If Radford has absolutely no intention of ever suing, who would hold me liable? Is it the chupacabra? Is the chupacabra going to sue me on behalf of Ben Radford?

This is not controversial. Watson, among others, has made several demonstrably false and defamatory statements about me, including suggesting that a document formally retracting the accusations against me (signed on May 11, 2015) was somehow coerced; it was not, and no one involved in the matter has ever claimed otherwise.

This is exciting, as it’s the first specific claim pinpointing which statement I’ve made that Radford claims is defamatory. And Radford is wrong. I never made any statements claiming that Stollznow’s retraction was coerced.

In my IndieGoGo description, I did write the following, which is the most I’ve ever said about Stollznow’s statement:

After a lengthy legal battle, she apparently signed a statement claiming that Radford had not harassed her, a statement dated around the same time she was scheduled for induced labor.

As I understand it, truth is the ultimate defense to any defamation accusation, and I believe that every word of this sentence is truthful. Radford posted the statement on May 22. Stollznow gave birth on May 21. Radford, now playing the victim while complaining about people playing the victim, is looking for another excuse to threaten me, and so he insists I meant Stollznow was coerced.

There is no “libel bullying” (and no comparison to efforts by British charlatans to silence critics of pseudoscience) nor any attempt to “rewrite history,” merely a reasonable and appropriate request to remove damaging claims about me which have been acknowledged by the person who initially made them to be false.

Radford doesn’t want to rewrite history, he just wants blogs he deems unacceptable eliminated. And maybe in some universe, it’s reasonable or appropriate to make vague demands, threaten a lawsuit, and then insist it really isn’t bullying by inventing a false excuse that the person to be sued was invited to discuss the issues and refused.

No one deserves to be falsely accused of reprehensible conduct. If Rebecca’s goal is to bait me into filing a defamation lawsuit against her, she will surely eventually succeed;

So here’s the timeline thus far: Radford’s lawyer tells me I have to do what Radford wants so that he doesn’t sue me. Next, Radford, obviously embarrassed by having his bullying publicized, insists he isn’t going to sue me. Then he says in this most recent letter that he can sue me if he wants. Now a few sentences later he says he will surely sue me, if he thinks I’m asking for it. Got it?

…if her goal is to simply leave up her earlier posts which malign me despite their acknowledged falsity, I will not press the issue.

Stollznow’s very public accusations are readily available from many sources. His lawsuit complained about a number of publications causing him damage, but none of them were mine. And it’s strange that he thinks the post maligns him despite its “acknowledged falsity,” by which I assume he means the link I edited in pointing to Stollznow’s “retraction.” Most people would call that “ethical journalism.” Hell, even the Men’s Rights website A Voice for Men found my post to honor a “respect for truth.”

Assuming that no further defamatory content is forthcoming from Rebecca or others as of today’s date, I’m willing to drop the matter and move on.

This would be reassuring, if I had any assurance that Radford’s definition of “defamatory” is anything like the United States legal system’s, and had he not already restated his readiness to sue me if he feels that I’m asking for it.

Radford claims to want to get back to encouraging science literacy, and personally I think that’s a great idea, despite my opinions on his own science literacy. And so to avoid a lawsuit, I’ll give him the last word from his own statement’s final sentence. You get to decide once and for all if whether or not he was really threatening to sue me “into doing the right thing”:

My time, money, and energy are better spent on books and other projects encouraging science literacy and critical thinking than suing people into doing the right thing.

For those wondering about the IndieGoGo, I’m going to leave it up for the time being. If Radford does in fact drop his threat of a lawsuit, any leftover money will be donated to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. However, if I hear from others who have been threatened by Radford, I will try to help them with their legal bills.

Thank you very much to everyone who donated — had you not, I would have been severely in debt from this escapade and not able to confidently fight Radford’s libel bullying.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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17 Comments

  1. August 27, 2015 at 5:59 pm —

    Wow, what a piece of work.

    My opinion is the Ben Radford is seriously cranky and need his baba.

    How much gaslighting can you squeeze into one letter anyway?

    I personally believe that Ms. Stollznow dropped her allegation and supposedly signed that retraction because she wanted to get on with her life with her new family and because she was tired of dealing with angry little piss-ants not because the allegation was false.

    But hey, that’s just my personally beliefs and opinions.

    Ain’t no harm in speaking your mind, right Ben?

  2. August 27, 2015 at 6:47 pm —

    Gaslight much?

    When A Voice for Men claims you have a “respect for truth”, you should keep your eyes open looking for the sucker-punch. ;)

    • August 29, 2015 at 4:24 pm —

      We need to have a list of people whose endorsement should be interpreted as a warning label. I’m sure A Voice for Men is on the list.

  3. August 27, 2015 at 10:02 pm —

    This will be the headache that keeps on giving when its time to do your taxes I bet.

  4. August 27, 2015 at 11:51 pm —

    Bullies run away when they’re exposed, but they rarely give up. They just wait for attention to shift away.

    Everyone, remember this scumbag’s sleazy actions. Keep an eye on him and an eye out for Rebecca. If Rebecca needs help again, we need to make sure she has support.

  5. August 28, 2015 at 12:32 am —
  6. August 28, 2015 at 2:20 am —

    It used to be that litigious asshole used to mean Uri Geller. Now it is Ben Radford.

  7. August 28, 2015 at 2:45 am —

    Wow. Now I’m even more motivated to donate a little more to your campaign.

    Ben Radford is a fucking douche.

    Wait… is he going to (totally not) threaten to sue me, now, too?

  8. August 28, 2015 at 2:46 am —

    Also… as usual, I forgot to subscribe. Sorry.

  9. August 28, 2015 at 3:38 am —

    So, he never threatened to sue…
    Well, he did, but he’s not really going to…
    Unless some unspecified set of circumstances are fulfilled, then he still might.

    I’m glad we got that cleared up.

  10. August 28, 2015 at 4:19 am —

    What an asshole, again by his own actions he has shown himself to be certainly, without doubt, a total shit. Unlike the various accusations against him, which I believe are most likely true, but cannot know. Like his “defence” against the Stollznow thing, in posting revenge pictures of her semi naked in bed cemented my opinion of him, not the accusations.

    He is either totally incompetent or completely malicious, no one could read his statement above that contradicts itself so many times that it made my head spin, and think he is in the right. Refusing to tell your lawyer what is defamatory is the icing on the cake. I don’t know about the US but even in libel-land here in the UK if you haven’t given someone exact instructions of what is libellous and time to remove it you are not likely to win any case.

  11. August 28, 2015 at 5:16 am —

    I thought the Streisand effect was a well known and often cited thing among skeptics?
    Ah well. Don’t worry, Ben. This whole thing had actually slipped from my mind, but I’ll make sure to remember it this time. I apologise for my faulty memory. If you ever find yourself worrying that we’ve forgotten, you know how to remind us.

    By the way, I didn’t know that accurately reporting that somebody was accused of something was defamatory?

  12. August 28, 2015 at 9:29 am —

    No integrity whatsoever. None.

  13. August 28, 2015 at 10:45 am —

    Ben Radford? We’re not talking about the same Ben Radford who was caught on film buggering a goat while he strangled a puppy?

    • August 29, 2015 at 2:59 am —

      It was totally consensual, both the puppy and goat have been seen in the proximity of statements relating that fact.

      • August 31, 2015 at 12:15 pm —

        It would be wrong for anyone to believe that Ben Radford stalked, sexually harassed, or physically and sexually assaulted that goat while strangling that puppy.

  14. August 29, 2015 at 12:19 pm —

    I am not a lawyer, I have just spent an ungodly amount of other peoples money on legal advice and work as an expert witness.

    Looking at Radford’s letter, it seems to me that what they are attempting to avoid here is to cover up a goof they made in their first letter. Threatening to sue creates an opening for Rebecca to sue Radford for a declaratory judgement stating that she did not libel Radford. If you remember, this was the tactic Bill O’Really used to intimidate the staffer he sexually harassed before Fox news bought her off with a seven figure jackpot.

    One of the features of lawsuits is that they cost much less for a plaintiff to keep going than a defendant. A declaratory judgement has the effect of reversing the advantage. Radford would in effect be forced to either accept a judgement that it is OK to discuss the rape allegation made against him or laying out several hundred thousand dollars to defend the action.

    Given that Radford is unambiguously a public figure, he would have to prove malice. Very hard to see that in this case and especially so in the wake of Cosby.

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