Skepticism

Ben Radford Has Threatened to Sue Me

On July 15, 2015, lawyers working on behalf of Ben Radford sent me a cease and desist letter, demanding that I remove some unspecified portions of some blog posts of which he does not approve, including but not limited to the reports on the fact that Karen Stollznow had accused Radford of sexual harassment.

While a document apparently signed recently by Stollznow states “it would be wrong” for people to have believed her earlier accusations, the fact that she made those accusations remains true and a matter of public record, in dozens if not hundreds of places.

As many skeptics understand, the use of libel threats to censor criticism is a well-worn tactic of pseudoscientists and bullies. Radford may not have paid attention at the time, but here at Skepchick we staunchly advocated both publicly and behind the scenes for UK libel laws to be changed so that scientists and journalists threatened with libel wouldn’t be facing bankruptcy for even successfully defending themselves.

Unfortunately, even here in the US, a libel threat is a serious concern due to the exorbitant cost of simply retaining an attorney.

Faced with Radford’s demands and his threats of a lawsuit, I established an indiegogo campaign to start raising the initial costs of hiring a lawyer and defending my freedom of speech.

In response, Ben Radford wrote on Twitter the following:

The idea that I was “merely asked” to remove blog posts is astonishing. Radford at no point attempted to communicate with me to ask me to remove or edit any blog posts. Instead, I received the cease and desist demand from his lawyer, threatening a lawsuit. Here are a few choice quotes from that letter (bolding mine):

…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.

There is no grey area, here. This is quite clearly a threat, telling me that if I don’t remove unspecified portions of posts, I will be sued for defamation. Requests over the past few weeks to clarify exactly which portions he believes constitutes defamation and any legal basis for the claim of defamation remain unanswered.

It is not “escalation” to respond to a libel threat by taking Radford’s attorney’s actual advice and hiring a lawyer, nor is it “escalation” to attempt to pay for the legal fees. “Escalation” is attempting to rewrite history by using legal threats.

Radford’s supporters have grabbed a hold of his response claiming he has not threatened a defamation lawsuit, using it to spam anyone who posted a positive link to my legal defense fund:

Eddie Glandspouter

Thank you to everyone who has provided support thus far, whether that be through a donation, helping to spread the word, or just offering me kind words. As the misogynist trolls get riled up in support of Radford on Twitter and elsewhere, I greatly appreciate any and all support.

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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31 Comments

  1. August 21, 2015 at 6:28 pm —

    “I wish she’d de-escalate & talk.”

    Wow, he sure does like working that gaslight, doesn’t he?

  2. August 21, 2015 at 6:47 pm —

    I just threw $10 into the pot I’ll try to donate some more next Friday if it’s still going.

    I’m not at all surprised he’s doing this. He just gets worse and worse…

  3. August 21, 2015 at 7:33 pm —

    If this doesn’t end up in court, do you have a charity or other cause that the raised money will go to? Perhaps, if so, mention that on the Indiegogo?

    • August 21, 2015 at 9:13 pm —

      Well, first, if it DOES end up in court, it will probably cost 10s of thousands of dollars more. Lawyers charge you for their time regardless of whether they’re in the courtroom.

      Second, if there is money left over, which would be astonishing and wonderful, I suppose I’ll give it to the next person Ben threatens. If there is no next person, I’ll probably donate it to EFF or a similar free speech organization.

  4. August 21, 2015 at 7:40 pm —

    As he clearly is threatening to sue you and as Eddie Glandspouter is claiming that he is not; then Eddie Glandspouter is calling you a liar … perhaps you should sue him for defamation!

    • August 21, 2015 at 9:12 pm —

      Ha, if I were in the suing-for-libel business, I have at least 10 good slam dunk options to go for first.

  5. August 21, 2015 at 8:35 pm —

    Why is this POS still employed at the Center for Inquiry?

    I am personally calling for a boycott of CFI until Radford is removed from the payroll.

    And I will make this very clear, this is me saying this not Rebecca. Come get me motherfucker.

    Barbra Streisand is more web savvy then this creepy bastard.

    • August 22, 2015 at 9:23 am —

      He’s within his legal rights to threaten to sue for anything he views as defamatory.

      The content that he’s alleging was defamatory almost certainly isn’t, so it’s a jerk thing to do, but I feel that a boycott won’t be effective until he goes through with his legal threat.

  6. August 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm —

    I’ve been going through and reading stuff about all this: in a blog post where you disagreed with Radford on an article he wrote, you called his comments “truly disgusting (bordering on libelous) hypothesizing”…reading the original article, I can’t find what, exactly, he said but you implied that he was talking about a parent’s possible motivations in making their child an internet sensation.

    If that’s bordering on libelous, according to you, where does the line get drawn? Publicizing accusations of sex crimes that were never actually filed in any police department and retracted from the initial blog and then admitted as false by the accuser? Those are just free speech, and not libel or defamation?

    I’m having trouble here. I like you, I consider myself a fan and you were a big reason I began listening to SGU (I miss you there). But it’s giving me serious cognitive dissonance that, looking at the facts, it seems the only logical, decent, skeptical thing to do would be to remove the stuff where you repeat accusations and tell women to stay away from him because he’s a predator. Even in this post you say the retraction was “allegedly” signed, implying doubt there, while you reserve no such doubts in posts where you say you aren’t surprised in the least that he’s a rapist. It’s notarized and a matter of public record–whereas the accusations were never official charges and never filed anywhere, just spread around.

    I mean, if I were publicly accused of something like that by an ex, I’d fight just as hard to clear my name. And yeah, I’d probably be called a litigious self-righteous bitch in the process, but I’d hope that cynical admission doesn’t serve as a rationale for doing the same thing.

    In my happiest-of-endings fantasy, I hope you and Radford can work some things out by talking to each other (through a mediator if needed) and take whatever legal funds you’d set aside and donate them to a good charity or perhaps a legal fund of some scientist blogger that’s honestly being wrongfully sued by a charlatan.

    • August 21, 2015 at 9:06 pm —

      If you’re having trouble distinguishing between things that are and are not libelous, then I suggest you do what I did: spend several thousands of dollars on hiring a lawyer.

      • August 21, 2015 at 9:29 pm —

        So your lawyer assured you that nothing you have up is libel or defamation? I only have a layperson’s knowledge of the law. And I know some creepy guys whom I don’t like and whom I have disagreed with often.

        But honestly, if there were accusations of sex crimes against one of these creepy guys by an ex-gf that were never prosecuted and then retracted as false by her, I’d feel really weird keeping those accusations up on a well-read blog and warning women to stay away from the guy… my first thought would be “Man, I really do hate that guy, but this particular thing isn’t provable, it’s even shown to have been false, and it could lose him his job. Ergo, it smells like libel or defamation.”

        In fact, a commenter above has already called for Radford to lose his job. Not sure over what–the initial allegations, even though they’re false? Being “creepy”? Having a lawyer send a letter? (We all have that right, don’t we? If sending someone a notice of possible legal action were punishable by job loss, everyone with an ex-spouse would be fired.)

        But it is a shame you’ve had to spend thousands of dollars. For that sum, your lawyer assures you that nothing you have up will pose a danger to you as actionable?

        • August 21, 2015 at 10:33 pm —

          Radford was accused. A FACT!

          The dismissal of that accusation DOES NOT change the fact that he was accused, it also does not mean that those allegation “were false” as you have stated, just that they were dropped.

          As to why he should loose his job. How about bullying people to take down things he doesn’t like OR ELSE. That sounds like racketeering to me “Nice blog you got here, be a shame if something was to happen to it.”

          SLAPP Lawsuits are a despicable tactic that those who care about science and free speech should be against not furthering.

          • August 21, 2015 at 10:54 pm

            I’m not sure how my logic is flawed. Taking the accusations to be false is simply taking the accuser at her word: she said they were false and arose due to a relationship that ended with acrimony. Radford certainly said they were false all along. This guy’s no Cosby. No other women came forward (except for a few calling him “creepy,” which smacked of bandwagoning). When the supposed victim (which Rebecca acknowledges has some character and honesty issues) states that the thing never actually happened, it means–to my mind–that the accusations were false.

            If you know the accusations to be true, for crying out loud call the police. Crimes like that are a serious, serious, thing. Don’t think so? Have someone accuse you, spread it around where you work, then try to recover from it.

            And racketeering? Sending a Cease & Desist is racketeering now? I’ve had to send them over the course of my career, to folks who didn’t understand copyright law. Do you think I should be arrested for racketeering?

            Whether or not this is a SLAPP lawsuit remains to be seen–once a “this” actually materializes. No suit has been filed. Your pitchfork-waving is just convincing me more and more that this Radford guy is certainly being harmed in the public sphere by blog discussions.

          • August 21, 2015 at 11:28 pm

            She never SAID that the accusation was false. HE has released a statement that was supposedly signed by both of them, one that is quite similar to a statement that she says she was being bullied into signing by Radford. It has (to my knowledge) never actually been acknowledged by her so color me skeptical.

            As to the other things in Rebecca’s posts, they are opinions and yes, I would liken someone threatening a lawsuit to get someone to retract opinions to racketeers and quite a bit different from defending a trademark.

            As to my call to boycott CFI, that is also an opinion that was deserved by Radford’s academic sloppiness well before this dick move. I would also add that people should think about whether they want to support Skeptic Magazine, Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris based on the personal behavior of those involved. But again that is my opinion, one that I am welcome to as you are to yours.

          • August 23, 2015 at 4:15 pm

            People use libel (or ‘slander’) incorrectly on the internet all the time. I’ve heard it used to describe screen caps of a Facebook conversation before.

        • August 22, 2015 at 10:53 am —

          You seem to be arguing that documentation of the accusation should be deleted because you believe it was a false accusation. Whether an accusation is true or false has nothing to do with whether or not an accusation was made, which is what what documented here.

          • August 22, 2015 at 6:54 pm

            Rebecca may like to start by removing the inaccurate and repugnant accusation of rape made on her blog by Marilove. Baby steps.

            Anyone who believes Rebecca was dispassionately reporting on ‘events’ is ignorant of both her existing animosity towards Ben and the SJ wide dogpile that was then underway. Rebecca’s input was her own little attempt at amplification.

            Now the insigator has pulled the carpet by publicly asserting that the claims “should not be believed” – now there is no basis to the dog whistling and clarion call pile on, the ethical thing to do is remove the posts or append a dirty big unsnarky update.

            The fact that Ben has had to resort to expensive law based measures to enact ethical justice is a comment on character – just not his.

        • August 23, 2015 at 12:41 am —

          So your lawyer assured you that nothing you have up is libel or defamation? I only have a layperson’s knowledge of the law.

          Don’t you think Rebecca is smart enough to have run this past her attorney before fighting back and posting publicly about it? You’re coming across as a jackass in your comments by assuming you know more about Rebecca’s case than her and her attorney. Go concern troll elsewhere.

      • August 23, 2015 at 4:16 pm —

        Does the proper jurisdiction have anti-SLAPP laws in place?

    • August 23, 2015 at 6:40 am —

      JuliaCX, I appreciate the work you put into your fake account.

      • August 24, 2015 at 3:32 am —

        Well, thanks? It’s a new account, as I’ve never felt strongly enough to comment on anything until this fundraiser and issue popped up. But I’ve read Skepchick for years and own a surly-ramic with “Skepchick” stamped on it. Met Rebecca twice at SGU dinners, had a nice conversation with her. And yeah, I didn’t want to link any of my actual personal data because 1. jerks 2. doxxing 3. commenting against the grain can lead to 1. doing 2.

        And I see I’m very much against the grain here, on this issue, though I thank biogeo for acknowledging that there is room for reasonable disagreement. I’m also pleased/relieved to see Rebecca mention on the Indiegogo that funds will go someplace worthwhile if there isn’t an actual lawsuit forthcoming and the letter was just standard lawyerspeak cage-rattling. With so many free speech groups out there, I’m sure donors won’t be terribly upset if the Indiegogo $$$ ends up rerouted to a good free speech organization.

        But now that I have an account I’ll probably be commenting on stuff as I read along. And yeah, I do usually agree with the stuff I read here, so there won’t be any need to call me fake or say I’m concern trolling. But thanks for the welcome?

  7. August 22, 2015 at 8:54 am —

    juliacx:

    I only have a layperson’s knowledge of the law.

    Me too. But my understanding is that in the U.S., defamation, including libel, consists of three things, all of which must be true:

    1. The statement must be false.
    2. The statement must cause harm to the person defamed (e.g., loss of employment).
    3. The person making the statement must know the statement to be false, or have negligently made the statement without reasonably investigating its truthfulness.

    Karen Stollznow’s accusations may or may not have been defamation; I really don’t know. Since Radford still has his job, it’s not clear to me that any harm was done to him other than that a bunch of people who probably didn’t think much of him anyway now think worse of him. But I don’t think the fact that she made them is in dispute, and therefore Rebecca reporting that Stollznow made the accusations cannot be defamation. Any of Rebecca’s attendant statements to the effect of Radford being creepy and that women should stay away from him aren’t factual claims, but matters of opinion, and thus not defamation.

    So as far as the legal reasoning goes, I don’t see anything in Rebecca’s writings that looks like libel to me, though I’m not a lawyer. As far as the ethics of the situation goes, though, there’s more room for reasonable disagreement, but I still come away with the opinion that Rebecca’s actions are perfectly acceptable, and Radford is being a dick. There’s nothing wrong with writing about a publicly-made accusation. If Rebecca subsequently was convinced that the accusation was false, then considering the harm it can do to Radford’s reputation, it would be reasonable for her to either remove her old articles on the topic, or add a disclaimer to them indicating that she’s now convinced the accusation was false, but while I think such a step would be preferable, it’s not necessary. But Rebecca has already written on why she finds Stollznow’s “retraction” unconvincing, and I’m inclined to agree. And once again, this commentary on a matter of acknowledged fact (notarized, as you pointed out) is only opinion, and thus not defamation.

  8. August 22, 2015 at 9:02 am —

    Also, the phrasing of Radford’s lawyer’s threatening letter is pretty interesting.

    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.”

    At least as Rebecca quoted it here, this phrasing seems to provide Radford with his cover for claiming that he’s not threatening to sue. He’s not saying he’ll sue her if she doesn’t take down the articles, he’s only saying he won’t sue her if she does take them down. See? He’s being totally reasonable! How Rebecca managed to jump to the conclusion that he’s threatening to sue her is beyond me.

    This is exactly the same kind of weasely language that makes “Stollznow’s” “retraction” so unconvincing.

    • August 26, 2015 at 2:26 pm —

      At least as Rebecca quoted it here, this phrasing seems to provide Radford with his cover for claiming that he’s not threatening to sue. He’s not saying he’ll sue her if she doesn’t take down the articles, he’s only saying he won’t sue her if she does take them down. See? He’s being totally reasonable!

      Nice bank account ya have there. Be a shame if something were to happen to it.

  9. August 22, 2015 at 12:09 pm —

    I’m really sorry you’re going through so much shit.
    People suck.
    But some are awesome.
    You’re one of the good ones.
    Keep fighting.

  10. August 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm —

    The number one thing that convinces me that Radford is a skeevy character is what he himself (or through proxies) has said and done. He has been his own worst enemy in all this.

    I’ll see if I can’t scrounge up a bit of cash for this. I really don’t like the idea of using legal threats to silence people. This is not the kind of thing a true skeptic would ever do.

  11. August 25, 2015 at 1:47 pm —

    Yes, Keep fighting.

    There is another issue, the statute of limitations for defamation depends on the state. It can be one, two or three years. The first blog post was more than two years ago. If BR is in a state with a two year statute of limitations, then that time has now lapsed. That 2 year lapsing time point might have been what motivated BR’s lawyer to send a letter (and bill BR for it).

    I suspect (but am not a lawyer), that the “real” motivation is to get rid of the link to the shoddy work on the effects of advertising on body image in girls and women.

    It is interesting that there is a campaign of intimidation and weasel-wording bordering on disinformation (didn’t threaten to sue, just said would not sue if do xyz) trying to dissuade people from donating to the legal fund.

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