Two years ago Ruggero Santilli sued me for defamation. He was not pleased by some sentences in a post I wrote about one of his inventions, the Santilli Telescope. This telescope with concave lenses can detect ‘anti-matter light’, which is something completely different from ordinary light according to the genius from Florida. He also sued professor Frank Israel, chairman of the board of Stichting Skepsis, and my web host, Hosting2Go. The lawsuit has now been settled. I’ll give you an update on what happened in those two years.
Although the case didn’t reach a final verdict in court, there is a summary judgement that rules that the court doesn’t have personal jurisdiction over Israel in this case. And there is a report by Magistrate Judge Pizzo on a motion for preliminary injunction which is clearly in my favour. In the settlement, we agreed that I change the title of one post to Florida Genius Now Sees Invisible ‘Entities’. In exchange, we got some commitments which will hopefully avert any future litigation.
From county court to district court
As I wrote in November 2016, I was sued by Ruggero Santilli in a circuit court (Pinellas County, Florida) because he claimed to have sustained damages in excess of 15,000 dollars by my post on the Santilli Telescope. This was also covered by a couple of other websites.
After getting some legal advice, we decided to take this case seriously and hired the law firm Thomas & LoCicero to defend us. We thought it best to remain quiet about how the case was proceeding as we were not expecting that it would take so long and that it would probably be dismissed after a while. That’s why I haven’t written about the case itself or other theories from Santilli since then.
As the case was just lingering for months without any real progress we decided to move up a level, to the district court (Middle District of Florida, Tampa division). To be able to move the case we had to establish that Santilli was seeking to be rewarded more than 75,000 dollars because of suffered damages. In an interview with our lawyers, he estimated that he had sustained damages in excess of three million dollars!
Also discovered was that his main goal was to expose a conspiracy of Jewish scientists which he claims has been working against him since about 1980. This was the reason Santilli also sued Israel. He assumed that Israel was collaborating with American colleagues in this conspiracy and that he had instructed and paid me to write the articles. Carla Santilli also joined the case as Plaintiff because she claimed to have suffered damages as well, even though she was not even mentioned in the contested articles. Her name pops up only in the comments below some of those articles and Carla later admitted that she herself made comments under the name of ‘Frank Stone’ in those discussions.
What the Santillis accused us of in detail can be read in their Second Amended Complaint.
The main advantage of having this case in a higher Court would be that there are more strict deadlines and that the case would proceed in a more predictable way. Also, the judges at this level have more time and assistants to look at the documents. We tried to get the case dismissed, but unfortunately, our motions for dismissal were not granted after a hearing of which there is not a full transcript. Apparently, the judge preferred to revisit all issues raised in May (2018) when we would be able to move for “summary judgment” and didn’t see a reason to dismiss the case because of lack of jurisdiction over Israel and me.
Simultaneously Santilli had filed a motion for preliminary injunction: he wanted my articles removed immediately, claiming that it would be very likely that they would win the case. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo wrote a report in which he analyzed the case and recommended the motion for preliminary injunction to be denied. This was accepted and adopted by District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington, who was presiding this case. This report is now the only document in which the court discusses the arguments and the merits of the case. Judge Pizzo writes:
The media vehicle Van Erp chose – blog posts on his personal website – is popular for just this type of debate, and is the type of online forum where a reasonable person expects to find controversy and accompanying rhetoric. I find that Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on their defamation claims.
So the case was not over yet and we had to do more work (and unfortunately, also make more costs). Our lawyers took depositions of Ruggero and Carla Santilli, which took two days. The depositions were recorded on video, you can watch these here if you like. A lot of interesting things can be learned from these depositions. For now, I’ll just highlight some issues which are relevant to the articles I wrote.
Conspiracy of Jewish scientists and attack by foreigners
When Santilli is asked why he and Carla started this case against Israel and me he makes the following statement (video 1, 1:29:55): “I want to have it on record. What we’re talking about in this — my wife and I, we filed this lawsuit because — because we want to serve the interests of the United States of America. To our knowledge, we have been attacked by foreigners. Frank Israel is a foreigner. Pepijn van Erp is a foreigner. Our country has been attacked by foreigners in its — in the most vital function, the pursuit of, basically, new research, including, basically, new research for new weapons. New weapons that America needs to defend ourselves.”
With these ‘new weapons,’ he seems to mean another invention of his company, Thunder Energies Corporation, of which he claims it would enable security at airports to detect nuclear devices that could be smuggled in luggage. I didn’t write anything about this Directional Neutron Source, however.
It is interesting to watch the 15 minutes before this fragment as well (from 1:16:50 onwards) where Santilli talks about the ‘Einstein fanatics’ and scientists from certain ‘ethnic groups’ who oppose him. It also becomes clear that he (falsely) assumed that Israel is Jewish, only because of his name.
The telescopes have never been in production and sale (video 3, 0:57:02). Only three telescopes were sold to undisclosed ‘astrophysics laboratories’ (three invoices were discovered for buyers from Canada, the Czech Republic and Italy). The advertisement on Amazon.com (and on ebay) was just a marketing test according to Santilli. I’ll leave it to the reader to judge for himself whether this Facebook post was misleading or not: ‘Thunder Energies is currently overstocked on our 70MM Twin Surveillance #Telescope Systems” …
In my 2013 article Finding JV Kadeisvili – or Mailing with Ruggero M Santilli, I argued that there is no evidence for the existence of a Jerdsay Vladimir Kadeisvili and that this scientist must be seen as an alias used by Santilli. This seemed interesting to me as this ‘person’ has also published in regular scientific journals, for instance in the International Journal for Hydrogen Energy (an Elsevier publication).
In the depositions, Santilli states that he has never met Kadeisvili or even spoke to him by phone (video 3, 1:33:50). Allegedly they communicated first only by fax and later via e-mail. This seems to contradict what ‘Kadeisvili’ wrote in one of his oldest articles I could find: “Currently visiting the Institute for Basic Research, Box 1577, Palm Harbor, FL 34G82,USA” (J.V. Kadeisvili, Direct universality of Lie-Santilli isosymmetries. In: Symmetry methods in physics: in memory of professor Ya. A. Smorodinsky, vol. 1, A.N. Sissakian et al., Eds., JINR Dubna, 194-205, 1994. [pdf] ).
The ‘Technical Achievement’ award Ruggero Santilli received during a conference at the University of La Rochelle in 2016 is discussed in video 1, starting from 0:33:20. That’s about the one I wrote about in More Santilli Shenanigans. Santilli states that Israel and I declared in our depositions that we have put pressure on the American Institute of Physics to have their name as co-sponsor removed from that award. I don’t know why Santilli thinks this as we made no such statement and it is simply not true. As a matter of fact, neither Israel nor I were deposed in this case.
‘Luca Petronio’ of the International Committee on Scientific Ethics and Accountability
According to Santilli, ‘Luca Petronio’ is indeed an alias and it is used by members of the International Committee on Scientific Ethics and Accountability (video 1, 0:50:00). Santilli states that he founded this organisation, but is no longer a member because that would be “a clear conflict between my [Santilli’s] position of a U.S. public company traded on NASDAQ.” He means Magnegas Corporation of which Santilli was CEO for a long time before he stepped down a couple of years ago to be succeeded by his son, Ermanno Santilli.
As other members of the committee, he mentions Professor Grigorios Tsagas (“chairman of the department of mathematics of Thessaloniki University”), Professor Asterios Jannussis (“senior physicist and one of the most important physicists in Greece”) and Professor Jack Lohmus (“from Estonia University”). But whether they are still members of this mysterious committee – and therefore possibly responsible for the anti-semitic comments and e-mails -remains an open question. That many of these e-mails have digital traces that show that they were sent from Santilli’s own laptop, he explains by telling that the members of this committee have access to his mail server (and his own laptop?) via a VPN.
Throughout the deposition, you can hear Santilli complain about how Wikipedia has been unfair to him. The fragment in video 5 starting from 26:50 is a good example, where an article on scientificethics.org [archived copy] (by ‘Luca Petronio’) is put on the table. He also seems to think that Google has rigged its own algorithm in such a way that my article was showing up higher in search results than the pages of his own organisations (video 5, 1:02:45).
Maybe it is an idea to make a summary video of these deposition videos, a ‘best of’ Ruggero Santilli under oath’. The transcripts can be downloaded here: Ruggero Santilli part 1, part 2 & Carla Santilli.
We also looked for someone who could give an expert opinion on the claims around the Santilli Telescope and the scientific publications that apparently support those. I don’t think we could easily have found someone better qualified for this task than astronomer Professor Maria Womack (University of South Florida). In her report, she looked at the American Journal of Modern Physics, published by the Science Publishing Group, in which articles by Santilli and ‘Kadeisvili’ were published about this anti-matter light. Womack found that “this publisher and journal are careless, deceptive and fraudulent.” On the ideas of Santilli about a special form of light which originates from anti-matter, she writes:
Antimatter exists, but it does not behave the way Santilli says it does, and would not be revealed using the Santilli Telescope. Antimatter can emit light, but this light is identical to light emitted from ordinary matter, as confirmed by experiment in 2017 with the CERN Antiproton decelerator (Ahmadi et al. 2017).
Santilli’s claims that antimatter light is repelled by gravitational field of matter and has a negative index of refraction are incorrect, inappropriately documented, and therefore there is no scientific evidence to believe that his telescopes will work.
From her conclusion:
It is legitimate to question Santilli’s methods, to conclude that his telescopes will not work, and to conclude that he is a “fringe scientist.” Finally, it is also legitimate for a blog that reviews dubious scientific claims to question whether Santilli is a “mad professor” or “cunning scam artist,” because all of the work presented for the Santilli Telescope is based on an incorrect foundation with incompetent observations. The telescope prices shown in the invoices are an order of magnitude higher than necessary for the materials involved. These telescopes cannot work as advertised, and it appears that Santilli is producing fraudulent articles and trying to pass them off as legitimate science in order to boost his sales.
During discovery, Santilli had refused to provide a Santilli Telescope so that it could be investigated. He claimes that only scientists with in-depth knowledge of his ‘isodual optics’ can give an expert opinion on this instrument (video 3, from 1:03:10).
To cut things short, all of what I have written in my articles about Santilli and his ideas were found to be true or opinions solidly based on facts. The rest – the language I used – should also be protected by the freedom of speech as it can be seen as a rhetorical hyperbole. From our Motion for Summary Judgment and Supporting Memorandum of Law:
This case is a meritless attempt to challenge protected speech. As the adopted Report explains, the protections of rhetorical hyperbole and opinion are dispositive. In addition, the evidence does not support claims for defamation or tortious interference. Summary judgment should be granted.
I had (and still have) confidence that our arguments would have convinced the judge to rule in my favour. The problem was that it is almost entirely unpredictable when a judge is going to rule on such a motion for summary judgement. In our case, we filed the motion on May 18th 2018 and after a response by the Plaintiffs, our reply was filed on on July 6th 2018. Since then two months had passed without news from the court on this motion for my case. The motion for summary judgement for Israel was granted on August 17th 2018.
Personally, I would have liked to see what Judge Covington would have ruled on my request for summary judgement, but as things developed, we were completely in the dark about the moment she would come with a verdict. In the meantime, we would be faced with considerable extra costs as we would have to prepare for a jury trial.
For Stichting Skepsis there was now little to be gained as the summary judgement for Israel was clear enough and chances of getting back (some of) the costs would not be very good. And Santilli might appeal (he had indicated that he would not have another choice), even after a positive verdict on my motion for summary judgement. So it makes a lot of sense to be satisfied with avoiding further costs and also the certainty that an appeal (and therefore more costs) will be off the board. Also, any future frivolous litigation between Santilli and almost anybody related to Skepsis will now be financially very risky because the settlement agreement contains a clause which entitles the prevailing party to be compensated by the losing party for all costs.
I like to express my gratitude to Stichting Skepsis for their support in this case, and also many thanks to their donors who contributed very generously. Donations are still welcome to replenish the judicial fund of the foundation. My special thanks go out to Jan Willem Nienhuys, secretary of the board of Skepsis, who invested a lot of his time in this case (just imagine how long it took to compile this list of publications of Santilli) and who was really supportive during the whole period.
Title picture: screenshot from one of the deposition videos
Updates – media coverage
- Skepter: De zaak-Santilli (published on 30 August 2018, online on 13 September 2018 with Postscriptum about the settlement)
- ANP Pers Support: Skepsis wint proces tegen Amerikaanse pseudowetenschapper (13 September 2018)
- ThePostOnline: Skepsis wint proces van wetenschapper die in ‘joodse criminele wetenschappers’ gelooft (13 September 2018)
- Barracuda: Lasterlijk blog (13 September 2018)
- Motherboard: Hoe een Nederlandse blogger werd aangeklaagd door een pseudoprofessor (17 September 2018)
- De Vrije Gedachte: Amerikaanse vrijheid van meningsuiting (In the September 2018 issue of the magazine of the Dutch freethinkers association)
- Nachtkijkers (NPO radio 1): Pepijn van Erp werd aangeklaagd door een Amerikaanse pseudowetenschapper (15 October 2018)
- de Volkskrant: Hoe een simpel blogje over een ‘mad professor’ leidde tot een slepende smaadzaak (16 November 2018), which is illustrated with some nice drawings
- Wonder en is gheen Wonder: Skepsis wint proces tegen pseudowetenschapper (#4, 16 December 2018)
- Ocasapiens: Ciarlatanerie da premio Nobel (17 September 2018)
- OggiScienza: Ruggero Santilli, ora genio della Florida (16 November 2018)
- The Volokh Conspiracy: Libel and Antimatter (11 May 2018)
- Retraction Watch: Weekend reads (22 September 2018)
- Skeptical Inquirer: Fringe Scientist Santilli’s Suit Against Dutch Astronomer and Skeptics Group Settled, JW Nienhuys, SI 43.1 (Jan-Feb 2019)