Thursday brought news from Montréal, Canada of further action in the “David Mabus” case.
Long-time readers of this site and many other skeptic websites are familiar with this person, who would regularly interject and threaten in the comments below. He drew his nom de plume from the writings of Nostradamus, and targeted James Randi and many other skeptics for endless ire. He’s been at it for some time, you can read Mr. Randi’s posts from three years ago about this character.
Last month his spam and threats (which had accelerated on Twitter) got the attention of the press and the police where he lives in Montréal. The story of how this came about is an interesting case study in online skeptic activism which I documented in detail on my blog. It resulted in his arrest on August 16 and appearance before a judge on a total of 16 charges of making death threats.
Many skeptics assumed a mental illness of some kind was involved in this case. Even his own defense attorney Leonard Waxman said at his August 19 hearing, “Ce n'est pas la personne moyenne qui fait ça. Il ya quelque chose de déséquilibré.” Roughly translated, he says that Mabus is an unusual person indeed, perhaps unbalanced in some way. I’ve always thought it best to leave medical diagnoses to medical professionals, not lawyers or skeptics, so I’ve withheld judgment on this issue.
At the August 19 hearing, the judge ordered a 30-day psychiatric evaluation at the Philippe Pinel Institute before the case could proceed further. Skeptics have been anxiously awaiting the result of this evaluation, not the least because Mr. Randi himself is scheduled to speak in Montréal next week.
On Thursday Stephane Giroux (a journalist covering the case) posted on Twitter that the evaluation is now complete, and Mabus has been referred for further treatment until his next court date on December 2. Giroux elaborated that the diagnosis was of a bipolar disorder exacerbated by alcohol and substance abuse. The further treatment from now until December is substance abuse rehabilitation.
This diagnosis of bipolar disorder does seem consistent with the behavior we’ve observed over the history of the case. Some in the skeptic community criticized the attempt to involve the police last month, pointing out that most forms of mental illness do not correlate with actual violence. However now that we know substance abuse is involved, it is worth noting this Oxford study which supports our decision to treat the threats as serious.
In any case, it is good that skeptic efforts have resulted in “Mabus” getting professional help, and we hope that his treatment plan is a successful one.
Tim Farley is a JREF Research Fellow in electronic media. He is the creator of the website What's the Harm and also blogs at Skeptical Software Tools. He researched the information in JREF's Today in Skeptic History iPhone app and has given presentations at TAM 6, 7 and 9. You can follow him on Twitter here.