Big Win for Climate Scientist

December 24, 2016

Washington Post:

A defamation lawsuit filed by a high-profile climate scientist will be allowed to proceed, an appeals court ruled on Thursday.

The case is being brought by Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, who is perhaps best known for helping develop the famous “hockey stick” graph used to illustrate global warming. Mann is suing two bloggers who accused him of scientific and academic misconduct in 2012. On Thursday, the D.C. Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Mann has the right to proceed with the lawsuit.

“Dr. Mann has supplied sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that statements in the articles written by Mr. Simberg and Mr. Steyn were false, defamatory, and published by appellants to third parties, and, by clear and convincing evidence, that appellants did so with actual malice,” wrote Senior Judge Vanessa Ruiz in the court’s opinion.

The decision  suggests that, even as the climate-skeptical Trump administration comes into office, a high profile lawsuit could be underway in Washington, D.C., that also partly turns on the evidence for, and against, climate change.

The origins of the lawsuit  

Mann and several other colleagues first published the hockey stick graph in the late 1990s, and it has since become one of the most recognizable visual illustrations of human-caused–or anthropogenic–climate change. The graph used temperature data acquired from a variety of sources including tree rings, coral samples and ancient sediments to depicts a sharp uptick in global temperatures in the 20th century in comparison with prior centuries. Scientists attribute the rise to a spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations brought on by human industrial activities. (Here’s one depiction presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.)

“Tarnishing the personal integrity and reputation of a scientist important to one side may be a tactic to gain advantage in a no-holds-barred debate over global warming,” wrote Senior Judge Vanessa Ruiz in the court’s opinion. “That the challenged statements were made as part of such debate provides important context and requires careful parsing in light of constitutional standards. But if the statements assert or imply false facts that defame the individual, they do not find shelter under the First Amendment simply because they are embedded in a larger policy debate.”

This distinction has been pointed out by other climate scientists following the case as well. In a series of tweets on Thursday, NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt called the ruling “nuanced” and “well argued.”

“Judges make clear that there is a large constitutional gap btw criticism of scientific conclusions or methodology… & allegations of misconduct and fraud,” he tweeted.

That said, the court of appeals has only ruled that the case may proceed to trial. From there, a jury will decide whether the content of the blog posts actually constitutes defamation — and because Mann is considered a “limited public figure” in this case, the decision could hinge on whether the jury finds that the defendants acted with “actual malice.”

In a recent blog post, defendant Mark Steyn expressed his disagreement with the ruling.

“The ‘sufficient evidence’ Dr Mann has supplied are a series of mendacious claims to have been ‘investigated‘ and ‘exonerated‘ by multipleAnglo-American bodies that did, in fact, do neither,” he wrote (his links).

Below, defendant Steyn considers himself a lounge singer as well as a climate expert.
You be the jury.

 

16 Responses to “Big Win for Climate Scientist”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    OOO-rah Michael!

    It’s a shame it’s taking so long, but it appears to be headed in the right direction.

    “That the challenged statements were made as part of such debate provides important context and requires careful parsing in light of constitutional standards. But if the statements assert or imply false facts that defame the individual, they do not find shelter under the First Amendment simply because they are embedded in a larger policy debate.”

    Yep!

    Steyn says: “The ‘sufficient evidence’ Dr Mann has supplied are a series of mendacious claims to have been ‘investigated‘ and ‘exonerated‘ by multiple Anglo-American bodies that did, in fact, do neither,” he wrote (his links).

    Let’s hope the jury understands all that.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    PS Is Michael getting monetary help from CSLDF or any others to cover his legal costs? Time to ante up, folks—-those in the front lines need to be supported.


    • Could not agree more..

      Here is the link to the Legal Defense fund for Mike Mann.

      https://climatesciencedefensefund.org/2012/10/15/support-mike-manns-legal-defense/

      • dumboldguy Says:

        That link goes back to the time Mann was being pursued by KookyNelly, the VA attorney general. The addresses are still good, and note the reference to designating it as a contribution to PEER if you’re interested in claiming it as a tax deduction.

        • andrewfez Says:

          Cuccinelli turned the comment sections off under his Youtube videos, admitting he can’t compete in the free marketplace of ideas. I spammed his channel pretty hard when he was doing his governor’s run, letting everyone know he wasted $600k witch hunting at UVA with no evidence to back him up. Some of his supporters tried to argue with me which allowed me to repeat my talking points over and over – who says you can’t learn PR/marketing from the climate trolls!

      • mboli Says:

        CSLDF is now has charity tax status all by itself, you can send contributions to it directly instead of through PEER.

    • mboli Says:

      The short answer to “monetary help” for climate scientists seems to be: no.

      CSLDF has filed only one 990 tax form so far, for its first partial fiscal year as a non-profit. It covered less than 4 months ending 13 Dec 2014.

      Schedule O, describing program activities, says it helps to find lawyers, serves as a clearing house for information on legal activities, provides advice and information for scientists who need it, those kinds of things. It does not participate in litigation.

      There was no mention in Schedule O, the financial part of the 990, or the web site, for paying for legal expenses aside from the initial suit from Virginia against Dr. Mann.

      The description on the web site is like this:

      “Since 2011, we’ve helped close to a hundred researchers, conducted legal education workshops for scientists and lawyers and developed a network of pro-bono lawyers ready to help scientists.”

  3. andrewfez Says:

    He should ask for more money. Last time all he got was a check for 20 bucks or something similar if I recall.

  4. indy222 Says:

    Lounge lizard vs one of the top climate scientists in the world. Wow…. You just can’t make this stuff up. The creep isn’t even a decent singer.

  5. Canman Says:

    Jonathan Adler at the Washington Post disagrees:

    Whether or not Mann’s work shows all that he has claimed is not the question, for the First Amendment protects robust discussion and debate of scientific matters and the freedom to express wrong-headed opinions in inartful ways.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/12/22/making-defamation-law-great-again-michael-manns-suit-may-continue/?utm_term=.ee0e05c507de

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      And yet libel laws exist for some strange reason.

      What a kooky world when scientifically-illiterate politically-motivated hacks can aperse the ethics of published scientists, attack their peer-reviewed work without even the merest hint of a wafer-thin scintilla of relevant science, compare them with pederasts, and yet are still – remarkably! – held accountable for their defamation.

      How bizarre!

    • mboli Says:

      Adler makes a rather persuasive case on legal grounds, as you would expect from a post on the Volokh Conspiracy blog. The main idea is:
      The complaint by Mann was that the writers should have known much of they charged was factually incorrect *because of what the investigations of Mann concluded*.
      However one point of the offending writing was to complain that the investigations of Mann weren’t thorough enough. And they provide some reasons for their belief.
      (My rephrasing of Adler) “Knowing” some fact false is inconsistent with their ability to criticize the investigation that falsified the fact. Again paraphrasing: if Mann wins, it means that reasoned criticism of any official investigation doesn’t have 1st amendment protection. Adler cites as an example an investigation that exonerates a police officer for shooting.
      This sounds quite logical and reasonable, outside of the context of Mann’s complaint.
      If you skim Mann’s complaint, it makes a persuasive case on the other side: Styen Simkins et al. were just out to smear, and truth be damned.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        IANAL, so I will leave the difference between protected political speech and libel to them. Somehow, I feel sure they can tell the difference.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Don’t be so sure that Adler and his ilk really know what’s going on. He is a George Mason Law, CEI, and Cato graduate. I am looking forward to seeing their discomfort when their conservative little asses are caught in the grinder of the Trump administration’s assault on democracy and the constitution.

          PS The end of year screaming for funds from all the environmental and public interestl organizations is nearly over (DOUBLE match!, TRIPLE match!, even one 5x match!). The CSLDF end of year mentions that they are NOT offering support to Mann in this latest case.

          PPS GB! WashPost this AM says the Russians hacked into a Burlington Electric computer—–have your lights gone out yet?

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Hmmm…. My lights are on, but……

            Burlington Electric Dept is where my ward votes. We use optical readers of our paper ballots.

            I wonder if, rather than evidence of an attempt to disrupt the grid, this malware is evidence of an attempt to hack the election.


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