Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Court Rules Climate Scientist Can Pursue Defamation Claims Against Critics

Popular

Leading climate scientist Michael Mann will see his defamation lawsuit against writers who called him the "Jerry Sandusky of climate science," amongst other accusations, move forward thanks to an appeals court ruling on Thursday.

Mann is the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and is well-known for his iconic "hockey stick" graph of modern global temperature rise.

He is routinely criticized and even threatened for his research linking climate change to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.

"I've faced hostile investigations by politicians, demands for me to be fired from my job, threats against my life and even threats against my family," Mann wrote in the Washington Post.

The case involves articles written by Rand Simberg for the think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute and Mark Steyn for the conservative publication National Review. Both entities have been critical or reject the science behind climate change and the writers have accused Mann of academic fraud.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel for the DC Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's refusal to dismiss the suit and unanimously ruled that a "reasonable jury" would have "sufficient evidence" that the authors and the entities they worked for published false and defamatory claims about Mann and his work "with actual malice."

"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," Senior Judge Vanessa Ruiz wrote in the court's opinion.

Simberg wrote a 2012 blog post for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, comparing Mann to the Penn State football coach accused of molestation.

"Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in service of politicized science that could have dire consequences for the nation and planet," Simberg wrote. The institute later removed that part, calling it "inappropriate."

In his own post for the National Review, Steyn cited Simberg's article and added that he "has a point" and called Mann's hockey stick graph "fraudulent."

Simberg and Steyn argued that their comments were protected as free speech under the First Amendment, The Hill reported.

But in the ruling, the court said that while statements made during a "no-holds-barred debate over global warming" are protected under the First Amendment, "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."

Mann said he is "pleased" with the court's decision.

"We are particularly pleased that the court, after performing an independent review of the evidence, found that the allegations against me have been 'definitively discredited,'" he said in a statement. "I am pleased by this unanimous decision of the court and we now look forward to presenting our claims of defamation to a jury."

But in response to the judges' opinion, Steyn wrote: "You won't be surprised to hear that I disagree with their ladyships. 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."

Defamation or libel lawsuits are notoriously difficult to win because "actual malice" is very difficult to prove in court. After all, there is a fine line between freedom of speech and a person's right to avoid defamation. The DC court's ruling is basically saying that because climate change is real, the writers and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Review intended to defame Mann by publishing those articles with reckless regard.

According to Mashable, this is the first time a "climate science researcher can proceed with defamation claims against writers who made false allegations about his scientific work."

Not only that, as Mashable observed, "the case may lay the groundwork for future lawsuits brought by climate scientists and scientists in other hotly contested fields who believe their reputations were damaged by press reports and even organized misinformation campaigns."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The results from Moderna's Phase 1 coronavirus vaccine show it is safe and effective so far. Jakub Porzycki / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Results from the Phase 1 trial of Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech firm Moderna's coronavirus vaccine show it is safe and produces an immune response.

Read More Show Less

More than 1,000 people were told to evacuate their homes when a wildfire ignited in the foothills west of Denver Monday, Colorado Public Radio reported.

Read More Show Less

Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. mixetto / E+ / Getty Images

Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. New research has found that 5.4 million Americans were dropped from their insurance between February and May of this year. In that three-month stretch more Americans lost their coverage than have lost coverage in any entire year, according to The New York Times.

Read More Show Less
Heat waves are most dangerous for older people and those with health problems. Global Jet / Flickr / CC by 2.0

On hot days in New York City, residents swelter when they're outside and in their homes. The heat is not just uncomfortable. It can be fatal.

Read More Show Less
Nearly 250 U.S. oil and gas companies are expected to file for bankruptcy by the end of next year. Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

Fracking companies are going bankrupt at a rapid pace, often with taxpayer-funded bonuses for executives, leaving harm for communities, taxpayers, and workers, the New York Time reports.

Read More Show Less
Trump introduces EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler during an event to announce changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Jan. 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. The changes would make it easier for federal agencies to approve infrastructure projects without considering climate change. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, voiced support for safe reopening measures. www.vperemen.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA

By Kristen Fischer

It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.

Read More Show Less