D.C. jury: Climate skeptics including Mark Steyn defamed climate scientist they criticized

by WorldTribune Staff, February 12, 2024

A Washington, D.C. jury has come to the conclusion, 12 years later, that climate scientist Michael Mann was the victim of defamation by climate change skeptics.

Mann first filed the defamation suit in October 2012 against Rand Simberg, who compared Mann to convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky for Mann’s alleged data manipulation in his signature 1998 “hockey stick” climate model in a blog post for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI); and Mark Steyn, a political pundit who referenced Simberg’s blog post in his own writing about the “hockey stick” model for National Review.

Michael Mann

Steyn will reportedly have to pay $1 million in damages, while Simberg will have to pay $1,000, according to The New York Times.

National Review and CEI were also defendants in the lawsuit initially, but a 2021 court order resulted in those organizations being dropped from Mann’s suit.

The case was followed closely by other climate scientists. Kate Cell, a senior climate campaign manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Associated Press that many of these scientists were hoping for a favorable outcome for Mann in order to “reduce the comfort and regularity with which those who do not accept climate change science speak, and speak very nastily, about climate scientists.”

The “hockey stick” model combined a number of different climate proxies into a single model, purportedly showing that global temperatures have risen sharply in the past several decades compared to the preceding centuries.

Critics of Mann’s model, including Steyn and Simberg, generally asserted that it should not be considered an authoritative assessment of climate trends because of its perceived flaws.

“Mann, for his part, has effectively used his experiences defending his work to label himself as a martyr resisting supposedly malicious attacks launched by climate skeptics,” Nick Pope wrote for The Daily Caller on Feb. 8.

During the trial in D.C., Abraham Wyner, a tenured statistics professor and the chair of the undergraduate statistics program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, testified that Mann engaged in “improper manipulation” of data that made his signature model “misleading,” according to National Review.

Mann also launched personal attacks on his critics. Judith Curry, a climatologist who has been critical of Mann in the past, said that Mann falsely suggested she had essentially traded sex for career advancement.

Before National Review was dropped from the suit, Mann wrote in emails that the outlet is a “filthy organization” that is a “threat to our children,” according to National Review. Additionally, Mann wrote in 2012 communications that he considers Steyn to be a “pathetic excuse for a human being” whom he hoped the defamation suit would “ruin.”

The case was about “the ability of myself and others to speak freely about the most important issues of our day, whether climate change or another issue,” Simberg told The Associated Press before the verdict came down. “If others are faced with over a decade of litigation for giving their opinions, we will all suffer.”

The National Review’s editorial board said the verdict is an “assault on the First Amendment”:

And, at this rate, who isn’t? Why, over the years, have so many American news outlets filed amicus briefs on behalf of National Review and the other defendants in Mann’s suit? Because they understood all too well that, ultimately, this lawsuit is not about Mark Steyn or about conservative magazines or about climate change, but about the integrity of free speech in these United States. The Supreme Court has held in no uncertain terms that “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks.” To this, Michael Mann has said, “Pish!” It is true that Mann is acting in a particularly sulky, vindictive, and illiberal way. But, in a country of 330 million, there will be others who want to do the same. Yesterday, he showed those people the way.

That way has no place in a free country. In theory, what Mann has achieved should be impossible. Between the First Amendment, an array of anti-SLAPP statutes, and a defamation standard that demands proof of “actual malice,” the shields available for the defense of free expression are many. Alas, they can also prove paper-thin. The stated aim of American law in this area is to avoid “self-censorship.” But who would not self-censor if this is to be the result of speaking out? Even if Steyn and Simberg had won, the process would have represented punishment enough. This case has been running for twelve years. It has obliged its victims to shell out millions of dollars in legal fees and thousands of hours in attention. It has caused stress, uncertainty, and fear. These are not the preconditions of robust debate; they are the causes of journalistic anemia.

Mann’s case should not only have been rejected by the jury; it should never have gone to trial in the first instance. At a hundred different junctures, it ought to have been dismissed with prejudice — both legally and metaphorically — by judges who ought to have known better. Time and time again, the nation’s courts had a chance to stand up for robust debate, and time and time again they failed to take it. Their inadequacy will be felt for years to come.

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