A lightning rod for criticism of climate-change science, Penn State University climatologist Michael E. Mann has struck back with a defamation lawsuit now working its way through Washington, D.C., court against two conservative online publications that said his work is "fraudulent" and "a hoax," with one describing him as "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science."
A Washington, D.C., Superior Court held the case for trial in July, with blunt statements about the content of the two published blog entries in National Review Online and Competitive Enterprise Institute's OpenMarket.org. On Friday, presiding Judge Frederick Weisberg put the case on hold to consider the impact should the case proceed before a decision on the National Review's appeal.
Filed Oct. 22, 2012, Mr. Mann's suit alleges libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress, due to blog posts written by Rand Simberg on CEI's OpenMarket.org blog and Mark Steyn, whose blog is published on National Review Online. Both authors, CEI and National Review Inc., are defendants in the case.
In the blogs, Mr. Mann is accused of "data manipulation" and "scientific misconduct" while being described as "the poster-boy of the corrupt and disgraced climate science echo chamber."
Mr. Simberg wrote in his statement -- since removed from his blog -- that "Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet."
At issue is Mr. Mann's now-famous "hockey-stick graph" showing centuries of gradually cooling weather that serve as the shaft, with sharply rising temperatures in the 20th century serving as the hockey-stick blade.
Despite general acceptance of the findings by climate scientists, with a number of confirming studies, the graph continues to draw criticism from those who either deny climate change is occurring or that humans caused it by polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases.
The National Review claims the published works are protected by the First Amendment. In her order, Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene said Mr. Mann is a public figure who must show that the defendants not only had a disregard for the truth but also acted with malice. But her bluntly worded decision also found "sufficient evidence to demonstrate some malice or the knowledge that the statements were false."
"[The] plaintiff has been investigated several times, and his work has been found to be accurate," the judge wrote, adding that the National Review defendants have criticized Mr. Mann "harshly for years," and that "some might say, the name calling, accusations and jeering have amounted to a witch hunt." She said there are "numerous findings that [Mr. Mann's] work is sound."
The Penn State professor, who holds a doctoral degree in geology and geophysics from Yale University, was one of the first scientists to document global rises in temperature. He was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including former Vice President Al Gore, which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for developing and disseminating evidence of climate change. But criticism intensified when his and other climate scientists' emails containing controversial language were hacked and publicized, prompting investigations by Penn State, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation, among other organizations, all of which "found the allegations of academic fraud to be baseless," the lawsuit states.
"Recognizing that they cannot contest the science behind Dr. Mann's work, the defendants, contrary to known and clear fact, and intending to impose vicious injury, have nevertheless maliciously accused him of academic fraud, the most fundamental defamation that can be levied against a scientist and a professor," Mr. Mann's lawsuit states. "Unsatisfied with their lacerations of his professional reputation, defendants have also maliciously attacked Dr. Mann's personal reputation with the knowingly false comparison to a child molester."
Eight days after Mr. Steyn posted his blog, Mr. Mann demanded a retraction and apology. The National Review published Editor Rich Lowry's online response that explained the term "fraudulent" to mean "intellectually bogus and wrong," but without the connotation of criminal fraud.
In a letter to Mr. Mann's attorney John B. Williams, CEI attorney Bruce D. Brown said because the published statements "are fully protected under the First Amendment," CEI "will not remove or retract the post." He offered Mr. Mann an opportunity to respond to Mr. Simberg and discuss the topic more generally on another CEI website, www.globalwarming.org.
"As to the statements regarding Mr. Sandusky, no reasonable individual reading the blog post would have concluded, as a factual matter, that Dr. Mann committed any of the deplorable acts for which Mr. Sandusky was convicted -- or anything remotely similar," Mr. Brown stated.
David Templeton: email@example.com or 412-263-1578.