US climate scientist Michael Mann has prevailed in a lawsuit that accused two conservative commentators of defamation for challenging his research and comparing him to a convicted child molester. A jury awarded Mann, who is based at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, more than US$1 million in a landmark case that legal observers see as a warning to those who attack scientists working in controversial fields, including climate science and public health.
“It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize scientific findings, but this verdict is a strong signal that individual scientists shouldn’t be accused of serious misconduct without strong evidence,” says Michael Gerrard, a legal scholar at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in New York City.
The case stems from a 2012 blog post published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian think-tank in Washington DC. In it, policy analyst Rand Simberg compared Mann, then at Pennsylvania State University in State College, to Jerry Sandusky, a former football coach at the same university who was convicted of sexually assaulting children, saying 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”. Author Mark Steyn subsequently reproduced Simberg’s comparison as he accused Mann of fraud in a blog published by the conservative magazine National Review. In the same year, Mann sued both Simberg and Steyn, as well as the CEI and the National Review, for libel, without asking for damages. The case has been winding its way through the courts ever since.
Mann tells Nature that he hopes the win “signals the beginning of the end of the open season on scientists by ideologically-motivated bad actors. And maybe, just maybe, that facts and reason still matter even in today’s fraught political economy”. [Continue reading…]