Yes, there is still such a thing as libel.
There is a lot of vitriol spewed in the debate over global warming/climate change. One of the biggest targets of that vitriol is Michael Mann, co-author of what is generally called the MBH paper, which produced the famous “hockey stick” graph. Mann sued the online versions of The Chronicle of Higher Education and the National Review for libel and defamation. Openmarket.org, the blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, started the ball rolling with a post that was quoted approvingly by the National Review, including this gem.
In the post quoted on National Review, writer Rand Simberg calls Mann, “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.”
Not satisfied with quoting that jab at Mann, Steyn added his own accusation, stating that:
Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent climate-change “hockey-stick” graph, the very ringmaster of the tree-ring circus.
The offending sections have since been removed from the OpenMarket.org web site, presumably to avoid the fate of NR and the Chronicle, but the originals are still at the other publications. Peter Wood at the Chronicle used the accusations that had been made against Mann to also parallel the Sandusky scandal when it comes to a culture of corruption at Penn State. Both publications have strived mightily to kill Mann’s case against them, citing the First Amendment, claiming that it was just their opinion and not a claim of fact as defenses but last week a court decision validated the lawsuit, allowing it to continue since in the judge’s opinion the case is likely to succeed on the merits.
See, if you claim that a scientist whose livelihood depends on the perception that his research is honest in fact is falsifying data or in some other way misrepresenting facts or the results of his research based on those facts, either explicitly or implicitly, you have damaged that person. If you continue to make these claims even after multiple investigations have shown the claims of fraud to be false your case that it’s just an honest disagreement or a matter of opinion tends to fall apart. There have been multiple reviews of Mann’s work and investigations into the so-called “Climategate” scandal and every one of them found that there was in fact no fraud, no intent to deceive or any of the other accusations repeated constantly against Mann and his associates. Yet the drumbeat of accusations and false claims has gone on. If in the end the courts rule against these publications maybe a lesson will be learned. But I tend to doubt it.
CORRECTION: Peter Wood has pointed out, correctly, in the comments that it is actually the Competitive Enterprise Institute, not the Chronicle of Higher Education, that is the other party besides NRO being sued by Michael Mann. My apologies to Mr. Wood and the Chronicle.
Cross posted at The DemiGeek.