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Posted by on Sep 7, 2013 in Environment, Law, Media, Politics | 9 comments

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., 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 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.

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  • StockBoyLA
  • petew

    Jim Satterfield,

    It is not only libelous statements concerning truly knowledgeable scientists whose only wish is to communicate their finding about global warming in order to sound an alarm, but it is also about the absurd conspiracy theories which seem to have been crafted between doses of Thorazine, in a rubber room.

    The idea that for many decades scientists have been conspiring to create an environment in which somehow they can control the energy industry for personal gain, is so bizarre, that it plays on the paranoia and extreme distrust Americans have about Government in a way that encourages opportunists to become denial disciples who might otherwise have become educated about what is really happening with the planet. If this so-called, “conspiracy,” actually began in the 1960s, even though, presumably, many of those who began the environmental movement are already dead, and will not be able to share in its supposed illicit rewards, this incredible stretch from left field would also mean that the predictions of weather extremes we are seeing right now, although made several decades ago, are just happening to conform quite accurately with what is really happening to our climate now. Personally, if I wanted to profit from a scam, I would not want the entire outcome to depend on dumb luck—but I suppose global warming deniers will claim that our devilishly clever scientists have somehow deliberately taken such an outlandish chance and were just playing the odds like a roulette wheel in vegas (or whatever new lie happens to work).

    The irony of all this baloney is that, it is obviously carbon using and producing industries are have vested interests in denying climate change, not the other way around! Amazingly, this type of misinformation campaign has been playing out over the years and has seriously slowed down our ability to acquire accurate knowledge. Just as Republicans and special interests groups are really the ones who have created denial myths in order to keep the profits of our big coal and oil industry high, their attempt to reform voting laws by requiring photo IDs and a host of restrictive laws limiting voters, is actually the real voting fraud taking place today! The sad thing, is that, all of this denial about man’s role in global warming is coming just at the time we could really be doing something about the problem. And, if this fiendish plot by scientist, started decades ago, its accuracy would obviously depend heavily on dumb luck! If there were a real attempt to corner the energy market by transitioning to green energy, then companies like Exxonmobil and BP could and would, be among the first investors in that market also, and could quite easily control its profitability as well—considering all the billions in profits that they make quarterly.

    I wish a every one of the lies and innuendos made by climate change deniers Could be challenged to produce credible evidence in verification of their supposed truths, and, that all of the bogus scientists, who, like foxes left guarding the henhouse, are obviously working for big oil would be exposed as the corporate henchmen that they are! My late Mother-in-law used a phrase that describes the situation very well. She used to say, “its so stupid it stinks!”

    I hope most Americans are able to eventually realize the truth of her statement in regards to how they apply to climate change deniers and global warming deniers! It is not only us who will lose as a result of their ridiculous charges, but also our children and their children after!

  • ordinarysparrow

    Thanks Jim for writing about this, and keeping it above the line…

    Agree with petew…much of these global warming deniers are one trick ponies..GOTCHA is the game…

    Years ago when the global warming first started appearing in the news, there was a powerful group of oil companies that gave large grants to individual scientist that could create smoke and prove otherwise… I often wonder what the underbelly of the deniers…

    Petew i had a similar great grandmother…She was known for not speaking negatively of others, but when someone was truly wrongheaded or abusive she would say; “Scary”….

    I hear her voice as i read this one; “Scary”

  • sheknows

    Thanks Jim, good article. Thanks also Petew. Agreed 100% with your analysis.

  • peterwwood

    Please note that the article is mistaken. Professor Mann did not sue the Chronicle of Higher Education or me. The author appears to have mixed up the blogs. His error appears to have been uncritically repeated on many websites. I might say that the cavalier disregard for basic accuracy pretty much reflects the standards in the field of so-called “climate science.”

    Peter W. Wood

  • petew


    It’s nice to agree on this issue, because in many ways the climate crisis could prove more destructive then the many wars that have been fought in vain. The bottom line is, if we don’t care about the environment, most of our human passions and deceptions will not matter! What good will it do for anyone to prevail, if the world we know as our home, is transformed into an unlivable wasteland?


    My apologies for passing on incorrect information, Mr. Wood.

    While I appreciate the correction concerning who was in fact named in the lawsuit, which was in fact NRO and the CEI, you do yourself absolutely no favors in terms of how people who actually want to look at the science involved think of you when you make statements like your last sentence.

    For those who want to see more about the correct information, here is Mann’s own Facebook posting when he filed the lawsuit.

  • petew


    Whenever scientific studies are done, they entail working with a vast amount of data to assure certainty. Considering the many, many studies done around the world, that have been conducted over several decades, an occasional error is unavoidable. However in every case alleging that climate scientists have made deliberate attempts to skew their results by making deliberate errors, multiple investigations have found no evidence of deceptions on the part of the scientists who publishes the results of reputable studies. And the actual changes in the data are so tiny and insignificant, that, they did not even alter the conclusions reached in those studies.

    The whole “aha! gotcha!” strategy of global warming deniers depends on discovering and exploiting minor errors in data, or mistakes made by the press, to immediately descend on solid scientific research like a school of hungry Piranhas attacking the carcase of a cow. And in fact, deniers often tell outright lies to bolster their propaganda—therefore opening the door for making libelous statements. The fact that numerous studies have been done over many decades, only illustrates the enormous amount of data that has been collected, and since human errors concerning facts and their interpretations are unavoidable, some minor mistakes have been made by Climate Scientists. However as I said, multiple investigations into these cases, have not revealed ANY intentional fraud on the part of the scientist who have compiled ANY of the data in question. Real climate Scientists have been cleared in all these cases.

    To make a mountain out of the very small and unavoidable errors made by climate scientists, is like reading an encyclopedia and finding one word misspelled or one faulty punctuation mark. Mistakes are truly unavoidable and really are usually so minor that they don’t even change the results of most studies in any significant way. If you don’t believe that mistakes are unavoidably made when compiling massive amounts of data, or when relaying stories to the press, in which mistakes have been made by news outlets, then, I would suggest that you write a lengthy novel, without making any discernible errors in the rough draft of the text. Since climate scientists are dealing with far more data than can be contained in any one novel, or group of novels, their record on accuracy is much more unblemished than that of others.

    When it comes to omitting facts and relying on false information, it is deniers like you who are obviously the primary culprits. In comparison to genuine research you are heavyweight champions compared to boxers who have never even deliberately stepped in the ring.

    With all the lies, innuendo’s and distortions you have deliberately made about the findings of climate science, it would be extremely fitting to see more of you deniers and bogus scientists confronted with lawsuits. You don’t even know or care what damage you do to the chance of your kids, and theirs, to live in a world with a somewhat hospitable environment. Shame on you!

  • JSpencer

    I sincerely hope the lawsuit ends up being painful for the rightwing blogs being sued. Maybe they will continue being resistant to knowledge and facts but at least they will have learned something about the inherent dangers of making despicable, false, and utterly irresponsible statements – this is assuming such people are still capable of learning, which is in much doubt.

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