Michael Mann Wins A Round In Court, Other Challenges Pending

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Michael Mann is the man fossil fuel advocates love to hate. Together with fellow climate scientists Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes, he created the famous “hockey stick” graph in 1999 that predicted a sharp increase in global temperatures as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere increased. That graph became a focal point of Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth.

For his efforts to alert us all to the danger of continuing to spew unlimited quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Mann has been hounded by operatives acting on behalf of the oil and gas industries. He has been followed and kept under surveillance in hopes that he would commit some personal peccadillo that could be used to undermine his credibility.

He has been attacked repeatedly in the press and in blog posts as a know-nothing provocateur bent on destroying the fossil fuel industry for personal gain. “I have been vilified on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and other conservative media outlets, and subject to inquisitions by fossil fuel industry-funded senators, congressmen, and attorneys general,” Mann wrote in Scientific American.

“Yet, in the 20 years since the original hockey stick publication, independent studies, again and again, have overwhelmingly reaffirmed our findings, including the key conclusion: recent warming is unprecedented over at least the past millennium,” he said.

Mann Sues Over 2011 Blog Post

In 2011, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy headquartered in Winnipeg published a statement on its website that accused Mann of fraud. He demanded a retraction and an apology but was rebuffed, so he sued. On June 14, the Frontier Centre apologized to Mann and removed the offending post from its site, according to a report by the National Observer.

“Although the Frontier Centre for Public Policy still does not see eye to eye with Mr. Mann on the subject of global warming and climate change, we now accept that it was wrong to publish allegations by others that Mr. Mann did not comply with ethical standards…” the think tank told the National Observer.

“(The apology) gives me faith in our legal system that truth can still win out, even in an era of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts,'” Mann said in an email to the National Observer. He pointed out that the case was about untrue allegations of misconduct, not the group’s stance on climate change. “Making false and malicious allegations about a scientist is illegal,” Mann said. “The law is the appropriate recourse, and often an effective one, as this latest episode demonstrates.”

A Vicious Attack In The National Review

Mann is still embroiled in a legal tussle in the United States. In 2012, the National Review published a story by Mark Steyn who called Mann “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science.” Mann sued for defamation. In his complaint, he states that Steyn went on to say, “He has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and the planet. Michael Mann was behind the fraudulent climate change hockey stick graph, the very ringmaster of the three-ring circus.”

How embarrassing for Steyn that a chart created by Exxon’s own scientists in 1982 mirrors Mann’s hockey stick graph almost exactly! Mann won at the trial court level but the case is now on appeal to a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit Court of appeals and the defendants are asking for a hearing by all the judges of that court. They have been joined by a coterie of interested parties including the Washington Post, NBC Universal, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia, all of whom warn that a decision favorable to Mann could put a crimp in a free press.

Mann has become a public person, in legal parlance, and public figures are often fair game even if what is said is inflammatory or in poor taste — such as comparing Mann to a convicted child molester, for instance. If the court ruling in favor of Mann is upheld, the defendants and the other interested parties argue, news organizations will be constrained in their criticisms of public figures, or so the argument goes.

That suit will probably drag on for another couple of years and could wind up before the US Supreme Court ultimately. Michael Mann is to be congratulated for fighting the good fight but when court cases take years if not decades to get resolved, the legal system is not working. “Justice delayed is justice denied” is an axiom know to any first year law student.

Balancing Competing Interests

The various provisions of the Bill of Rights are not independent of each other. You may have the right to carry a firearm but you do not have the right to shoot another motorist who cuts you off on the highway and claim your action is protected speech. Courts are in the business of determining the limits of all the various rights specified in the first ten amendments of the Constitution and those limits have changed over time.

But suggesting that someone is similar to a child rapist because he created a graph you find objectionable seems an abuse of the right of free speech. The most unfortunate part of this litigation is that Mann is a public figure only because his detractors made him into one with their vitriol and unending harassment. He has now had his rights as a private citizen diminished because of the actions of others and it seems the law should offer some redress for that.

Some say the definition of chutzpah is the child who murders his parents and then begs for mercy because he is an orphan. These climate denier groups forced Mann into the public eye and now want to be able to attack him with scurrilous accusations without any legal restraint. That seems to be twisting “freedom of speech” into a pretzel, doesn’t it?

The Clean Hands Doctrine

In Merrie Olde England, the common law developed the idea that one who petitions a court for redress must have clean hands, that is, be free of any wrongdoing in the events leading up to the filing of a complaint. The ACLU and the journalistic entities have a right to vigorously protect the rights of a free press and free speech, especially at a time when both are under attack by the alleged president. But their concerns should not shield wrongdoers from being held to account for their defamatory statements.

Let’s hope that Michael Mann is getting some assistance with costs of litigation. Legal fees at this level can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Kudos to Mann for taking his fight directly to those who seek to destroy his credibility for their own selfish interests.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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