Climate Scientist Awarded $1 Million in Defamation Case Against Conservative Writers

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a 12-year legal battle, climate scientist Michael Mann has been awarded $1 million by a jury in a defamation lawsuit against two conservative writers. Mann, a professor of climate science at the University of Pennsylvania, sued the writers for comparing his depiction of global warming to that of a convicted child molester. The case has brought attention to the challenges faced by climate scientists in a polarized and divided society.

Mann gained recognition for his 1998 publication in the journal Nature, which featured a groundbreaking graph known as the “hockey stick” due to its depiction of a rapidly warming planet. However, the work also made Mann the target of skepticism and criticism from climate change skeptics.

The lawsuit was brought against Rand Simberg, a fellow at a libertarian think tank, and Mark Steyn, a writer for the National Review. Simberg had written a blog post comparing investigations into Mann’s work to the case of Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State University assistant football coach convicted of child molestation. Steyn referenced Simberg’s article in his own piece, referring to Mann’s research as “fraudulent.”

The jury in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia found that Simberg and Steyn had made false statements and awarded Mann compensatory damages of $1 from each writer. In addition, punitive damages of $1,000 from Simberg and $1 million from Steyn were awarded, with the jury concluding that the pair had made their statements with “maliciousness, spite, ill will, vengeance or deliberate intent to harm.”

Steyn, who represented himself during the trial, plans to appeal the $1 million punitive damages award. He argues that the verdict should undergo “due process scrutiny.” Both defendants claimed that their statements were merely expressing their opinions.

The jury’s decision is seen as significant in holding individuals accountable for making false statements about scientists and their work. Lyrissa Lidsky, a constitutional law professor at the University of Florida, noted that the jury found that Steyn and Simberg had “recklessly disregarded the falsity of their statements.” However, she suggests that the judge may consider reducing the punitive damages.

The case has broader implications for the public discourse on climate change. Misinformation has proliferated on social media platforms, making it difficult for scientists to effectively communicate their findings. Kate Cell, senior climate campaign manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed hope that the verdict would discourage the defamation of scientists and contribute to a more civil conversation about facts.

Climate change remains a polarizing topic in the United States, with significant partisan differences in belief. According to a 2023 poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 91% of Democrats believe in climate change compared to only 52% of Republicans. The verdict in Mann’s case highlights the challenges faced by scientists working in such a politically charged environment.

In a twist of events, Mann announced that he plans to appeal a 2021 decision that held the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute not liable for defamation in the same incident. Mann believes the decision was “wrongly decided” and aims to hold the organizations accountable.

The outcome of Mann’s lawsuit serves as a landmark moment for climate scientists combatting false claims and defamation. As debates surrounding climate change continue, it is crucial to ensure that evidence-based facts and respectful dialogue remain at the forefront.