Landmark Verdict: Climate Scientist Michael Mann Prevails in Defamation Lawsuit Against Right-Wing Bloggers

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a major victory for Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist, a civil trial jury in Washington found that two right-wing bloggers defamed and injured him in a pair of blog posts published in 2012. The jury awarded Mann over $1 million in damages, marking a significant win for the outspoken researcher.

The two defendants, Rand Simberg and Mark Steyn, had claimed that Mann manipulated data in his research and compared him to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. However, the jury ruled in favor of Mann, affirming that he had been defamed by the bloggers’ false accusations.

The trial has been closely watched as it comes amid increasing attacks on scientists working on various issues, including climate change and vaccines. Critics have raised concerns that the case could have a chilling effect on free speech and open debate in the scientific community.

During the trial, Mann stated, “I hope this verdict sends a message that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech.” His victory comes after years of legal battles and being a target of right-wing critics over his famous “hockey stick” graph, which shows a spike in global temperatures over the past century.

Mann’s work, which utilized data from tree rings, ice cores, and coral reefs, has been instrumental in highlighting the impact of human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, on global temperature rise. Despite being a public figure, Mann had to meet a high bar to prove his defamation claim during the month-long trial.

The jury awarded Mann $1 million in punitive damages from Steyn and $1,000 from Simberg, meant to punish their wrongdoing. Additionally, Mann received $1 in compensatory damages from each writer for his actual losses.

It is worth noting that Simberg was found liable for comparing Mann to Sandusky, but was cleared on other statements criticizing Mann’s scientific work. However, Mann’s exoneration by multiple investigations into his work and his tremendous contribution to climate science have solidified his standing in the field.

Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, emphasized that climate scientists like Mann continue to face targeting by deniers, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus on the realities of climate change.

The trial went beyond the mere defamation case and delved into the veracity of Mann’s “hockey stick” graph and the broader field of climate science. The verdict serves as a reminder that while hyperbolic statements may have some leeway under the First Amendment, equating a scientist’s work to child molestation is both false and grotesque.

As the trial concluded, Steyn’s manager, Melissa Howes, indicated the possibility of an appeal against the $1 million punitive damages, asserting that Mann had not suffered any actual injury. Howes stated that the awarded sum should undergo due process scrutiny under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The trial is seen as significant not only for Mann but also for the broader scientific community, as it addresses the critical issue of defending scientists against baseless attacks and protecting the integrity of scientific research.