Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Mainstream America is generally unaware that a potentially significant libel case is making its way through the courts. Mark Steyn has been involved for the past year and a half in litigation with Michael Mann, originator of the discredited "hockey stick" depiction of global warming. Some people familiar with the case, have labeled it, "The Trial Of The Century", perhaps facetiously, or perhaps not, considering the far-reaching negative implications a verdict in favor of Mann would have on free speech and open inquiry.
Mann is suing Steyn for making the comment, "Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent 'hockey stick' graph, the very ringmaster of the tree-ring circus," the offending terms apparently being "fraudulent" and "tree-ring circus". Mann is also suing National Review, the magazine in which Steyn's comment appeared and Rand Simberg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute who made the more inflammatory (though still Constitutionally protected) comment, “Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet." Mann is, and Sandusky was, employed by Penn State University.
Steyn contends, correctly, that the prevailing issue in the case should be free speech - whether the First Amendment means what it says and gives him the right to criticize Mann. As Objectivist commentator (i.e. - Ayn Randian) Robert Tracinski has pointed out in taunting fashion, seemingly daring Mann to sue him --
It is libel to maliciously fabricate facts about someone. (It is not libel to erroneously report a false fact, so long as you did so with good faith reason to believe that it was true, though you are required to issue a correction.) But you are free to give whatever evaluation of the facts you like, including a negative evaluation of another person's ideas, thinking method, and character. It is legal for me (Tracinski), for example, to say that Michael Mann is a liar, if I don't believe that his erroneous scientific conclusions are the product of honest error. It is also legal for me to say that he is a coward and a liar, for hiding behind libel laws in an attempt to suppress criticism.
Charles C.W. Cooke in a National Review analysis of the case writes,
As a seminal Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan, outlined in 1964, using the law of libel to drag journalists into court for expressing their sincere views on matters of major public importance is entirely inconsistent with our “national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open.” Inevitably, a culture that prizes free expression will find its discourse marked by “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks.” But, as Justice Brandeis wrote nearly 90 years ago in Whitney v. California, “the remedy to be applied” for speech that some may deem offensive “is more speech, not enforced silence.” This is no less true in the realm of scientific inquiry, in which no authority can claim a monopoly on the truth. The very purpose of the scientific enterprise is the pursuit of knowledge, and uninhibited debate is the means by which that knowledge is pursued.
The Constitutional right to criticize allows for making statements that are true - "Barack Obama is an indolent, mendacious, dull-witted, anti-American Marxist" - but it also extends to statements that are false as well - "George W. Bush is a war criminal," "Clarence Thomas is an Uncle Tom," as long as those statements don't contradict concrete, provable facts. Daily Beast blogger, Andrew Sullivan, carried on a multi year crusade claiming that it was Bristol Palin who was actually the mother of Sarah Palin's daughter Trig. He was free to pull this idea out of his lower intestine as long as he believed it to be true and as long as Palin didn't bother to prove it untrue. If she did, Sullivan's fantasy would qualify as true slander. But in Mann's case, as Cooke points out,
When the merits of a libel claim implicate contested questions of science and statistical methodology, judges and juries are so ill suited to pronounce a verdict that allowing the public authority to have the final say is inconsistent with the very concept of free inquiry.
In bringing his suit, Mann is claiming that Steyn is not entitled to express his beliefs regarding "contested questions of science and statistical methodology". Tracinski equates Mann's position with that of Bill Murray's in "Ghostbusters" - "Back off man. I'm a scientist".
It should be noted that Mann doesn't believe that immunity from criticism extends to scientists who hold positions antithetical to his. Dr. Judith Curry is chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Despite being impeccably credentialed, she was labeled with the hashtag #AntiScience (among other insults) by Mann because of her skepticism regarding man made global warming. Curry was urged to sue Mann for slander. She responded,
Many people have urged me to sue Mann; I can’t be bothered and I don’t have money to throw away on such stuff (The (sic) National Review has spent a half million already on this case?). Further, I would like to stand up for Michael Mann’s right to make insulting and defamatory tweets, statements in op-eds, etc. As an American, I am pretty attached to the right to free speech.
She added - -
On a complex political and scientific subject like climate change that is hotly debated, of course the rhetoric will get heated. But if climate scientists participate in insulting scientists and other public persons in the climate debate, then this drags climate science into the mud. If mud must be slung, leave the mud slinging to journalists and advocacy groups. Michael Mann is the chief climate science practitioner of insulting and making personal attacks on other scientists that disagree with him. As such he has polluted the atmosphere of climate science and brought notoriety and dishonor to climate science.
Commenting on Mann's inconsistency and hypocrisy, Cooke writes,
Linguistically, Mann exhibits an approach that is best described as “hyperbole for me but not for thee.” Apparently, the two terms that prompted his present litigiousness were “fraudulent” and “intellectually bogus” — a pair of judgments that his legal team contend to be beyond the pale of lawful discourse regarding his work on climate change. But Mann himself has used these terms liberally when it has suited him. In a Mother Jones interview from 2005, he assured his readers that, “as it plays out in the peer-reviewed literature, it will soon be evident that many of the claims made by the contrarians [i.e., skeptics of the global-warming hypothesis] were fraudulent.” Likewise, in his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Mann hoped that “those who have funded or otherwise participated in the fraudulent denial of climate change” will be held “accountable.” “Bogus” got a good airing, too. Journalists who do not meet Mann’s approval were charged collectively with being “willing to act as little more than stenographers for the constant stream of bogus allegations being fed them”; Glenn Beck was accused of forwarding “a litany of bogus allegations”; and it was suggested that Congress would not care were it to learn that its conclusions were “based on a bogus analysis.”
It's ironic that if by some perversion of justice Mann wins his case, the precedent he sets would open him up to lawsuits from critics that he has "defamed".
Steyn and his lawyers are not content to only defend his Constitutional right to criticize Mann. They're also fighting the lawsuit on another front as well, undertaking to show that the word "fraudulent" isn't merely a legitimate rhetorical device but that Mann is a fraud in a scientific sense as well.
Steyn has posted on his blogsite two graphs (see below). The first one, submitted by Mann, shows five sets of temperature data plotted against time. Note that one of these sets, the green line which depicts tree ring data, abruptly stops, "buried in a tangle of competing spaghetti" as Steyn puts it. What Mann did was "amputate" the data at the 1961 point. He did this so it wouldn't show that the line turned sharply downward after this point (2nd graph).
Climate scientist and Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) member Dr. John Christy explains the motivation behind Mann's alteration --
In our Sept. 1999 meeting (Arusha, Tanzania) we were shown a plot containing more temperature curves than just the Hockey Stick including one from K. Briffa that diverged significantly from the others, showing a sharp cooling trend after 1960. It raised the obvious problem that if tree rings were not detecting the modern warming trend, they might also have missed comparable warming episodes in the past. In other words, absence of the Medieval warming in the Hockey Stick graph might simply mean tree ring proxies are unreliable, not that the climate really was relatively cooler.
The tree ring data, which was the basis of Mann's hockey stick graph, was shown to be unreliable - it indicates a global temperature drop since 1961, which hasn't happened - so Mann simply deleted the portion that inconveniently undermined his theory. If what he did wasn't fraud, then there's no such thing. His deceit was blatant and crude and audacious. It's reasonable to conclude that Mann included extraneous plottings merely to obscure the fact that he chopped off the tree ring data. Remarkably, this travesty of a case hasn't yet been laughed out of court. Equally remarkable is that Mann remains employed as a scientist at Penn State University.
As a former research chemist, if it had been discovered that I had deliberately removed or otherwise altered data to achieve a desired outcome, I'd have been fired on the spot and my career as a scientist would have been over. There's apparently an infinitely greater tolerance for deception when the deceiver is a climate change alarmist.
Christy again --
Regarding the Hockey Stick of IPCC 2001 evidence now indicates, in my view, that an IPCC Lead Author [Michael Mann] working with a small cohort of scientists, misrepresented the temperature record of the past 1000 years by (a) promoting his own result as the best estimate, (b) neglecting studies that contradicted his, and (c) amputating another's result so as to eliminate conflicting data and limit any serious attempt to expose the real uncertainties of these data.
So why is Mann vs. Steyn still an active case? Steyn blames the mammoth U.S. legal industry. He quotes his former boss, Conrad Black.
The US has 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, and 50 percent of the world’s lawyers, who invoice almost 10 percent of US GDP (around $1.4 trillion annually).
Such a leviathan requires constant feeding.
Steyn is confident of prevailing if the case goes to trial, which he hopes it will. He has continued to defiantly derogate Mann, titling his latest blog entry, "Michael E Mann: Liar, Cheat, Falsifier and Fraud". This is probably not wise as a legal strategy but it does demonstrate Steyn's courage and conviction.
Dr. Mann will be on the witness stand under oath, and the lies that went unchallenged in the Big Climate echo chamber will not prove so easy to get away with. I didn't seek this battle with this disreputable man. But, when it's over, I hope that those who work in this field will once again be free to go where the science leads.