Judge Frederick H. Weisberg ruled last Thursday in the DC Superior Court to continue the lawsuit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Review for claiming that data supporting the environmental movement does not weather scrutiny. Michael Mann, climatologist and geophysicist at Pennsylvania State University as well as current director of the Earth System Science Center, sued CEI and the National Review in 2012 for defamation. The organizations alleged that Mann’s climate change theories were untrue, and further went on to attack his character, comparing him to a child molester.
A motion had been put forth to dismiss the suit, but the Thursday ruling to proceed made it clear that the environmental movement could weather scrutiny, even in court. Even though the First Amendment protects the right to free speech, Judge Weisberg said that the specific rhetoric used by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Review could indeed damage Mann’s reputation since it denounced his greatest scientific achievements as false.
In 1999, Mann was part of a team that produced an innovative graph depicting the change in average global temperature over the past 500 to 2000 years. The hockey stick graph, so dubbed because of its shape, shows a sharp spike in global temperatures in the past decade. The graph was constructed using statistical techniques that Mann, along with team members Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K. Hughes, invented and published in a paper the previous year.
Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Rand Simberg took issue with the data, saying it was manipulated in the service of the environmental movement, and National Review’s Mark Steyn re-posted and added to the comments in an editorial.
Mann has been targeted for falsely claiming to be a Nobel Prize recipient in his initial suit against Simberg and Steyn, but the criticism again focuses on attacking character instead of focusing on the validity of climate change data, which is the thrust of the suit.
Why attack data that is widely accepted amongst the scientific community? Mann claims that the attacks promote a specific agenda. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is an organization that declares support for free markets and limited government, with the idea that economic freedom is a cornerstone of prosperity.
Earlier this month, CEI released a paper detailing objections to the recently proposed Carbon Pollution Standard set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. CEI said that the focus on reduction of emissions by carbon power plants was misplaced and claimed that the methods would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions.
As for the National Review, National Review contributor Andrew Johnson recently reported on the European Union’s decision to move environmental regulation goals from 2020 to 2030 by calling the EU economically sluggish and putting the word ambitious in quotes to describe the organization’s environmental policies.
Regardless of whether or not Simberg and Steyn’s comments were motivated by agendas, Thursday’s court ruling was a victory for the environmental movement. If climate change data were invalid, then Mann would not be able to declare defamation and hold up in court. If the graphs and statistical models that he championed were in fact untrue, then it would not be damaging to his reputation to call their bluff, it would simply be stating the truth. The fact that Judge Weisberg decided that the defamation suit could continue, even in light of a challenge to the claim, shows that in a court of law, the environmental movement does in fact weather scrutiny.
By Julia Waterhous
Al Jazeera America
Competitive Enterprise Institute