A prominent climate scientist, who has been accused by right-wing bloggers of academic fraud and compared to a child harasser, will receive compensation of more than US$1 million (about R$4.9 million). The decision ends a defamation case that ran in court for 12 years, closely followed by activists.
Michael Mann, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania (USA) who achieved a degree of fame in the late 1990s for his “hockey stick” graph showing a sharp increase in global temperatures, sued authors Rand Simberg and Mark Steyn, as well as do their respective publishers, the think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute and the conservative magazine National Review.
After the court rejected the allegations against the publishers, a jury in Washington found Simberg individually liable for $1,000 in damages and Steyn for $1 million.
Mann said in a statement that he hopes the ruling sends the message “that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech.”
Simberg said he was pleased that the jury ruled in his favor “on half of the statements at issue in this case, including the finding that my statement that Dr. Mann engaged in data manipulation was not defamation.”
Lawyers representing Steyn did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The attacks on Mann outlined in the lawsuit followed a 2009 hacking attack in which thousands of emails were stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and published online.
Some of the exchanges — including informal emails between Mann and his colleagues — were seized upon by climate deniers who claimed they proved that the data behind global warming predictions was random and even fabricated.
In July 2012, conservative blogger Simberg published a post called “The Other Scandal in Unfortunate Valley”, in which he said the emails meant that Mann “could be considered the Jerry Sandusky of climate science”, referring to the coach of football team at Pennsylvania State University—the same university where Mann worked—which had been found guilty of sexually harassing ten boys.
Mann “abused and tortured data for the sake of politicized science,” Simberg also wrote, although the posting was later removed by editors.
Two days later, Steyn, a right-wing radio and TV personality, quoted the phrase in an article published by National Review, adding that although he “wasn’t sure he would have extended the metaphor into locker room showers with the zeal that Mr. . Simberg did it… He has a point.”
When Mann threatened to sue National Review, the publication’s editor, Rich Lowry, wrote a public response in which he said he was eager to “teach him a thing or two about the law.”