In a long-running defamation case involving climate scientist Michael Mann, a jury is set to decide whether comments from two conservative writers that compared Mann to a convicted child molester were defamatory. The comments came from a blog post by Rand Simberg, a writer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who compared investigations into Mann’s work to the case of Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach convicted of sexually assaulting multiple children. The trial comes amid a contentious debate over climate change, with Mann seeking to prove that the writers acted with actual malice in making false and defamatory statements about him.
Mann’s influential “hockey stick” graph, which illustrates a rapid rise in global temperatures, first attracted attention in the late 1990s. The graph brought Mann wide exposure and drew attacks from skeptics, who claimed that he manipulated data. The case, which has seen multiple legal battles, will come down to whether the writers are found to have made false and defamatory statements with actual malice, a higher threshold for public figure defamation cases. The trial also raises questions about the limits of free speech when it comes to contentious issues like climate change, with experts noting that defamation cases involving public figures often favor free speech rights.
The trial is being closely watched by climate scientists and free speech advocates, with many hoping for a favorable verdict for Mann. However, some experts are skeptical that the case will have broader significance in curbing climate skepticism. The trial comes at a time when misinformation about climate change has proliferated, and numerous scientists, including Mann, have themselves been subjected to attacks. As the trial continues, it remains to be seen how the jury’s decision will impact the ongoing debate over climate change and the ability to freely discuss contentious issues.