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The Courts The Media

Michael Mann Defamation Suit Against National Review Writer to Proceed 393

From Ars Technica comes this update in the defamation case filed by climate researcher Michael Mann against political commentator Mark Steyn of National Review magazine, who rhetorically compared Mann to Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky and accused him of publishing intentionally misleading research results. "The defendants tried to get it dismissed under the District of Columbia's Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) statute, which attempts to keep people from being silenced by frivolous lawsuits. The judge hearing the case denied the attempt and then promptly retired; Mann next amended his complaint, leading an appeals court to send the whole thing back to a new trial judge. Now the new judge has denied the SLAPP attempt yet again. In a decision released late last week (and hosted by defendant Mark Steyn), the judge recognizes that the comparison to a child molester is part of the "opinions and rhetorical hyperbole" that are protected speech when used against public figures like Mann. However, the accompanying accusations of fraud are not exempt:"
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Michael Mann Defamation Suit Against National Review Writer to Proceed

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  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @07:00PM (#46075907) Homepage Journal

    So "You're like a child molestor" is ok, but "You are a fraud" is not?

    Weasel words and politicing, and slander in both cases in my books.

    The legal system is seriously fucked up if it considers such minor differences to be grounds for letting someone off on making baseless accusations, "freedom of the press" or no. If you can't prove what you're making accusations about, one should be required to legally STFU and have some damned integrity in their writing, not be free to spew whatever bile and vitriol they like and whine "it's just an allegory."

    Here's an allegory for the guy who wrote the insults and slams: "You're very much like the slime from between the toes of the Himalayan Sloth."

  • by ZipK ( 1051658 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @07:23PM (#46076051)

    Sure would hate to see "Global Warming" get slapped down by the courts now wouldn't we?

    I think we'd all breathe a sigh of relief if the courts could rationally and scientifically strike down the phenomenon of global warming, or its source in man-made activities.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @07:36PM (#46076143) Journal

    Wait, are you telling me that people who believe in global warming aren't just trying to profit from global disaster?

    You mean we're not all going to get a big check thanks to global warming? I'm shocked. I keep hearing how climate scientists are doing their research because of the billions of dollars that can be made from bad news. All those filthy rich earth scientists and their profiteering.

    Let's not forget, one of Mark Steyn's best friends is the great humanitarian Conrad Black, who was sent to prison because he was so altruistic and decent. Steyn still uses about every fifth column he writes to advocate for the full pardon of Conrad Black (and probably a Nobel Prize for him, too).

  • Re:Steyn is Slime (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Austrian Anarchy ( 3010653 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @07:40PM (#46076175) Homepage Journal

    Mann isn't a fraud, his observation an have been confirmed and refined, and you and Steyn are cowards incapable of facing the universe as it is. The only difference is at least Steyn is man enough to put his name to his libel.

    How is Steyn a "coward" when he is standing up in court, rather than fleeing?

  • Re:Steyn is Slime (Score:4, Insightful)

    by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @08:07PM (#46076365)

    By the standards of science, peer-review and SEVEN INVESTIGATIONS.

  • Re:good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @08:12PM (#46076387)
    Mann's research has been found to be scientifically accurate by an investigative team appointed by the same University President who could not be bothered to investigate allegations of child molestation against Sandusky, a University President who had a vested interest in Mann's research being found to be scientifically accurate to the tune of several million dollars in research grants.
  • by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @09:01PM (#46076719) Journal

    Trying to prove a model wrong is the usual way of science... So whether you think this is "settled science" or not, you should welcome this open disclosure and wonder why it takes a court proceeding to achieve it.

    It's one thing to challenge "settled" science for the sake of creating new science. It's yet another to challenge it for political or ideological reasons. Steyn and his ilk indisputably fall into the latter category.

    As for the notion of "settled science", which presumably means you should stop questioning something - this is a very disturbing concept which in my opinion has no place at all on slashdot, of all one forums. slashdot is one place where people discuss new ways of looking at old ideas - experiments test Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, studies about whether cutting salt from your diet reduces hypertension, the value of dietary suppliements, and other bits of uncommon knowledge. Almost every interesting post here challenges some "settled" idea.

    All science can be questioned. That's the point! But to question something, you must present contrary evidence. AGW deniers haven't. Instead, they rely on conspiracy theories and ad hominem attacks.

  • Re:Steyn is Slime (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @09:11PM (#46076783) Journal

    How is Steyn a "coward" when he is standing up in court, rather than fleeing?

    The cowardness being discussed is Steyn's inability to "face the universe as it is," i.e. accept that climate change is man made.
    One could argue that the denial of man made climate change is an extensive attempt to flee from the facts and their consequences.

  • Re:good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @09:32PM (#46076921) Journal

    How scientific of them. We have a "moral" obligation? Yes, very scientific.

    Scientist are also human beings with feelings and compassion for their fellow inhabitants of Earth. What's so surprising about them speaking in terms of a "moral" obligation? It may not be their ultimate decision on what constitutes the best moral decision, but they're allowed to have an opinion like anyone else.

    Even if the planet is warming entirely because of man, there is no definitive proof that it will reach worst case.

    Suppose we wait until the proof is, in your eyes, definitive. Methinks it will be too late to do anything.

    How do we know it will reach a cataclysmic event(s) if we don't' stop right this very second? I've been hearing that "if we don't fix things right now, we are all doomed" (from one thing or another) for almost my entire life. If that's the case, we're already too late. So if we can't leave our children a non-degraded planet, we must give them a pile of cash? Or who is supposed to get this money?

    Overly simplistic. [] It's not about non-degraded planet vs. cash. It's about changing the path we're on.

  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @09:48PM (#46077007)

    It's hard to present contrary evidence if you can't get at and question the models or data. Ideology is irrelevant if the emerging critique is scientifically valid.

  • Re:Steyn is Slime (Score:4, Insightful)

    by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @09:54PM (#46077047)

    Even so, climate research gets a lot of scrutiny and the work of Mann, Hansen, and the other big names gets seen by a lot of eyeballs, most of them looking for flaws.

    There's a lot at stake and anyone who can topple the pillars on which AGW stand is going to be very, very rich & famous.

  • Re:Steyn is Slime (Score:5, Insightful)

    by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @10:20PM (#46077159)

    I'm sure there are "fair-minded thinkers" who don't believe in AGW - but Mark Steyn is NOT one of them.
    I don't really give a damn whether he believes in global warming or not but he smeared a scientist purely out of political spite.

    A "fair-minded thinker" would have stuck to a scientific critique. Steyn is a polemicist by nature, has been sued before and should be aware that he was straying into deep waters.
    It's not a foregone conclusion that Steyn will lose, far from it, but it's telling that the National Review refuses to support him.

  • Re: good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by femtobyte ( 710429 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @11:14PM (#46077427)

    You can verify climate science claims to the same high-school/college level that you verified all other branches of physics. You can demonstrate, e.g., the greenhouse effect, and the spectral transmission characteristics of carbon dioxide, with simple equipment. You can check that burning carbohydrates releases H20 and C02. You can build simple toy-model radiative transfer models that show trapping more heat in a system (via greenhouse gas) increases the temperature. I doubt you did significantly more "conclusive" tests of gravity, particle physics, or quantum mechanics in high school or college --- you were just willing to trust that extending the same procedure that predicted the simple toy model results also works in the "damn, that's too hard to do in my garage" systems.

    You probably haven't personally worked on squeezed light states or quantum entanglement or production of exotic particles in TeV-scale supercollider experiments; do you assume the scientists doing these are frauds pulling the wool over your eyes? Yes, the finest details of global climate modeling are too messy for high school students to pin down; but the science does make sense on the crude level accessible to college-level experiment. Data sets and models are available and shared between qualified researchers --- but, just like raw data from the LHC, they're not always easy for an "outsider" without extensive subject-specific training to evaluate. So, why do you assume that somewhere along the way (at the levels too complex for an Excel spreadsheet) the system suddenly turns fraudulent? Just because paid industry shills have told you so?

  • Re:Steyn is Slime (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Layzej ( 1976930 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @11:33PM (#46077499)

    Nope. This isn't about whether there are better methods. Dozens of other papers get the same hockey stick with different methods and different proxies. They would all argue that their methods are better. That is science, not law. At issue here are the allegations of fraud. Here is what the most recent judge has said:

    A reasonable reader, both within and outside the scientific community, would understand that a scientist who molests or tortures his data is acting far outside the bounds of any acceptable scientific method. In context, it would not be unreasonable for a reader to interpret the comment, and the republication in National Review, as an allegation that Dr. Mann had committed scientific fraud, which Penn State University then covered up, just as some had accused the University of covering up the Sandusky scandal. For many of the reasons discussed in Judge Combs Greene’s July 19 orders, to state as a fact that a scientist dishonestly molests or tortures data to serve a political agenda would have a strong likelihood of damaging his reputation within his profession, which is the very essence of defamation.

  • Re: good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by femtobyte ( 710429 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @12:31AM (#46077771)

    No, but there are plenty of instances of entire fields getting it wrong for decades at a time.

    Can you cite examples of fields getting it wrong on large scale details accessible to contemporary levels of experimental evidence? The "big revolutions" in science have always been about the tiny details. Einstein didn't radically overthrow Newton; his theory indicated only microscopically tiny deviations from classical physics that could barely be measured by the most sensitive apparatus (and they were, and the rest is history). Quantum mechanics didn't destroy classical physics; it only showed strange things happening at the most sensitive boundaries of technology. Fundamental shifts in understanding --- things that shift the foundational basis for entire fields --- occur at the extreme margins of experimental evidence; it's never "the old guys are 90% wrong," but rather "the old guys are 99.9% right, but we've just found that 0.1% discrepancy."

    Scientists in any field don't get famous by showing that the "scientific consensus" is erroneous, they get their grants turned down and their papers rejected.

    Really? You just stated that drastic changes in scientific understanding have occurred before. Who built renown and careers off those? The guys who stuck with the old, discredited theories? Being the revolutionary discoverer of new physics overthrowing old theory has always been the way to get maximal renown --- you just need to be able to back up your stuff with solid evidence. Anthropogenic climate change deniers aren't discredited because they oppose consensus views; they're marginalized because they have zero solid evidence and rely on sloppy, unscientific, long-ago-disproven rhetoric instead of intellectual rigor.

    The chance of field-wide error persisting for decades and remaining unchallenged, however, is very high, in particular given that "there aren't many climate scientists" and the statistics, computations, and models are highly complex and interdisciplinary.

    That's why climate scientists report very broad confidence intervals. They can't tell you the weather five years from now in Minneapolis, or even precisely where between 1.1 degrees and 6.4 degrees average warming will be over the next century (depending hugely also on emissions levels). IPCC warming estimates fall in a large uncertainty band, estimated by best practices to cover the complexity in fine details of figuring out exactly how a strongly-coupled complex system is going to evolve. On the other hand, climate change denialism --- that there is no effect within the broad range of uncertainty cited by climate experts --- is based on nothing but anti-scientific corporate shill craziness. There is zero scientific evidence that a guess at where the climate is heading falls in the "no change produced by anthropogenic emissions" regime, though there is room for uncertainty in the band between moderate and extreme climate impacts.

    To the extent that there is field wide error, such errors (based on historical precedent) are likely to be in the small details rather than the "big picture." Also, such errors are, a-priori, no less likely to over-predict anthropogenic impacts than to under-predict them, so the hard-line "there's nothing to worry about" stance is simply politically-motivated intentional ignorance (the antithesis of a scientific "skeptical" approach).

  • Re:good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @01:04AM (#46077955) Journal

    Suppose we wait until the proof is, in your eyes, definitive. Methinks it will be too late to do anything.

    Wait, are we talking science or religion? This is the traditional scare tactic proof of necessity to repent.... just in case. What it conveniently sidesteps is that the corrective behavior carries a huge cost with it. Not only is it not free, it requires an almost dystopian change to society. Better be sure before taking a step like that.

  • Re:good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KeensMustard ( 655606 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @01:13AM (#46077993)
    I wonder where the good Dr got his data from? Oh there it is! Turns out that he selectively chose 2 datasets for mid tropospheric temperatures in the tropics and then compared the data from those to GCM predictions for the whole surface (including polar regions) and for across the entire column.


    He admits in the comments below after this is exposed that in fact the polar regions are expected to warm faster than the tropics (hard not to, since we've observed it) and thus, temperature rises in the polar regions will be higher then the projections of the models, but handwaves this away. No, Roy, this is what maths is for. Don't handwave.

  • Re: good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by femtobyte ( 710429 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @01:35AM (#46078089)

    No, I didn't agree with you: people don't wire grant proposals to confirm consensus, they write grant proposals to challenge or disprove it. If you assume consensus is unchallengeable and true, then you have nothing to write a grant proposal on. Only if you find something new --- that previous researchers overlooked, or got wrong, or didn't have the tools to measure --- are you going to get research funding. "Confirm" and "test or challenge" are not the same things. You're saying that people can only get funding to do experiments that look for and find the same answers everyone got before ("the consensus"), which is simply false. People get funding to do things that might produce new results that change previous understanding ("test or challenge").

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger