Whether or not Mann’s work shows all that he has claimed is not the question, for the First Amendment protects robust discussion and debate of scientific matters and the freedom to express wrong-headed opinions in inartful ways. The Defendants believe the ClimateGate e-mails showed that Mann and others are willing to misrepresent scientific claims and distort evidence. Whether or not this is the best interpretation of the various e-mails, they are hardly the only people to hold this belief. At the very least, the ClimateGate e-mails revealed unethical and potentially illegal conduct, so it’s not per se unreasonable for some to think the e-mails could signify something more, and not defamatory to say so. The Defendants further believe that the various investigations into Mann’s work, including the Penn State investigation, were not particularly thorough. Again, they are not alone in this opinion. Even the National Science Foundation found Penn State’s review of Mann’s work to be lacking. The NSF review found no “direct evidence of research misconduct,” but it did conclude there were “several concerns raised about the quality of the statistical analysis techniques that were used.” That the defendants expressed these views in an particularly outrageous and inappropriate manner hardly seems the sort of thing of which a defamation claim should be made, particularly when involving a public figure. Again, at issue is not whether Mann’s research is sound — or even whether anthropogenic climate change is real (and long-time readers know that I believe it is). The issue is whether this sort of commentary actually rises to defamation. Those who are rooting for Mann — but love to call climate skeptics “shills,” “liars,” and (yes) “frauds” — should be careful what they wish for.
December 22, 2016 at 1:40 PM EST