The jury will determine the outcome of climate scientist Michael Mann's lawsuit for defamation, regarding the comparison made to a molester.

The jury will determine the outcome of climate scientist Michael Mann’s lawsuit for defamation, regarding the comparison made to a molester.

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s been 12 years since a pair of conservative writers compared a prominent climate scientist to a convicted child molester for his depiction of global warming. Now, a jury is about to decide whether the comments were defamatory.

On Wednesday, the final statements were given in a legal case involving Michael Mann. Mann gained recognition for a graph that was initially released in 1998 in the journal Nature, known as the “hockey stick” due to its striking depiction of a warming Earth. The graph displayed a relatively stable pattern of average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere for 900 years, followed by a sharp increase in the 20th century.

The work brought Mann, then at Penn State but now at University of Pennsylvania, wide exposure. It was included in a report by a United Nations climate panel in 2001, and a version of it was featured in Al Gore’s Oscar-winning 2006 climate change documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The situation also resulted in him facing doubters – two of whom Mann took legal action against for making accusations that he believes damaged his professional and personal image both in the United States and abroad.

In 2012, a blog post was published by Rand Simberg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank. The post drew comparisons between investigations into the work of Michael Mann, who was employed by Penn State University at the time, and the case of Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who was found guilty of sexually assaulting multiple children.

After the release of emails from Mann and other scientists in 2009, known as “Climategate,” there was increased investigation into Mann’s research. The “hockey stick” graph came under further scrutiny, with skeptics accusing Mann of data manipulation. Both Penn State and other institutions, as well as The Associated Press’ review of the emails, found no evidence of data misuse by Mann. Despite this, his work continued to be targeted by critics, particularly those on the conservative side.

Simberg wrote that Mann could be compared to Jerry Sandusky in the realm of climate science, except instead of abusing children, he has manipulated and distorted data. Mark Steyn also referenced Simberg’s article in a piece for National Review, accusing Mann of fraudulent research.

Mann filed a lawsuit against the two individuals and their publishing companies, in an attempt to receive financial compensation. The case has been through multiple court systems since then. In 2021, a judge removed the two outlets as defendants, stating that they could not be held responsible. However, the claims against the individuals are still pending.

Both individuals have stated that they were simply sharing their personal viewpoint.

During the trial, Steyn chose not to provide a statement. Simberg, however, expressed that the case centered on the right to freely discuss critical matters such as climate change.

“If individuals are subjected to more than ten years of legal battles simply for expressing their opinions,” Simberg stated, “it will negatively impact us all.”

The lawyer representing him, Victoria Weatherford, asserted in her concluding statement that Simberg has the freedom to share his viewpoint. She stated, “Being provocative does not equate to being libelous.”

In his closing argument, John Williams, the attorney representing Mann, raised doubts about whether Simberg and Steyn truly believed the accusations they made against Mann or if they were simply pushing their own political agenda. He urged the jurors to consider not only punishing the defendants, but also setting an amount that would serve as a deterrent to others who may act in a similar manner.

According to Kate Cell, a senior climate campaign manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, the case involving Michael Mann is widely known among other climate scientists. She believes that a positive outcome for Mann would discourage those who deny climate change from speaking aggressively and disrespectfully about climate scientists.

Mann had to demonstrate that the writers not only uttered untrue and harmful claims, but also did so with deliberate intent — a stricter standard for lawsuits involving individuals in the public eye.

According to Lyrissa Lidsky, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Florida and a specialist in defamation, the law typically leans towards protecting free speech rights in cases involving public figures.

“People often mistakenly believe that defamation cases are solely based on determining truth versus falsehood,” she stated. “The First Amendment allows for individuals to express unkind or harsh statements with a significant amount of freedom.”

The trial comes as climate change continues to be a divisive and highly partisan issue in the United States. A 2023 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 91% of Democrats believe climate change is happening, while only 52% of Republicans do.

Numerous scientists have been monitoring Mann’s case for an extended period of time due to the spreading of false information about climate change on certain social media sites. Additionally, many of these scientists have also faced personal attacks. Lidsky expressed doubt about the potential impact of Mann’s case, especially on social media.

According to Lidsky, the verdict of a jury in a climate scientist’s case will not put an end to climate skepticism, regardless of the trial’s result.


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