DC Superior Court Finds Indication of ‘Actual Malice’ in Climate Change Deniers’ Repeated Attacks on Michael Mann


The story began with a Hockey Stick.

In 1998, Michael Mann and fellow researchers developed what was then a revolutionary study of proxy climate data to determine that warming seen during the 20th Century was unprecedented. Subsequently, Mann came under attack by a number of agencies invested in the denial of the existence of human caused global warming and related climate change.

Over the course of the next 15 years multiple agencies and individuals leveled increasingly vicious attacks against Mann for his pivotal contribution to the atmospheric sciences. In one instance, Mann’s emails were taken out of context in the fake scandal drummed up by deniers and misleaders known as Climate Gate. In other instances, Mann was repeatedly investigated for fraud after false accusations were, again and again,leveled against him by these same groups. Time after time, Mann was exonerated.

Meanwhile, study after study began to validate Michael Mann’s work. Now, numerous proxy studies within the body of climate science have shown similar temperature trends to those displayed in Mann’s findings. Mann’s study used tree rings, but more recent studies have found the same evidence in ice cores, sediment depositions and other measures — all with the same Hockey-Stick like temperature signature.

The evidence that temperatures were rocketing higher at an unprecedented rate would mean that certain agencies — primarily fossil fuel special interest groups — would bear the brunt of responsibility for any damages caused by rapid warming. And rather than live up to this responsibility by using current assets to rapidly transition to other, less polluting, energy sources and to work to mitigate the damage, they instead decided to attack the messenger — Michael Mann.

One such agency, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, involved itself in numerous coordinated attempts to character assassinate Mann. But Mann, armed with knowledge from previous attempts to defame his character and with funding via a crowd sourced program called The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, could now begin to fight back. Mann began a number of defamation lawsuits in an attempt to find legal restitution for the harm done to his professional reputation during these egregious attempts to assassinate his character and defame his person.

This week, a major damn broke when a DC Superior Court affirmed Mann’s right to proceed in his defamation suit against both National Review and CEI  (Hat Tip to Joe Romm for the report). The court found:

There is sufficient evidence presented that is indicative of “actual malice. The CEI Defendants have consistently accused Plaintiff of fraud and inaccurate theories, despite Plaintiff’s work having been investigated several times and found to be proper. The CEI Defendants’ persistence despite the EPA and other investigative bodies’ conclusion that Plaintiff’s work is accurate (or that there is no evidence of data manipulation) is equal to a blatant disregard for the falsity of their statements. Thus, given the evidence presented the Court finds that Plaintiff could prove “actual malice.”

The court provided two decisions in Mann’s cases against CEI and National Review. Both agencies had falsely and repeatedly accused Mann of data manipulation and fraud, even after Mann had been repeatedly investigated and proven innocent of such claims. The legal defense of these agencies was based on first Amendement freedoms that protect speech that is merely opinion, rhetorical hyperbole, and fair comment. But, in citing malice, the court found evidence that CEI’s and National Review’s actions went far beyond what is normal rhetorical controversy, directly and consistently targeting Mann’s livelihood, person and character. Key to this finding is that CEI and National Journal engaged in these personal attacks against Mann while undertaking a “reckless disregard for the truth:”

Plaintiff has been investigated several times and his work has been found to be accurate. In fact, some of these investigations have been due to the accusations made by the CEI Defendants. It follows that if anyone should be aware of the accuracy (or findings that the work of Plaintiff is sound), it would be the CEI Defendants. Thus, it is fair to say that the CEI Defendants continue to criticize Plaintiff due to a reckless disregard for truth. Criticism of Plaintiff’s work may be fair and he and his work may be put to the test. Where, however the CEI Defendants consistently claim that Plaintiff’s work is inaccurate (despite being proven as accurate) then there is a strong probability that the CEI Defendants disregarded the falsity of their statements and did so with reckless disregard.”

The court concluded that it was CEI and National Review who, instead, repeatedly engaged in fraud:

“Having been investigated by almost one dozen bodies due to accusations of fraud, and none of those investigations having found Plaintiff’s work to be fraudulent, it must be concluded that the accusations are provably false. Reference to Plaintiff, as a fraud is a misstatement of fact.”

The record demonstrates that the CEI Defendants have criticized Plaintiff harshly for years; some might say, the name calling, accusations and jeering have amounted to a witchhunt, particularly because the CEI Defendants appear to take any opportunity to question Plaintiff’s integrity and the accuracy of his work despite the numerous findings that Plaintiff’s work is sound. At this stage, the evidence before the Court does not amount to a showing of clear and convincing as to “actual malice,” however there is sufficient evidence to find that further discovery may uncover evidence of “actual malice.”

It is worth noting that it is very difficult to prove a defamation case in US court due to the protection of political speech. The finding that Mann has valid legal claims that CEI and National Review’s attacks were indicative of actual malice may not only halt the ongoing fusillade of personal attacks against Mann, but also those against other climate scientists by other agencies such as Fox News, Watts up With That, and a broad spectrum of climate change denial media whose typical tactic has been both to attack the messenger and then to make false, misleading claims about the science. It is possible that Mann’s case may unravel a vast web of misstatement of truth that has been perpetrated, not just on Mann, but on the rest of us as well.

As climate scientist Jennifer Francis noted last week during her Congressional testimony — the climate science misleaders are a big part of the problem inherent to human caused global warming and climate change. They have prevented us from understanding the threat and, thus far, have considerably slowed our efforts in response. The fact that this damaging effort is based in an active campaign to misrepresent the science and to conduct a witch hunt against scientists is yet one more sign to how caustic and harmful a social force it has become. If there is to be any responsible and effective action on climate change, then witch hunting of scientists and a continuous effort to publicly undermine the science by climate change deniers must be swept aside.

This is as much a civil rights issue as a scientific one. For we are all endowed with a right to a living, breathing planet, and the creatures of this Earth are also endowed with the right not be rendered extinct by our callous actions.

So let us all hope for Mann’s success in dealing a blow against the insidious agency that is climate change denial. For ourselves, our children, and for the innocent creatures of this world as well.

Leave a comment


  1. A blow against the Wormtongues. Good!


  2. T.O.O.honest

     /  July 23, 2013

    I was always amused by people such as John O’Sullivan who proclaimed that moving climate science into the courtroom would give them a chance to expose the truth of a “climate hoax”. I am just so glad that we still have an independent judiciary who are not swayed by well-financed mis-truths. Deniers are now going to have to find new ways to attack the science because outright lying may actually end up costing them money.

    BTW, any news on the Mann vs Ball lawsuit out of Canada? I believe that all parties have now been deposed which should mean that nothing is left except the trial.


    • Not a peep on the Ball case… But if all the depos are in, I’d think sparks will start to fly pretty soon

      I don’t know if I’m cynical or afraid enough to believe that fossil fuel money will start corrupting judges the way it has corrupted so much of the media and legislature. This case does bring hope for accurate judicial action, though. And I do look forward to the denial industry being forced to change tactics.

      Seems like John’s been proven wrong, at least in this case.

      Any other news?


  3. This is good news! I’ve just started reading Mann’s book and it’s very good. He calls the technique used by climate contrarians, where individual scientists are singled out and attacked, the Serengeti strategy. The same strategy is used by lions when they select vulnerable individuals from the herd to attack.


    • The description of predatory behavior is spot on. Fantastic book, btw. Glad you’re enjoying it. Might give it a re-read to brush up.


  1. Another Week of Climate Disruption News, July 28, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

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