Renowned climate scientist Michael Mann awarded $1 million in suit over his work being likened to child molester’s acts

Washington – A jury on Thursday awarded $1 million to climate scientist Michael Mann, who 12 years ago sued a pair of conservative writers after they found his images of global warming to a convicted child molester.

Mann, a professor of climate science at the University of Pennsylvania, became famous for a graph first published in 1998 in the journal Nature that was dubbed the “hockey stick” for its dramatic illustration of a warming planet.

The work brought Mann widespread fame, but also many skeptics, including the two writers whom Mann sued over comments he said affected his career and reputation in the US and internationally.

“It feels great,” Mann said Thursday after the six-person jury delivered its verdict. “It’s a good day for us, it’s a good day for science.”

Dr. Michael Mann outside the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse on February 5, 2024 in Washington, DC as Mann Vs. The trial of National Review Et Al took place in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Pete Kiehart for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The history of Suit

In 2012, a libertarian think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute published a blog post by Rand Simberg, then a fellow at the organization, comparing studies of Mann’s work to the case of Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University who was convicted of sexually abusing multiple children. Mann also worked at Penn State at the time.

Mann’s research came under scrutiny after his and other scientists’ emails were leaked in 2009 in an incident that further scrutinized the “hockey stick” graph, with skeptics claiming Mann had manipulated data. Research by Penn State and others no misuse of data by Mann was foundbut his work continued to provoke attacks, especially from conservatives.

“You could say that Mann is the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of abusing children, he has abused and tortured data,” Simberg wrote. Another writer, Mark Steyn, later referred to Simberg’s article in his own piece in National Review, calling Mann’s research “fraudulent.”

The jury of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia found that Simberg and Steyn had made false statements and awarded Mann $1 in damages from each writer. It awarded damages of $1,000 to Simberg and $1 million to Steyn, after finding that the pair made their statements with “malice, spite, ill will, revenge or deliberate intent to harm”.

At trial, Steyn represented himself but said through his manager, Melissa Howes, that he would appeal the $1 million damages award, saying it should be subject to a “due process investigation.”

Mann argued that he had lost grant funding as a result of the blog posts – a claim for which both defendants said Mann had not provided sufficient evidence. The writers countered at trial that Mann instead became one of the world’s best-known climate scientists in the years following their comments.

“We have always said that Mann was never actually injured by the statement in question,” Steyn said through his manager on Thursday. “And today, after twelve years, the jury awarded him one dollar in damages.”

Simberg’s attorney Mark DeLaquil said his client was “disappointed in the verdict” and would appeal the jury’s decision.

Both writers argued that they were merely expressing opinions.

Issues related to the lawsuit

Lyrissa Lidsky, a constitutional law professor at the University of Florida, said it was clear that jurors felt Steyn and Simberg had “recklessly ignored the falsity of their statements.” She added that the discrepancy between what the jury awarded in compensatory and punitive damages could lead the judge to reduce the punitive damages.

Many scientists have been following Mann’s case for years, as climate change misinformation has increased on some social media platforms.

“I hope people think twice before lying and discrediting scientists,” said Kate Cell of Union of Concerned Scientists. Her work as a senior climate campaign manager includes tracking misinformation related to climate change.

“We are so far outside the boundaries of a civil conversation about facts that I hope this verdict can help us find our way back,” Cell said.

Alfred Irving, the judge presiding over the case, reminded the jury Wednesday before they deliberated that it was not their job to decide “whether there is global warming.”

Climate change remains 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.

On Thursday, Mann said he would appeal a 2021 decision made in the D.C. Superior Court that found the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute not liable for defamation in the same incident.

“We think it was decided wrongly,” Mann said. “They’re next.”

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