Friday, August 21, 2015

Trial of the Century

I admire Mark Steyn.  Even if you disagree with everything he says -- and I'm sure a lot of people do -- he is a remarkable person.  A few years ago, Michael Mann, climate scientist and creator of Al Gore's famous "hockey stick" graph showing drastic warming in the last century, sued him for libel.  Steyn had called the hockey stick "fraudulent," among other things.  This is not the first time Mann has sued, although I'll be honest I'm having trouble finding other examples because these things don't get covered much in the mainstream media.

Steyn's co-defendants, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, are trying to get the case over with as soon as possible, which is a predictable reaction.  Steyn, on the other hand, views the suit as an aggressive attempt to shut down the debate, so he has no intention of settling.  In fact, he counter-sued Mann under anti-SLAPP legislation, which as I understand it seeks to defend people against frivolous, but expensive, lawsuits designed to shut down their free speech.

There are several remarkable things about this case.  One is that Steyn is not trying to get out from under it in the easiest way possible, which is what most people do.  The fact that he is confronting it and insisting that it go to trial shows that he is a man of unusual fortitude.  But, even if I were willing to take such a stand myself, I would surely be a basket case worrying about the consequences and unable to do much else.  Not Steyn.  He continues to publish and appear on talk shows.  Even more remarkable, he has published two BOOKS directly touching on the court case.  The first is Climate Change: The Facts, a collection of articles by nearly two dozen authors (including Steyn, but also many scientists) exposing the weaknesses in the argument for climate change.  Obviously, this was something that was on his mind a lot, and by preparing the book he has furnished himself with a stack of arguments why his statements about Mann were not libelous.

Second, and even more extraordinary, is his new book called A Disgrace to the Profession. Subtitled "The World's Scientists in their own words on Michael E. Mann, his hockey stick, and their damage to science," it is an even more direct and devastating attack on Mann.  More direct, because it is not about climate change in general but about Mann and the hockey stick in particular; but entirely indirect, because it is a book about what other scientists have said about Mann, with Steyn only filling in the backstory to each quotation.  If other scientists can say such things about Mann -- and they are really brutal in places -- then what court could reasonably convict Steyn of libel?

So my hat is off to Mark Steyn, not only because he is taking a courageous stand for free speech (the ACLU has filed an amicus brief on his behalf), but also for doing so in an incredibly gutsy and brilliant way.  He has some experience with such cases, having been hauled before Canada's mis-named "Human Rights Commimssion" for alleged Islamophobia, a charge he also beat.  But I don't think this stuff ever becomes routine.  It is clear that the suit bothers him and he wants it to be over, but not at the cost of allowing Mann and his ilk to stymie discussion through bullying tactics.


  1. A couple comments - the anti-SLAPP is what CEI and National Review are using to try to avoid going to court. Steyn has not counter-sued under it. Steyn has counter-sued, but his case in the counter-suit is very weak, in large part because to be successful in his counter suit he needs to show that Mann's case is unfounded, which he can't do as long as there isn't a final decision in Mann's case. This is what happens when one uses oneself as a lawyer.

    Interestingly, many of the scientists quoted in Steyn's upcoming book state that he's quoting them out of context.

    More interestingly, you left out the bit about Steyn equating Mann to a convicted serial child molester. Explaining why Mann is suing for libel would seem relevant.

  2. Steyn didn't "equate" Mann to a serial child molester. Read the original quote here.

    He does quote Simberg's description of Mann as "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science." Which is a metaphor, not an "equation" (neither Simberg nor Steyn accuses Mann of molesting children, only of "molesting and torturing data"). Metaphor isn't defamation. No matter if you call me the "Genghis Khan of blog commenters," you haven't accused me of slaughtering millions. Not even if you say I "trample over the rules of good writing the way the Mongol Hordes trampled over Asia."

    A more interesting question is whether Steyn's phrase "fraudulent hockey stick" is factual versus opinion in form - I was involved in a good discussion of it here a while ago (I think it is but some do not).

    If opinion, no defamation. If factual, and Mann's a public figure (which on this subject he is), the main question is whether Steyn believed what he said - as his columns over the years manifestly show that he did, and books like this help to show why. (The standard is well described here.)

  3. Thanks to both of you for your comments. Joseph said most of the things I would have. I appreciate the correction on anti-SLAPP laws. I admit that I am a little fuzzy on the details of the case, which haven't been getting much attention.

    Anonymous, could you provide some links to scientsts who claim Steyn has taken them out of context? I haven't heard that accusation, and most of the quotations I have read don't seem to leave a lot of room for changing their meaning by changing the context.