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Oh Mann

14 Feb 2024 | News Roundup

The top climate news story this week is a legal one. After 12 years (yes, 12, reminding us that oftentimes the judicial process is the punishment) a jury has found Mark Steyn guilty of defaming Michael Mann and causing $1 in real damages but added that he should also pay $1 million just because. The main impact of which, surely, will be to stifle robust debate on a crucial public policy issue. And the secondary impact, we suspect, will be the so-called “Streisand Effect” cited by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, in which the exposure during the trial of Mann’s own aggressive tactics and nasty language may have exactly the massive negative impact on his reputation that he falsely claimed Steyn’s criticism had. But unless it is successfully appealed (and if you want to help Mark continue the fight see the final line of this item on his website), the verdict is bad news for science and public debate.

The award was bizarre. It is predictable, especially nowadays, that people sympathetic to Mann’s “hockey stick” regarded his trial performance as stellar, and people skeptical of it thought he and his lawyers bombed. And of course the former are now claiming vindication. But is it really a victory they want? Or might it prove Pyrrhic?

Mann was suing two people or organizations, down from the original four which included National Review magazine and the Competitive Enterprise Institute through which Steyn and Rand Simberg respectively published their comments. His claim of actual damages was laughable; as Andrew Lawton wrote during the trial:

“If what Michael Mann has endured is defamation, I want some… Virtually every aspect of Mann’s career is better now than it was before Steyn’s and Simberg’s blog posts were published. His salary is higher. He hangs out with celebrities such as Bill Clinton and Leonardo DiCaprio, with whom Mann testified to having a ‘bromance.’ He was then working at Penn State but is now at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania. He is making more in book royalties.”

The award of $1 in actual damages shows that the jury agreed with that assessment, before going berserk with $1 million in punitive damages. Yet they only hit co-defendant Rand Simberg with a $1,000 in punitive damages although all Steyn did was to repeat Simberg’s comments and give them some context. It almost seems as though the purpose here was not to vindicate Mann but to ruin Steyn, an acerbic and extremely popular right-wing commentator.

It gets worse. To give such an award the jury had to find that Steyn and Simberg knew their statements were false. It is all too common, including on the climate debate, for each side to accuse the other of hoax, fraud, conspiracy and paid lies. But it is not good for public debate intellectually or morally to contend by default that honest mistakes do not happen and the other side are evil morons. Now it’s legal precedent and could cost you a million bucks if someone with deep pockets hates you, your associates and your views.

Speaking of deep pockets, we now know that Mann had someone paying all his legal bills for him. But we don’t know who; possibly some alarmist billionaire like Bill Gates or Tom Steyer. Supposedly we deniers have all the money and get it from shadowy plutocrats. But when Mann does, well, then it’s ok.

It certainly gives him carte blanche to wage lawfare. And judging by his past performance, Mann will proceed from this victory to litigate aggressively against his critics. As Barbara Kay noted, one of Mann’s emails, revealed during the trial, said:

“‘Going to talk with some big time libel lawyers to see if there is the potential to bring down this filthy organization [National Review] for good.’ Of Steyn himself, Mann emailed a colleague, ‘One fringe benefit of the lawsuit will be to ruin this odious excuse for a human being.’”

And sure enough, he’s also already announced plans to go after National Review and CEI by appealing the ruling that had excluded them after they incurred massive legal bills. As the New York Times writes:

“Dr. Mann’s attorneys have indicated that they will appeal this earlier decision. Asked about Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review, John Williams said, ‘They’re next.’”

And after them, who? Or rather, which critics of “science”? A key part of Mann’s legal strategy was to portray criticism of him as criticism of science by MAGA know-nothings, especially potent given that the jury was from Washington, D.C., not exactly Trump country. As DeSmog chortled:

“In closing arguments, Mann’s lawyer John Williams compared the climate deniers in this case to election deniers overall. ‘Why do Trumpers continue to deny that he won the election?’ he asked the jury. ‘Because they truly believe what they say or because they want to further their agenda?’”

And when the verdict was announced Mann said “This is a victory for science and it’s a victory for scientists”.

It’s not. Not even for those on Mann’s side, for several reasons.

First, its stifling impact on debate. Would you want to be a journal editor getting one of Mann’s behind-the-scenes calls to spike a paper? Would you dare defy him now? Then again, would you feel good about yourself doing it? What about a journalist who still thinks Mann’s hockey stick handling of data was appallingly bad, as a number of experts did testify during the trial? And indeed are Mann’s colleagues more or less happy now with his key scholarly claim to fame? But dare they say anything? And what of journalists McElhinney and McAleer, who wrote during the trial:

“There is a theme running through all the testimony: Witness after witness testified that Mann was a bully, and drove the vindictive tone of the climate debate both before and after the Climategate scandal.”

Will he sue them for writing it, and us for reprinting it?

Second, given that thought, what of the verdict’s impact on the reputation of scientists in positions of power and authority? Mann was revealed during the trial to have made improper contact with journal editors to spike rival scientists’ papers. He referred to critics as “human filth” and worse. One of his collaborators testified at trial that he had deleted emails subject to potential Freedom of Information Act requests after Mann asked him to. Would you want to be that person? Or anyone else who did the same? And have people know about it including colleagues? Even if, as the Manhattan Contrarian noted sourly:

“I would comment that if you had done what either Mann or Wahl did here, you would likely go to jail. However, Hillary Clinton did delete thousands of emails that were subject to a Congressional subpoena, and never suffered any consequences.  So far, no consequences for Mann or Wahl either.”

It gets worse. Mann made scurrilous sexual allegations against Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry to colleagues; as Terence Corcoran wrote in the Financial Post:

“Mann appeared as a witness on Monday under questioning from Steyn, who asked about the time Mann spread a story about climate scientist Judith Curry, former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Mann, upset with her climate science, once claimed in emails that Curry as a student had an affair with a married man named Webster. ‘Judy Curry was a graduate student. Affairs, ugly divorce, et cetera, yada, yada. Webster and Curry left together … to the relief of everyone I know here who was around then.’ Mann signed the email ‘mike.’ But Curry was not in fact a student at the time, and the story actually involved another woman. Mann on Tuesday admitted the affair stories were ‘rumours I was passing along’ and that his ‘facts could be wrong.’”

Considering how progressives loathe the patriarchal trope of successful women having slept their way to the top, are they not slightly uneasy about this casual smear? Anthony Watts notes of the exchange on this matter at trial:

“The following literally had to be stated and asked in Court today: ‘Dr. Judith Curry: Michael Mann knew who I was. My name appeared in one of the ClimateGate emails that Mann sent. He knew who I was. I mean, when this story was changed or altered to portray me as a graduate student, to my mind, the implication that I was, you know, just a woman sleeping my way to the top. And if you’re a professional woman, this is about the worst thing that anyone can say about you. It discredits your accomplishments and it gives people permission to ignore you. Defense Counsel: Dr. Curry, did you ever get any of your tenured faculty positions or department chairs or awards or publications or anything else because you slept with somebody? Dr. Judith Curry: No.’ Let that sink in: ‘If you’re a professional woman, this is about the worst thing that anyone can say about you. It discredits your accomplishments and it gives people permission to ignore you.’”

Yet as the court transcript delicately put it:

“MANN: ‘Yes, I readily acknowledge I got those facts … wrong.’ Mann declined to apologize to Prof Curry or her husband who were both in court.”

Here it is definitely relevant that Mann’s persistent attacks on Curry’s work and character, particularly a slashing journalistic attack on her as “serial climate disinformer Judith Curry”, did help shatter her reputation among her university colleagues to the extent that she was driven from academia, whereas the supposedly devastating defamation of Mann by Steyn and Simberg failed to dent his popularity with colleagues or the alarmist media and certainly did not reduce his extraordinary success rate on research grant applications.

It gets worse. Mann famously lost a lawsuit against Canadian retired professor Tim Ball and was ordered to pay costs. But he never did, forcing Ball’s widow Marty to crowdfund to pay for his 2022 funeral, and apparently his estate cannot collect unless Mann comes to Canada. Surely someone in Mann’s camp finds that conduct shabby. Don’t they?

It gets worse. As Roger Pielke Jr., who testified about Mann’s professional conduct and reputation in the trial, wrote shortly before the decision:

“Whatever the jury verdict, the new revelations these past weeks in the Mann vs. Steyn/Simberg trial are far, far worse than anything that appeared in the Climategate emails/ These revelations offer an important test for the climate science community & the legacy media”.

Indeed. And one they will flunk. There was a time when such conduct would have disgraced a person in the eyes even of intellectually sympathetic colleagues. But we may not live in such times; as Curry herself concluded unhappily after noting that “Mann’s behavior towards other scientists clearly violates the codes of conduct for universities and professional societies for which he is a member” yet those societies continue to give him awards:

“Seems sort of Trumpian to me, whereby Mann appears to be made of teflon and none of these really bad, well-justified accusations stick, and his accolytes keep applauding.”

Some scientists may privately feel very uncomfortable over the testimony on Mann’s scientific work. Even if they’re sure the hockey stick does reflect the real recent history of global temperature, they may get a queasy sense that it does not do so the right way. And then they must either risk the wrath of Mann or swallow their doubts and with them their professional ethics. As the Manhattan Contrarian also wrote:

“My own reaction listening to this is to be horrified at the unscientific and unethical conduct of Mann. The omission of unfavorable data and adverse statistical results is inexcusable. Yet the entire scientific establishment seems totally willing to excuse and even honor Mann because he is an energetic advocate for their political agenda.”

If it does, and then writes patronizing essays about how the unwashed masses have foolishly lost faith in “science”, they will have only themselves to blame. Surely some of them will know it. A few might even speak out, but we won’t hold our breath waiting.

13 comments on “Oh Mann”

  1. The million dollar damages against Steyn are ludicrous. The jury simply ignored the evidence. There is a USSC ruling that limits punitive damages to a single digit ratio to compensatory damages, that is less than $10.00. But Steyn will likely have to go the the USSC to get justice.

  2. Maybe the jury was bribed or blackmailed?Mann is a serial climate alarmist who needs to be stopped somehow.Obviously,he's being bankrolled by
    others.And he gets away with public,personal attacks on anyone he doesn't like,whereas if they did the same to him,he sues them.I'm aware
    that Mann lost his case against the late Tim Ball.Perhaps he won't come to Canada now?Or would that matter,he's not gonna be arrested or anything
    like that.Ironically,the border now may be all that protects climate questioning orgs like Friends of Science or CDN.Because in the US,you can sue
    anybody for anything.Especially if you have deep pockets,or are financially backed by climate Thugs like Gates or Steyer.And their goal is to financially
    ruin anyone who stands in their way.Put them in jail if they can.

  3. The US justice system does seem to be hardly worthy of the name. For example, their criminal justice system works on the basis that if you have been charged of anything at all, and don't accept a plea bargain, your chance of being acquitted is minimal. One way they achieve this is by converting a single charge - "did you do this thing?" - into a multiplicity of variations on a theme, then putting the resultant several dozen charges before a jury (who have probably been selected to be as impressionable and uneducated as possible) in the near certainty that they will find the defendant to be guilty of at least one of the charges.

  4. CDN should remember that Steyn called Mann "Dr. Fraudpants," etc. In court, Steyn was defending his claim that Mann's hockey stick graph was a hoax; Steyn wrote / edited an entire book to that effect. If CDN had been on the jury, CDN would have to have found Steyn guilty, too, since it is CDN's repeated and settled opinion that all climate alarmists sincerely believe everything they claim. "We at CDN are not conspiracy theorists," etc. This case illustrates what nonsense CDN's position is. In my opinion, Steyn should have won because truth is an absolute defense in defamation, and the hockey stick graph is so egregiously flawed no serious scientist could accept Mann's paper as an honest mistake. But that isn't a result that CDN can consistently support.
    The Tim Ball litigation was a travesty in another way. When a party from outside the jurisdiction of the court initiates a civil suit against a party within the jurisdiction of the court, it is commonplace for the respondent to ask the court to order "security for costs" before the suit is allowed to proceed. What this means is that the out-of-jurisdiction plaintiff must pay money into court to cover the cost of the respondent's lawyers, so that if the respondent wins he is able to collect the cost award. I don't know if Ball's lawyer failed to ask for security for costs at the start of the litigation, or if the court rejected the application, or if the security paid into court was insufficient to cover Ball's costs. But it should not have happened the way it did.

  5. I think you misunderstand. It does not matter what Piltdown Mann thinks or believes, what matters is if Steyn believed what he said about Mann and he clearly did. To find Steyn at fault the jury had to believe that Steyn did NOT believe what he said.

  6. It’s important that now there is an indisputable public record of just what a piece of human excrement Piltdown Mann truly is. Now we get to see who still publicly associates with him so we can know who they are.

  7. @Mike G, no need to bribe or blackmail the jury. I offer what I call Mullins' Law #2 :
    Never attribute to conspiracy what may adequately be explained by simple flocking behavior.
    All that was needed was a jury full of true believers in what Mann peddles.

  8. None of this is at all surprising. I spent too much time in academia to expect anything else from someone on the woke side. All of them would act like this, if allowed. Given his position as the poster boy for saving the planet through 'science' (which, like liberal, nazi, racist, et cetera, no longer mean anything in particular to the left), I'm not sure he could do anything I would find surprising. My capacity for being appalled is pretty much exhausted by the left, as well.

  9. I don’t think the jury was actually assessing the data or the graph. They were assessing the comparison to a “paedophile”. If one criticizes a person and Mann deserves criticism, one should be careful of the adjectives used.

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