by Judith Curry
Climate scientists, bloggers, and journalists are increasingly providing business for lawyers. What’s going on here?
Here are the current legal issues that I am aware of, any others?
Cucinelli vs Michael Mann
The latest in this saga is described in this article in the Washington Examiner and also this NYT post, where the issue is headed to the Virginia State Supreme Court. The Union of Concerned Scientists has been very active on this.
Early on in this case, I did make a public statement on this, and I have not changed my opinion on this one.
Chris Horner and CEI/ATI vs NASA GISS
Chris Horner began making FOIA requests of NASA GISS in 2007 regarding NASA’s surface temperature record data set, and also about Gavin Schmidt’s blogging activities at realclimate.org. Failure of NASA to supply this information has resulted in the CEI filing a lawsuit against NASA GISS, details can be found in this American Spectator post.
ATI is requesting information regarding James Hansen’s compliance with ethics and disclosure laws. Details of ATI’s FOIA requests can be found on the ATI’s website.
Joe Romm’s take on the realclimate.org angle is here.
UEA vs James Delingpole
“In particular, the complainants were concerned that the blog posts described Professor Phil Jones as “disgraced, FOI-breaching, email-deleting, scientific-method abusing”. They explained that Professor Phil Jones had been exonerated of any dishonesty or scientific malpractice by a series of reviews” – Press Complaints Commission
From their ruling:
In relation to the columnist’s description of Professor Jones as “FOI-breaching, email-deleting”, the newspaper had provided extracts from an email from Professor Jones in which he had written “If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone”, and another email in which he had written
“Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4?”. – Press Complaints Commission ruling
Barry Woods’ analysis:
How many blog owners or other journalists without the backing of an experienced legal team and the Telegraph would have been able to take this case on?
The threat of, or taking legal action against critics of ‘climate science’ does appear to be on the rise, this is a concern as few bloggers have any means to defend themselves legally. If actions like this are not fought and won, all perhaps it would take is a lawyer’s letter from a complainant with deep pockets (like UEA) for the blog owner to have to make a difficult personal and financial decision. Additionally, these actions may result in a form of self censorship with blogger and journalists not daring to comment.
I was completely unaware that this case was going on until I read about in James Delingpole’s latest blog post and it did make me think what I would have done if a lawyer’s letter found its way to my blog with a threat of legal action. So hopefully now, before ‘climate scientists’ and politicians rush to the courts they will now think more carefully of the potential outcomes. If only because it may backfire on them and that they realise as he won the complaint, others in the media might pay more attention to the reason why he won the complaint.
Michael Mann vs Tim Ball
Michael Mann is suing skeptic Tim Ball for libel, full details at DeSmog Blog. The issue here is Tim Ball suggesting that Mann is somehow guilty of criminal fraud for his part in what has come to be known as “climategate.” The allegedly libelous phrase is this:
Michael Mann, a professor in Penn State’s meteorology department and director of the university’s Earth Systems Science Center, claims that Ball defamed him when he said that Mann “should be in the State Pen, not Penn State,” for his alleged role in the so-called climate gate email tussle.
Mann is seeking punitive damages and wants the article removed from its electronic data base. According to courthousenews, this is not the first time that Ball has been sued by a climate scientist for defamation.
Analysis from Anthony Watts:
Due to the extra attention Dr. Mann has attracted with the lawsuit, the exposure of the phrase is now far and above what it was when originally posted on the Canadian website. I didn’t even know of it until the lawsuit was announced. I’ve had far worse things said about me in this climate debate turned ugly, and the best legal advice I’ve seen given to public figures in the news business is that they generally are not successful when suing for alleged slander/libel, especially for something that is a critical opinion piece with what appears to be a satirical joke line. Criticism and satire in an opinion piece are generally hard to challenge legally in the USA, though it is different in Canada. In Canada, the law is broader. Even so, I don’t think Dr. Mann or his attorney are going to be prepared for the demands of discovery on this one, nor do I think he will prevail in his lawsuit, based on similar failed actions I’ve seen against anchors and reporters in the TV news business when challenged by a public figure.
Issues for JC and Climate Etc.?
Its hard for a scientist/blogger making controversial statements not to worry about these kinds of issues.
I retain a lawyer (contract law) to deal with contracts related to my company CFAN, and also to make sure all potential conflict of interest issues are squeaky clean (pay attention Anna Haynes.)
Two issues of relevance here have arisen since I started Climate Etc.:
Anna Haynes of sourcewatch.org has prepared an entry on me, which is a slime job, any way that you look at it. While I originally answered her questions, I am no longer answering any of her questions since it is clear that this is, well, a slime job. She is currently fishing for “conflict of interest” stuff, sorry no fish in that pond. Libelous stuff here? Probably, but I intend to ignore it (including any future requests for information).
Of perhaps more relevance, on a previous thread, a participant felt that one of the comments libeled him. Here is the gist of the email exchange, with any potential identifying features removed:
ZZ: I would like to draw your attention to the exchange below. I’m not a guy who threatens to sue at the drop of a hat, but on the other hand, I will not hesitate for an instant if my legal rights are violated in a substantive way. I know that you believe commenters should be anonymous if they wish, and I respect that, but the law is clear. You can’t protect an anonymous identity without being complicit. In other words, if I am libeled and pursue a legal action, you can’t protect the identity or conceal the contact information of a commenter on your site without being complicit in their crime.
JC: if i attempted to sue every time some anonymous person in the blogosphere said something incorrect about me, I would have time to do nothing other than sue. To win such a case, you have to demonstrate that this affected your reputation. People don’t believe what anonymous blog posters have to say, unless they support it with a compelling argument. XXX merely made a statement, which you refuted. If you want to pursue legal action, go ahead. I will preserve the anonymity of my posters who choose to remain anonymous, up to the point where I would end up paying a steep fine or going to jail over it. I advise you to let these sorts of things go. Correct the record, then move on.
JC comments: within the broad constraints of first amendment rights and Freedom of Information Act and the Hatch Act, it is not entirely clear to me what the legalities are concerning blogging. There are further challenges to scientists that are employed by the government. I can certainly understand why government/university employees are buying their own laptops and using gmail accounts. The most complex issues are raised by cases involving Virginia and NASA GISS. The University of Virginia argues that it is protecting academic freedom. I haven’t seen a statement from NASA GISS, but exactly what are they claiming to protect by not complying with the FOIA requests?
Looking at the broader context, I would hope that there are better ways of dealing with the debate/dispute surround global warming than by providing fodder for lawyers. In closing, I repeat Barry Woods’ statement:
So hopefully now, before ‘climate scientists’ and politicians rush to the courts they will now think more carefully of the potential outcomes. If only because it may backfire on them and that they realise as he won the complaint, others in the media might pay more attention to the reason why he won the complaint.
Moderation note: Keep it civil. Attacks on individuals involved in these lawsuits will be deleted.