WaPo: “The verdict comes amid heightened attacks on scientists working on climate change, vaccines and other issues.”
Excerpt: Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist, won his long-standing legal battle against two right-wing bloggers who claimed that he manipulated data in his research and compared him to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky, a major victory for the outspoken researcher.
A jury in a civil trial in Washington on Thursday found that the two writers, Rand Simberg and Mark Steyn, defamed and injured the researcher in a pair of blog posts published in 2012, and awarded him more than $1 million.
“I hope this verdict sends a message that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech,” Mann said in a statement
Mann’s victory comes amid heightened attacks on scientists working not just on climate change but also on vaccines and other issues. But the case was one that some critics worried could have a stifling effect on free speech and open debate in science.
“Inflammatory does not equal defamatory,” Victoria Weatherford, an attorney for Simberg, repeatedly told the jury during the trial.
The verdict is a dozen years in the making for the climatologist, who for decades has been a target of right-wing critics over his famous “hockey stick” graph.
“We normally let scientists fight it out amongst themselves to discover what the truth is,” said Lyrissa Lidsky, a defamation expert at the University of Florida. “In these science cases, there’s a lot of leeway for opinion. It doesn’t mean there’s carte blanche to lie about another scientist.”
During closing arguments, Steyn, a radio and TV personality who spoke for himself during much of the trial, said he still “stand[s] on the truth of every word I wrote about Michael Mann, his fraudulent hockey stick and the corrupt investigative process at Penn State.”
In a statement after the verdict, Steyn’s manager, Melissa Howes, suggested he would appeal the $1 million in punitive damages.
“We always said that Mann never suffered any actual injury from the statement at issue. And today, after twelve years, the jury awarded him one dollar in compensatory damages,” Howes said in a statement. “The punitive damage award of one million dollars will have to face due process scrutiny under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”