While scientists have gathered convincing evidence to support the theory of global warming, many remain skeptical. Where the skeptics might find themselves in trouble is when they allegedly wrongly accuse scientists of manipulating data to reach false conclusions. Such is the case with scientist Michael Mann and National Review, which ran an article last summer accusing Mann of implementing fraud in his research.
Mann was one of a group of researchers that developed the climate change model known as the “hockey stick graph”. This graph shows a dramatic rise in global temperature at the end of the last millennium. Many of those who refuse to believe that climate change is real have criticized Mann and his work. Several investigations have been conducted over the years into Mann’s research methods. They have all cleared him of any wrongdoing.
These investigations, though, were not enough for the author of the National Review Article, which drew comparisons between Mann and former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of child molestation. The article questioned the validity of a particular investigation by Penn State which cleared Mann of any wrongdoing. According to the article, the University’s investigation of Sandusky’s conduct and the investigation of Mann’s research methods both took place under former Penn State President Graham Spanier. The article quoted a July 13 post from the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s blog, which said that Mann “could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.”
The defendants argued that the statements were opinion and rhetorical hyperbole and therefore protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment. They filed a motion to dismiss under strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). SLAPP is a District of Columbia law which bars plaintiffs from filing lawsuits against plaintiffs with the aim of intimidating them into silence by burdening them with the cost of legal defense until they abandon their criticism. Most SLAPP plaintiffs do not expect to win their cases, hoping instead to achieve their goals through intimidation, mounting legal costs, or simple exhaustion before the case advances very far.
District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Natalia Combs Greene denied the motions to dismiss, having found that the article’s statements crossed the line from opinion to factual assertions. At this stage of the proceedings, Judge Combs Greene allowed that the criticism of Mann’s work may be fair but that is not currently the issue. The issue is whether or not Mann has a valid complaint against the defendants and, since they presented their statements as facts, rather than opinions, Mann has the right to defend his reputation in a court of law. According to the judge’s written statement, “there is a strong probability that the [National Review] Defendants disregarded the falsity of their statements and did so with reckless disregard.
In another recent case reviewed by our Chicago libel lawyers, in the District of Columbia’s Court of Appeals, the appellate court issued an order which found that the anti-SLAPP statute didn’t provide for interlocutory review. This means that National Review cannot appeal the judge’s decision to deny their motion to dismiss. The next stage of the case is discovery.
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If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business on line at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at 630-333-0333 or online by filling out our contact us form.