Climate scientist Michael Mann on Thursday won his defamation lawsuit against Rand Simberg, a former adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Mark Steyn, a National Review contributor.
The trial transported observers back to 2012, the heyday of the blogosphere and an era of rancorous controversy over the existence of global warming, what psychology researcher and climate misinformation blogger John Cook called “a wild time.”
The six-person jury announced its unanimous verdict after a four-week trial in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and a full day of deliberation. They found Mr. Simberg and Mr. Steyn guilty of defaming Dr. Mann with multiple false statements and awarded the scientist $1 in damages from each writer.
The jury also found that the writers had made their statements with “malice, spite, ill will, revenge or deliberate intent to harm,” and imposed punitive damages of $1,000 against Mr. Simberg and $1 million against Mr. Steyn for deterrence. others from doing the same.
In 2012, Simberg and Steyn had drawn parallels between the controversy over Dr. Mann’s research and the scandal over Jerry Sandusky, the former Pennsylvania State University football coach who was convicted of sexually assaulting boys. Dr. Mann was a professor at Penn State at the time.
“It is constitutionally difficult to win defamation lawsuits in cases involving matters of public concern and prominent public figures,” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor at the University of Utah.
The two sides argued for days over the truth or falsity of the publications, showing evidence that included unflattering emails between Dr. Mann and his colleagues, excerpts from investigations by Penn State and the National Science Foundation that cleared Dr. Mann. of academic misconduct, other scientists who testified that Dr. Mann had ruined their reputation, and a detailed but controversial critique of his research methods by a statistician.
Both Mr. Simberg and Mr. Steyn testified that they sincerely believed what they wrote.
“Incendiary does not equal defamatory,” Mr. Simberg’s lawyer, Victoria Weatherford, said in her closing statement. “Rand is just a man, just a blogger expressing his true opinions on a topic he believes is important. That is an uncomfortable truth for Michael Mann.”
Dr. Mann argued that he lost the grant after the blog posts and that he was excluded from at least one research collaboration because his reputation had been damaged. The defendants argued that Dr. Mann’s star continued to rise and that he is one of the most successful climate scientists working today.
Presiding Judge Alfred Irving emphasized to the jury that their job was not to decide whether global warming is happening or not. “I knew we were walking a fine line between a climate change trial and a defamation trial,” he had said earlier as he discussed which witnesses to allow.
The story of this lawsuit is not over.
In 2021, Judge Irving, along with another DC Superior Court judge, decided that the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review could not be held liable. The publishers did not meet the “actual malice” standard imposed on public figures who sue for defamation, the judges ruled, meaning that employees of the two organizations did not publish Simberg and Steyn’s posts knowing they were false, nor nor did they publish Simberg and Steyn’s posts knowing they were false. have a “reckless disregard” for whether the posts were false.
Dr. Mann’s attorneys have indicated that they will appeal this earlier decision.