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Climate scientist Michael Mann’s defamation case reveals what critics say is unethical behavior

One witness’s deposition revealed that Mann, the litigious environmental scientist, had emailed the editor of a scientific journal in 2007 to stop a paper written by another climate scientist from being published. Mann often refers to those critiquing his infamous "hockey stick" graph as "climate deniers."

Published: January 24, 2024 9:57pm

Updated: January 24, 2024 10:05pm

A decades-long defamation lawsuit by a celebrity climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann, finally got underway Thursday in what some are calling a case that puts climate science on trial.

The lawsuit

Dr. Michael Mann, a University of Pennsylvania earth and environmental scientist, filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Rand Simberg, an analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and National Review blogger Mark Steyn. The case was filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Mann is famous for producing what’s generally referred to as the "hockey stick graph,” which purportedly shows an unprecedented rise in temperatures beginning in the 20th Century. Critics of Mann’s work contend he manipulated data to hide a decline in temperatures in order to enhance the temperature increases in the last hundred years.

Mann is suing Simberg over statements he and Steyn made in articles they posted online.

Testimony so far has raised a number of complaints about plaintiff Mann’s behavior toward his critics.

One witnesses’ deposition even revealed that Mann had emailed the editor of a scientific journal in 2007 to stop a paper written by another climate scientist from being published by getting hostile peer reviewers assigned to it.

Journalists Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney have been at the trial and posting regular podcasts on what's happening in court. The podcast, which has ranked in the top 15 podcasts on Spotify in the science category, highlights testimony in the trial using actors to portray what was said in court.

According to a summary of the case that Superior Court of the District of Columbia Judge Alfred Irving gave during the trial, Simberg’s and Steyn’s post compared the Penn State’s investigation into assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 young boys over the course of 15 years, to the investigation of Mann’s research on global historic temperatures as shown in the scientist's controversial hockey stick graph.

Code of conduct

Simberg wrote that Mann had “engaged in academic and scientific misconduct” and Mann “could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate change, except for, instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.” Steyn quoted Simberg’s post and called Mann’s research “fraudulent.”

Mann contends that as a result of these posts, his reputation was harmed. According opening statements made by Mann’s lawyers’, Mann had seen significant reductions in grant funding following the publication of the the posts.

According to the third episode of the podcast series, Steyn, who is representing himself, testified that Mann’s vitriol on social media towards other scientists is at odds with the standards of conduct set forth by the National Academy of Science. In a post on X, according to Steyn’s testimony, Mann had compared criticisms of the hockey stick graph by Steve McIntyre, who is a witness in the case, to “bad stats used to support early theories of white supremacy.”

Mann has also had a long-running feud with Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Pielke has been the target of Mann’s vitriol on X. For example, Mann had once referred to Pielke as “stupid” and a “troll.” Mcintyre gave a deposition in the case in 2020, and at one point he describes an email Mann had sent to several colleagues.

According to an article on Pielke’s Substack “The Honest Broker,” Pielke and McIntyre were looking to publish a research paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Mann had, according to the email described in McIntyre’s deposition, emailed the editor of the journal to recommend assigning hostile peer reviewers. In his email to colleagues, Mann said the editor follows his recommendations and Pielke's paper wouldn’t likely “stand a chance” of getting published.

Pielke wrote that the feedback he received on the paper from the anonymous reviewers was among the “nastiest” he’s received in over 35 years of publishing hundreds of peer-reviewed papers, and the journal ultimately rejected the paper.

There’s no way to know if the editor of the journal followed Mann’s recommendations or if the paper's rejection was a result of Mann’s actions. Even if Mann’s influence wasn’t the cause, Pielke said Mann’s behavior was unacceptable by scientific standards.

Rent free

A spokesperson for Mann declined to comment on Mann’s intervention in Pielke paper, or the trial.

“There is absolutely nothing about this behavior that is ethical or acceptable in the practice of science,” Pielke wrote in his Substack article.

Pielke told Just The News that the scientific community has largely ignored Mann’s behavior, and Mann continues to be held in high regard. “It is baffling, as it is science that ultimately suffers,” Pielke said.

Pielke added that the peer-review process in scientific journals is imperfect, but it’s an important step in evaluating research. “It depends upon scientists who wish to work together to advance knowledge. When scientists undermine the integrity of peer review, they are undermining science. When people learn of scientists who are undermining science, it hurts the entire enterprise,” Pielke said.

While Pielke acknowledges that climate science is full of uncertainties, he argues that global warming poses a risk, which could be potentially dangerous in the decades to come. He’s supportive of net zero approaches to reducing that risk. So, he said, he doesn’t really understand Mann’s hostility toward him on social media.

“I have no idea why Mann is so personally fixated on me. I do know that I have lived rent-free in his head for a long, long time,” Pielke said.

Not the first time

Jeff Reynolds, senior investigative researcher with Restoration of America, recently published a two-part investigative report on the entire climate debate, which details the various criticisms of Mann’s methodology that produced the hockey stick graph, and it explores competing perspectives on the climate issue.

“The idea [of the report] is really to consolidate in one place, the overwhelming evidence that the theory has not been proven at all,” Reynolds told Just The News.

In the series, Reynolds recounts a previously defamation suit Mann launched against his critic Dr. Tim Ball, retired geography and climatology professor in British Columbia. Ball was interviewed concerning a scandal in 2009 that’s commonly referred to as “ClimateGate.” A whistleblower released hacked emails from scientists at the Hadley Climatic Research Unit at Britain's University of East Anglia. Skeptics of the so-called climate crisis say the emails demonstrated that the scientists, including Mann, had cherry-picked data to manufacture Mann’s hockey stick graph.

In the interview, Ball said “Michael Mann should be in the state pen, not Penn State.” The joke earned Ball Mann’s ire and a defamation lawsuit that lasted nine years before the Canadian Supreme Court dismissed it, and ordered Mann to pay Ball's litigation costs. Ball died in 2022.

Scorched earth

McAleer told Just The News that testimony in the trial so far has painted Mann as someone who seeks to bully and destroy anyone who criticizes his work. “This is not a collegiate scientist. This is someone who wants to control you and wants to be king. Unfortunately for him, I’m a Catholic from Northern Ireland, and I don’t believe in the royal family,” McAleer said.

Mann has had pushback from his own colleagues over his behavior. On Tuesday, testimony in the trial revealed that Dr. Raymond Bradley, who worked on the data for Mann’s hockey stick graph, had warned Mann in emails that his “scorched earth, take no prisoners” attitude toward critics could damage his reputation. “As Mark Stein said in his opening, the National Academy of Sciences has a code of ethics. He breaches that code of ethics every day on Twitter, and this man is suing people for insulting him,” McAleer said.

McAleer said that he and McElhinney haven’t seen any mainstream press at the trial. He said he saw one reporter from the pro-Mann climate activist blog Desmog, but no one from national outlets.

“In a proper, just world, the press benches would be full, and there’d be gavel to gavel coverage of this trial,” McAleer said, adding that he believes the media are ignoring the case because they don’t want to report what’s becoming public at the trial.

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