Canadian author Mark Stein has been ordered to pay a climate scientist US$1 million after a libel trial

A jury on Thursday awarded $1 million to climate scientist Michael Mann, who sued two conservative writers 12 years ago after they compared his depiction of global warming to a convicted child molester.

Mann, a professor of climate science at the University of Pennsylvania, is best known for a graph first published in 1998 in the journal Nature that he called the “hockey stick” for its dramatic depiction of a warming planet.

The work brought Mann wide fame, but also many skeptics, including the two writers. Mann took to court over comments he said affected his career and reputation in the United States and internationally.

“It feels great,” Mann said Thursday after the six-person jury returned its verdict. “It’s a good day for us, it’s a good day for science.”

In 2012, a libertarian think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute published a blog post by Rand Simberg, then a fellow at the organization, that compared investigations into Mann’s work to the case of Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach at Penn State. Who was convicted of sexually assaulting several children. At the time, Mann also worked at Penn State.

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Mann’s research was investigated after his and other scientists’ emails were leaked in 2009 in an incident that led to greater scrutiny of the “hockey stick” graph, with skeptics claiming that Mann had manipulated the data. Investigations by Penn State and others found no misuse of data by Mann, but his work has continued to draw attacks, especially from conservatives.

“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he molested and tortured data,” Simberg wrote.

Canadian writer Mark Stein later referenced Simberg’s article in his own article in National Review, where he referred to Mann as “the man behind the fraudulent ‘hockey stick’ climate change chart, a tree-ring circus ringmaster.”

“I’m not sure I would have extended this metaphor to locker room bathrooms with the enthusiasm that Mr. Simberg showed, but he was right,” Stein wrote.

Wide variation in compensation and punitive rewards

A jury in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia found that Simberg and Steen made false statements, and awarded Mann $1 in compensatory damages from each clerk. It awarded punitive damages of $1,000 from Simberg and $1 million from Steyn, after finding that the couple made their statements “with malice, malice, bad faith, retaliation or a deliberate intent to harm.”

During the trial, Stein represented himself, but said through his manager, Melissa Howes, that he would appeal the $1 million punitive damages award, saying he would have to face “due process scrutiny.”

A bald, bearded man wearing a blazer and collared shirt was seen standing on stage holding a microphone.
Scientist Michael Mann is shown on June 21, 2016, attending a screening of the HBO documentary How to Leave the World and All the Things Climate Can’t Change. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for HBO)

Mann argued that he lost grant funding as a result of the blog posts — an assertion for which both accusers said Mann provided insufficient evidence. The writers countered during the trial that Mann had instead become one of the world’s most famous climate scientists in the years following their comments.

“We have always said that Mann never suffered any actual injury due to the statement in question,” Stein said Thursday through his manager. “Today, 12 years later, the jury awarded him $1 in damages.”

Simberg’s attorney, Mark Delacelle, said his client is “disappointed with the verdict” and will appeal the jury’s decision.

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The jury is given specific instructions

Stein, who has written numerous books and written columns for the National Post and Maclean’s, has drawn strong reactions for his writing before. The Canadian Islamic Congress launched complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal over a series of articles written for Maclean’s magazine about Islam, although the complaints were dismissed.

In the Mann case, both writers said they were merely expressing their opinions.

Lyrisa Lidsky, a constitutional law professor at the University of Florida, said it was clear that jurors found that Stein and Simberg “recklessly ignored the falsity of their statements.”

Lidsky added that the discrepancy between what a jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages could lead a judge to reduce punitive damages.

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Many scientists have followed Mann’s case for years as misinformation about climate change has increased on some social media platforms.

Kate Seale of the Union of Concerned Scientists said: “I hope people will think twice before they lie and discredit scientists.” “We are so far outside the bounds of a civil conversation about the facts, and I hope this ruling helps us find our way back.”

In 2021, the D.C. Superior Court ruled that National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute were not liable for defamation in the matter. Mann said Thursday that he still plans to appeal that ruling.

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