COURTS & LEGAL

Jury awards climate scientist Michael Mann $1 million in defamation lawsuit

Feb 8, 2024, 5:38 PM | Updated: 6:35 pm

FILE - Michael Mann, then-professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, arrives at the “Before ...

FILE - Michael Mann, then-professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, arrives at the “Before the Flood” premiere on day 2 of the Toronto International Film Festival at the Princess of Wales Theatre on Sept. 9, 2016, in Toronto. A jury on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, said Mann was defamed 12 years ago when a pair of conservative writers compared his depictions of global warming to a convicted child molester. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A jury on Thursday awarded $1 million to climate scientist Michael Mann who sued a pair of conservative writers 12 years ago after they compared his depictions of global warming to a convicted child molester.

Mann, a professor of climate science at the University of Pennsylvania, rose to fame for a graph first published in 1998 in the journal Nature that was dubbed the “hockey stick” for its dramatic illustration of a warming planet.

The work brought Mann wide exposure but also many skeptics, including the two writers that Mann took to court for comments that he said affected his career and reputation in the U.S. and internationally.

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

In 2012, a libertarian think tank named 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, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University who was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple children. At the time, Mann worked at Penn State University, too.

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

“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data,” Simberg wrote. Another writer, Mark Steyn, later referenced Simberg’s article in his own piece in National Review, calling Mann’s research “fraudulent.”

The jury in Superior Court of the District of Columbia awarded Mann $1 in compensatory damages from each writer; it also awarded punitive damages of $1,000 from Simberg and $1 million from Steyn. It announced its verdict after four weeks of trial and one day of deliberations.

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

The trial happened as climate change continues to be a divisive and highly partisan issue in the United States. A 2023 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 91% of Democrats believe climate change is happening, while only 52% of Republicans do.

Many scientists have followed Mann’s case for years as misinformation about climate change has grown on some social media platforms, and many of them have themselves been subjected to attacks.

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

 

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Jury awards climate scientist Michael Mann $1 million in defamation lawsuit