Climate scientist awarded $1m from right-wing bloggers who defamed him

A climate scientist, compared to a pedophile and accused of fraud by climate deniers, brought the heat to them in a defamation lawsuit last year. The two men must now pay Michael Mann more than $1m after a jury found in his favor.

Mann, professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania, is most famous for the "hockey stick" graph showing a sharp rise in temperatures in recent decades. In a blog post published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a go-go-gadget libertarian think tank, Rand Simberg compared Mann to Jerry Sandusky, a convicted child sex abuser. Mark Steyn, a National Review writer, linked to the posting approvingly and called Mann a fraud.

Each writer was dinged $1 in compensatory damages, suggesting jurors didn't think much of Mann's claims of professional suffering, but they awarded punitive damages of $1,000 from Simberg and $1 million from Steyn, finding their attacks written with "maliciousness, spite, ill will, vengeance or deliberate intent to harm."

Lyrissa Lidsky, a constitutional law professor at the University of Florida, said it was clear the jurors found that Steyn and Simberg had "recklessly disregarded the falsity of their statements." She added that the discrepancy between what the jury awarded in compensatory and punitive damages could result in the judge reducing the punitive damages.

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

"I hope people think twice before they lie and defame scientists," said Kate Cell of Union of Concerned Scientists. Her work as senior climate campaign manager includes tracking misinformation related to climate change.

Without summarizing a case I did not read or a trial I did not watch, the punitive verdict against Steyn forms the overwhelming body of the judgment and he represented himself in court. Were it not for him employing the services of Dunning-Kruger LLP and intentionally displaying his personality to jurors, this story might have been "jurors award only $2002 to defamed climate scientist."

Climate denial seems an essentially American phenomenon. (From Cory's post on The American science-denial playbook, quoting Mann: "After my climate change book came out, I had dinner with a Dutch minister from a right-wing, conservative party — and he sounded like a Greenpeace guy.") Looking back, when I first encounted it in the UK back in the 1990s there was always some odd tendril of American money and politics behind it.