Monday, March 28, 2011

Coming Soon to a Courthouse Near You


A Pennsylvania State University professor claims climate-change denier Timothy Ball defamed him in an interview published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg-based think tank.

Michael Mann, a professor in Penn State's meteorology department and director of the university's Earth Systems Science Center, claims that Ball defamed him when he said that Mann "should be in the State Pen, not Penn State," for his alleged role in the so-called climate gate email tussle.

Mann says that Ball and the Centre refused to issue an apology and published the words with the "purpose of harming the plaintiff and exposing him to hatred, ridicule and contempt, lowering the plaintiff in the estimation of others, and causing him to be shunned and avoided."


Anonymous said...


John Mashey said...

Important note:
Mann is represented by the same lawyer, Roger McConchie who is representing Andrew Weaver. By all accounts he is a very strong libel lawyer, and if you search Amazon for "canadian libel" you will see his book, which is actually pretty readable.

Holly Stick said...

McConchie's website also has information about cyber libel:

John said...

A good attorney (McConchie) will let his client (Mann) know whether or not the client has a good case that will stand up in court. So Ball may be in serious trouble, Part 2.

For Part 1, the Weaver case against Tim Ball and the Canada Free Press, (to which John Mashey referred), the Canada Free Press has already caved in and issued an apology to Weaver. For that previous case, see my bog entry

Disclosure alert: my father was an attorney, but it was patent law, not Perry Mason.

bigcitylib said...

Looks like The Frontier center hasn't pulled the interview. Be nice to see their wallets get a bit lighter.

McConchie is quite good, and the thing about Canadian libel law is it sets the standard a bit lower, although the payouts are not nearly as large (as I understand it)as down South.

John Mashey said...

Actually, the CFP case was the minor one.
The earlier adn far bigger one was this, vs the National Post.

Think of CFP:NP as Washington Times:Wall Street Journal.

EliRabett said...

This is now spreading, esp. to US blogs, where, although EANAL, nor was Dad Rabett, there is probably not a winnable case. Many of them are jumping on Mann. However, Tim's little helpers might ruminate on the point that the farther this spreads, the worse the damages.

adelady said...

Damages may not be the core issue. McConchie/Mann might pursue (or accept) the get.rid.of.the.item.from.the.whole.of.the.internet result that Weaver got with the earlier withdrawal.

Making these people actually take some responsibility for the consequences of their actions would be a good thing.

J Bowers said...

CEI's lead attorney, Chris Horner, has offered to help Ball with advice when he needs it, Mann's lawyers are being rumoured to be shills of the Suzuki Foundation, and there'll probably a whipround for Ball's defence fund. Might need a big pot.

John Mashey said...

P.184 of CCC from a year ago, has some links on defamation law, which is messy, but has possibilities, especially via the Internet.
In late 2009, I thought this was the best-available route, if we could figure out how to use it, but then Deep Climate found the first Wegman Report plagiarism, and then that expanded as more thigns came out.

Anonymous said...

CEI defending a discredited person like Tim Ball? How could it be?

CEI are wasting their time and money...go ahead fellas. This really does go to show that groups like Heartland and CEI are driven by rogue ideology and not principles or science or ethics.


Anonymous said...

Mann just sent a letter to a newspaper in Bumf**k, AZ. If he follows up with a lawsuit there and wins, he just might find himself the proud owner of a spiffy double-wide...


mike roddy said...

My, those deniers are sensitive. It seems I've hurt Anthony Watts' feelings:

bill said...

Re Mike Roddy,

While the 'Rommulan' comment stream over at Watts itself is utterly charming and contains no questionable material directed at, say, Joe Romm or George Soros whatsoever...

J Bowers said...

There's a lot of tone trolling and "My feelings are soooooo hurt" going on lately, with legal action mentioned the other day in one blog's comments. Watch out for libellous and offensive comments and posts mysteriously disappearing from denialist blogs. Some activists for inaction have zero credible science to prop up their pedestals anymore, so might be feeling a little backed into a corner, and they can have the tendency to whip up each other into a frenzy. It wouldn't surprise me if we were to see games of chicken being played out soon. ;)

Marion Delgado said...

Not every letter someone like Michael Mann sends is to set precedent for a legal case - I imagine as a public face of science he feels a duty to correct the record and correct falsehoods over and above that.

Which leads to why EliRabett is probably right. IANAL either, but the next best thing, someone who depended on knowing this stuff for states he'd be reporting in. In the US, ever since the Times v. Sullivan case in the supreme court, public officials have had a higher standard for proving libel. One justification was that public officials have access to the public to tell their story. Another was that it was too much of a burden to make the general public prove some sort of preponderance of evidence case as if it were a civil case, instead of an article, essay, letter-to-the-editor, etc.

This got expanded over time to include public figures, on the grounds that they sought out publicity and they had a similar degree of access to tell their side as public officials had. Then it was expanded to include people who are public figures for purposes of a controversy - which Michael Mann is.

Therefore, for anything to do with climate change and the public policy response to it, Mann is a public figure, and hence the absolute malice standard applies - it would have to be shown in court, by a preponderance of evidence, that the defamer either:
      (a) showed evidence of knowing the claim was false before publication or
      (b) refused pre-publication evidence that it was false to create deniability (and a failure to retract is treated as essentially re-publishing).

Alongside the expansion of public official to public figure to public figure for purposes of a controversy came the justification that the rules of libel should be held to a stricter standard for commenting on a public controversy.

Additionally, the defamers in the US would force a Mann, etc. to show harm to their reputation, etc. which has sometimes allowed tabloids to skate (and sometimes not).

This is all an expansion of why EliRabbett's comment:

      This is now spreading, esp. to US blogs, where,
      although EANAL, nor was Dad Rabett,
      there is probably not a winnable case.

is correct.

It's usually a state's libel laws that apply, but a court ruling inconsistent with Times v. Sullivan won't usually happen.

J Bowers said...

A paper on the differences between the US and Canada concerning libel laws:

"Contrary to the U.S. actual malice rule, Canadian defamation law adheres to a strict liability standard, which holds that liability does not depend upon the intent or malice of the publisher but rather the mere fact that defamation occurred. 17 If a plaintiff proves that a statement is defamatory, then falsity and damages are presumed and the burden shifts to the defendant...."

Marion Delgado said...

It is actual malice - I was writing it on a bus so pardon the typo - BUT it's not really what we think of as malice - you could have been shrieking "I hate X" for a week before printing your defamation of X and that would have no bearing on it. Only that you either knew it was false or had evidence provided to you or a provable opportunity to get evidence that it was false shows "malice" in the defamation, vs. your honest mistake, so to speak.

willard said...

Turn it over to the lawyers.
Science is corrupt.

Brian said...

Marion's right AFAICT (and state libel laws can't conflict with 1st Amendment, although they may try). IAAL, but IANAlibelL, so hopefully that's right.

I read Weaver's complaint against the National Post way back when and it looked good, so this could be interesting.