Judith Curry, Free Speech Champion

Source:  No Frakking Consensus

Dr. Judith Curry

Dr. Judith Curry

The past week has been insane. Among the things on my plate:

  • coordinating with organizers of an April conference in Germany (programme here, registration info here)
  • exploring the possibility of speaking in Edinburgh this Spring
  • accepting an invitation to contribute a chapter to an Australian book
  • scheduling upcoming media appearances
  • reading a book I promised, many weeks ago, to review
  • assembling and testing software, green screen technology, and lighting intended to turn my home office into a mini broadcast studio (2014 is the year I try to learn to love video)
  • agreeing to write a research paper about the SLAPP phenomenon (strategic lawsuits against public participation)

The latter is closely connected to the issue of free speech. This morning, climatologist Judith Curry published an informative overview of various lawsuits involving another climatologist, Michael Mann.

Toward the end of that overview, she boldly and vigorously supports free speech. Moreover, she rejects the idea that academic freedom is meant to be a shield behind which publicly-funded professors hide.

The problem with the Michael Mann sort of scientist is that, rather than practicing science quietly behind the scenes, they want to participate in the public debate.  They?re perfectly entitled to do so, on an equal footing with everyone else. Yet the minute anyone disagrees with them, they play the ?I?m a famous scientist and should not be gainsayed? card.

In other words, they aren?t interested in actual debate. They want to be authority figures who school the rest of us. Anyone who challenges them is reflexively pigeon-holed, labeled, and dismissed as

  • rejecting all scientific progress
  • attacking all scientists

Every community has its bad apples. Just because people have grave concerns about the quality of Michael Mann?s research does not mean they are anti-science. It?s remarkable that something so obvious needs to be said ? and that so few scientific organizations seem capable of grasping this rudimentary concept.

So three cheers for Judith Curry, who writes today:

For the past decade, scientists have come to the defense of Michael Mann, somehow thinking that defending Michael Mann is fighting against the ?war on science? and is standing up for academic freedom. Its time to let Michael Mann sink or swim on his own. Michael Mann is having all these problems because he chooses to try to muzzle people that are critical of Mann?s science, critical of Mann?s professional and personal behavior, and critical of Mann?s behavior as revealed in the climategate emails.  All this has nothing to do with defending climate science or academic freedom. [bold added]

Read her full remarks here:

Steyn et al. versus Mann

Posted on February 22, 2014

by Judith Curry

Some significant developments in various lawsuits involving Michael Mann

Steyn versus Mann

Mark Steyn has just filed to countersue Michael Mann for $20M. Excerpts:

130. Plaintiff [Mann] has engaged in a pattern of abusive litigation designed to chill freedom of speech and to stifle legitimate criticism of Plaintiff?s work. He is currently suing Dr Tim Ball in British Columbia over a hoary bit of word play (?should be in the state pen, not Penn State?) applied to innumerable Pennsylvanians over the years. Having initiated the suit, Dr Mann then stalled the discovery process, so that the BC suit is now entering its third year ? Mann?s object being to use the process as a punishment, rather than any eventual trial and conviction. See Mann vs Ball et al, British Columbia VLC-S-S-111913 (2011) (exhibit attached).

131.At the other end of the spectrum, Plaintiff and his Counsel have issued demands that have no basis in law, as they well know ? including the preposterous assertion, in response to a parody video by ?Minnesotans for Global Warming?, that ?Professor Mann?s likeness? is protected from parody and satire?There is a smell to the hockey stick that, in Lady Macbeth?s words, ?all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten? ? nor all the investigations. And so Dr  Mann has determined to sue it into respectability.

132. At the same time, Plaintiff continues to evade the one action that might definitively establish its respectability ? by objecting, in the courts of Virginia, British Columbia and elsewhere, to the release of his research in this field. See Cuccinelli vs Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia?

133. As with his previous legal threats and actions, Plaintiff has brought this lawsuit for the purpose of wrongfully interfering with critics? statutorily protected right of advocacy on an issue of great public interest and constitutionally protected free-speech rights.

134.Plaintiff?s lawsuit was designed to have and has had the effect of inhibiting legitimate debate on the issues and public policy surrounding the theories expounded by Plaintiff and others and of restricting the free flow of ideas concerning the merits of those theories?

137. Such improper chilling of free, robust and uninhibited public debate over climate change taints and skews the democratic process and distorts the resulting governmental public policy response to alleged global warming.

138. Plaintiff?s lawsuit has damaged Defendant Steyn by interfering with his right to express opinions on controversial matters and causing him to expend time, money and effort in having to respond to this lawsuit.

140. As a result of Plaintiff?s campaign to silence those who disagree with him on a highly controversial issue of great public importance, wrongful action and violation of the Anti-SLAPP Act, Steyn has been damaged and is entitled to damages, including but not limited to his costs and the attorneys? fees he has incurred and will incur in the future in defending this action, all in an amount to be determined at trial, but in any event, not less than $5 million, plus punitive damages in the amount of $5 million.

142. Plaintiff?s wrongful interference with Defendant Steyn?s constitutionally protected rights of free speech and public expression and his engagement and use of the courts as an instrument of the government to carry out that wrongful interference violates the First Amendment and constitutes a constitutional tort for which Defendant Steyn is entitled to be compensated.

Steyn discusses this in a post The New Tribalism.

Mann/ U. Virginia emails

The Yale Climate Media forum has a very good post titled Strange bedfellows and fear of broad impacts of Mann/UVa court ruling.  Excerpts:

Pitting the interests of academic freedom against transparency, media access, and freedom of information, a high-profile case before the Virginia Supreme Court involving climate scientist Michael Mann is expected to be decided over the next few weeks.

If it all feels like legal deja-vu, that?s because it is ? though this particular case has come with a twist, as new, broader issues of information access are at stake. On the surface it looks like a kind of redux of the suit launched by then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. But because of different legal issues, it has ended up bringing together strange allies, banding together media groups with the libertarian think tank.

The key issue in the pending case over the quest for Mann?s e-mails involves the extent of Virginia?s state freedom of information laws, which ATI is using to request Mann?s documents. That issue has galvanized a coalition of 18 heavyweight press groups ? including the Reporter?s Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Associated Press, Reuters, NPR, Dow Jones, Politico, The Washington Post and others ? who somewhat quietly penned a friend-of-the-court or ?amicus? brief favoring disclosure of this type of e-mail.

Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences and a number of large higher education associations and other academic interests are supporting Mann?s position with their own legal brief. Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has written about relevant background for the scientific community. ?The court clearly understood the potential consequences of the actions it is being asked to take,? Halpern wrote after attending the Virginia Supreme Court?s January 2014 hearing, ?with multiple justices talking about how the interpretive standard they set will apply not just to this case but to tens of thousands of cases.?

Peter J. Fontaine, Mann?s attorney, told The Yale Forum in an e-mail that he believes the press groups are ?flat wrong? in taking the side of what he called an ?industry shill? in this case:

The correspondence of public university faculty should not be open to anyone who wants to read it. Nor should the cost of reviewing, producing and/or redacting such correspondence fall on the public university. A contrary ruling on either point would do unique damage to America?s public universities. Failure to protect the interests of public universities and their faculty to be free to research controversial or divisive topics and to exchange and express thoughts and ideas in a zone of privacy, without fear of embarrassment by public disclosure, will damage an essential quality of American public universities.

?Academics must feel comfortable sharing research,? the Post?s board wrote then, ?disagreeing with colleagues and proposing conclusions ? not all of which will be correct ? without fear that those who dislike their findings will conduct invasive fishing expeditions in search of a pretext to discredit them.?

Finding that appropriate ?balance? between the important principles of academic freedom and media access to information ? rights seemingly here in conflict ? remains the Holy Grail for those deeply committed to both principles. Whether the Virginia Supreme Court can thread that needle remains to be seen.

McIntyre?s Audit

Steve McIntyre is auditing Mann?s libel case.  He has 3 recent posts:

BishopHill sums up the most significant bits:

Steve McIntyre?s latest post at Climate Audit includes the extraordinary revelation that Michael Mann?s latest submission to the courts regarding his libel suit includes a doctored quote. The offending words purport to be an excerpt from the Russell inquiry report, but, demonstrating a startling disregard for the court, the excerpt has been altered to make it look as if Mann had been exonerated by Russell. However, this has been done so badly as to make the alteration fairly obvious.

Shub identifies the source of the ?rigor and honesty? quote as a post from Skeptical Science.

Mark Steyn reacts in a post Rigor mortis, excerpts:

Mann and his lawyers doctored a quote and put their own version of it in direct quotation marks. That?s bad enough. But they did it for a specific reason. Because the original makes clear that Sir Muir?s findings apply only to the ?CRU scientists? ? that?s to say, employees of the University of East Anglia, who are the only people the Russell panel was charged with investigating, and were therefore the only people it was in a position to exonerate. So, as evidence of Michael Mann?s ?exoneration?, the best his lawyers can come up with is a fake quote from a report exonerating some people he happens to be acquainted with.

Dr Mann has played fast and loose with details all his professional life, starting from his original ?innocent? errors on the hockey stick to his ?innocent? promotion of himself as a Nobel Prize winner to his ?innocent? misrepresentations of these investigations in his current legal complaint. All these ?innocent? mistakes should put to rest at least one thing. It will be for a jury to decide whether he is merely careless or fraudulent, but rigour, or rigor, or any other spelling thereof, is something he knows not.

To take the other university at the center of the Climategate controversy, the University of East Anglia?s investigation was also something of a dodge, but they at least understood the question of ?conflict of interest?. So they asked an outsider, Lord Oxburgh, to chair the investigation, and he in turn presided over an all-outsider panel from Cambridge, London, Zurich and MIT. Penn State, under its corrupt president (now under criminal indictment), appointed a colleague of Dr Mann?s to investigate Dr Mann. And it all worked out swimmingly.

Meanwhile, Michael Mann is on the case, with this tweet:

Michael E. Mann ?@MichaelEMann  1h

Wondering about the credibility of #climatechange #denial attack dog #StephenMcIntyre? @DeepClimate?s got the goods: http://deepclimate.org/?s=McIntyre 

Sue JC, sue!

Robert Tracinski has a post entitled Free Speech for Mann, but not for thee. Excerpts:

Mann?s goal is to make it a legally punishable offense to question a scientist?s honesty or even his thinking method.

If you are criticizing Professor Mann, that is. But if he is criticizing you?well, then, that?s a different story.

Mann, it turns out, routinely criticizes his own opponents in the harshest terms. And not just journalists like Steyn. Take Judith Curry, the chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

Indeed, Mann?s recent New York Times op-ed begins with a blanket defamation of anyone who has ever questioned his global warming orthodoxy, people he describes as a ?a fringe minority? which ?clings to an irrational rejection of well-established science,? promoting a ?virulent strain of anti-science.?

So basically, Mann wants a legal guarantee that he can dish it out, but he doesn?t have to take it. What a jerk.

To Judith Curry?s credit, she is not eager to sue.

Many people have urged me to sue Mann; I can?t be bothered and I don?t have money to throw away on such stuff?. Further, I would like to stand up for Michael Mann?s right to make insulting and defamatory tweets, statements in op-eds, etc. As an American, I am pretty attached to the right to free speech.

I appreciate that attitude?but I?m wondering whether filing suit might actually accomplish a great deal more for the cause of free speech. Maybe what we need is precisely Curry vs. Mann.

Think about what Curry vs. Mann would accomplish. As Curry admits, ?I have at least as good a case against Michael Mann for defamation as he has against Steyn.? So this would put Mann is a bind: if he wins against Steyn, he establishes a precedent for his own loss to Curry. If no one can criticize him under the Bill Murray rule??Back off, man, I?m a scientist??then he can?t criticize others.

Now, I know that Curry doesn?t want to win against Mann. She doesn?t want to set the precedent that thin-skinned scientists can run around bullying their critics. So she should sue with the goal of making a settlement: that she will drop Curry vs. Mann?if he drops Mann vs. Steyn. It?s a kind of mutually assured destruction for censorship.

Whether she can be prevailed upon or not, Professor Curry?s case highlights the importance of this battle and the need to make sure that free speech is not just for members of the global warming establishment, but also for the rest of us.

Funding for these lawsuits?

What I would like to know is where is the funding coming from for these lawsuits?

Steyn is trying crowdfunding, would be interesting to see how he is doing.

Regarding Mann?s funding, WUWT reports:

Also, for those who don?t know, we?ve heard that Dr. Mann?s legal bills are being paid by the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, where we?ve been told there are some deep green pockets contributing, so he isn?t facing bankruptcy, at least not yet.

From the Wikipedia:  CSLD is funded entirely through private donations. As of January 2011, CSLD has received $25,000 in donations.

Hmm . . .  I wonder how deep the pockets are that are supporting Mann.  $10M deep?

In any event, seems like the lawyers stand to be substantially enriched.

Penn State?s new President

Penn State University has just announced their new President ? Eric Barron.  Barron is currently President at Florida State University; my colleagues and friends there tell me that Barron is well liked and has been doing a good job.  The interesting angle is this.   From his FSU biosketch:

Prior to assuming the Florida State presidency, he served as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. From 2006 to 2008, he was dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin. At Pennsylvania State University, he was professor of geosciences, director of the Earth System Science Center, director of the EMS Environmental Institute and dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Here is an interesting interview of Barron while he was director of NCAR, on climate modeling.  I tried to find any congressional testimony on climate change, I spotted one in 2001 [link].   As far as I can tell, Barron has not been very visible in the public or scientific debate on climate change over the past decade.

The relevance to Michael Mann?s situation is that Penn State?s new President started his career at Penn State in the same position Mann now holds:  Director of the Earth System Science Center.  Hard to imagine that Barron won?t take an interest in lawsuits involving Mann.

JC reflections

All this is becoming quite the soap opera.  Apart from the entertainment being provided for the climate blogosphere, there are three really important issues at stake here:

  • freedom of speech
  • academic freedom
  • media access to information

I come down stalwartly on the side freedom of speech and media access to information.

The academic freedom issue is murkier. Academic freedom, as per the Wikipedia:

Academic freedom is the belief that the freedom of inquiry by faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy as well as the principles of academia, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities) without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment. Academic freedom is a contested issue and, therefore, has limitations in practice. 

With regards to climate science, IMO the key issue regarding academic freedom is this:  no scientist should have to fall on their sword  to follow the science where they see it leading or to challenge the consensus.  I?ve fallen on my dagger (not the full sword), in that my challenge to the consensus has precluded any further professional recognition and a career as a university administrator.  That said, I have tenure, and am senior enough to be able retire if things genuinely were to get awful for me. I am very very worried about younger scientists, and I hear from a number of them that have these concerns.

Tenure is an amazing privilege for academics. And now we see in the Mann/UVa case, that the establishment academics are worried about  fear of embarrassment by public disclosure and fear that those who dislike their findings will conduct invasive fishing expeditions in search of a pretext to discredit them.  Come on, big boy pants please.  We are talking about publicly funded research, and a primary concern is supposed to be avoiding embarrassing the scientists?

For the past decade, scientists have come to the defense of Michael Mann, somehow thinking that defending Michael Mann is fighting against the ?war on science? and is standing up for academic freedom.  Its time to let Michael Mann sink or swim on his own.   Michael Mann is having all these problems because he chooses to try to muzzle people that are critical of Mann?s science, critical of Mann?s professional and personal behavior, and critical of Mann?s behavior as revealed in the climategate emails.   All this has nothing to do with defending climate science or academic freedom.

The climate science field, and the broader community of academics, have received an enormous black eye as a result of defending the hockey stick and his behavior.  Its time to increase the integrity of climate research particularly with regards to increasing transparency, calling out irresponsible advocacy, and truly promoting academic freedom so that scientists are free to pursue research without fear of recriminations from the gatekeepers and consensus police.