Deniers, disgust, and defamation

The entire universe in blog form
July 23 2012 10:20 AM

Deniers, disgust, and defamation

Whenever I post about the reality of climate change, I get the usual chorus of denialist outrage. This includes the odd ad hominem or two, like the sneering "What does an astronomer know about the climate?", because apparently not having an advanced degree in science makes someone a better judge of the data.

But the slings and arrows I get here are nothing, nothing, compared to what professional climate scientist Michael Mann gets. He is, after all, the researcher who first published the hockey stick diagram which shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth has warmed up. To the deniers, he is Enemy Number 1. They have attacked his diagram and his research many times, always coming up short. The data and methods are solid, and it's clear the Earth really is warming up.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


So what's a denier to do when all the evidence is against them? They attack Dr. Mann himself, of course.

These onslaughts have been documented endlessly, and they include Congressional shenanigans, witch hunts by the Virginia Attorney General, and even death threats.

All that is, sadly, to be expected. But now, ramping up the rhetoric to full-on disgusting, comes The National Review. A far-right paper (to say the least), they are not exactly supportive of the reality of global warming. But a few days ago they published a blog article by Mark Steyn that calls Mann a scientific fraud. This may be expected from deniers, but doesn't change the fact that when you say that the research done by a scientist is deliberately fraudulent, you are stepping into defamation territory.

Needless to say, Mann isn't sitting back and taking this. He contacted his lawyer, who has sent a letter to The National Review saying they knowingly defamed him by accusing him of scientific fraud, and demanding an apology and that the defamatory article be taken down. Mann put up a copy of this letter on his Facebook page. As he points out, Mann has been cleared of all wrongdoing multiple times by multiple independent agencies (like here, and here, and here, and here, and of course here), despite the efforts of the global warming deniers to do whatever they can to take him down. I certainly hope The National Review complies, and issues an apology.

Oh, but we're not done just yet. Amazingly, it gets worse.

The National Review article quotes another article, written by Rand Simberg of I hope you're sitting down, and haven't eaten anything recently, because in that article, Simberg compares Dr. Mann to Jerry Sandusky. Seriously, this guy compares a climate scientist who is promoting the reality and danger of global warming to a convicted child molester.


In his awful National Review piece, Steyn quotes this truly disgusting thing and then with faint damning says, "Not sure I’d have extended that metaphor all the way into the locker-room showers with quite the zeal Mr Simberg does, but he has a point."

Wow. Stay classy, Mr. Steyn.

I think Mann is correct to have his lawyer contact The National Review, since the defamatory nature of the article and the attack on his scientific credibility is clear. But I think the slimy analogy is what makes me angrier. Sadder, too. As we've seen, this is what discourse has become in politicized science. Ironically, too, deniers accuse scientists (including me) of politicizing science, but neither I nor any scientist has politicized it. The attacks on global warming science originated clearly and obviously from the far right, and it was those attacks that politicized the science. What scientists have done since then is a reaction to those partisan and political attacks. As usual, deniers accuse scientists of precisely the sort of tactics they themselves are using. It's 1984 come alive.

For more on this I recommend reading the excellent Climate Crocks site, as well as the American Geophysical Union blog. [NOTE: Mann has also written about these extensive attacks on him, his reaearch, and his character in his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.] And if you are a scientist, pay attention. It doesn't matter if you are a climatologist, a biologist, or an astronomer. In this political climate, all of science is vulnerable to ideological attack when reality disagrees with political beliefs.

It's disgusting, and it's dangerous, but it's also the new political reality. We must be ever vigilant against such attacks, because that is the true price of defending reality.

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