[Update, December 22, 2016: As I predicted below, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has agreed that Mann can pursue his case. The opinion is quite lengthy, in part because of a variety of procedure issues that had to be resolved, but to me the key part is this:
A jury could find that the article accuses Dr. Mann of engaging in specific acts of academic and scientific misconduct in the manipulation of data, and thus conveys a defamatory meaning, because “to constitute a libel it is enough that the defamatory utterance imputes any misconduct whatever in the conduct of [plaintiff’s] calling.” Guilford Transp. Indus., 760 A.2d at 600 (alteration in original) (quoting RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 569, cmt. (e)); see Tavoulareas v. Piro, 817 F.2d 762, 780 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (en banc) (holding that statement that “a father set up his son in business” accuses father of nepotism and is defamatory because it, “might ‘tend to injure [him] in his trade, profession or community standing, or lower him in the estimation of the community’” (quoting Afro-Am. Publ’g Co. v. Jaffe, 366 F.2d 649, 654 (D.C. Cir. 1966))). Moreover, a jury could find that by calling Dr. Mann “the [Jerry] Sandusky of climate science,” the article implied that Dr. Mann’s manipulation of data was seriously deviant for a scientist.
It really is that simple. It’s one thing to criticize another’s viewpoints or ideas; it’s another thing entirely to accuse them of fraud.]
The entire scientific community, save a dwindling number of attention-seeking contrarians, believes temperatures on Earth since 1950 have risen by a little under 1 degree Celsius as a result of humanity’s relentless burning of fossil fuels. Even the Koch brothers’ own funded study agrees. As Bill McKibben explains, the global warming math is pretty simple: another 2 degrees increase will probably create a catastrophic environmental disruption, and right now in the ground are “proven reserves” of more than five times the fossil fuels needed to produce amounts of carbon dioxide sufficient to create that 2 degree increase.
But this is America, where everyone has freedom of speech, the constitutionally-guaranteed right to open your mouth and remove all doubt that you are indeed a fool, and so anyone, anywhere can show themselves to be scientifically illiterate by claiming there’s no proof of global warming. What Americans don’t have, though, is the right to make up falsehoods about others. Milkovich v. Lorain Journal, 497 U.S. 1 (1990)(rejecting attempt to dress up defamatory factual assertion as “opinion,” noting, “at common law, even the privilege of fair comment did not extend to ‘a false statement of fact, whether it was expressly stated or implied from an expression of opinion,’” quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 566, Comment a (1977)). I’ve written a lot about defamation in the past; perhaps there’s some right to lie about yourself and the Congressional Medal of Honor you didn’t win, but, at least for now, the Supreme Court has rejected every effort to claim a right to maliciously defame others.
Which brings us to Michael Mann, the physicist and climatologist at Pennsylvania State University famous for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and for the “hockey stick graph” showing a dramatic increase in global temperature over the past century. He’s also been called “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science.”