The overwhelming consensus among scientists is that climate science and global warming are real. Earth is undeniably threatened.
But does that mean climate scientists should be free from criticism or second-guessing? The U.S. Supreme Court may consider just such an issue within the next couple of weeks, as it decides whether to accept review of a decision by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals – D.C.’s highest court.
This case, Mann v. National Review and Competitive Enterprise Institute, pits a climate scientist from Penn State University against others – mostly from the political right – who dared call his research into question. The scientist, Michael Mann, thought the criticism against him was unfounded, unfair, and false. And he claimed it sullied his reputation.
Mann sued the National Review magazine and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for defamation.
The D.C. Court of Appeals held that Mann could continue to pursue his lawsuit, rejecting the defendants’ arguments that their statements were not actionable because they chiefly constituted opinion.
In May 2019, CEI asked the Supreme Court to review – and reject – the D.C. court’s reasoning.
Backing the defendants are a politically diverse array of organizations and even some politicians, from The Washington Post and the American Civil Liberties Union and a slew of Republican U.S. Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“The only way to protect free speech for our allies is to protect it for our adversaries,” Arthur Spitzer, ACLU D.C.’s legal director, told The Hill newspaper. “Today it is unacceptable to deny climate change, but yesterday it was unacceptable to deny that homosexuality was sinful, and tomorrow it may be unacceptable to deny that robots are better parents than humans.”
Others disagree. “Libelous personal attacks on climate scientists have been a key part of the skullduggery of far-right climate-denying thugs and their funders for many years,” Paul Bledsoe, a former communications director for a climate task force under President Clinton, told The Hill.
But as the ACLU’s Spitzer suggested, what type of science, or any other topic, is going to be off-limits to criticism down the road?
The D.C. court’s opinion will chill all sorts of speech and debate, as offering a minority opinion about any controversial subject suddenly creates the real risk of expensive and time-consuming litigation.
More speech, not censored speech, is a vastly superior path.