September 8, 2013

There's "a line between rhetorical hyperbole and defamation."

Said the court that let the climate scientist Michael Mann — he of the "hockey stick" — to continue with his lawsuit against the National Review. 
The court...  pointed to terminology such as “whitewashed,” “intellectually bogus,” “ringmaster of the [tree]-ring circus” and “cover-up” as “more than rhetorical hyperbole.”
The linked article miscorrects the joke "tree-ring circus" to "three-ring circus." Here's the blog post  that drove Mann to file a lawsuit — Mark Steyn calling attention to some football-and-hockey bad-taste humor.


St. George said...

Doesn't this fall under the pneumbra (there's a word!) of political speech as Mann is a public figure in the context of the debate he's helped create?

Which reminds me of the great insult of Foote to Sandwich—

"In a famous exchange with the actor Samuel Foote, Jon Montagu, the 4th Earl Sandwich declared, "Foote, I have often wondered what catastrophe would bring you to your end; but I think, that you must either die of the pox, or the halter [noose]."

"My lord", replied Foote instantaneously, "that will depend upon one of two contingencies; -- whether I embrace your lordship's mistress, or your lordship's principles."" (Wiki)

Ann Althouse said...

The judge's opinion does use the "actual malice" standard, which applies to a public figure.

Hammond X Gritzkofe said...

From the linked article in the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media:

Putting M[redacted]n’s name “in the same sentence with Sandusky (a convicted pedophile) is clearly outrageous,” the court ruled.

From the actual Court ruling:

To place Plaintiff's name in the same sentence with Sandusky (a convicted pedophile) is clearly outrageous.

So it seems the Yale Forum has opened itself to charges of outragitude, whereas by more cautious phrasing of the Court has avoided that onerosity

CWJ said...

I'm confused. Isn't this old news written under a current dateline? I thought Combs Greene had been replaced on this case.

Original Mike said...

"The court... pointed to terminology such as “whitewashed,” “intellectually bogus,” “ringmaster of the [tree]-ring circus” and “cover-up” as “more than rhetorical hyperbole.”"

I might give him tree-ring circus", but the other descriptions are apt. The court should read A.W. Montford's "The Hockey Stick Illusion" to see how far from honest science is Michael Mann's work.

Moose said...

So I'd think that if this goes thru, John Stewart better watch his back...

Gahrie said...

Nothing more than warfare waged through the courts.

Matthew Sablan said...

The language used against Mann is about as bad, if not worse, than used against reputable scientists in other fields [and those in several soft sciences.] It might be bad form to say a report was white-washed, but that seems to me to be an opinion that is entirely defensible [even if the conclusion it reaches might be wrong.] I haven't followed it enough to know, but I know the hockey stick and various other things have proven to be... less than accurate, let's say.

Though, the standard global warming is complicated caveat applies: But that is no reason not to be responsible with energy use any way.

Big Mike said...

The trouble is, from a mathematical perspective, Mann's hockey stick certainly was intellectually bogus.

Take a hard look at the time frame from 900 AD to about 1400. We know, from historical record, that the climate was mild enough that people could live in Greenland for over 400 year using nothing more than ordinary medieval farming technology. Even today one cannot do that! A proper scientist should not just look for evidence that his theories are right. He has to look for evidence that his theories are wrong. And Mann failed in this simple step, failed spectacularly.

Matthew Sablan said...

The court didn't draw that line, the world did.

Sam L. said...

Mann can't take a joke. Humor is deadly. Discovery...

And Penn State investigated Sandusky and cleared him, and Mann and cleared him, which is to say, PS investigations are suspect, but not that Sandusky and Mann are similar in any respect other than being investigated.

madAsHell said...

The entire global warming concern is reduced to a defamation case.

I blame the dung beetles.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Words like "cover-up", "fake", "forged", "fabircated", etc, words that attribute intentional deception on the part of climate scientists are indeed false, though I do not know the law well enough to say that they rise to defamation.

Every bit of data used by climate "skeptics" to argue against climate scientists was collected and disseminated by climate scientists themselves. The climate "skeptic" community does no science of its own. It combs through the published scientific work, done by climate scientists, and spreads it into the popular discourse.

So it is logically impossible that there is any organized deception from the climate science community--the "skeptics" depend on the climate science community for all of the data they use to attack climate science. If that data is false or fabricated, then their criticisms of climate science are also false.

The only original scientific work done by any climate "skeptic" was the BEST temperature record, which was immediately disavowed by the "skeptics" when it was found to agree with the mainstream climate scientists.

Michael K said...

The truth should be a defense against libel but, in this day and age, it's hard to be certain.

EDH said...

Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent climate-change “hockey-stick” graph, the very ringmaster of the tree-ring circus.

I thought the word "fraudulent" was the only remotely defamatory, possibly unprotected speech in the entire article.

The Sandusky juxtaposition really is about Penn State, not Mann, isn't it?

Birkel said...

In order to have a judgment against them, Mann will have to prove NR either "knew or should have known"...

I assume the judge will say "Because science." and "Because shut up disagreeing with Liberal theology." to find that knowledge.

YoungHegelian said...

It'll be interesting to see if even a DC jury will convict on this once it's pointed out by the defense (pace Moose above) what a chilling effect this would have on political speech, including satire.

It was Rand Simberg at Openmarket who originally used the intemperate language. Steyn/National Review just quoted it & even disagreed with it, saying that he wouldn't have extended the analogy into the locker room. For Steyn/NR, the real analogy between Mann & Sandusky is that both were whitewashed in internal investigations by Penn State. I just can't see how a point like that constitutes libel of Mann by NR.

What's Mann's point? That he was slimed by association with Sandusky? Would he & the court have been happier with being the "Stalin of Climate Change"? Would this case be moving forward if Simberg had called Mann "Stalin" instead of "Sandusky"? I think not.

Saint Croix said...

Either the judge has not read New York Times v. Sullivan or she does not understand New York Times v. Sullivan.

Study and read Mr. Hugo Black, ma'am, if you want to be a judge.

Meanwhile, we all might reflect on the damage that will be done to a free society if Obama can sue anybody who "defames" him.

You lie!

This decision is a farce of jurisprudence. It's an embarrassment. Liberals are like lost Marxist puppy dogs now, wandering around without a clue.

n.n said...

The National Review should file a counterclaim arguing that Mann provided active support to an enterprise, global warming/climate disruption/climate change, which caused injury to their business interests. They should provide as evidence the failure of models and circumstantial evidence to predict the future. As well as an explanation that the system is chaotic, which ensures forecasts with limited skill in a short time frame, and predictions with a progressive failure.

Big Mike said...

So it is logically impossible that there is any organized deception from the climate science community

@Gabriel, that's a lie and you're a liar. Probably you have been lied to, and foolishly accepted the lie. But there are any number of sources of data that are not provided by climate scientists (see, for instance, medieval history) and which refute all or part of the AGW model.

But more basically, we have purloined Emails from at least one university exposing a conspiracy to lock out skeptical scientists by subverting the peer review process.

And more fundamentally than that, the predictions of the AGW model have not been borne out by reality in the decades since the model was published and lefties started frothing at the mouth at the opportunity to tax the very air we breathe. The model made predictions, as any model must. The predictions failed to materialize. The model is broken and the theory must be rejected.

That's how real science works.

cacchip said...

Does Mann really want to let discovery happen in this case? After all the leaked emails it seems that letting a hostile crew go through his communications and further expose them in open court will further destroy his creditability.

Hagar said...

@Gabriel Hanna,

The term "climate scientist" is nonsense in itself; what the term - at least as you use it - refers to the current group that constructs computer simulations based on temperature readings from the last 150-odd years(which they have "adjusted" according to what they think they would have been if taken as they think they should have been) and what they think they know about chemistry, etc., but ignoring what other branches of science know about past climate changes over time as it affected their fields of enquiry into botany, zoology, paleontology, geology, etc.

As my professor said in class: "Beware the prophets of a new technology!"

And the computer models are just a new technology, not a new "science."

Bruce Hayden said...

What must be remembered here, and what is often lost in the rhetoric, is that the validity of Mann's actual work was never really reviewed, just his methodology, and whether it comprised academic or scientific misconduct. He is apparently a mediocre statistician, and that is why he seems to have come up with unsupportable conclusions. But, there was no evidence in those reviews that he used faulty statistics intentionally. He just most likely didn't know any better, and, thus, no actual academic or scientific fraud.

I do see why equating Mann with a child molester might be defamatory. If the assertion had been aimed at Penn State, it might have made sense - that they condone unethical or at least questionable behavior if it makes their school look good. But, it apparently was aimed at Mann, and that may have crossed the line.

Hagar said...

Computer modeling could be very useful in "climate science," and it is very unfortunate that Michael Mann et al. have made such a mess out of it, and that their mess have become a religious litmus test for political party loyalty.

Their "AGW" is the result of inadequate computer skills, inadequate data, and "garbage in, garbage out."

The computer models must get to the point that they can explain the known past climate variations throughout earth's history, before any reliance can be placed on their abilities to predict the future.

Kirk Parker said...

"... by subverting the peer review process"

Yes, but let's please also remember this: "Peer review" is NOT what it is often taken to mean in the public mind--which sometimes approaches the popular image of a Federal independent counsel, spending vast hours and dollars following down every lead, looking for the smallest possible mistake. Instead, it's just someone else who works in the field giving the proposed paper a quick read to make sure it doesn't fail the "laugh test". In particular PR is most definitely NOT an independent confirmation of results.

Captain Curt said...

If NR has a decent lawyer, he should be able to point out several plausible instances of fraudulent conduct in Mann's work.

One of the key errors in the original hockey stick work was Mann's computation of the variance of a data set about the mean of a different set (which yields a mathematically meaningless value). It was akin to computing the variance in human height about the mean of human male height. Without this error, there is no hockey stick.

This was possibly just an error originally, but when this error was pointed out, he had the audacity to call it the "modern method".

More serious is the issue of verification statistics. His hockey stick methodology used comparisons of various "proxies" and temperature measurements in the modern period to establish a relationship that could be used to compute (purported) temperatures in the pre-modern period when there were no temperature measurements.

Following standard statistical procedure for this type of extrapolation, he split the period of overlap into calibration and verification periods. The equations of the relationship between proxies and temperature measurements were derived from the calibration period and tested against the temperature measurements from the verification period.

The most common statistic used here is the "verification r2" (r-squared), which is the mathematical correlation between the "predicted" values and the measured values in the verification period. A perfect match yields a value of +1.0 and no relationship yields a value of 0.0.

For the proxy sets used in most periods of the hockey stick, the verification r2 values are numbers such as 0.002 and 0.005. These are about as total, complete, and abject failures as it is possible to have. His method had absolutely no "predictive" value whatsoever. These numbers were confirmed by establishment scientists (Wahl & Ammann) and independent skeptics (McIntyre & McKitrick) alike.

Yet Mann did not report these values. (He did report them for one period where they were halfway decent.) Even though his paper discussed this statistic and his grudgingly released computer code showed he calculated them, when asked by one of the "investigative" committees, he denied having computed these values. Incredibly, the committee did not follow up.

There are all sorts of technical fields, from engineering to finance, where such conduct would land a person in jail. We'll see if the NR attorneys can make effective use of this.