Climate scientist Michael Mann wins defamation suit over comparison to molester, jury decides


WASHINGTON (AP) — A jury on Thursday awarded $1 million to climate scientist Michael Mann who sued a pair of conservative writers 12 years ago after they compared his depictions of global warming to a convicted child molester.

Mann, a professor of climate science at the University of Pennsylvania, rose to fame for a graph first published in 1998 in the journal Nature that was dubbed the “hockey stick” for its dramatic illustration of a warming planet.

The work brought Mann wide exposure but also many skeptics, including the two writers that Mann took to court for comments that he said affected his career and reputation in the U.S. and internationally.

In 2012, a libertarian think tank named the Competitive Enterprise Institute published a blog post by Rand Simberg, then a fellow at the organization, that compared investigations into Mann’s work by Penn State University to the case of Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple children.

Mann’s research was investigated after his and other scientists’ emails were leaked in 2009 in an incident known as “Climategate” that brought further scrutiny of the “hockey stick” graph, with skeptics claiming Mann manipulated data. Investigations by Penn State and others, including The Associated Press’ examination of the emails, found no misuse of data by Mann, but his work continued to draw attacks, particularly from conservatives.

“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data,” Simberg wrote. Another writer, Mark Steyn, later referenced Simberg’s article in his own piece in National Review, calling Mann’s research “fraudulent.”

The six-person jury in Superior Court of the District of Columbia announced its verdict after four weeks of trial and one day of deliberations.

The jury awarded Mann $1 in compensatory damages from each writer; it also awarded punitive damages of $1,000 from Simberg and $1 million from Steyn.

The trial happened as climate change continues to be a divisive and highly partisan issue in the United States. A 2023 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 91% of Democrats believe climate change is happening, while only 52% of Republicans do.

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