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Terence Corcoran: The heated battle between 'skeptics' and climate 'dictators'


In a decision last week that should shock all who believe in free speech and open science debate, a Washington Superior Court jury found journalist Mark Steyn and another writer guilty of defaming Michael Mann, the Penn State climate scientist behind the “Hockey Stick graph,” possibly the greatest global warming marketing tool since Al Gore’s polar bears. For having allegedly published “false facts” with “knowledge” of their falsity, Steyn was fined US$1 million.

The 12-year-old case, with Mann’s millions in legal fees funded by unidentified sources, has attracted scant attention outside the confines of narrow climate science battle zones. What was revealed during the Mann-Steyn confrontation, however, is the underlying desperation of global warming fearmongers who have portrayed Steyn’s loss as a victory for what they claim is unquestionably sound climate science.

Few media covered the Mann-Steyn trial — previewed on this page in early February — or the decision beyond blithering about how the jury verdict offered support for Mann’s hockey stick science and the inviolate truth that fossil fuels are pushing the planet toward imminent catastrophe. Mann’s post-verdict statement was enough for mainstream media journalists: “I hope this verdict sends a message that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech.”


Nothing of the sort was proven during the Mann-Steyn court process.

In fact, it’s climatists such as Mann who need help. As the trial took place, the political and scientific aspects of climate change seemed to be weakening, if not unravelling. The European Union this week brought in a Net Zero Industry Act that effectively abandoned major carbon-emitting targets. Electric vehicle progress is struggling, economically and politically. The last global climate conference, COP28, was deemed a mixed bag of challenges and failure by most observers and activists. Signs of climate policy push-back are everywhere.

Climatists need the court victory to boost their case and dependence on aspects of Mann’s hockey stick claim that global temperatures have shot up over the past 100 years to levels not seen for thousands of years. Within a day of the trial, Mann moved to attack his critics.

One of his post-trial targets was Judith Curry, former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Curry was denied expert witness status at the trial on behalf of Steyn. But in a post-trial outburst, Mann still felt the need to tear Curry down — again. Instead of a dignified celebration of his victory, he sent out a tweet alleging Curry “was among those named” as a climate change “denier” in the Nature Communications journal. Mann also slapped the provocative “denier” label on scientist Bjorn Lomborg.

Lomborg tweeted a response to Mann with a link to the article, which was based on a list of climate scientists provided by DeSmog, the activist website. The list, including Curry, was the basis for the research, which also mentioned other labels such as “contrarians” and “skeptics,” labels that at least avoided allusions to Holocaust denial. Curry was not listed as a denier.

Missing from the categories of climate scientists, however, was a description for scientists such as Michael Mann. How about “climate science dictators” — researchers who will allow no other views to circulate outside of their own.

Skepticism is a necessary aspect of the scientific discovery process. During the trial, however, skeptics such as Curry were not allowed to testify, despite her having prepared a 54-page report for the court on the hockey stick science, which was highly critical of Mann’s work.

In her 2023 book, Climate Uncertainty and Risk: Rethinking Our Response, Curry calmly and methodically outlines the merits of skepticism, or — as she describes it, neo-skepticism. As she spars with Mann, she describes the role of skepticism. “The label neo-skeptic refers to a scientist who comments publicly about concerns that current climate policies may not have the desired impact on changing the climate and human welfare for the better and are not commensurate with the uncertainties in climate science.” She puts Bjorn Lomborg in the neo-skeptic camp.

In Mann’s view, skepticism and contrarian views are nothing more than the evil product of billions of dollars in fossil-fuel industry funding that should be labelled denialism. As Curry’s unaccepted report to the Mann-Steyn trial demonstrates, her work and the work of others raise serious questions about the validity of the science behind the hockey stick and other iconic claims of planetary doom.

No wonder Mann continues to feel post-victory that he needs to maintain his mean-spirited accusations against Curry and others. Even the polar bear scam has been curbed by activists. Could the hockey stick be next?

Financial Post