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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 06/ 2/2010

Scientist sues media for libelous climate coverage

By Andrew Freedman

* Storm chances back Thurs: Full Forecast | CWG's summer outlook *

As regular readers of this column know well, the past several months have been unusually good to climate skeptics, and extremely bad for the majority of climate scientists who think the scientific evidence pointing to manmade climate change is extremely robust.

The key opening salvo came last December, when several well-known scientists had their emails stolen and used for an effective assault on climate science via out-of-context quotes and baseless allegations. This dustup, referred to by many as 'climategate,' helped foster the notion that climate science is controlled by a tight-knit cabal of experts determined to rig the science to suit their best interests.

Although several investigations have since cleared these scientists of most allegations, individual researchers have come under heavy fire as a result of this episode, as well as the discovery of several relatively insignificant errors in the landmark 2007 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. In the process, the public has grown more confused about what scientists know about the climate system and how human activities are transforming it, and public concern about climate change has declined significantly in several key countries, including the U.S.

How should scientists counterattack? One researcher, prominent Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver, thinks he has an answer: Sue the media for libel.

After all, the media is the conduit through which much of the misinformation flows, so why not target instances of journalistic malpractice?

Andrew Weaver

As John Wihbey details in the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, in late April Weaver filed suit against the National Post, a Canadian newspaper that has run numerous articles extremely critical of Weaver's work and those of his colleagues. For example, according to Wihbey, the Post has called Weaver "Canada's warmist spinner in chief," and "generally impute[ed] to Weaver various views that he claims he doesn't have." (Weaver's requests that the newspaper correct the record by issuing retractions/corrections were unsuccessful).

In the lawsuit, Weaver, who was a lead author of one of the IPCC's working groups for its 2007 report, claims the articles include "grossly irresponsible falsehoods that have gone viral on the Internet." Among those claims is that Weaver has turned against the IPCC and its conclusions, as trumpeted in this story in late January.

"If I sit back and do nothing to clear my name, these libels will stay on the Internet forever," Weaver stated. "They'll poison the factual record, misleading people who are looking for reliable scientific information about global warming."

As Wihbey discusses, the lawsuit is directed at the newspaper's editor and the authors of the articles, all of which were published between December 2009 and February of this year, during the period when climategate coverage was at its peak.

Weaver has a decent chance of succeeding with his suit, according to the Yale Forum article, since unlike in the U.S., in Canada the burden of proof in libel cases is on the defendant, not the plaintiff.

The Yale Forum quotes Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law, as stating that if a court concludes that Weaver has in fact been libeled (and by extension many other climate scientists may have been as well), it would be "a way of more authoritatively setting the record straight." Presumably this could repair some of Weaver's professional reputation, as well as that of climate science in general.

What do you think? Is Weaver's legal action likely to change any minds, and restore public confidence in climate science?

The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent any position of the Washington Post, its news staff or the Capital Weather Gang.

By Andrew Freedman  | June 2, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Freedman, Media, News & Notes  | Tags:  Andrew Weaver, climate change, climate skeptics, climategate, IPCC  
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Looks like even Tipper Gore can't take any more of Al's Global Warming nonsense. She's leaving him.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | June 2, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse


"Weaver has a decent chance of succeeding with his suit"

Don't bet on it.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | June 2, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

This suit will not change any minds. Climate skeptics will see it as a prime example of the crybaby liberal science community getting recklessly litigious because their agenda has been threatened by "the truth." Too bad this suit can't set a legal precedent in the U.S. (can it?)

Posted by: meagan_perk | June 2, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Yes...wondering whether Tipper Gore got fed up with one too many climate-change arguments...though I tend to hold the right wing responsible for such things as dangerous lightning on my busy afternoons. IMO the right wing [GOP, Tea Partiers, climate skeptics, etc.] is guilty until proven innocent. It's easy to tell apart the "much-needed-rain" crowd--they're always going after us liberals.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | June 2, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Nice to see the left "respecting" freedom of the press. If you dare to criticize the party line on climate "change," you get sued. Next step: imprison opponents in political re-education camps.

You climate changers make the Khmer Rouge look reasonable.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | June 2, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame: nice, rhetoric-free comment. I'm sure it will advance a civil discourse on this issue...

Posted by: steske | June 2, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

”About 2 months ago I deleted loads of emails, so have very little – if anything at all.”

A year later: “We’ve not deleted any emails or data here at CRU.”


Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise...Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same?...We will be getting Caspar to do likewise."

Looks bad when taken out of context, but when you read it in context, it has a whole different meaning. Jones was referring to some recipes they had been swapping in their spare time. One of the fish recipes, nicknamed AR4, had made everyone sick, and they wanted to make sure that nobody else got hurt.

Posted by: sdlawrence | June 2, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

do the attempts to shut down dissent bother anyone?

Posted by: jbdz | June 2, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

sdlawrence, that was hilarious! sarcasm is my favorite humor. Maybe there is a chance they didn't delete the data too. Maybe UV will open up and abide by the FOI they are pushing so hard against. Maybe even NASA will too. The proof is in the pudding, show me the data and source code and then you can call me. Denier, flat earther, ethnic slang name, tea bagger, whatever you want. Until then FOI liars!

Posted by: Blainestorm | June 2, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse


Suing a media outlet for libel hardly seems like "shutting down dissent." In fact, it's the normal, orderly method society uses to resolve disagreement.

The real risk here is not to the newspaper, there is a fact-based consensus among policy makers the newspaper is wrong, the risk is that the courts don't find the newspaper guilty of libel, in which case Weaver will get attacked further by people playing politics.

Posted by: easyenough | June 2, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Here's another National Post story where Mr. Weaver claims that someone tried to break into his computer along with the claim that the Climategate emails were the product of an illegal break-in. The news story says "He believes the campaign is driven by the fossil-fuel industry, citing “a war for public opinion.”"

If the Post is accurate in what Mr Weaver said (in December) then it seems to me that Mr Weaver is throwing around allegations that don't make much sense (the Climategate emails are much more likely to have been an inside job). They could constitute libel except that Mr Weaver doesn't name any names. I don't think that he has much of a case since he seems to have deliberately sought out this type of publicity with his statements.

Posted by: eric654 | June 2, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Andrew -

What's your favorite flavor of Kool Aid?

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | June 3, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

"What do you think? Is Weaver's legal action likely to change any minds, and restore public confidence in climate science?"

How a Canadian libel suit, should it turn out successful, is going to change anyones minds about GW is a mystery to me. What it will do is fuel the opinion that people who disagree with it or have concerns about studies, data, access to data, etc continue to try to be silenced, ridiculed and dismissed. Weaver is actually making things worse. In order to change minds, the believers are going to have to at least pretend to not be so thin-skinned, arrogant, dismissive and put forth the appearance of inviting scrutiny to the things they are saying. Getting over Gore's battlecry of "settled science" is going to take more than a simple libel suit.

I'm OK with your incessant posts on man made global warming because I think this stuff should and needs to be talked about and debated. But quite frankly, this post is really silly in that respect. What is needed is a open, honest and comprehensive public debate, not these partisan posts on he said/she said type stories.

Posted by: amaranthpa | June 4, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I'm unfamiliar with the discovery process and courtroom protocols in Canada, but this could be delicious if it culminates with a legal proceeding in an open courtroom with a jury.

The in-context analyses of the Climategate emails and files are just as devastating as the out-of-context ones. The whitewashes of the UAE CRU by their patrons in the Parliament, without even taking any testimony from the likes of Steven McIntyre or any other 'skeptics' that were discussed by the CRU insiders in the FOIA file emails, are not evidence of innocence.

Even if the National Post really did cross the line as defined by Canadian law, and Dr. Weaver is awarded proper damages, I expect there will be lots of very interesting facts established by the proceedings.

Posted by: ggoodknight | June 5, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

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