Archive | Politicizing Science

Mann v. Steyn — CEI SLAPPs Back

Earlier this week, Rand Simberg and the Competitive Enterprise Institute replied to Michael Mann’s libel suit. Specifically, they filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and, more interestingly, a special motion to dismiss under the District of Columbia’s Anti-SLAPP Act. As I noted here, Mann exposed himself to this motion by choosing to file his case in D.C. Superior Court.

Under D.C. Code Section 16-5502(b), a defendant in a libel action who is being sued for a written or oral statement made “in connection with an issue of public interest” is entitled to have the suit dismissed unless the plaintiff can show that “the claim is likely to succeed on the merits.” Further, the statute provides that filing the special motion stays discovery proceedings unless particular showings can be made. Given that global warming and climate policy are unquestionably issues of public interest (defined by the statute to include environmental issues), the relevant statements are clearly covered. So in order to prevail Mann will not only have to show that Simberg and CEI made provably false statements of fact concerning him that were defamatory, he will also have to show that Simberg and CEI made knowingly false statements or make their statements in “reckless disregard” of the truth — and that is notoriously difficult to do, particularly in the context of heated political debate. Further, Mann is unlikely to have the benefit of discovery to assist in his claims. Should Simberg and CEI prevail with this motion, they will be able to seek recovery of their legal costs. All of this makes me wonder why Mann chose D.C. as the venue for his suit.

My prior posts on this case are here, here, and here. [...]

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Pat Robertson: Young-Earth Creationism Is “Not the Bible”

Noted televangelist Pat Robertson firmly rejected young-earth creationism on “The 700 Club.” As CNN reports, when asked by a viewer how to respond to those who believe “the Bible could not explain the existence of dinosaurs,” Robertson suggested his viewers should not “fight science.”

“You go back in time, you’ve got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you’ve got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas,” Robertson said. “They’re out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don’t try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That’s not the Bible.”

If Robertson truly doesn’t want his viewers to “fight science,” he should also dissuade them from pushing “intelligent design.” The bills attacking evolution and pushing ID pseudo-science keep coming. As HuffPo notes, a newly elected Montana state representative announced plans to require the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside evolution under the guise of “teaching the controversy.” The one federal court to consider the question rightly concluded that “intelligent design” is creationism in pseudo-scientific drag.

Neither young earth creationism nor the rejection of evolution is required by the Bible. As Dr. Joshua Swamidass, “a Christian and career scientist,” noted in the WSJ last week:

the age of the Earth and the rejection of evolution aren’t core Christian beliefs. Neither appears in the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed. Nor did Jesus teach them. Historical Christianity has not focused on how God created the universe, but on how God saves humanity through Jesus’ death and resurrection. . . .

there is simply no controversy in the scientific world about the age of the Earth or evolution. Evidence points to a billion-year-old planet.

The evidence for

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Mann v. Steyn — The Defendants Respond

On Monday, famed climate scientist Michael Mann filed suit against National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute over some allegedly defamatory blog posts. Now some of the defendants have responded.

Here is CEI’s official response, and a legal analysis from their lawyer. Of note, while CEI refused to apologize for the initial blog post (which was edited long before Mann threatened to file suit), it has offered to publish Mann’s response on their climate blog, an offer Mann has refused. Perhaps this is because, as Mann has commented on his Facebook page, ” There is a larger context for this latest development, namely the onslaught of dishonest and libelous attacks that climate scientists have endured for years by dishonest front groups seeking to discredit the case for concern over climate change.” Of course is Mann is suing others for defamation, he may wish to be more careful about repeatedly attacking them as “front groups” for industry.

Mark Steyn has a few posts on NRO’s the Corner — here, here, and here — suggesting he’s not too worried about the suit. Watt’s Up With That rounds up more reactions here.

As I noted here, I’m skeptical of the suit. Here’s additional analysis from Ken at Popehat and Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy.

An interesting twist in this case is the fact that Mann filed his suit in D.C. Superior Court, which means it is subject to the District’s anti-SLAPP suit law which makes it particularly difficult to maintain libel and defamation suits. Alison Frankel explains:

The law, in effect, shifts the way courts decide motions to dismiss, doing away with the assumption that the plaintiffs’ allegations are true. It also restricts discovery, so plaintiffs usually have to show they’re likely to prevail without

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Mann v. Steyn — Popcorn Time

Climatologist Michael Mann, creator of the infamous “hockey stick” graph, has filed suit against National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for allegedly defamatory blog posts attacking Mann and his work. Dr. Mann has posted a release about the suit on his Facebook page. I’ll post links to the complaint once it’s on-line. In the meantime, here’s my prior post on the controversy.

Given that Dr. Mann is a public figure and a prominent participant in climate policy debates, and that debate over the soundness of the “hockey stick” graph continues, I am skeptical of this suit — and I say this as someone who believes human activity is contributing to climate change and supports appropriate policy responses. All sorts of outrageous charges are made all the time in the rough and tumble of the current climate debate, and many people forthrightly believe that Mann and others have cut corners in their scientific research. I think this will make it difficult for Mann to show that those involved acted with “reckless disregard” of the truth. I also doubt the courts will be too eager to police the word choices of polemical blog posts made by political commentators in the course of heated policy debates. Then again, I’m not being paid to offer a professional opinion on this matter, and Dr. Mann has retained prominent counsel. Stay tuned.

[Disclosure: I am a contributing editor at National Review Online, for which I write occasional articles and blog posts, and I worked for CEI in the 1990s. I have not discussed the merits of this suit with anyone in either organization.]

UPDATE: Here is Michael Mann’s complaint. BLT covers the story here.

UPDATE: Mark Steyn responds here. Ken at Popehat comments here. [...]

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How Not to Label Biotech Foods

In November, Californians will vote on Proposition 37, a ballot initiative to impose a mandatory labeling requirement on all foods produced with or from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). For reasons I discuss in this New Atlantis article, this requirement is unnecessary, unwise and potentially unconstitutional.

The effort has been endorsed by numerous progressive organizations and the California Democratic Party. Of note, those who usually police the misuse or politicization of science have been strangely quiet about the misleading and inaccurate scientific claims made by Prop. 37 proponents. Although the proposition warns of “adverse health consequences” from genetic engineering of foods, there is not a single documented case of adverse health consequences due to the use of GMOs. Yet about traditional crop-breeding techniques, we can say no such thing. It’s no wonder that the National Academy of Sciences has issued numerous reports concluding that the use of modern genetic modification techniques, in themselves, have no bearing on the relative safety of a food product. What was done to a specific GMO matters more than whether specific modification techniques were used.

It is even misleading to single out crops and other organisms modified by modern genetic modification techniques as “genetically engineered. Many common crops are “genetically engineered” in that they are the result of direct human modification. Corn, for example, does not exist naturally. It was “engineered” by humans, albeit using less precise breeding methods centuries ago.

The organizers of the effort claim consumers have a “right to know” whether their foods contain GMOs. But nothing stops consumers from obtaining such information. Organic producers and others who wish to cater to those who dislike GMOs are free to label their products accordingly (and, in my view, should be able to do so without some of the excessive disclaimers urged by [...]

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The End of (the Debate Over) Evolution

Noted paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey predicts the “debate” over evolution will end within the next few decades. As Leakey sees it, scientific evidence in support of evolution will continue to accumulate to the point where “even the skeptics can accept it.” I am not so sanguine, as I don’t believe skepticism of evolution is driven by “skepticism,” scientific or otherwise, nor do I think additional scientific evidence will satisfy evolution’s opponents. To the contrary, resistance to evolution is driven, first and foremost, by a belief that evolution represents a threat to religious belief, and second by “tribal” impulses. Lack of evidence has nothing to do with it, and I doubt the accumulation of additional evidence will change many people’s minds. [...]

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Heartland’s Mad Billboard Stunt

The folks at the Heartland Institute are mad, and that seems to have driven them a little mad. For years environmental activists have compared climate skeptics and those who raise questions about the likelihood of a warming-induced apocalypse to Holocaust deniers and worse. In 1989, then-Senator Al Gore famously compared those who downplayed the climate threat to those who ignored Hitler’s rise and NASA’s James Hansen compared coal-bearing trains to the rail cars headed to Nazi crematoria, drawing a moral equivalence between the use of coal and the Holocaust. Think Progress also trumpeted the “climate denial” views of Norwegian terrorist Andrew Breivik and claimed he was “inspired” by mainstream climate skeptics.

Then, earlier this year, Heartland was the target of directed smear campaign after the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick surreptitiously obtained internal Heartland documents by impersonating a board member. Gleick anonymously distributed the purloined documents together with a forged memorandum purporting to provide further evidence of Heartland’s internal dealings. Progressive bloggers trumpeted the materials, and the forged memo in particular, as evidence of Heartland’s sinister machinations. While it seems likely that Gleick himself forged the memo (or knows who did) Heartland may have difficulty seeking legal redress for his actions. I posted on what some call “Fakegate” here and here.

Instead of trying to retain the moral high ground by defending the substance of its views, Heartland adopted the tactics of its most unhinged critics, purchasing a billboard comparing those who believe in global warming to the Unabomber. According to Heartland, this was to be the first in a series featuring famous “global warming alarmists,” including Osama Bin Laden, Fidel Castro and other “rogues and villians.” Heartland explained the campaign this way:

what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United

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IG Inspector Claims White House Obstructed Gulf Drilling Moratorium Report

The New Orleans Times Picayune reports the White House denied the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General access to e-mails and communications about White House revisions to a report Interior Secretary Ken Salazar relied upon to justify a moratorium in oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The story begins:

A senior federal investigator says he was denied access to a White House official and full email records as he tried to determine whether a BP oil spill report was intentionally edited to erroneously suggest outside experts supported the Obama administration’s deepwater drilling moratorium. The experts, in fact, did not endorse the moratorium the administration ordered after the 2010 spill. The White House and Department of Interior later said the mistake was inadvertent, a result of an early-morning edit that moved some material from the body of the report to the executive summary.

Although some e-mails were provided eventually, the IG’s office was never able to validate their authenticity or completeness, the investigator claims. He also alleges the White House did not allow the IG to interview a White House official involved in editing the report. An official in the IG’s office told the Times Picayune that his office “does not have authority to compel” White House cooperation with its investigation. [...]

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Have Conservatives Lost Confidence in “Science”?

A new study purports to show that  trust in “science” as an institution has declined precipitously in recent decades.  This study has received substantial attention, including these stories in Inside Higher Ed and the Los Angeles Times.  The IHE story, which is fairly representative of the coverage, begins:

Just over 34 percent of conservatives had confidence in science as an institution in 2010, representing a long-term decline from 48 percent in 1974, according to a paper being published today in American Sociological Review.

That represents a dramatic shift for conservatives, who in 1974 were more likely than liberals or moderates (all categories based on self-identification) to express confidence in science. While the confidence levels of other groups in science have been relatively stable, the conservative drop now means that group is the least likely to have confidence in science.

This is a fair characterization of how the study’s author, Gordon Gauchat, characterizes the study.  The problem is this is not what the study actually shows.  To measure “trust in science” Gauchat relies on data from the General Social Survey (GSS) from 1972 to 2010, in which respondents were asked to rate the degree of “confidence” they have in various social institutions.  Yet the GSS specific survey question does upon which Gauchat relies does not actually measure trust in “science.”  Rather, the question asks respondents to rate their confidence in “the scientific community.”  But “science” and “the scientific community” are not the same thing.  The Gauchat study certainly finds something interesting, but it’s not quite what he claims.

Why does this matter?  Because one can have tremendous faith in science, as an institution and a process for discovering truth, while simultaneously lacking confidence in “the scientific community” as represented by current scientific leaders, science agencies, university researchers, those who purport [...]

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Climategate Turnabout Continued

The revelation that Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute posed as a Heartland Institute board member to obtain confidential board documents and then distributed these documents, along with an almost-certainly-fake “Climate Strategy” memo continues to reverberate through climate science and policy circles.  Folks that might otherwise be discussing the new study claiming climate change could lead to shorter people are instead preoccupied with the ethics of Gleick’s actins.  There’s also reason to believe legal action could be coming.  Gleick may have violated relevant state laws, and Heartland has apparently referred the matter to the FBI and is considering civil actions.  Gleick has canceled recent speaking engagements, resigned posts with some organizations involved in climate science and policy, and is taking a leave from the Pacific Institute, where he is also under investigation.

The Heartland Institute, for its part, has released two sets of e-mail correspondence (on its new “Fakegate” website) that shed further light on Gleick’s actions.  Early this year, heartland’s James Taylor had an exchange with Gleick on the Forbes website.  More specifically, Taylor lambasted a Gleick essay, and Gleick responded.  Shortly thereafter, Heartland invited Gleick to participate in a debate over climate change at the Institute’s annual dinner.  There was a brief back and forth, but on January 27, Gleick declined the offer, even though Heartland had offered to pay $5,000 to a charity of Gleick’s choice.  Interestingly enough, on the very same day he turned down Heartland’s invitation to debate — citing, among other things, concerns about the organizations lack of transparency and refusal to list all of its donors — Gleick began posing as one of Heartland’s board members in an e-mail exchange that led to his receipt of confidential Heartland documents.  This is quite a coincidence — a [...]

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Climategate Turnabout

In 2010 and 2011 the climate science community was rocked by the release of e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit showing that climate scientists can be just as petty, political and (at times) unethical as any other group.  To this day, it has not been determined who obtained the e-mail files and posted them online.

Last week, another potentially explosive trove of climate-related private documents was released on the web, in this case a set of documents prepared for a board meeting of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Chicago that sponsors the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change and other efforts designed to downplay the threat posed by anthropogentic climate change and discourage the adoption of climate change policies.  Among the documents was a “Climate Strategy” memorandum purporting to outline Heartland’s secret efforts to, among other things, suppress “warmist” views and discourage the teaching of climate science in schools.  Someone calling himself “Heartland Insider” distributed these documents to several progressive bloggers who promptly posted the materials on the web.

Other than the “Climate Strategy” memo, the documents were relatively pedestrian — revealing but not earth-shattering.  If anything, these documents suggested that the Heartland Institute’s efforts — and those of climate skeptics generally — are less well-funded than some suspect (and certainly less well-funded than major environmentalist groups).  Yet almost immediately, questions were raised about the memo’s authenticity.  The content and tone of the memorandum were a bit off, and it contained subtle errors of the sort someone on the inside would have been unlikely to make.  Megan McArdle dissected the memo here and here, while others identified evidence the memo had a different provenance than the other purloined materials.  Heartland, for its part, declared the memo a fake (while [...]

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HHS Secretary Overrules FDA Decision on Plan B

So-called “Plan-B” contraception is currently available for sale over-the-counter to women age 17 and older. Those younger than 17 may only obtain Plan B with a prescription.
Earlier this week, in response to a petition from Teva Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Plan-B One Step, the Food and Drug Administration decided that the age limitations should be lifted.  A review by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research concluded that the drug is “safe and effective” for use by adolescents and that younger women of child-bearing age were able to follow the product’s instructions and use it properly.  On this basis, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg decided to make Plan-B One Step available without a prescription to all women of child-bearing potential.

On Wednesday, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA Commissioner. As Secretary Sebelius explained in a statement, “the data, submitted by Teva, do not conclusively establish that Plan B One-Step should be made available over the counter for all girls of reproductive age,” largely because a significant percentage of eleven-year olds are capable of bearing children, and that there “are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age.”  Yesterday, President Obama said he supported the Secretary’s decision.

“I will say this, as the father of two daughters. I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine,” Mr. Obama said. The president’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, are 13 and 10. “I think most parents would probably feel the same way,” he said.

The usual suspects responded to the decision in the usual ways.  Reproductive rights organizations condemned the Administration’s decision.  Anti-abortion groups, which consider Plan-B an “abortifacient” because it can prevent a [...]

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ClimateGate Part Deux – Continued

The NYT on the new release of climate scientists’ emails:

The new e-mails appeared remarkably similar to the ones released two years ago just ahead of a similar conference in Copenhagen. They involved the same scientists and many of the same issues, and some of them carried a similar tone: catty remarks by the scientists, often about papers written by others in the field. . . .

In one of the e-mails, Raymond S. Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, criticized a paper that Dr. [Michael] Mann wrote with the climate scientist Phil Jones, which used tree rings and similar markers to find that today’s climatic warming had no precedent in recent natural history. Dr. Bradley, who has often collaborated with Dr. Mann, wrote that the 2003 paper “was truly pathetic and should never have been published.”

Dr. Bradley confirmed in an interview that the e-mail was his, but said his comment had no bearing on whether global warming was really happening. “I did not like that paper at all, and I stand by that, and I am sure that I told Mike that” at the time, he said. But he added that a disagreement over a single paper had little to do with the overall validity of climate science. “There is no doubt we have a big problem with human-induced warming,” Dr. Bradley said. “Mike’s paper has no bearing on the fundamental physics of the problem that we are facing.”

Some of the other e-mails involved comments about problems with the computer programs used to forecast future climate, known as climate models. For instance, a cryptic e-mail apparently sent by Dr. Jones, a researcher at East Anglia, said, “Basic problem is that all models are wrong — not got enough middle

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Assessing Endangered Species Science

Last Thursday, at a congressional hearing, Assistant U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Gary Frazer said that the Interior Department’s Office of Science Integrity would conduct an independent evaluation of the work of FWS biologists accused by a federal judge of being dishonest with the court and acting in ‘”bad faith.”  As the Los Angeles Times reports, Frazer said the FWS stands behind the work of its scientists but the Department will seek an independent assessment from outside experts nonetheless.

Frazer’s comments were delivered at a House Science Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on “The Endangered Species Act: Reviewing the Nexus of Science and Policy” at which I was also a witness. In my testimony, I focused on the broader issue of how science is and should be used in under the ESA, and made three basic points.

First, it is important to ferret out genuine instances of scientific misconduct or science politicization.  At the same time, it is essential to recognize that science merely informs, and does not dictate, policy. Species conservation is not – and cannot be – a wholly scientific exercise. Whether a given species is at risk of extinction may be a scientific question, but what to do about it is not. The likelihood that habitat loss or the introduction of an invasive species will compromise a species chance of survival in the wild is a question that can be answered by science. On the other hand, what conservation measures should be adopted to address such threats, and at what cost, are policy questions. Science can – indeed, must – inform such inquiries, but science alone does not tell us what to do. Insofar as debates over conservation policy are dressed up as scientific disputes — or instances of science abuse — [...]

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