Andrew Weaver is a Canadian climate scientist with numerous publications. The National Post is a Canadian newspaper generally recognized as having a conservative and Libertarian leaning. Between 2009 and 2010, the Post published four articles that seemed defamatory of Dr. Weaver’s reputation as a scientist. Weaver sued the post over this, and yesterday, the B.C. Supreme Court agreed that the articles were in fact defamatory. The defendants in the case were Terence Corcoran, Financial Post editor, Peter Foster, National Post columnist, Kevin Libin, a contributor to the Financial Post, National Post publisher Gordon Fisher, and the National Post Inc. Justice Emily Burke ruled:
I conclude the defendants have been careless or indifferent to the accuracy of the facts. As evident from the testimony of the defendants, they were more interested in espousing a particular view than assessing the accuracy of the facts.
A PDF of the ruling can be found here
Andree Lau of the Huffington Post writes:
The newspaper defended itself by saying the statements were about Weaver’s public actions and words, not his character.
The judge disagreed, saying, “The reality is the combination and cumulative effect of these articles is such as to adversely impact on Dr. Weaver’s reputation and integrity as a scientist.”
Yesterday morning, Weaver posted on his Facebook page:
I am absolutely thrilled with today’s BC Supreme Court judgment in my libel case against the National Post, Terence Corcoran, Peter Foster, Kevin Libin and Gordon Fisher.
I initiated the lawsuit in April 2010 after the National Post refused to retract a number of articles that attributed to me statements I never made, accused me of things I never did, and attacked me for views I never held.
I felt I had to take this matter to court to clear my name and correct the
public record. This judgment does precisely that.
I look forward to the defendants publishing a complete retraction and removing the offending articles from electronic databases. I further look forward to them withdrawing consent given to third parties to re-publish the articles and to require them to cease re-publication.
Weaver’s remarks mirror the B.C. Supreme Court’s directive.
Lawrence Torcello is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Rochester Institute of Technology. He has researched and written about the attacks on climate science and climate scientists by various entities (see “Climate Science Denialists Target Academic in Hate Campaign”). I asked Torcello to comment on the Weaver case, and he told me:
Andrew Weaver’s legal victory over Canada’s National Post is an important precedent in the emerging world of climate change litigation. The court’s ruling reflects an understanding that the press has a primary responsibility to report facts and disentangle propaganda. The decision affirms that facilitating smear campaigns against scientists and other academics is devoid of journalistic merit. We can expect critics of the court’s decision to claim it puts too great a burden on news outlets to police how their stories are used across social media; that it will have a chilling effect on journalism. To the contrary, defamation tactics against scientists are calculated to undermine the public’s trust in legitimate expertise and to intimidate researchers into media silence. Media outlets that facilitate disinformation campaigns against science and scientists make the work of responsible journalists more difficult. News sources that continue to take their professional obligations seriously should be cheered by this ruling. It is ethically important that scientists not be intimidated into silence but instead fight back against defamatory assaults on their character. In a world threatened by climate change the public’s safety depends on the ability of politicians and others to discern and be informed by credible experts. Dr. Weaver and other researchers taking a legal stand against defamation tactics should be commended for reminding us that science is not the only realm where facts matter.
Dr. Peter Gleick, of the Pacific Institute, told DeSmogBlog, that this is…
…a victory for climate scientists everywhere. [There is] an extremely long history of efforts by climate deniers and contrarians to attack not just climate science, but climate scientists: to smear their scientific reputations, to distort their statements, and to make false and defamatory accusations. [Defamation] has been a standard tactic for years, especially as the science of climate change has continued to strengthen and solidify. While I’m sure the ruling will not stop the continued assault on climate science and scientists, it should certainly put people on notice that there is a responsibility to avoid such irresponsible attacks and a real cost for failing to do so. I hope this ruling has that effect.
In the US, there is a parallel lawsuit in process, filed by Dr. Michael Mann against the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg. For details on that suit see these posts and this search on the Climate Science Search Engine. Obviously, Canadian legal decisions have no role in establishing precedence in US courts, but the Andrew Weaver suit’s outcome does bode well for the idea advanced (above) by Dr. Torcello. Strategies employed by anti-science, especially anti-climate science, individuals and organizations are potentially costly, not only in the harm they do to stewardship of the planet, but also to the overall quality of journalism, and in some cases, the individuals and organizations that carry out that form of political activism.