UPSATE. The motion has been denied. Rather hilariously, bt the way.
Professor Michael Mann vs. Shock Jock Mark Steyn
You all know about the libel suit filed by Professor Michael Mann against Canadian right wing radio shock jock Mark Steyn. Steyn made apparently libelous comments linking Mann, who is widely regarded as the worlds top non-retired climate scientist, to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. (I don’t know what Steyn was implying but the only link is that both work(ed) at Penn State University!) There are other aspects of the libel suit as well, beyond the scope of this post.
The suit was filed in October 2012. I’m told this sort of law suit can drag on for years, and in this case, Steyn and the other defendants have taken action to delay what seems likely to be a decision against them, so this one might take a bit longer.
ADDED: It has come to my attention that some are arguing that Steyn has been trying to push this suit along while the other defendants are those responsible for the delay. You need to be aware of the fact that early on in the process, Steyn separated himself from the other defendants, and some observers have noted that he has been conducting his side of the process in such a way that has left legal scholars wondering if he has a competent lawyer. I have no personal comment on this. But it remains true that there is no way to separate the discovery part of this process among the parties. In other words, as the different parties in the defense take separate action, they are capable of playing something of a “good cop – bad cop” scenario, and that looks like what they are doing. In any event, Steyn has taken specific delaying action by filing a counter-suit.
Then, on June 1st, yesterday, Steyn’s lawyer requested that the DC Court of Appeals expedite the case.
Why is Steyn suddenly in a hurry to see this court case finished, when until now he has been more interested in delay?
I’m pretty sure the reason is a microcosm of how things are developing in the larger world of fossil fuel industry supported science denial, as well as the larger world of right wing vs. progressive politics.
Mann’s suit is not about arguing about science. He is perfectly capable of going head to head with anybody, even bought and paid for deniers, as he recounts in his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.
The suit serves, rather, as a part of a larger effort to combat the ongoing systematic attacks on well meaning and hard working scientists who are just doing their jobs. These attacks, in large part funded by energy industry front groups or “think” tanks such as the Heartland Institute, threaten to cast a chilling pall over over the scientific endeavor itself. Young people going into science careers, especially in certain areas, potentially face future denigrating attacks on their personal lives and character, and potentially career ending frivolous investigations by science deniers in Congress or in other positions of power.
A few months ago we saw shock jock Steyn called by anti-science Senator, failed presidential candidate, and widely detested Ted Cruz, in what can only be described as a three-ring circus of climate science denial. Steyn used his time before congress to argue his case in the Mann law suit, and to blow a racist dog whistle or two denigrating two of the DC Appeals court judges, Judges Natalia Combs Greene and Vanessa Ruiz. I only mention this because it gives background on Steyn and the overall anti-science movement. See Mark Steyn, The DC Appeals Court, and Congress for a detailed discussion of that).
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, science denier.
A couple of years ago, in Minnesota, a Republican House and Senate passed a bill to create a constitutional amendment making same sex marriage illegal. Why an amendment and not a law? It was generally thought at the time that the Republicans assumed that if Democrats took power (which they did right after that), that the law would be toast. A constitutional change is harder to undo. But there was another strategic reason to go for the change to the State’s Constitution, a reason that is directly parallel to Mark Steyn’s current strategy vis-a-vis the Mann law suit.
The Republicans legislators voted close to 100% in favor of banning same sex marriage in Minnesota, the Democrats voted close to 100% against it. The amendment then became a ballot issue, which was fought over for months in the public forum, and then, resoundingly defeated by the people of Minnesota. That was one of the first and key moments in the Great Domino Knockover ending legislation and constitutional restriction against same sex marriage.
Here’s what. During the public fight over the ballot amendment, I went to a fund raiser hosted by a colleague. At that fund raiser, a member of the Minnesota House told a story.
Every year, pages are brought to the legislature to work the legislative session. These are high school seniors representing every single district in the state, so they are geographically evenly distributed across liberal and conservative enclaves and regions. Urban Minneapolis is very liberal. One of the Urban members of the US Congress, Keith Ellison, is an African American Muslim Bernie Sanders Supporter. One of the non-urban members of the US Congress, for several years, was Tea Party co-Founder Michele Bachmann. So, you get the picture.
When the pages are first brought in, there are orientation activities of various sorts. One of the orientation activities is to poll the pages on various political questions. The pages, from Michele Bachmann’s district, Keith Ellison’s district, and everywhere else, were polled that year on their position on the Same Sex Marriage Banning Amendment. How did that shake out?
Every single page was opposed to the amendment. Every. Single. One. They were all about 18 years old.
The Republican strategy to make same sex marriage unconstitutional, instead of merely illegal, was motivated by a correct reading of the state’s demography. The next generation of Minnesotans was not going to have this sort of discrimination. Every year the state’s population would be increasingly in favor of marriage freedom and opposed to repression of LGBT people. The conservatives in the State Legislature had to act quickly to codify their systematic hatred before everyone else grew up.
Grumpy Old Men
Grumpy Old Men isn’t just a movie set in Minnesota. It is a key part of the demographic base for science denial.
At about the same time that the marriage amendment was being proposed and eventually put down in Minnesota, John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Jim Powell and their colleagues were turning out the Climate Consensus Project. This project paralleled and replicated earlier research, but using a different approach. The upshot of that collective research was to show that nearly, but not exactly, 100% of climate scientists and the peer reviewed papers that address climate change, all agree: Climate change is real, and human caused.
The actual studies are more complex and nuanced than that, but for now there is one conclusion that I want you to focus on. Something less than three percent of the people who’s opinion matter in the scientific world, those who are verified experts in this area, continued to question the legitimacy of human caused climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.
Who are these people?
We know from work by John Mashey, that science deniers with actual scientific credentials are like conservative Minnesota legislators.
Mashey examined the characteristics of individuals who opposed, from within, the American Physical Society’s position on the reality of human caused climate change. The opposition took the form of a petition signed by less than a half percent of the 47,000 member of the society. That subset of APS members tended to be in subfields that did not focus on climate science. But most interesting here is the demography of that group.
Mashey showed that the signers of the anti-science petition were, as a group, older and more likely to be retired than the APS members in general.
Of the 119 signers, 102 (86%) were born before 1950, compared to about 40% for overall APS. This is a strong effect, and cannot be due to “retired scientists are finally free to tell the real truth”, given that only one plausible climate scientist is a signer, and he is not retired.
In addition, there is evidence that as this non-representative sample of APS members was recruited to sign on, efforts were made by the petition organizers to find older or retired individuals, dust them off, and get them on board.
Like the situation with same sex marriage in Minnesota, the demographics are changing. That few percent that the Consensus Project and similar research identifies as not being on board with climate science probably represents the grumpy old men who are disappearing at the usual rate, like they do. The scientists who understand climate science and make up the bulk of the consensus are not only more involved in actual climate science, but also, are of the current generation of active scientists.
They are old. And, therefore, becoming less numerous with every passing day, with every tolling of the bell.
Who is Steyn’s dead guy?
A key reason given by Steyn and his lawyer for expediting the Mann lawsuit is that key witnesses that would support Steyn’s case may die off before the case comes to court.
According to the “request for expedited hearing” filed by Steyn’s lawyer,
Steyn’s expert witnesses are older than Mann’s; time affects them more. Many of Steyn’s expert witnesses are emeritus professors and comparatively advanced in years, being of an age and eminence that enables them to stand against the bullying and intimidation that prevails in climate science. Therefore, the passage of time is not an unimportant thing. Indeed, one of Steyn’s proposed witnesses has, in fact, died while this interlocutory appeal has been with the appellate court.
The brief does not mention which witness died. Any guesses?
Apparently, Steyn and his lawyer had a “holy crap” moment, realizing that if this law suit does not come to court sooner than later, there would be precious few individuals prepared to serve as witnesses in favor of an idea that about to get pulled off life support.
Time is running out for Steyn. Over time, those who question the validity of well established science are likely to change their minds once they get the proper information, realize that their position is laughable and walk away from denialism simply because it is embarrassing, or, apparently, die.
But it is more important that time is running out for the planet, and for the up and coming generation that is being handed a ruined environment.
Even as I write these words a news alert comes across my desk: “Europe floods: 10 dead amid fears of fresh heavy rainfall,” referring to flooding in France and Germany. Flooding in Texas over the last few days, and continuing, has taken at least a half dozen lives. To someone like Steyn, and his out of touch geriatric witnesses, this is small change. A half a dozen people here, a half a dozen people there. And that is exactly the problem and exactly why Mann’s lawsuit is important and valid. Climate denialism is, as a movement, effectively sociopathic. And, as individuals in that movement realize that, they tend to wander off.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season started yesterday and there are already two named storms. Major fires in the Canadian Rockies, the decline of iconic species such as the North American Moose, coral bleaching, the spread of very nasty diseases out of the tropics, record high temperatures, the Syrian refugee crisis, are all linked to climate change to some degree, often very directly, sometimes more tenuously. (See this for a current accounting of climate disasters ongoing.)
Extreme variability in precipitation patterns, including both short and long term droughts and major rain or snow fall events, has been linked pretty directly to anthropogenic global warming. Heat waves and sea level rise due to melting glaciers, and changes in ocean chemistry, are direct measures of increasing surface heat. Weather and climate are two faces of the same coin, different in scale with weather being in one spot and on one day, and climate being weather long term and everywhere. If we change climate, which we have, we change weather, and thus we affect day to day live, the food supply, the global economy, and global health.