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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Barry Bickmore: “How to Manipulate Rubes into Covering Your Legal Bills,” Mark Steyn edition

by Barry Bickmore, "Climate Asylum" blog, January 26, 2014

If you haven’t been following the Michael Mann v. National Review, Inc. et al. case, here’s a quick summary.  Rand Simberg, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, thought he had a clever way to capitalize on the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.  Compare Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann to Jerry Sandusky, and accuse him of producing fraudulent scientific data!  This charge was repeated by Mark Steyn, blogging for the National Review magazine, and of course, neither Steyn nor Simberg had the presence of mind to clearly label their accusations as opinion, or provide any caveats whatsoever, or… you know… provide any “evidence” for the accusations.  Having put up with such accusations by wingnuts for a number of years, Mann sued.  Of course, the defendants have been complaining about their “free speech” rights, and trying to get the case thrown out based on certain laws meant to stop people from using defamation/libel suits to stifle legitimate public discourse.  But there are limits on “free speech,” and now two different judges have ruled that they would allow the case to proceed, because it is likely to succeed if presented to a jury.  Meanwhile, Mark Steyn and others at the National Review… well, especially Steyn… can’t seem to keep their pie-holes shut long enough to keep from making their prospects even worse.  For instance, Steyn let loose with some searing remarks about how stupid and incompetent the first judge (who recently retired) was, which appears to have resulted in a parting of the ways between Steyn (and probably the NR) and their lawyers, so that now Steyn is representing himself (badly).  Anyway, if you want to  protect your “right” to publicly throw out baseless accusations of fraud, it’s going to cost you some cabbage, and so lately Steyn has been out begging the rubes to finance his Crusade for Freedom and Justice.  Recently, he did so on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.  Hewitt was quite supportive of Steyn, but given that he claims to be a Constitutional Law professor (and given Steyn’s comments on the show,) I thought it likely that Steyn might not have been completely forthcoming about the nature of the case.  Here’s the note I sent Hewitt through his Facebook page.  We’ll see if he was really misinformed, or just another rube Steyn is trying to manipulate into paying his bills.
Dear Hugh,
I am an active Republican and a geochemistry professor at Brigham Young University.  I noticed that you had Mark Steyn on your show the other day, complaining about how Michael Mann’s lawsuit against him had not been dismissed, and trying to drum up some donations to help him with his legal defense.  I thought you should know, however, that Steyn wasn’t being completely honest with you about the case.
On your show, Steyn seemed to imply that the case was about his right to disagree with Mann’s “Hockey Stick” reconstructions of paleotemperatures over the last 1000 years or so.  This is not the case.  Steyn is being sued because he made the accusation that Mann “molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science,” and that Mann’s scientific work was “fraudulent.”  Both judges in the case have noted that this accusation was a statement of fact rather than mere opinion, and can hypothetically be proved true or false.  It is therefore grounds for a defamation suit, if it can be shown that (1) the accusation is false, and (2) Steyn made the accusation either knowing it was false, or with reckless disregard for the truth.  
I don’t know whether Mann will win the case, or not, but it is clearly not just some frivolous suit meant to stifle legitimate public discourse.  For one thing, the accusation is clearly false.  The main charge against the “Hockey Stick” work was that Mann and his colleagues had misused principal components analysis (a statistical technique) to obtain a certain outcome.  But when scientific bodies such as the National Research Council reviewed the case, they found that the statistics could have been done better, but the mistakes didn’t change the results much.  They also found no evidence of “fraud.”  Now, if you were going to commit scientific “fraud,” wouldn’t you fudge your data so as to actually obtain substantially different results?  The “fraud” charge is just ridiculous, whether or not you believe the “Hockey Stick” accurately describes the temperature evolution over the last 1,000 years.  For another thing, it seems very likely that Mann’s legal team can show that, at the very least, Steyn made the accusation with “reckless disregard for the truth.”  
Why am I so confident about that?  Because several scientific, academic, and governmental panels had already ruled there was no evidence of fraud, and Steyn knew that.  Second, because Steyn can’t seem to keep his ignorant mouth shut.  On your show, for instance, he claimed that the National Research Council agrees with him.  About what?  Certainly not about the fraud charge, which is what he is actually being sued over.  Also consider this passage from one of Steyn’s recent columns.
“In a post at NATIONAL REVIEW’s website, I mocked Dr. Michael Mann, the celebrated global warm-monger, and his ‘hockey stick,’ the most famous of all the late-Nineties global-warming climate models to which dull, uncooperative 21st-century reality has failed to live up. So he sued.”
Ummm… Aside from the fact that Steyn is once again implying that he is being sued for something other than calling Mann’s work “fraudulent,” I note that Steyn apparently thinks the “Hockey Stick” is a “climate model” that made predictions about the 21st century.  It isn’t.  It didn’t.  So in other words, Steyn is insisting on his right to publicly call a scientist’s work “fraudulent,” when he clearly has made no effort to understand what said scientific work is even about.  So let’s just please ignore all his posturing about his right to his opinion about the matter.  He doesn’t even care what the facts are.
So, Hugh, I believe you said you are a Constitutional Law professor.  Are you still quite so hot to defend Steyn’s foolishness?
Barry Bickmore

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