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Climate Scientist Michael Mann Wins $1 Million Defamation Case Against Right-Wing Climate Deniers

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We speak with world-renowned climate scientist Michael Mann, who was just awarded more than $1 million in a defamation lawsuit against two right-wing critics who smeared his work connecting fossil fuels to rising global temperatures. He joins us to discuss the importance of resisting climate denialism through free scientific inquiry and expression. “We all pay the price when scientists don’t feel empowered to speak out about the implications of their science,” says Mann. Mann says he hopes his legal win will protect others who have been silenced by the threat of defamation so that “scientists will feel more comfortable in leaving the laboratory and speaking to the public and policymakers.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We turn now to the climate crisis. Dozens were arrested Monday outside President Biden’s campaign headquarters in Delaware as members of Sunrise Movement called on him to declare a climate emergency. Some held signs that read “Fund climate, not genocide.”

This comes as world-renowned climate scientist Michael Mann has been awarded more than a million dollars in a defamation lawsuit settled last week. Mann initially filed the case in 2012 against two right-wing critics. Rand Simberg, then with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, wrote that, quote, “Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data,” unquote. Of course, Sandusky is the convicted child molester and former football coach at Penn State University, where Mann was a professor at the time. Mark Steyn, a contributor to National Review, cited Simberg and called Mann’s research, quote, “fraudulent.” Dr. Mann said he hopes the unanimous verdict in his defamation case against the two makes it clear that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech.

He’s joining us now from Philadelphia, where he’s the presidential distinguished professor of Earth and environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Mann, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you explain what just happened and this major victory being awarded, a million dollars, by a Washington, D.C., jury, after suing these two right-wing climate deniers?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah. Thanks, Amy. It’s good to be with you.

You know, as you quoted me before, this is a line in the sand. It’s one thing to disagree with the findings of scientists. You know, people have the right to do that. It’s one thing to criticize scientists. And within the scientific community, good-faith criticism, skepticism is a good thing. But what’s not allowed, what you can’t do, is make false allegations about scientists in an effort, of course, to promote an agenda, an agenda in this case of climate change denialism. And this is something that we’ve encountered for decades, efforts by the fossil fuel industry and their hired guns to attack and attempt to discredit scientists, to prevent meaningful action on climate. And so, this is a line in the sand.

And I think it goes beyond climate science. I think it also applies to other areas, public health science. Today we see bad-faith attacks on public health scientists like Anthony Fauci, my good friend Peter Hotez. That is not protected speech. You can’t engage in false and defamatory attacks on scientists. And so, I like to think that this will create some space now, that scientists will feel more comfortable in leaving the laboratory and speaking to the public and policymakers about their science and about the implications of their science, knowing that there are some basic protections.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you: In your conversations with fellow scientists, what is the mood or the sense of how these attacks are affecting their ability to do their work?

MICHAEL MANN: Well, you know, especially young scientists, what I fear is young scientists see these very visible attacks, these denunciations of their fellow scientists in the public sphere, and that sort of chills the public discourse. It makes them basically afraid to speak out and to speak up. And so, I do think that these attacks have had a chilling effect. And that was their intended impact. Of course, the climate change disinformation machine has used vilification as a way to intimidate scientists, to — again, to sort of — you know, to create fear that they’ll be attacked if they speak out about the implications of their science. That’s been going on for far too long. It’s now infected our entire body politic, where today misinformation and disinformation runs rampant. And when it comes to the great challenges we face, whether it be climate change or the public health threat of pandemics like COVID-19, it is absolutely essential that scientists feel free to speak to the public and to policymakers about these mounting threats. And I hope, once again, that this decision will create a little bit more space now for my fellow scientists to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you see your case setting precedent for political leaders who attack climate science — to attack climate science? And how badly were you injured? I mean, this horror of comparing you to this known molester who destroyed so many young men’s lives at Penn State.

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, well, you know, I was certainly — there was an emotional toll that it took on me, for certain. You know, it didn’t prevent me from speaking out about the climate crisis. I have embraced that opportunity. My recent book, Our Fragile Moment, is my latest attempt to communicate the threat of climate change to the public and to policymakers. I’ve been able to do that. But at the same time, it’s taken an emotional toll and, once again, has sort of created this chilling effect, where other scientists, seeing me attacked in this way, have probably backed off and have shied away from the spotlight. And we all pay the price when scientists don’t feel empowered to speak out about the implications of their science.

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