In 2012—after writers for the National Review and a prominent conservative think tank accused him of fraud and compared him to serial child molester Jerry Sandusky—climate scientist Michael Mann took the bold step of filing a defamation suit. The defendants moved to have the case thrown out, citing a Washington, DC, law that shields journalists from frivolous litigation.
But on Wednesday, DC Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg rejected the motion, opening the way for a trial.
Although public figures like Mann have to clear a high bar to prove defamation, Judge Weisberg argued that the scientist's complaint may pass the test. And he brushed aside the defendants' claims that the fraud allegations were "pure opinion," which is protected by the First Amendment:
Accusing a scientist of conducting his research fraudulently, manipulating his data to achieve a predetermined or political outcome, or purposefully distorting the scientific truth are factual allegations. They go to the heart of scientific integrity. They can be proven true or false. If false, they are defamatory. If made with actual malice, they are actionable.
Weisberg's order is just the latest in a string of setbacks, which have left the climate-change skeptics' case in disarray. Earlier this month, Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm representing the National Review and its writer, Mark Steyn, withdrew as Steyn’s counsel. According to two sources with inside knowledge, it also plans to drop the National Review as a client.