The settlement provides only $1 in compensatory damages, but instructs one of the two defendants to pay Mann more than $1 million in legal penalties.
A Washington, D.C., court has awarded $1 million to climate scientist Michael Mann, who claimed that he was defamed when a pair of conservative writers compared his positions on global warming to controversy surrounding a convicted child molester.
According to The Associated Press, Mann, who is a professor of climate science at the University of Pennsylvania, first attracted widespread attention when he published a graph in a 1998 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Nature.
Mann’s graph, later dubbed “the hockey stick” chart, illustrated how the planet could warm in the absence of meaningful climate policies.
Although Mann’s publication earned him increased exposure, he was also targeted by climate change skeptics—including the two conservative writers named as defendants in his defamation complaint.
Mann, shortly after receiving news of the verdict on Thursday, told reporters that the case’s resolution is “a good day for science.”
“It feels great,” Mann said. “It’s a good day for us, it’s a good day for science.”
The Associated Press notes that, in 2012, a libertarian think-tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute uploaded a blog post written by Rand Simberg.
In the post, Simberg unfavorably compared debate on Mann’s work to investigations into Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State University football coach who was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple children.
Mann was, at the time, facing renewed criticism about the honesty of his earlier work.
In 2009, a hacker party accessed the email accounts of Mann and several other prominent climate change scientists.
The emails were leaked and uploaded online, after which climate change skeptics scoured Mann’s communications and suggested that he had intentionally manipulated or misrepresented his findings.
“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data,” wrote Simberg, then a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Another writer, Mark Steyn, later referenced Simberg’s article in writing a separate piece for the National Review. Although Steyn did not explicitly compare Mann with Sandusky, he condemned Mann’s research as “fraudulent.”
However, earlier this week, a jury for the Superior court of the District of Columbia found that both Simberg and Steyn had made false and misleading statements about Mann’s character and work.
In their verdict, the jury determined that each writer must pay Mann $1 in compensatory damages. It also instructed that Mann receive $1,000 in punitive damages from Simberg and $1 million in punitive damages from Steyn.
The jurors justified their decision by saying that the writers had made their statements with “maliciousness, spite, ill will, vengeance, or deliberate intent to harm.”
Steyn, meanwhile, has cast the outcome as a victory—despite having been ordered to pay seven figures in punitive damages.
“We always said that Mann never suffered any actual injury from the statement at issue,” Steyn said in a statement released through a manager. “And today, after twelve years, the jury awarded him one dollar in compensatory damages.”
Although Steyn has not yet indicated whether he will appeal the verdict, attorneys for Simberg have said they plan to challenge the jury’s decision.
In the meantime, Mann said that he hopes the case’s outcome will dissuade others from making unreasonable attacks on climate scientists—attacks that Simberg and Steyn tried, and failed, to argue were but an exercise in their First Amendment rights to free speech.
“I hope this verdict sends a message that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech,” Mann said.