Friday, July 08, 2016

Climate scientists are under attack from frivolous lawsuits

July 7, 2016

Lauren Kurtz is the Executive Director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund(CSLDF), a non-profit that defends scientists against legal attack. CSLDF was founded to fund Dr. Mann’s defense, represented Dr. Maibach, and filed amicus briefs in support of the University of Arizona. Help protect the scientific endeavor by donating to CSLDF, where a trustee is currently matching all donations up to $50,000.

Today’s climate scientists have a lot more to worry about than peer review. Organizations with perverse financial incentives harass scientists with lawsuit after lawsuit, obstructing research and seeking to embarrass them with disclosures of private information.

On June 14th, an Arizona court ruled that thousands of emails from two prominent climate scientists must be turned over to the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E), a group that disputes the 97% expert consensus on human-caused climate change and argues against action to confront it. E&E and its attorneys are funded by Peabody Coal, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources, coal corporations with billions of dollars in revenue.

Formerly named the American Tradition Institute, E&E has been described as “filing nuisance suits to disrupt important academic research.”


These sorts of lawsuits, regardless of outcome, subtract months of labor from the scientific endeavor and cost public universities hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The trial court ruled in March 2015 that the University of Arizona had provided an “abundance of supporting evidence” that releasing the emails would cause harm, and the court ruled in favor of the University. However, E&E appealed, securing a rehearing in the case.

Last month, the court reversed its earlier decision and determined instead that disclosure was warranted. The court concluded that:

[a]lternative methods of communications have been and remain available to Professors Hughes and Overpeck and any other similarly situated persons should they desire to correspond in confidence regarding research projects and like endevours [sic].

The implication seems to be that scientists’ research discussions should be limited to the telephone.

In a modern workplace, email is critical to professional communication. This decision will force scientists to work in a fishbowl, with every email exchange—from offhand notes to highly technical analyses—picked apart by agenda-driven opponents. It will stifle candid scientific debate, discourage open collaboration, and chill free academic thought.


In an ongoing federal case, the conservative group Judicial Watch—which claims climate science is a “fraud science”—has sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for thousands of climate scientists’ emails related to a 2015 climate change study published in Science. Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who accused NOAA of having an “extreme climate change agenda,” unsuccessfully sought the same emails last year.


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