A Canadian judge on Tuesday dismissed a libel suit brought against retired climatologist Tim Ball, a prominent critic of scientists who argue humans are causing catastrophic global warming.
Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist and politician, filed a libel suit against Ball over a 2011 article published in the Canada Free Press. Weaver claimed the article was factually incorrect, libelous and was meant to harm his reputation as a scientist.
Judge Justice Skolrood, however, ruled against Weaver, pointing out that while the article was a “poorly written opinion piece,” it was “not defamatory, in that the impugned words do not genuinely threaten Dr. Weaver’s reputation in the minds of reasonably thoughtful and informed readers.”
“Dr. Weaver has therefore failed to establish the first element of the defamation test,” Skolrood ruled.
Weaver told the court he found Ball’s article after searching for his name on the internet, quickly hiring legal counsel to get the article taken down. The article was taken down four days later, along with a retraction notice and apology.
Ball argued his article was not specifically about weaver, but instead about the state of climate science and politics. Skolrood agreed, but did not spare Ball from criticism, saying the article was “rife with error and inaccuracies.”
Ball put out a statement in the wake of the ruling, calling it a victory for free speech and open debate. However, Ball did say he understood that Weaver was prepared to file an appeal.
“It is a victory for free speech and a blow against the use of the law to silence people,” Ball wrote in a statement posted on the science blog Watts Up With That. “As with all events, there is so much more that rarely receives attention yet is essential to understanding and improving conditions in the future.”
Skolrood’s ruling may have larger implications. Ball is also locked in a legal battle with Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann. Mann brought suit against Ball within one day of an interview with the Frontier Center.
Ball said the Center published a “flippant comment” he made about Mann. Mann’s suit was set for argument in Canadian court in 2017, “but after six years Mann sought an adjournment,” he said.
“We are now trying to get the case back into court,” Ball said. “It was incorrectly reported that Mann was in contempt of court for failing to produce documents. He did not produce the documents, but he is only in contempt of the court when they so rule.”
Skolrood’s ruling plays against Mann’s suit against Ball. Mann needs to prove his reputation was actually harmed by Ball’s 2012 comments. However, Mann was just given an award by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for “public engagement” on climate science.
Mann is also locked in a legal battle with conservative pundit and author Mark Steyn and National Review over a 2012 article. In the article, Steyn criticized Mann’s scientific work.
The lawsuit has been criticized by leading newspapers as an attack on free speech. The Washington Post led a coalition opposed to Mann’s suit, filing an amicus brief arguing, “Mann essentially claims that he can silence critics because he is ‘right.'”
The suit will “chill the expression of opinion on a wide range of important scientific and public policy issues,” the coalition wrote.
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