Protecting Climate Scientists

The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund was created last September by Scott Mandia, a physical sciences professor at Suffolk County Community College in New York and Joshua Wolfe, a Brooklyn photographer who partnered with the Earth Institute at Columbia University in An Illustrated Guide to Climate Change, to benefit climate scientists who have been forced to defend themselves in court.

“Our goal is not only to defend the scientist but to protect the scientific endeavor,” explained Wolfe. “The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund was established to make sure that these legal claims are not viewed as an action against one scientist or institution but as actions against the scientific endeavor as a whole.”

Climate scientists, such as Pennsylvania State University Earth System Science Center director and meteorology professor Michael E. Mann, who co-created the controversial “hockey stick graph” that displays a recent sharp rise in global temperatures, have faced multiple legal battles over the past decade (most famously the “Climategate” investigation of 2010). Manmade climate change skeptics like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II and the American Tradition Institute have implemented the Freedom of Information Act to police Mann and other scientists’ climate research, requesting the release of thousands of their e-mails for legal review as well as details into their taxpayer-funded research activities for possible violation of the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. Scientists believe these probes to be “fishing expeditions” instigated by the oil and gas industry to damage their reputations and restrain scientific freedom.

“The attacks against the science must stop,” Mann said in a 2010 Washington Post op-ed. “They are not good-faith questioning of scientific research. They are anti-science. How can I assure young researchers in climate science that if they make a breakthrough in our understanding about how human activity is altering our climate that they, too, will not be dragged through a show trial at a congressional hearing?”

To date, no court has found any evidence of misconduct among prosecuted climate scientists. And researchers who face future litigation now have superior aid supporting their legal defense thanks to the established nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Last week, the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund announced that they have joined forces with PEER to find lawyers, pay for legal costs and educate climate scientists about their rights and responsibilities.

“Our main concern is that industry-funded groups and law firms are seeking to criminalize the peer review process by obtaining internal editorial comments of reviewers as a means to impeach or impugn scientists,” said longtime PEER executive director, Jeff Ruch. “The grants themselves and the grant reports are public but a federal grant does not transform a university lab into an executive branch agency.”