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Torts and retorts: a climate scientist strikes back

 A current lawsuit against Canada’s National Post newspaper and its publisher, editors, and three writers could have huge ramifications for both social media and online dissemination of news.


Andrew Weaver, a respected climate scientist and one of the world’s top climate modellers,  has sued the National Post  and related parties for “a series of unjustified libels based on grossly irresponsible falsehoods that have gone viral on the Internet.” (The suit includes both hard-copy content and information that appeared on the Post’s four related Internet sites, produced by Canwest Publishing. It acknowledges that electronic versions of the same content can appear in 11 different Canwest publications across Canada, which it names. These range from the Vancouver Sun and Province to the Montreal Gazette. The suit also names five electronic databases).


Weaver is a professor and Canada research chair  in climate modelling and analysis in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria. He launched the suit this week (April 20) in the Supreme Court of B.C. via McConchie Law Corporation of North Vancouver.


Weaver’s 48-page statement of claim identifies a pattern by the conservative Post of reporting incorrect and critical material about him and refusing to provide corrections or retractions when he brought these to the paper’s attention. For example, the Post alleged that Weaver had, or was going to, quit his Nobel-winning role in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He emphatically dismissed this as false.


I’m sure that the Post and others will scream “freedom of the press” on this issue, but that is a mere smokescreen. This matter addresses the widespread damage that “false, malicious and defamatory” words can make once they appear in multiple places on the Internet.


The suit includes numerous citations, including an article called “Weaver’s web” that identified the client scientist as “Canada’s warmist spinner-in-chief” and “climate alarmist.”  The piece said that Weaver “appears not to understand what solar climate theory actually involves” , makes “distinctly dodgy arguments” and ignores scientific skepticism. The suit charges, among many things, that the related media content suggested that Weaver “engages in willful manipulation and distortion of scientific data for the purpose of deceiving the public in order to promote a political agenda.”


If Weaver’s suit is successful, it will have a monumental impact on both online media and anyone who adds comments to an Internet forum. This will result from two elements contained within his suit. First, Weaver cites reader comments on the Post’s website as libellous.  He also asks for a court order, unprecedented in Canada, that requires the National Post  to find and remove its defamatory articles from the many other Internet sites where they were reposted.


Kudos to Weaver for having the guts to take on the global warming debunkers and put some legal punch behind his reputation to ensure that lies in print do not stand as truth. His suit has launched what could be a precedent-setting case in determining how media outlets disseminate news and public comment on the Internet. However, it’s notoriously difficult to make libel cases stick. Weaver will undoubtedly face a remarkable challenge in the process and the case could hang around for years. Regardless, he earns my praise.

For more information on this issue, please visit www.desmogblog.com, a site dedicated to “clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science.”

April 24, 2010 at 8:33 pm
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