In the newest variation of legal attacks on climate science, tandem lawsuits were filed against climate science blogger and computer scientist John Mashey, in retaliation for his work to uncover academic misconduct by several researchers who disputed widely-accepted findings on global warming. (There is a 97 percent scientific consensus that man-made climate change is happening.) Two of these researchers, Edward Wegman and Yasmin Said, served Mashey with complaints this spring, claiming that Mashey’s work connecting them with plagiarism, falsifications, errors, and funding misuse constituted “tortious interference with contract” and “conspiracy” — and claiming that because of this, he owed them millions of dollars in damages.
Wegman and Said were among the authors of the 2006 “Wegman Report,” which has since been discredited by Mashey and many others, and which was originally commissioned by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) as part of a Congressional investigation of climate scientists. Subsequent work by Wegman and Said, based on the Wegman Report, was later retracted for plagiarism and the investigations themselves were criticized as “political intimidation.”
In their lawsuits, Wegman and Said claimed that because Mashey had voiced his findings of plagiarism and misconduct regarding the Wegman Report and other work, and otherwise “injured [their] reputation[s],” they were “forced to resign” from positions as editors of an academic journal, causing them to lose profits “as well as the ability to edit and publish, and the professional prestige and credibility such a position entails.” Wegman and Said sought an astonishing $2 million in economic and punitive damages from Mashey, plus reimbursement for their legal fees. (In a particularly strange twist given the plagiarism concerns, their attorney Milton Johns is currently chair of his local school board.)
The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund has stepped in to pay Mashey’s legal defense costs, which have already totaled more than $15,000. Sadly, legal bills in the tens of thousands of dollars – or more – are not uncommon for those subjected to harassing legal attacks, not to mention the substantial time drains and mental anguish such litigation can cause defendants (especially in cases that drag on for years, as is often the case). Mashey’s litigation also illustrates that the entire climate science community is at risk for becoming collateral damage in the “street fight” on climate science.
There is a silver lining here: several weeks after Mashey’s attorneys filed dual motions to dismiss, and days before a court-scheduled hearing on the matter, both Wegman and Said withdrew their complaints against Mashey. The withdrawals were filed without explanation and “without prejudice,” meaning the plaintiffs may re-file at any time, a very real danger – but it also means that Mashey is no longer being subjected to the hassles and expenses of active litigation. We hope that the plaintiffs have realized their case was frivolous, as well as rife with serious procedural issues.
Unfortunately, legal attacks on the climate science community happen on a regular basis. Please help us fundraise so that we can continue to fight back against such attacks. Support of $25, $100, or more will go a long way to ensure that those advancing climate science can continue their important work without worrying about legal harassment slowing them down.
For more on John Mashey’s case, please check out his blog post on the experience here.
 As Mashey’s attorneys at Cozen O’Connor wrote in their motions to dismiss, the “consequences of Plaintiff[s’] apparent inability to conjure up a good-faith explanation for [their] plagiarism and pervasive mistakes cannot be laid at Defendant’s feet or blamed on the many other well-regarded climate scientists and academics who drew similar conclusions and also brought such concerns to the attention of [scientific publishers] and the scientific community.”
Mashey’s attorneys also pointed out that the plaintiffs’ attorney deliberately violated procedural obligations using “alarming litigation tactics” – including waiting over a year between filing the first complaint with the court and serving the complaints on Mashey, in order to issue subpoenas and conduct “secret discovery” in the interim and thus “gain a strategic advantage. . . before Defendant was made aware of the lawsuit[s]” against him.