I’ve spent some more time thinking this stuff over, thanks to some of the information provided by the people in my comments section about what legally constitutes defamation under United States law. As I understand it, Mann not only needs to prove that he did not falsify his work, but that Steyn knew that and knowingly said otherwise. That puts the whole thing into a different perspective. As I wrote in my last post, even though Mann did not falsify his work (though it has long since been overhauled), there is a reason why so many laypeople think otherwise.
I confess I’m relieved by this conclusion. I was wondering about what sort of precedent this would set. Could Judith Curry and Bjorn Lomborg equally sue Michael Mann? Would the subject of scientific authority come down to whoever had the deepest pockets in a lawsuit?
Of course, there is a flip side to this: could unscrupulous individuals smear people and wreck careers and lives with no consequence if there is no easy legal redress?
I would infinitely prefer it if people attacked each other’s work, rather than the person in question, but we don’t live in that world.
There is also a broader point about free speech. I revisited John Locke for this, and also read through Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book. What I found interesting was the Locke doesn’t just address the matter of government censorship, but also social means of censorship. We all remember, I hope, how Myers and his goonshow tried to get Abbie Smith fired from her University; to my mind, that is a form of censorship. To that we can add the ‘lawfare’ nature of libel suits, something used in particular in England (by people like the Scientologists, Saudi petro-barons, Hollywood paedophiles etc.)
So, the argument that this isn’t a free speech issue because government isn’t involved isn’t as cut and dried as that.
One thing that I think we should all be able to agree on is that the protracted nature of US legal battles is itself a fiasco. By its very nature, read: its very cost, it shifts power to the moneyed plaintiff.