Canadian climate change scientist Andrew Weaver won a widely watched defamation lawsuit against the National Post last week.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia found that “the defendants have been careless or indifferent to the accuracy of the facts” in four articles about climate change published in print and online, in late 2009 and early 2010, by the National Post. The articles were titled,
Weaver’s Web: Is it unreasonable to suggest his charge of theft against the fossil fuel industry is totally without merit?
Weaver’s web II: Climate modeller’s break-in caper spreads across Canadian university, exposing Climategate as monster cross-disciplinary big-oil funded attack on psychology labs,
Climate agency going up in flames: Exit of Canada’s expert a sure sign IPCC in trouble, and
So much for pure science: ‘Climategate’ raised questions about global warming. The ongoing debate about its impact raises questions about the the [sic] vested interests of climate science.
Justice Emily Burke felt the need to make clear that the case “is not who is right in the debate on climate change. Rather, the issue is whether the words and statements in the four articles defame the character of Dr. Weaver.” But then the decision continues, “the debate for the purpose of this matter, as at the date of the publication of the articles, can be described as follows: on the one hand, scientists espouse the view that recent global temperatures demonstrate human-induced warming. On the other hand, other scientists say the science has not established this proposition.”
The court determined that the impugned words were defamatory concluding “that an ordinary reader would infer these meanings from an overall consideration of the articles; particularly the first three, which relatively quickly set the stage for the theme of deception and incompetence. The plaintiff’s integrity and credibility as a professor and scientist was called into question, thereby damaging his personal and scientific reputation.”
The court also concluded “the defendants definitively espouse a skeptical view of climate change and are unwavering in their expression of this. While certainly entitled to express those views, .., they deliberately created a negative impression of Dr. Weaver. .. As evident from the testimony of the defendants, they were more interested in espousing a particular view than assessing the accuracy of the facts.” Initial reactions to the decision against the traditionally conservative newspaper are mixed with some speculating this currently politically correct ruling could have a chilling effect on reporting science unless it is overturned by the appellate courts.
The justice awarded Dr. Weaver $50,000 in damages.
In an unusual move, she also ordered the National Post to remove the offending articles from its websites and electronic databases, as well as publish “a complete retraction” of the defamatory statements, “in a form agreed to by” Dr. Weaver.
However, in the first court decision in Canada to address the issue of whether a newspaper can be liable for reader postings on its website, the justice sided with the National Post, which had argued it was not the publisher of the comments, and had removed them.
The case is, of course, decided applying Canadian law, but the 62 page decision in Weaver v. Corcoran, 2015 BCSC 165, is wonderfully informative and an enjoyable read.