Michael Mann, of the controversial hockey-stick graph and the East Anglia e-mail controversy, not satisfied with demonizing critics as McCarthyists, has sued Rand Simberg and Mark Steyn and their publishers, arguing that their use of the rhetorical "fraudulent" is a technical accusation of academic fraud. As Alison Frankel notes, National Review is showing braggadocio, claiming that they'll use the lawsuit as a means for civil discovery into questions that they believe have not been adequately investigated. On the other hand, as the suit was filed in D.C. Superior Court (perhaps forum-shopping for a jury pool opposed to conservatives?), defense lawyers will have the option of an anti-SLAPP motion, and the case is exceedingly unlikely to get to a jury if the trial judge follows the law. The case is Mann v. National Review, Inc., No. 8263-12 (D.C. Superior Court Civ. Div.). [Frankel; NRO attorney letter; Steyn; Adler @ Volokh; Hayward; Worstall; Slashdot]
This reminds me of nothing so much as the Lott v. Levitt suit, which had the similar attempt to claim that the use of "replicate" in a lay sense could be understood as libelous if interpreted in a technical academic sense. As I said when it was a conservative economist suing a liberal critic several years ago, this is "not the soundest means of establishing academic credibility or resolving academic disagreements." (And, indeed, as I predicted at the time, Lott lost.) Even beyond the unlikelihood of legal success, the suit seems destined for a Streisand effect; CEI is already using it as a basis for fundraising.
The skeptic blogs cheered my analysis of Lott v. Levitt; it'll be interesting to see how they react to my similar conclusion about the meritlessness of Mann's suit. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the same sort of support for free speech when the gore is on the other ox. Indeed, Conde Nast's ars technica goes so far as to gleefully cite a scary Orwellian case in Australia where the government punished politically incorrect speech by compelling reeducation for the offending parties. Maybe the critics of global warming theory are wrong—but if the government can punish the critics for being critics, what's to stop the government from adopting an incorrect scientific theory as beyond challenge and punishing the scientists who correctly challenge it?
Separately, Mann's attorney has previously represented R.J. Reynolds and Mobil Oil. I haven't seen anyone in the environmental community complaining about this. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that—which I hope the Left remembers when they complain that CEI or other conservative organizations are not to be trusted because they have had funding from tobacco or oil interests.
[Disclosure: I am an unpaid member of the CEI legal advisory board; I have not been consulted on this case. I have no current opinion on the validity of the hockey-stick graph or the soundness of the investigations into the East Anglia emails.]