Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Judith Curry, Free Speech Champion

A climatologist urges her community to stop defending Michael Mann.


The past week has been insane. Among the things on my plate:

  • coordinating with organizers of an April conference in Germany (programme here, registration info here)
  • exploring the possibility of speaking in Edinburgh this Spring
  • accepting an invitation to contribute a chapter to an Australian book
  • scheduling upcoming media appearances
  • reading a book I promised, many weeks ago, to review
  • assembling and testing software, green screen technology, and lighting intended to turn my home office into a mini broadcast studio (2014 is the year I try to learn to love video)
  • agreeing to write a research paper about the SLAPP phenomenon (strategic lawsuits against public participation)

The latter is closely connected to the issue of free speech. This morning, climatologist Judith Curry published an informative overview of various lawsuits involving another climatologist, Michael Mann.

Toward the end of that overview, she boldly and vigorously supports free speech. Moreover, she rejects the idea that academic freedom is meant to be a shield behind which publicly-funded professors hide.

The problem with the Michael Mann sort of scientist is that, rather than practicing science quietly behind the scenes, they want to participate in the public debate.  They’re perfectly entitled to do so, on an equal footing with everyone else. Yet the minute anyone disagrees with them, they play the “I’m a famous scientist and should not be gainsayed” card.

In other words, they aren’t interested in actual debate. They want to be authority figures who school the rest of us. Anyone who challenges them is reflexively pigeon-holed, labeled, and dismissed as

  • rejecting all scientific progress
  • attacking all scientists

Every community has its bad apples. Just because people have grave concerns about the quality of Michael Mann’s research does not mean they are anti-science. It’s remarkable that something so obvious needs to be said – and that so few scientific organizations seem capable of grasping this rudimentary concept.

So three cheers for Judith Curry, who writes today:

For the past decade, scientists have come to the defense of Michael Mann, somehow thinking that defending Michael Mann is fighting against the ‘war on science’ and is standing up for academic freedom. Its time to let Michael Mann sink or swim on his own. Michael Mann is having all these problems because he chooses to try to muzzle people that are critical of Mann’s science, critical of Mann’s professional and personal behavior, and critical of Mann’s behavior as revealed in the climategate emails.  All this has nothing to do with defending climate science or academic freedom. [bold added]

Read her full remarks here.



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