Fox News and others are botching the reporting on the newest development of the ongoing case of Dr. Michael Mann vs. the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review Online and one of its writers, Mark Steyn. Two of the few to get it right are Paul Krugman at the New York Times and syndicated columnist Gene Lyons.
On August 11th, the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of major media organizations filed an amici curiae brief in support of the defendants. Unsurprisingly, they argue that free speech shouldn't have any constraints, even if it's defamatory, stating, "the judicial system should not be the arbiter of either scientific truth or correct public policy." Conservative media are reporting this as though Dr. Mann is simply upset at being criticized, which is completely wrong.
As Greg Laden points out, the suit is not about scientific criticism, but rather "a very specific and actionable libelous accusation of professional misconduct." Previous courts agreed that this is a valid case, that Steyn's accusations of fraud and manipulation of data aren't just opinion, but an (incorrect) statement of fact. Saying that a scientist is "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science" is an opinion, and not what Dr. Mann is suing over, even though Fox News suggests it is. Instead, the accusation that he "molested and tortured data" is clearly not an opinion on the man or the issue but a claim that many studies reaffirming Mann's findings have shown to be false.
Fortunately for Dr. Mann, the arguments brought up in the brief have already been addressed in previous filings, suggesting that these complaints will again be overruled, allowing the case to continue.