Eighty-seven years ago, people and organizations who believed in freedom of scientific inquiry arranged for a test case of Tennessee’s law against teaching the theory of evolution. The result was theater so cogent that it was later distilled as the play “Inherit the Wind.”
Now the climate scientist Michael E. Mann may be laying the groundwork for his own version of that trial, threatening to sue National Review for defamation.
The offending piece was a blog post by Mark Steyn, which described Dr. Mann as “the man behind the fraudulent climate-change ‘hockey-stick’ graph, the very ringmaster of the tree-ring circus.”
Like the original Scopes “monkey trial” or, more recently, the legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 — a case already transformed into a play — any hockey stick trial would be both well financed and extremely high-profile. Issues of free scientific inquiry and free speech, as well as parsing of the word fraudulent would likely dominate the proceedings.
And while the business of getting a trial together tends to be slower than the business of electing a president, the prospect of a courtroom defense of climate science — or of the right of opponents to call it fraudulent — might just nudge the issue into a little more prominence in the national campaign.
Certainly, the idea of a courtroom review of the foundations of climate science — and of its professional standards and ethics — had immediate appeal when Dr. Mann announced his intention on his Facebook page.
But after months of legal wrangling to keep Virginia’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, from digging into his e-mails from his days at the University of Virginia, does Dr. Mann, now with Penn State, really want to open up his files to discovery motions from lawyers representing the National Review? What, then, was the point of beating back all those Freedom of Information Act requests?