The debate between climate scientists and skeptics about global warming has long grown ugly, with email leaks, accusations of manipulated science, and ad hominem attacks all thrown into the mix. Now one climate scientist has gone on the offensive, suing a climate skeptic over comments that critiqued the scientist’s knowledge of climatology.
Climatologist Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in British Columbia brought a lawsuit Feb 2 against Tim Ball, a retired climatologist from the University of Winnipeg, over comments included in an article Ball wrote for Canada Free Press, a politically conservative online news site. The article has been retracted and removed from the Canada Free Press website, but Ball has declined to apologize for anything other than one misstatement within it; he stated that Weaver had withdrawn from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, when in fact he remains very much involved.
Ball, who has spent years speaking out about what he sees as bad science underlying climate scientists’ consensus on global warming, says the lawsuit is an attempt to muzzle him for his climate skeptical views. “A law set up to defend against menace is being used to muzzle people. It’s another form of personal attack,” he says.
Notwithstanding his current position, Ball himself has used the Canadian legal system to attack his critics. In 2006 he filed a defamation lawsuit against the Calgary Herald and Dan Johnson, an environmental scientist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, over a letter to the editor Johnson had published that questioned the paper’s description of Ball’s academic credentials. Court filings in the case state that Ball has a PhD in historical climatology from Queen Mary and Westfield College in London and lectured for many years at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, but disagree on whether he specializes in climatology or geography.
Weaver’s lawyer, Roger McConchie, is the same man who wrote Johnson’s defense against Ball, and says he’s surprised to hear Ball invoke a free speech argument given his own prior lawsuit. He denies Weaver’s intention is to muzzle Ball’s scientific views. “The complaint is not about whose science is right. It was a completely over-the-line attack on Dr Weaver.” Judge for yourself whether disputed sections of the retracted article warrant a lawsuit by reading Weaver’s complaint. (Ball has yet to file an answer in the case.)
Ball’s comments to Nature were in the context of being asked about the need for libel law reform that would make it easier for scientists to speak out about their views without being sued. He has yet to respond to a follow-up request for comment asking about the lawsuit he himself brought. Ball says he can barely afford to defend himself against Weaver’s lawsuit as his only income is from speaking engagements. Nevertheless he expects that he’ll continue speaking out about climate change. “It hasn’t shut me up until now. I think the freedom of speech to state your views without intimidation is crucial to society.”
Image: Lawsuit Complaint/ Supreme Court of British Columbia