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A Professor Whose Renewable Energy Claims Are Challenged Sues For Libel

Is there no more room for scientific skepticism and debate?

Whatever happened to robust, open scientific debate? Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, whose research argues the U.S. power grid could run exclusively on renewable energy by 2050, is taking his critics to court.

Jacobson filed a $10 million libel lawsuit in September against Chris Clack, a mathematician and chief executive of Vibrant Clean Energy, and the National Academy of Sciences, after the Academy published an article by Clack and 20 co-authors criticizing the 2015 study. The co-authors are not named in the suit.

"We find that their analysis involves errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions," the Clack team wrote. "Their study does not provide credible evidence for rejecting the conclusions of previous analyses."

Reason's Ron Bailey agreed with the Clack team's conclusion that "the analysis performed [by Jacobson and his team] does not support the claim that such a system would perform at reasonable cost and provide reliable power."

Bailey's piece also points out Jacobson's study was originally published by the academy he is now suing.

Libel is a form of defamation through writing, pictures, or any other print media. In lawsuits of this kind involving public officials, actual malice or an intent to defame is required for a guilty verdict. Libel lawsuits involving private individuals require only proof of negligence.

Professors who are particularly well-known or employed by a major university are sometimes considered public figures. It is so far unclear how a D.C. Superior Court will classify Jacobson.

For the sake of scientific integrity, let's hope the court finds no merit in Jacobson's lawsuit, regardless of his classification.

David Victor, one Clack's co-authors and the co-director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at University of California-San Diego, told the San Diego Union-Tribune, "It is unfortunate that Mark Jacobson has decided to pursue this legally as opposed to openly, in the scientific tradition."

Environmental Progress, a research and policy organization advocating for sustainable energy, called the lawsuit an "appalling attack on free speech and scientific inquiry."

"What Jacobson has done is unprecedented. Scientific disagreements must be decided not in court but rather through the scientific process," Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress, wrote.

If Jacobson proves successful, he sets a dangerous precedent. It would have a chilling effect on future academic research and hinder scientific innovation and advancement. How can progress be made if ideas are not given rigorous, peer-reviewed scrutiny?

By taking his critics to court, Jacobson is telling the world his ideas cannot be challenged, echoing the argument for "settled science" deployed in the debate over climate change. Claiming certain ideas "settled" and therefore out of bounds from any criticism is a surefire way to feed confirmation bias.

What incentive is there to add to or challenge the evidence of a scientific theory if that idea can't be challenged? The truth is best found through open debate, not by silencing your critics with lawsuits.

Photo Credit: Fotoarena/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • colorblindkid||

    Nuclear is and always has been the only feasible solution to CO2 emissions. It is the most reliable and environmentally friendly source of large amounts of baseline power. Even when nuclear accidents happen, only the people move away and nature takes back over. There are thriving coral reefs in the craters where we dropped 25 nuclear bombs in the Bikini Atoll 60 years ago. Chernobyl is a de facto wildlife preserve now. If anything, environmentalists should want nuclear disasters, since nature quickly recovers and it keeps people away.

    Until environmentalists embrace nuclear energy, I refuse to believe they are actually serious about global warming. The death of our nuclear industry in the 80's was the greatest environmental mistake in history. It is one of the most important technological advancements in all of human history, and it was cast aside due to Luddite environmentalists.

  • colorblindkid||

    Also, do people think solar panels and wind turbines are made of clouds and last forever? No. They require huge amounts of raw materials and energy to create, and have lifespans of 15-30 years, after which they are discarded or have to be recycled. Most of these materials come from incredibly dirty mines in third world countries, because the US doesn't allow anybody to mine anything anymore. Our stringent environmental regulations actually hurt the global environment, because people still need these things and they are instead extracted in incredibly dirty and energy-inefficient ways.

    The lifetime waste from nuclear energy is insanely small. The amount of raw materials it takes to fuel nuclear is insanely small. We don't need to wait for fusion.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Nuclear is not the only feasible alternative to fossil fuel power generation. Nuclear has done great and we have been lucky with only a few accidents. It could be worse, as war on the Korean peninsula would probably lead to South Korea's 23 reactors becoming compromised plus how ever many reactors North Korea has. Waste from reactors has half-lives in the tens of thousands of years and requires extreme containment to keep those isotopes from hurting and killing humans and animals. The main reason that atomic test sites are not that bad after 65 years is because water dilutes the radiation isotopes. The isotopes are still there, they are just spread over the Pacific. Then there is potential for waste falling into the hands of hostiles and being used in dirty bombs.

    I am not even saying to get rid of nuclear completely but no build any more, except for nuclear ships and subs. let the current reactors cycle through their lives. Nuclear has had 60+ years to get better and its pretty much the same technology after all this time and Trillions have been spent on it.

  • colorblindkid||

    "Waste from reactors has half-lives in the tens of thousands of years and requires extreme containment to keep those isotopes from hurting and killing humans and animals."

    Waste from rare earth element mines has no half-life and poisons the environment forever. Nature does not care about low levels of radiation.

  • BYODB||


    Waste from rare earth element mines has no half-life and poisons the environment forever. Nature does not care about low levels of radiation.

    That is actually an interesting argument that I haven't heard before, but I would note that this type of pollution does diffuse itself over generations so the half-life argument holds less water. That said, the weight of radioactive isotopes should keep them more or less in the same area barring something pretty extreme I would think.

  • Zeb||

    Nuclear has had 60+ years to get better and its pretty much the same technology after all this time and Trillions have been spent on it.

    Nuclear energy has advanced a lot in that time frame. There are much better and safer reactor designs now. The problem is that they aren't being built on a large scale to replace the older, less safe reactors.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    So then solar is the key. Its nearly infinite solar energy that just needs to be harnessed. Solar will just get better with time. The key to good solar is batteries anyway and batteries are getting better. The market will make solar better, if oil, coal, nuclear, and wind were not so subsidized.

    Solar panels are mostly recyclable. I have solar panels on my home and produce a surplus during the day and a small wind turbine keeps my batteries topped off at night. Its an investment but will have paid itself off in less than 10 years. I charge my Tesla during the day, so I save a grip on gas and electricity costs.

    You could also do microgrids for counties or small regions to prevent the huge losses in electricity over cross-country power lines.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Actually, even "near-infinite" is not quite true. Ground-based solar will always be limited by the energy arriving from the sun, around 1400 watts per sq m above the atmosphere, maybe 1000 w/m2 on the ground in perfect conditions, and more like 200-300 w/m2 under average conditions. And of course, PV cells and systems are way less than 100% efficient. The bottom line is that the rate for human consumption scales with the area covered by PV cells (or other collectors).

    And the ultimate, using today's technology covering the entire earth, is about 4 x 10^15 watts, or 4000 terawatts. That gives us an idealized capacity of 35 million terawatt-hrs per year. Humans are close to using 200,000 Tw-hrs per year.

    Sounds like lots of opportunity, assuming we could use solar-derived energy for everything, and head room to elevate all people up to US energy use. But of course, even if we could exploit 100% of the planet's surface, we would all die when photosynthetic life went extinct, collapsing all the natural and man-made food chains. So leaving the oceans alone, and maybe only exploiting 25% of the land surface, the ultimate capacity might be around 2 million Tw-hrs per year.

    Americans use about 5x the global average, so bringing everyone up to modern/western lifestyles would require 1 million Tw-hrs/yr. So maybe doable, at tremendous expense (and possible only with major subsidies).

    Jesus, that turned out longer and nerdier than expected.

  • Loss of Reason||

    Was it Asimov that wrote about sending replicating robots to the moon to build solar panels and beam the energy back down to the Earth/ That would save a lot of land surface on Earth.

    For the original OP , "Solar panels are mostly recyclable. I have solar panels on my home and produce a surplus during the day and a small wind turbine keeps my batteries topped off at night. Its an investment but will have paid itself off in less than 10 years. I charge my Tesla during the day, so I save a grip on gas and electricity costs."

    Mostly recyclable for solar panels, what about batteries? You know those toxic things with rare earth elements. By the way, over time your storage will decrease with each cycle.

    In the northeast, is the sun strong enough? Is the wind strong enough? Just because it works for you - were I assume there isn't many trees, snow, or dust doesn't mean it's an answer everywhere.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Actually, even "near-infinite" is not quite true. Ground-based solar will always be limited by the energy arriving from the sun, around 1400 watts per sq m above the atmosphere, maybe 1000 w/m2 on the ground in perfect conditions, and more like 200-300 w/m2 under average conditions. And of course, PV cells and systems are way less than 100% efficient. The bottom line is that the rate for human consumption scales with the area covered by PV cells (or other collectors).

    And the ultimate, using today's technology covering the entire earth, is about 4 x 10^15 watts, or 4000 terawatts. That gives us an idealized capacity of 35 million terawatt-hrs per year. Humans are close to using 200,000 Tw-hrs per year.

    Sounds like lots of opportunity, assuming we could use solar-derived energy for everything, and head room to elevate all people up to US energy use. But of course, even if we could exploit 100% of the planet's surface, we would all die when photosynthetic life went extinct, collapsing all the natural and man-made food chains. So leaving the oceans alone, and maybe only exploiting 25% of the land surface, the ultimate capacity might be around 2 million Tw-hrs per year.

    Americans use about 5x the global average, so bringing everyone up to modern/western lifestyles would require 1 million Tw-hrs/yr. So maybe doable, at tremendous expense (and possible only with major subsidies).

    Jesus, that turned out longer and nerdier than expected.

  • GeneralWeygand||

    Well said.

  • Tony||

    Just say you support the energy industries that lobby Republicans more than Democrats, because that's the only consistent factor in your rhetoric. It sure as hell isn't adhering to free-market principles, which do not apply to nuclear power, a thing that cannot exist without a large amount of government subsidy.

  • colorblindkid||

    Nothing but coal and natural gas would exist if we relied solely on the free market. I personally wouldn't care too much if that were the case, but the environmentalists don't give a shit about the free market. They want fully government subsidized clean energy, and in that case the only feasible option is nuclear, especially if we expect to convert our transportation industry to electric, which will basically double out electricity needs. It requires the least amount of physical land and the least amount of natural resources to produce energy that is actually reliable.

  • Tony||

    Normal people don't put free market obsessive-compulsive disorder above the interests and well-being of humans, correct. I'm pro-nuclear, and so are most environmentalists and liberals and Democrats. This is a tired, decades-old stick in the eye meant to keep the status quo going as long as possible, as it takes a long time to build a nuclear infrastructure as you know. And as you should know, solar and wind are hardly failed technologies that should be totally discounted. And they have the virtue of never going Fukushima.

  • colorblindkid||

    The Sierra Club is still against nuclear energy.
    The Audubon Society is against nuclear energy.
    Greenpeace is obviously against nuclear energy.
    There is not a single influential environmentalist group that support nuclear energy.

    New York and California are trying to shut down their nuclear plants. Over half of Americans oppose all nuclear energy. Only 34% of Democrats support it. Europe is shutting down all their plants, which is why America is doing a better job cutting CO2 emissions than them.

    Your friends may support nuclear energy, but that would make them among an ever-decreasing number of people, and it is entirely due to the propaganda campaigns from environmentalists, fear-mongering tactics from our stupid 24/7 clickbait media, and terrible science they get from Hollywood movies.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    A few facts an Tony goes silent. Must be that inconvenient truth thing again.

  • Sevo||

    "Fukushima Accident"
    [...]
    " There have been no deaths or cases of radiation sickness from the nuclear accident, but over 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes to ensure this. Government nervousness delays the return of many.
    Official figures show that there have been well over 1000 deaths from maintaining the evacuation, in contrast to little risk from radiation if early return had been allowed."
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/i.....ident.aspx

    "Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

    Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
    Coal – China 278
    Coal – USA 15
    Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
    Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
    Biofuel/Biomass 12
    Peat 12
    Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
    Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
    Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
    Hydro - world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
    Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)
    https://www.nextbigfuture.com /2008/03/deaths-per-twh-for -all-energy-sources.html

    Yeah, we need ignorant lefties to save us from safe energy sources.

  • colorblindkid||

    Not to mention that the amount of land needed to be cleared to create a solar plant that would produce the amount of energy the Fukushima plant put out is larger than the quarantine zone.

    Replacing Fukushima with solar will make more land uninhabitable than the amount of land the accident took out of commission.

    There are also places on Earth with natural background radiation levels higher than the beaches of Fukushima.

  • MarkLastname||

    Have any evidence most Democrats are pro nuclear? Or just making shit up out of thin air again?

    And the fact that solar/wind energy need subsidies to succeed says that they're inefficient.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "Nothing but coal and natural gas would exist if we relied solely on the free market."
    Colorblindkid, I disagree with you. Of course we cannot know what might have been, oil, natural gas, and coal are subsidized. If government never subsidized these energy sources and the grid was shitty, people might find an alternative-- solar.

    The idea that its either nuclear, coal, or natural gas OR death in the dark is just not correct.

    Trillions have been spent on power grids, subsidies, and other government tricks to keep prices low and keep out competing energy.

  • MarkLastname||

    There's no reason nuclear energy needs government support. Just because the government prevents anyone else from doing something doesn't mean it's the only thing capable of doing it.

  • sarcasmic||

    The purpose of a nuclear reactor is to make bomb fuel. The electricity is simply a way to gain public support by harnessing the waste heat and turning it into something practical. It is also no coincidence that the enthusiasm for nuclear power within the government is directly correlated to nuclear arms treaties.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    That purely depends on reactor type.

  • Longtobefree||

    So settled science is now unsettled?
    Can we review the concepts of a flat earth, and the earth as the center of the universe?

    How about this as screaming plea for tort reform, starting with "loser pays"?

    How about every kid gets a pony?

  • sarcasmic||

    "What Jacobson has done is unprecedented. Scientific disagreements must be decided not in court but rather through the scientific process," Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress, wrote.

    By "scientific process" I assume you mean a bunch of like-minded scientists who are like really smart and stuff taking a vote on something they already agree upon. Because that's what science is these days. The scientific method is quaint and archaic. True scientists understand that voting determines science. It's the democracy of ideas, where majority rule determines truth. Anyone who disagrees is in the pocket of Big Oil.

  • colorblindkid||

    The largest, longest, and most thorough international study on glyphosate just came out, and it basically found that even long-term exposure to relatively high levels doesn't cause cancer.

    The common question asked of climate change heretics is "What evidence, if any, would make you change your mind?"

    I ask the same question of people opposed to fracking, nuclear energy, GMOs, and chemicals like glyphosate.

    "It's all a conspiracy by Monsanto." is no different than "It's all a hoax by the Chinese.

    I actually do fucking love science, and I have found numerous onvious and simple errors in articles on IFUCKINGLOVESCIENCE. I hate everybody. It's why I'm a libertarian.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I Fucking Love Science could be more accurately renamed I Fucking Love Reposting Pictures of Natural Phenomena.

  • BYODB||

    Guy, just stop reading IFLS it's absolute garbage science. It's an advocacy website, not a science website.

    Anyone who quotes IFLS is a defacto retard. No offense to retards.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    None taken.

  • Tony||

    You really know your strawmen huh.

  • colorblindkid||

    http://www.the-scientist.com/?.....se-Cancer/

    Do you deny the studies showing glyphosate doesn't cause cancer?

  • sarcasmic||

    I've come to believe that studies show whatever the people funding the studies want the studies to show.

  • colorblindkid||

    And there are now many studies by independent groups, both publicly and privately funded, that have no monetary ties to Monsanto, who have found it to be non-carcinogenic.

    I would trust a study from the nuclear power industry more than one from from Greenpeace. Ideology can be even more powerfully corrupting than profit. At least the nuclear power industry takes on risks and will face some consequences if they're wrong. Environmentalist organizations have no such risk and face no such consequences when they're wrong.

  • Tony||

    "Ideology is more motivating than profit" needs a citation, and it certainly isn't the same as "Profit isn't motivating at all," as the tobacco and oil companies have demonstrated amply.

  • colorblindkid||

    I didn't say it's not as motivating. It absolutely it. Nobody denies profit can corrupt, but many people do deny that ideology can be just as blinding. The worst human atrocities of the 20th century were due entirely to ideology, not for the seeking of profit.

  • Tony||

    Yes and the whole point of science is to attempt to erase such biases.

  • BYODB||


    Yes and the whole point of science is to attempt to erase such biases.

    False.

  • sarcasmic||

    Nobody denies profit can corrupt, but many people do deny that ideology can be just as blinding.

    Thing is, from the leftist point of view, only other people are motivated by ideology. Leftists will never admit to being ideologues. Ideologues are their sworn enemy. Leftists are immune to ideology, lust for power, etc. Only money corrupts.

  • sarcasmic||

    The worst human atrocities of the 20th century were due entirely to ideology, not for the seeking of profit.

    Worse than that, they were leftist ideology masquerading as science. Eugenics was settled science in the 20's. Until some German dude took it to its logical conclusion. Communists and socialists will claim to have science on their side, as they murder millions of people.
    Same old story, same old song and dance.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Come on, ideology is cheap. And using used to justify demands that other people spend money.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    And emotion driven. It's easy to explain why to hate someone regardless of IQ. Explaining risk versus reward of nuclear to some family that saw the latest scare movie after they got home from their minimum wage jobs carries a bit more difficulty. You basically say, "trust me, I'm a scientist."

  • sarcasmic||

    I would trust a study from the nuclear power industry more than one from from Greenpeace.

    Agreed. They have a stake in the game. Greenpeace does not.

  • colorblindkid||

    Exactly. They will definitely lie and give overly pleasant results that favor them, but they know that they will be hurt and lose everything if they go too far. No such limits on Greenpeace.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yes, but we all know that Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder (talcum powder) causes twat cancer!

    (Made by Corporations = profit = evil; cancer = evil, so then corporations = evil).

  • Tony||

    Nope. Don't know, don't care. I was referring to sarcasmic's hysterical claim that scientists all of a sudden started voting instead of doing science.

  • BYODB||

    So, no comment on the reproducibility problem in modern science?

    It would seem those things directly relate to one another.

  • sarcasmic||

    You've made that very same argument in the past, dipshit.

  • Tony||

    The argument must be too nuanced for you. Because as any child knows, "scientific reality" is the best guess humans have and consists of what the consensus of scientists relevant to a particular question find. Your stupid dumbass talking point is that science isn't a democracy, which is true but not in the way you want it to be, which is "Science isn't a democracy, thus my stupid, discredited cult nonsense beliefs are true."

  • Sevo||

    Tony|11.10.17 @ 12:33PM|#
    "The argument must be too nuanced for you."

    Looks, attempted distraction fail.

  • sarcasmic||

    "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." A. Einstein

    Based upon that quote I highly doubt Einstein would be welcome within the scientific community today. These days a majority vote among self-proclaimed experts would override that single experiment. Science is not determined by the scientific method anymore. It's determined by politics.

  • Tony||

    You say that not because you know what the fuck you're talking about, but because science has come to certain conclusions your politics won't allow you to accept. You're the one with a politics problem, asshole, not science.

  • sarcasmic||

    Science is never settled. By definition. Anyone who says it is settled is playing politics. That's you, asshole, not me.

  • Tony||

    Thank you for the kindergarten lesson. Let me add another: "Science is never settled" does not equal "Thus carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas and the planet isn't warming."

  • sarcasmic||

    "Science is never settled" does not equal "Thus carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas and the planet isn't warming."

    Nice straw man. The point is that when people try to shut down scientific views that they disagree with, they are not doing science. And anyone who does so is suspect.

  • Tony||

    It's not a straw man. That's what you actually believe. That because science is ever-evolving, you think you get to make a positive claim about global warming that, unlike the scientific consensus, is not actually supported by any evidence. Because of your politics.

  • sarcasmic||

    I have made no such claim.

    My point is that I don't trust people who use bullying tactics against those who disagree with them. Science is supposed to be open. And this climate bullshit is anything but open. Evidence and methods are hidden, and any disagreement is treated as heresy. Sorry dood, but that ain't science.

    I make no claims on the science itself. Only that climate scientists act more like priests than scientists.

  • Zeb||

    I think you might be overstating the case a bit there, sarc.

    There is a lot of science being done properly today. And I don't think it's really ever been much better. Scientists have clung to wrong ideas throughout history for many reasons.

  • MarkLastname||

    Consensus = truth. What a scientific outlook you have, Tony.

  • sarcasmic||

    Consensus overrides evidence and experimentation. After all, you judge the person doing the science, not the science itself.

    Are their politics correct? Do you they work for a corporation? Are they a climate heretic?

    The answers to those questions determine the validity of their science.

  • SQRLSY One||

    It is now "settled Science" that Government Almighty LOVES us all!! It is known!
    (Loves us more than we love ourselves, that is).

    If anyone DARES to disagree with me... Prepare to meet me in court!

  • sarcasmic||

    Once government policy is instituted based upon science, then the science is settled. The policy will not change. So the science may not change either. Because government is never wrong. So when government creates bad policy based upon bad science, the bad science must be upheld. Doesn't matter if it's totally bogus. Government can't be made to look bad.

  • Griffin3||

    Stanford is in CA, no? File there and SLAPP the sh*t out of them.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Huh. So in the old days, the Church tried to put the brakes on science by labelling certain lines of inquiry as "heresy." Nowadays, the faith-based followers are doing the same by calling it "libel."

    Frankly, that's fine for them to try, but then they must admit they are no longer practicing science, they are promoting dogma. Don't pee on my leg and tell me its's raining...They know damn well that reaching consensus and then outlawing any further questioning is not how science is done.

  • sarcasmic||

    So in the old days, the Church tried to put the brakes on science by labelling certain lines of inquiry as "heresy." Nowadays, the faith-based followers are doing the same by calling it "libel."

    Don't you dare contradict the cult of Owlgor, or you will be punished!

  • BYODB||


    How can progress be made if ideas are not given rigorous, peer-reviewed scrutiny?


    That's rather the point of the lawsuit, I think.


    This is a trial balloon to see if they can start prosecuting 'deniers' I'd think.

  • μ Aggressor||

    Looks here like we have a zealot attacking people (who also wish to move the renewable industry forward) for not being sufficiently pro TEAM GREEN ALL THE WAY GUYS. As someone who is an engineer in the power business and done a lot of wind and solar design these assholes piss me off and ruin it for people actually working towards shifting our fuel model.

  • GILMORE™||

    By taking his critics to court, Jacobson is telling the world his ideas cannot be challenged

    If only science had its own Title IX!
    /actual leftist desire

  • Seamus||

    "What Jacobson has done is unprecedented"

    Mark Steyn might beg to differ.

  • MikeyParks||

    How convenient! Nobody can question my hypotheses without being dragged into court. We're at the threshold of a whole new era of pseudo-science.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So now the professors in Cali are snowflakes?

  • Bra Ket||

    I'm more annoyed that my taxes are undoubtedly funding both sides of this nonsense as "scientific research".

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