The Volokh Conspiracy

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Jacobson Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Against Other Scientists

After an initial hearing, Stanford's Mark Jacobson thinks better of pursuing a scientific disagreement in court.


Last fall, Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson sued several researchers and the National Academy of Sciences over the publication of a paper critical of his work. According to Jacobson, the NAS decision to publish a peer-reviewed critique of one of his co-authored papers in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" was defamatory because the critique made what Jacobson asserted were false and misleading claims about his work in the process of dismissing his claim that 100 percent of the United States' electricity needs may be met by renewable energy sources. (Additional background on the suit may be found here.)

Now it seems Jacobson has thought better about taking this dispute to court. Earlier this week, there was a court hearing on whether to dismiss the case. Here is one account of the proceedings (the only one I could find). [Note: Here's a second account from EnergyWire (subscription required).]

Jacobson apparently had second thoughts after the hearing. Yesterday Jacobson voluntarily dismissed his suit.

Why did Jacobson change his mind? Here is the answer he provides in an FAQ document Jacobson posted on his website yesterday:

Q. Why did you dismiss the lawsuit on February 22, 2018?

A. It became clear, just like in the Mann case, which has been going on for 6 years, that it is possible there could be no end to this case for years, and both the time and cost would be enormous. Even if the motions for dismissal were defeated, the other side would appeal, and that alone would take 6-12 months if not more. Even if I won the appeal, that would be only the beginning. It would mean time-consuming discovery and depositions, followed by a trial. The result of the trial would likely be appealed, etc., etc.

Second, a main purpose of the lawsuit has been to correct defamation by correcting the scientific record through removing false facts that damaged my coauthors and my reputations. While I have not succeeded in having the scientific record in the C17 article corrected, I have brought the false claims to light so that at least some people reading C17 will be aware of the factually inaccurate statements.

As such, after weighing the pros and cons, I find that I have no more reason to fight this battle. I believe it is better use of my time continuing to help solving pressing climate and air pollution problems.

Q. Do you have any final words?

I appreciate both the people who have supported my efforts and those who have argued vigorously against them. I know lots of people have lots of opinions about the lawsuit, and I support their right to express those opinions. I hope, though, that we can all move forward to solve the important problems we face. I particularly wish Dr. Clack well in his future endeavors.

Here is a statement from Dentons, the law firm rerpresenting Dr. Christopher Clack, one of the defendants:

We note that Dr. Jacobson saw the light and made the tactical decision to dismiss his $10 million lawsuit after the February 20th hearing on Dr. Clack's motion to dismiss. No doubt Dr. Jacobson based his decision on the high probability that his lawsuit would be dismissed.

[Note: This morning, Dentons released a new statement, revising the initial statement as indicated above.]

It is a good thing that this lawsuit is over. Scientific disputes of this sort should not be settled in court.

Meanwhile, there remains no resolution to Michael Mann's defamation suit against National Review, et al., where a ruling on a petition for rehearing has been pending for over a year.

UPDATE: Retraction Watch has an interview with Jacobson here.