A lot of attention has been given to the libel lawsuits Michael Mann has filed. Much of it has been negative. A lot of people think using a libel lawsuit to intimidate one’s critics is a bad thing. I agree. That’s why I’m disturbed by what I’ve found out about some of Richard Tol’s actions.
I, of course, have criticized Tol before. I’ve criticized him in the past for making nonsensical arguments. I’ve also criticized him for abusing the IPCC process to promote his own work and conclusions (by making major revisions without any oversight by the IPCC process). I’ve even criticized him for whining he was being censored because people applied normal moderation policies to his comments. But despite all that, I’ve never seen anything quite so disturbing from him as what I came across today. It began when I saw this tweet:
Naturally, I was curious why Richard Tol was talking about such serious penalties. I read back through the conversation, catching this highlight:
Here Tol explicitly claims (Frank) Ackerman admitting to libeling him. He also claims David Stern acknowledges Ackerman libeled him. Based on that, Tol believes he should receive hefty compensation. He believes Stern (the editor) should be fired. All because they admitted Ackerman had libeled Tol.
Only, Tol is just making that up. Neither ever admitted there was any libel. Stern has specifically said:
I certainly never agreed to Tol’s claims that this was formally “libel” etc.
Tol defended his claim Stern had admitted there was libel by saying Stern just wouldn’t use the word. I don’t understand how that works. I’m not sure how someone explicitly stating they didn’t say something was libel can be reconciled with claiming they admitted it was libel.
But whatever. It’s Twitter. It’s not a big deal. What’s a big deal is Tol made the same accusation to Ackerman’s employer. He wrote them a letter, saying:
I draw your attention to the attached letter by an associate editor of Ecological Economics. In the letter, Professor Stern notes that a paper by Ackerman and Munitz contains statements that are false, and that the authors knew these statements were false at the time they submitted the final version of the paper.
I understand that Frank Ackerman recently joined your company.
You should know that Mr Ackerman submitted the same falsehoods in a chapter of an edited volume to be published by Oxford University Press, and in a book to be published by Routledge. I have asked the publishers to amend the texts before publication.
I urge you to remind your employee that libel is against the law.
Contacting Ackerman’s employer to accuse him of breaking the law is a clear attempt at intimidation. It’s the sort of thing you’d do if you were trying to get him fired. That is not okay. It’s wrong. It’s especially wrong given Tol completely misrepresented Stern has said.
The response from Ackerman’s employer is heartening:
Synapse Energy Economics is delighted that Dr. Frank Ackerman has joined our staff, and is proud to advertise his research accomplishments and publications – including his peer-reviewed article discussing the FUND model, which Richard Tol has attacked. In an e-mail to me, Professor Tol made the absurd and unsubstantiated suggestion that the article somehow constitutes libel. He urged me to remind my employees about libel law; I urge him to consider the damage that could be done to his reputation by becoming known for false accusations of libel.
One could see almost the exact same thing being written to Michael Mann. It’s the correct response to someone throwing around libel accusations in order to intimidate his critics into silence. And by intimidate, I mean Tol indicates he’s willing to sue if some other resolution isn’t reached. A letter of his to the publisher of Ackerman’s piece included:
While I am still hoping for an amicable solution, it is time to prepare for a more formal resolution. For the moment, I will put aside the option of a civil case for infringement of copyright and defamation. I will seek arbitration, however.
I have no idea what “infringement of copyright” Tol believes there may have been. I can’t help but be reminded of a similar threat used to try to silence me. I assume Tol’s threat is as baseless as that one was. Still, this shows Tol is willing to go around threatening to sue people if they don’t accede to his demands.
Frank Ackerman published a scientific article criticize Richard Tol’s work. Tol responded by saying he was libeled, claiming people were lying, threatening to sue, repeatedly misrepresenting what people say and now claiming people who discuss the controversy in ways he doesn’t like are lying too:
It’s Michael Mann again, just without the deep pockets. I’m amazed I’m only hearing about this now, nearly two years after the fact. Richard Tol has been receiving a lot of attention lately. I’d have expected this to come up. I guess skeptics just don’t mind blatant intimidation tactics coming from people they like.