Enlarge / Mike Mann of Penn State poses for a selfie with a fan. (credit: Andrew Read/Penn State)

Several years back, some conservative columnists wrote pieces that accused a prominent climate researcher of having fraudulently manipulated data, phrasing it in a way that made comparisons with a convicted child molester. The researcher demanded the columns be removed; when the publishers refused, he turned to the courts. His suit, filed in the District of Columbia's Superior Court, has been kicking around ever since, as motions to get it dismissed have ended up languishing amidst more filings and an appeal.

In the mean time, events seem to have overtaken the case. With no facts to back them up and plenty of evidence to the contrary, the columns at issue now seem to fit the definition of what we're now calling "fake news." And, just in time to be relevant, the appeals court has weighed in, ruling that the case should go to trial and indicating that the climate scientist has a good chance of prevailing there.

Climate fight

At issue is the research of Penn State's Mike Mann, who specializes in reconstructing global temperature records from periods before thermometers were available. His initial work showed a long period of relatively mild variations, followed by a sudden, sharp rise in temperature over the last century. The resulting graph picked up the nickname the "hockey stick," and has been the subject of contention since it was released. Mann has become a prominent advocate of action on climate change, writing a regular stream of books and columns meant for popular audiences.

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