Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Should You Be Able to Sue Think Tanks You Disagree With?

Ilya Shapiro, a Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and Editor-in-Chief of Cato Supreme Court Review,  has just penned a piece titled "People Shouldn't Be Able to Sue Think Tanks When They Disagree with US," which bashes climatologist and geophysicist Michael Mann for suing the think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) due to some climate change-related disagreements.

Here is more:
What’s worse than a public policy debate that turns bitter and impolite? Well, for one, having the courts step into the marketplace of ideas to judge which side of a debate has the best “facts.”
Yet that’s what Michael Mann has invited the D.C. court system to do. In response to some scathing criticism of his methodologies and an allegation of scientific misconduct, the author of the infamous “hockey stick” models of global warming – because they resemble the shape of a hockey stick, with temperatures rising drastically beginning in the 1900s – has taken the global climate change debate to a record low by suing the Competitive Enterprise Institute, National Review, and two individual commentators. The good Dr. Mann claims that some blogposts alleging his work to be “fraudulent” and “intellectually bogus” were libelous.

The post goes on to say that Cato has filed a brief, joined by three other think tanks, urging the court to "stay out of the business of refereeing scientific debates."  [Those three other think tanks are Reason Foundation, Individual Rights Foundation, and Goldwater Institute.]

Suing a think tank is not unprecedented.  In fact, the libertarian Cato Institute was sued in 2012 by the Koch Brothers.  And suing think tanks is not simply a US phenomenon.  Just last month, philanthropist Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild said she is suing the British think tank The Henry Jackson Society over funds from a summit it held.  More specifically, the summit was the Conference on Inclusive Capitalism, which took place in May and included speeches by Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, and Christine Lagarde.

To be sure, think tanks also sue.  For example, the Institute for Policy Integrity sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an attempt to force cap-and-trade rules.  The think tank CEI has also sued the US Treasury Department for withholding internal carbon tax documents.  CEI recently announced it is suing the National Security Agency (NSA) in order to obtain EPA records they believe are in violation of federal recordkeeping laws.