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Defense Fund Helps Scientists Targeted by Lawsuits

The next time a climate scientist gets sued by a think tank, state attorney general, or fossil fuel industry front group, they’ll have a fund to tap into in order to support their defense. The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund is now officially affiliated with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) to aid environmental scientists.

The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund was created to give support to climate scientists when they find themselves under legal assault. Credit: s_falkow/flickr.

In recent years, an increasing number of lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests have been filed against prominent climate scientists, such as Pennsylvania State professor Michael Mann, seeking details about their email correspondence, funding, and research activities funded with taxpayer dollars. These lawsuits and information requests have taken climate scientists away from their labs and into the courtroom, and cost them thousands in legal fees. To date, none of efforts have turned up any evidence of wrongdoing.

Mann, for example, has been the target of a probe by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who has been seeking to determine whether he violated Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act while conducting state-funded research. Other researchers, including Gavin Schmidt of NASA, have also been the subjects of Freedom of Information requests to release certain email correspondence. Scientists have denounced such legal actions as fishing expeditions that set dangerous precedents for curtailing academic freedom.

The defense fund will be used for helping researchers defray their legal bills, educating researchers about their rights and responsibilities, and recruiting a cadre of lawyers to represent climate scientists.

“When individual researchers find themselves under intense legal assault, they often have few resources. Their universities do not necessarily represent their interests and may be disinclined to resist corporate fishing expeditions,” PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said in a press release.  

Scott Mandia of Suffolk County Community College in New York and Joshua Wolfe, a photographer who co-authored a book on climate change, spearhead the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Mandia began the fund in 2011, raising $25,000 to date.