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PNAS asks D.C. court to dismiss $10 million defamation lawsuit

Retraction Watch - February 23, 2018

Paul Thaler is quoted in the Retraction Watch article "PNAS asks D.C. court to dismiss $10 million defamation lawsuit," in his capacity as counsel for Mark Jacobson.

By: Andrew P. Han

WASHINGTON, DC — Lawyers for the National Academy of Sciences have asked a District of Columbia court to dismiss a $10 million defamation suit brought by a Stanford University professor.

Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor at Stanford who has published research about the future of renewable energy, alleged he was defamed in a June 2017 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In September 2017, Jacobson sued both NAS and the first author of the article for libel in D.C. Superior Court. He also sued NAS for breach of contract.

In response, the co-defendants have each asked the court to dismiss the case under a D.C. law designed to curb so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPP). Anti-SLAPP laws, which D.C. and 28 states have enacted, generally offer defendants a way to counter what they consider burdensome lawsuits that may have the effect of chilling speech on important issues. In a memo filed Nov. 27, 2017, in support of its motion, NAS claimed that Jacobson filed the suit:

To silence those who disagree with him.

But Jacobson’s lawyer denies that the suit qualifies as a SLAPP case, and has asked the court to allow the lawsuit to proceed.

In the allegedly defamatory article, 21 authors led by Christopher Clack, an executive at a renewable energy analysis firm, criticized a 2015 article from Jacobson, also published in PNAS. According to Jacobson’s complaint, he took issue with the Clack article’s “baseless allegations of modelling errors.”

Jacobson had proposed that the United States could satisfy its electricity needs using only renewable sources like wind or solar by 2050. The article, Clack’s criticism, and the lawsuit have all garnered significant media attention. For example, our Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky wrote about Jacobson’s lawsuit for The Verge in November 2017.

At a hearing this morning, Judge Elizabeth Wingo heard oral arguments from both sides about the motions to dismiss the case.

Jacobson’s lawyer, Paul Thaler of Cohen Seglias’s D.C. office, who has defended scientists accused of misconduct, argued that Jacobson’s suit was an “ordinary defamation claim” and should be treated as such. He said that Clack’s PNAS article made misrepresentations about Jacobson’s research that harmed Jacobson.

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