February 13, 2018
Weaver v Ball 2018 BCSC 205
On January 10, 2011, an article entitled “Corruption of Climate Science Has Created 30 Lost Years” appeared on an internet website known as “Canada Free Press”. The Article was written by the defendant, Dr. Timothy Ball.
The central thesis of the Article was that modern climate science has been corrupted by money and politics, and that there is inadequate data to support claims about humans’ contribution to climate change and global warming.
The Article referred to the plaintiff, Dr. Andrew Weaver, in ways in which Dr. Weaver claimed were libelous.
Justice Skolrood had this to say:
I accept Dr. Ball’s characterization that the Article is an opinion piece directed at an issue of public interest, namely, climate change and the role of humans in contributing to global warming. While Dr. Weaver is mentioned in the Article, he is not its primary focus.
Further, despite Dr. Ball’s history as an academic and a scientist, the Article is rife with errors and inaccuracies, which suggests a lack of attention to detail on Dr. Ball’s part, if not an indifference to the truth.
While Dr. Ball presents his central thesis that climate science has been corrupted by politics, the Article offers little in the way of support for that thesis, apart from vague references to missing or falsified data and political manipulation, unsubstantiated and erroneous references to Dr. Weaver as referred to above, and a recommendation that people read a 45-year-old text on climate science written by Professor Hubert Lamb.
Overall, even as an opinion piece, the Article presents as poorly written and it provides little in the way of credible support for Dr. Ball’s thesis.
In answer to the question, whether the words in the article were defamatory of Dr. Weaver, Skolrood J. states:
…the Article is poorly written and does not advance credible arguments in favour of Dr. Ball’s theory about the corruption of climate science. Simply put, a reasonably thoughtful and informed person who reads the Article is unlikely to place any stock in Dr. Ball’s views, including his views of Dr. Weaver as a supporter of conventional climate science.
…the Article is clearly an opinion piece, and statements of opinion are generally evaluated differently than statements of fact.
…it is very unlikely that the Article and the opinions expressed therein had an impact on the views of anyone who read it, including their views, if any, of Dr. Weaver as a climate scientist. Rather, the reasonably thoughtful and informed reader would have recognized the Article as simply presenting one side of a highly charged public debate.
The issue of climate change is a matter of public interest and, as noted, Dr. Weaver has been at the forefront of public discussion. It has long been recognized that where someone enters the public arena, it is to be expected that his or her actions and words will be subject to robust scrutiny and criticism.
In summary, the Article is a poorly written opinion piece that offers Dr. Ball’s views on conventional climate science and Dr. Weaver’s role as a supporter and teacher of that science. While the Article is derogatory of Dr. Weaver, it is not defamatory, in that the impugned words do not genuinely threaten Dr. Weaver’s reputation in the minds of reasonably thoughtful and informed readers. Dr. Weaver has therefore failed to establish the first element of the defamation test.