Stanford Professor Drops Stupid SLAPP Suit Against Critics; Still Mad Online

from the scientific-inquiry-shouldn't-happen-in-the-courtroom dept

Back in November, we wrote about a pure SLAPP lawsuit filed by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson against another scientist, Christopher Clack, and the National Academy of Sciences. Jacobson claimed that Clack and others defamed him by publishing a rebuttal of a paper that he and some others had published earlier. In other words, this was a standard kind of academic dispute, with different scientists taking different positions. Rather than continue to debate it in academic settings, Jacobson sued the critics. We went through all of the details of the case, and why it was so ridiculous in the original article, so we won’t rehash that here. However, we will note that Jacobson has now dropped the case, but in doing so published an FAQ where he still insists that it was the proper thing to do in the first place:

That FAQ is basically a rant basically screaming “I was right and was right to sue and the people criticizing the lawsuit are wrong.”

In our original post, we pointed out that Jacobson (based in California) was suing Clack (based in Colorado) in Washington DC. While that is where the National Academy of Sciences is based, we noted that this venue was almost certainly chosen because of a very troubling ruling in the CEI v. Mann case it made in early 2017 in another case involving a scientist suing a critic. As we noted, this was making DC a “good venue” for scientists seeking to sue over academic disputes. Indeed, Jacobson more or less admits this in his FAQ. Responding to the “question” of why the people he’s suing aren’t protected in their opinions under the First Amendment, Jacobson writes:

This case falls under Washington D.C. law, and a relevant similar case to this under D.C. law is Competitive Enterprise Institute versus Mann 150 A.3d 1213 (2016). The following excerpts from this case illustrate that false facts that defame individuals are not sheltered under the First Amendment…

That’s a somewhat tortured reading of an already bad decision. The Supreme Court has already made it quite clear in multiple cases — including US v. Alvarez — that false statements can certainly be protected under the First Amendment.

Even when considering some instances of defamation and fraud, moreover, the Court has been careful to instruct that falsity alone may not suffice to bring the speech outside the First Amendment. The statement must be a knowing or reckless falsehood.

After going on for pages and pages about why he was totally right to file this lawsuit, he says he dismissed it because it would take a long time for the case to play out (why he didn’t realize this in November when he sued is not explained):

It became clear, just like in the Mann case, which has been going on for 6 years, that it is possible there could be no end to this case for years, and both the time and cost would be enormous. Even if the motions for dismissal were defeated, the other side would appeal, and that alone would take 6-12 months if not more. Even if I won the appeal, that would be only the beginning. It would mean time-consuming discovery and depositions, followed by a trial. The result of the trial would likely be appealed, etc., etc.

His second reason? He claims that filing the lawsuit has succeeded in making people aware that he thinks the article he’s suing over is incorrect, even if it didn’t lead to the correction he demanded:

Second, a main purpose of the lawsuit has been to correct defamation by correcting the scientific record through removing false facts that damaged my coauthors and my reputations. While I have not succeeded in having the scientific record in the C17 article corrected, I have brought the false claims to light so that at least some people reading C17 will be aware of the factually inaccurate statements.

As such, after weighing the pros and cons, I find that I have no more reason to fight this battle. I believe it is better use of my time continuing to help solving pressing climate and air pollution problems.

Yes. It has called attention to the fact that you disagree with claims in the other article. It has also called much more attention to the fact that you sued someone over an academic dispute. And, while Jacobson doesn’t seem to think this is true, it seems like that alone may have a much bigger negative impact on his reputation than the article he’s so upset about.

Meanwhile, Jacobson has continue to use Twitter to insist that it is “misinformed” to claim that this dispute should have remained in academic settings rather than court and to argue with lots and lots of people telling him that this whole lawsuit was a bad idea (or asking if he’ll pay the legal costs of those he sued):

Once again, we need a federal anti-SLAPP law. Jacobson should agree, if he was legitimately concerned with how long all of this would take. A federal anti-SLAPP suit would have ended this case pretty quickly as well (though it might have forced Jacobson to pay the legal bills of those he sued).

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: national academy of sciences

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Stanford Professor Drops Stupid SLAPP Suit Against Critics; Still Mad Online”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:


Jacobson has stepped outside of established procedure for correcting publication and has demonstrated that he is a giant liability to any institution that chooses to employ him. Good luck on getting everyone to see things your misguided way. I don’t care if you are factually correct, in this case you are 100% wrong and any facts get lost in your ineptitude.

DB (profile) says:

A fitting result would be for any publication or organization to immediately reject a paper where he is listed as an author. Make it clear to everyone that reading and commenting on the contents would unacceptably expose the organization and reviewers to legal expense.

Really, I don’t see how they could otherwise.

Perhaps even extend the approach to requiring other Stanford-affiliated authors to sign a legally-binding pledge not to sue. Academic politics tends to be bi-modal: either apathy or extreme reactions. An embarrassment like a targeted pledge would definitely have a result.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »