In a rare move that is likely to spark an intense debate in the climate science community, Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, has filed suit in D.C. Superior Court against the author and publisher of a peer reviewed study criticizing his work.
Jacobson is the lead author of a widely publicized study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2015 that mapped out a course to powering the U.S. entirely by renewable energy sources by the year 2050.
That paper was followed in 2017 by a study authored by Christopher Clack, of Vibrant Energy, a grid modeling company, along with 20 coauthors. That study found serious flaws in Jacobson’s methodology, and it too was published in PNAS. The journal also published a rebuttal by Jacobson and his coauthors refuting Clack’s findings.
Typically, in climate science or any other scientific field, that would be the end of this story — scientists tend to argue their ideas via peer reviewed studies and conference panels, not through the courts.
That’s not the case this time.
The suit, filed on Sept. 29, seeks $10 million in damages for “libel and slander” from Clack and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which publishes the journal in which both studies appeared.
In the suit, which is available for download, Jacobson alleges that he reported at least 30 “false” and five “misleading statements” to the NAS prior to their publication of Clack’s study. The paper was published anyway, which the suit alleges “has had grave ramifications for Dr. Jacobson.”
The suit states that in publishing the study critical of Jacobson’s work, the NAS violated its own publication standards. The suit also lays out the case that the Clack study harmed Jacobson’s career by alleging that he and his coauthors at Stanford had committed basic computer modeling errors.
“Baseless allegations of modeling errors can be found throughout the Clack article,” the lawsuit states. “These allegations are relevant and particularly damaging to Dr. Jacobson, whose main research work is on the development and application of numerical computer models.”
Jacobson and his team contend that they did not make modeling errors, but instead included assumptions in their models that they had told Clack about before his study was published. “There were no mathematical or computational errors in any of the underlying models. Rather, Dr. Jacobson and his co-authors made an intentional modeling assumption,” which concerned the amount of electricity generated from hydropower.
Jacobson’s suit says the Clack article is continuing to damage his reputation by getting wide media exposure.