Papantonio on Fire — Slander & Slime

Michael Mann’s lawsuit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) for defamation is an interesting case.  SeeClimategate on Appeal” (Aug. 17, 2014). Whatever you think of Mann’s research, the charges of the CEI, calling Mann’s work fraudulent were outrageous. Mann may have a political agenda, and his scientific work may be flawed and invalid, but that does not make it fraudulent. If the CEI has evidence that Mann fabricated or falsified data, then the charge would be appropriate, but so far, nothing to support the charge has emerged. In its pleadings, the CEI averred that it used “fraudulent” as a metaphor or something like that.

The excesses of the CEI are not unique to the climate change debate. One website features an interview with Mike Papantonio, an attorney for the litigation industry, about claims that the Weinberg Group spreads scientific disinformation. “Scientists for SaleRT Question More (Sept. 17, 2014). The Weinberg Group describes itself as providing

“biotech, medical device and pharmaceutical consulting services to companies of every size on every continent, supplying them with viable and efficient drug development pathways and compliance solutions.”

Weinberg Group Website. According to Papantonio and his media facilitator, Thom Hartmann, the Weinberg Group is a group of “professional liars and huxters,” who will “cook the books,” to show that chemicals or tobacco do not cause cancer. Papantonio, however, never delivers any evidence that the Weinberg Group has falsified or fabricated evidence. He, Papantonio, does not like the Weinberg Group’s interpretation of scientific evidence in his legal cases, and its persistence in revealing the weaknesses of the litigation industry’s litigation and regulatory claims.

A shortened version of Papantonio’s irresponsible name calling can be found on YouTube. Hartmann & Papantonio, “C-8 and the Business of Misinformation” (Sept. 16, 2014). Papantonio appears to have used his media appearances to advance the litigation industry’s cause in MDL 2433, In re E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company C-8 Personal Injury Litigation. This MDL aggregates cases of claimed health effects from exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, which is used in making du Pont’s Teflon.

Papantonio’s rants and defamatory screeds illustrate some of the litigation industry’s rhetorical strategies:

  1. dichotomize the world into safe and harmful;
  1. by semantic fiat, declare anything not proven safe as harmful;
  1. assert that the defense of any substance, exposure, drug, etc., which is not proven absolutely safe, is deliberate infliction of harm upon the public; and
  1. reclassify any statement that a substance, known to cause harm under some circumstance, doesn’t cause harm under every other circumstance as “fraudulent.”

Like the CEI, Papantonio stretches the English language and common decency beyond its ultimate tensile stress. Certainly, scientists should participate in litigation and regulatory proceedings, and their views should be given close scrutiny. Papantonio’s interview statements, however, exemplify a pathology of thought and expression that also exceeds our tolerance for discourse in a free society; it is slime and slander.

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