Dear Tim Ball: sue me

Tim Ball is suing Dan Johnson for defamation because of a letter to the editor published in the Calgary Herald (edited to add links):

Whatever one may feel about Tim Ball’s denial of climate change science, newspapers ought to report factual summaries of authors’ credentials. You note that he “was the first Climatology PhD in Canada and worked as a Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg for 28 years”. Ball received a PhD in Geography in the UK in 1982, on a topic in historical climatology. Canada already had PhDs in climatology, and it is important to recognize them and their research. Examples include Kenneth Hare, a well-respected Professor at McGill, who received his PhD in 1950, also in the UK. Climatologist Andre Robert (PhD from McGill, 1965) conducted research that laid the groundwork in atmospheric models and climate. Timothy Oke, a leader in the study of urban climate, received his PhD from McMaster in 1967. According to Ball’s website, he was not a climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg for 28 years. And how could he have? He did not even have an entry-level PhD until 1983, that would allow even Assistant Professor status. During much of the 28 years cited, he was a junior Lecturer who rarely published, and then spent 8 years as a geography professor. His work does not show any evidence of research regarding climate and atmosphere and the few papers he has published concern other matters. There are great gains to be made in science from conjectures and refutations, but sometimes denial is nothing more than denial.


Dan Johnson, PhD
Professor of Environmental Science
Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Grassland Ecosystems
Department of Geography
University of Lethbridge

It’s easy to check that Ball was not the first Climatology PhD and that he wasn’t a Climatology Professor for 28 years. I thought that maybe the paper had edited down his biography and mangled it, but in this later article he puts it in his own words and further embellishes his qualifications:

I was the first Canadian Ph.D. in Climatology and I have an extensive background in climatology, especially the reconstruction of past climates and the impact of climate change on human history and the human condition. Few listen, even though I have a Ph.D, (Doctor of Science) from the University of London, England and that for 32 years I was a Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg.

Gee, now he’s saying he was a Professor for 32 years and he’s claiming to be a Doctor of Science, a much more prestigious qualification that the one he holds.

So in response to Johnson’s letter that correctly pointed out that Ball had puffed up his qualifications, Ball is going to sue the paper, Johnson and, for good measure, the University of Lethbridge.

I believe it is wrong for Ball to use legal harassment to attempt to suppress the truth about his qualifications so I’ve republished Johnson’s letter on my blog.

Dr Ball: if you want to sue me as well, my contact details are on the tab at the top of the page.

Comments

  1. #1 Julie Stahlhut
    June 23, 2006

    Wait — in order to successfully sue for defamation, don’t you have to demonstrate that the accusations were false? Seems like it’s very, very easy to do the fact-checking here;let’s hope that sanity will prevail and the suit will be laughed out of court before it wastes anyone else’s time and money.

  2. #2 z
    June 23, 2006

    I myself am a Doctor of Excellence.

  3. #3 Babbler
    June 23, 2006

    Making up credentials, suing people – a sure sign of pseudoscientists at work.

  4. #4 jayinbmore
    June 23, 2006

    …and I have a Masters Degree in Scienceness!

  5. #5 Ian Forrester
    June 23, 2006

    Gees, I had a letter about Ball published the same day as Dan Johnson’s in the Calgary Herald. I gues I’m lucky, he just sent his attack dog Bob Carter after me and not the lawyers.

  6. #6 Carl Christensen
    June 23, 2006

    “University of London, England” — kind of odd how he describes where he got his PhD, as there are something like 20 “Universities of London” and people usually say their specific uni, i.e. University College, Birkbeck, King’s etc?

  7. #7 Brian J
    June 23, 2006

    University pensions in Canada must be pretty generous, if a retired academic can afford to sue someone…

  8. #8 Lettuce
    June 23, 2006

    Amazingly, I’ve held a PhD is Psuedoscience (Doktor of Psuedoscience) for thirty-THREE years.

  9. #9 Ian Gould
    June 23, 2006

    >Wait — in order to successfully sue for defamation, don’t you have to demonstrate that the accusations were false?

    British law differs consdierably from U law in regards to defamation. I assume Canadian law is closer to the British model.

    Under British law, truth is not an automatic defence.

    For example, if I tell you I saw Fred going into a brothel without mentioning that I know he’s a plumber and was there to fix a plugged sink that’s potentially defamatory.

  10. #10 Lettuce
    June 24, 2006

    http://www.duhaime.org/Tort/ca-defam.aspx

    Defamation must be a direct attack on an actual reputation, not an alleged reputation that a “victim” believes they deserve. A judge will assess the statement against the evidence of the victim’s reputation in their community.

    Would seem that Johnson has a pretty good defense.

  11. #11 Mark Lindeman
    June 24, 2006

    Just trying to sort out one piece of this, since I am a provincial American unaccustomed to the concept of higher doctorates. Do I understand that in principle it is possible that Ball could have received a Doctor of Science from U London, but that it makes no sense for him to assert that he received his “Ph.D, (Doctor of Science)” there because they are two distinct degrees, and the D.Sc. would be awarded on the basis of accomplishment over many years (or conceivably as an honorary degree)?

    Not that Ball’s reputation is at stake; after the whopper about “28 years Professor of Climatology,” that’s a done deal. I’m just trying to fill in my knowledge. That parenthetical was totally lost on me.

  12. #12 Roger Victoria
    June 24, 2006

    I seem to remember that Penn and Teller had a TV program that aired on Showtime. They used a barnyard epithet for the title as they didn’t want to get tied up on lawsuits for calling people frauds, liars and cheats. Perhaps Mr. Johnson should have just called Mr. Ball on his Bull****

  13. #13 Graculus
    June 24, 2006

    Carl:University of London, England” — kind of odd how he describes where he got his PhD, as there are something like 20 “Universities of London” and people usually say their specific uni, i.e. University College, Birkbeck, King’s etc?

    London, Ontario, Canada, has the University of Western Ontario, so specifying “England” could cut down on confusion.

    Ian: I assume Canadian law is closer to the British model.

    No, although the onus is on the defense (eg, you don’t have to demonstrate and intent to defame, or that any actual damage resulted), truth is an absolute defense. You can also have an honestly held opinion (so long as it is based on facts) under the “fair comment” clause.

    You also can’t sue for defamation of a reputation that doesn’t exist.

  14. #14 Carl Christensen
    June 24, 2006

    My point of his use of “University of London, England” wasn’t the England bit — I’ve never heard anyone say they’re from the “University of London” without qualifying it with the campus (i.e. UCL, Birkbeck, King’s etc). Sounds like he’s covering up something!

  15. #15 Eli Rabett
    June 24, 2006

    Queen Mary’s College. He also published one article in Climatic Change which looks like it came from his thesis. The date on the thesis is 1983 not 1982. http://tinyurl.com/fw8j7 RTFR

  16. #16 Carl Christensen
    June 25, 2006

    funny, he’s a great cheerleader of McInt & basher of multiproxy studies, yet his PhD thesis was basically a proxy study of Hudson’s Bay company fort weather info!
    plus, let’s face it, if you’re a blogger, how can you sue for defamation of character? ;-)

  17. #17 dsquared
    June 25, 2006

    [truth is an absolute defense]

    Ian Gould is right; the defence is called “justification” rather than “truth” and is a little wider in its requirement than the simple literal truth of the statement made. Ian’s example of a plumber being seen walking into a brothel is an excellent illustration of the difference between truth and justification, though in most real world cases (and indeed this one), the statement will have been justified if it is true.

  18. #18 Graculus
    June 25, 2006

    the defence is called “justification” rather than “truth”

    Erm, not in Canbadian law, because:

    “if I tell you I saw Fred going into a brothel without mentioning that I know he’s a plumber and was there to fix a plugged sink.

    …means that you were not expressing an opinion based on facts/”fair comment”… and it does demonstrate malice. Double whammy.

    If you didn’t know about the sink, you’d be fine.

  19. #19 Kenneth Blumenfeld
    June 29, 2006

    So here is a question. I am working on my ph.d. (SuperDoctor of AllScience) right now. I really am, and it is in geography, no less, where I happen to study climatology. How can I spin this for potential op-eds? There must be an equation for Dr. Ball’s rationale. I guess if I am writing for the right audience, I can just say whatever I want. But I was thinking that I maybe could count my four years of TA experience as “early professor work.” As an undergrad I gave a guest lecture once, and that was two years before I got into graduate school. Plus I once taught at a community *college,* which is like a university, so I am up to seven. Seven years as a professor. Wait! I have actually been fascinated with the weather for most of my life. I began learning quite young, and I started sharing what I learned early on. Sharing is a form of teaching, so it should not be too difficult to make the leap that I have been a Professor of Climatology since I was 5. That gives me 28 years in the field. I am now ready to challenge Dr. Ball’s easy-to-topple claim that hemispheric temperature contrast is THE driver of extreme weather. (see page 2 for amazing, mind-blowing, not-even-supported-by-introductory-meteorology-wave-cyclone-theory quote).

  20. #20 John Hunter
    July 6, 2006

    I’ve had similar threats to sue me over a disagreement on the web with a climate contrarian. [See](http://people.aapt.net.au/~johunter/greenhou/greenhouse_industry.html)

    The contrarian involved (Richard Courtney) has also had similar questions raised about his qualifications. [Search for "courtney"](http://www.badscience.net/?a=xdforum&xdforum_action=viewthread&xf_id=1&xt_id=34&pstart=200)

    An interesting pattern?

  21. #21 Brian Gordon
    August 18, 2006

    I actually think it’s a great thing that Ball has sued for defamation, because the truth will certainly come out in the courtroom about his reputation, credentials, and so forth – and be published widely.

  22. #22 Robin Levett
    February 7, 2007

    dsquared said:

    Ian Gould is right; the defence is called “justification” rather than “truth” and is a little wider in its requirement than the simple literal truth of the statement made. Ian’s example of a plumber being seen walking into a brothel is an excellent illustration of the difference between truth and justification, though in most real world cases (and indeed this one), the statement will have been justified if it is true.

    (I’m a newbie here – wandered over from a link at Uncommon Descent (which I still read for giggles, though I’ve been banned there…)).

    This isn’t actually right; establishing the truth of the statement made is an absolute defence in English law to a civil claim for defamation. The issue is what statement was made. Both US and English law have rules about innuendo – the meaning of a statement is not limited to the literal meaning of the words used, and the Claimant is entitled when suing to rely upon the reasonable meaning in context. In the example given, the statement made clearly implies that Fred was entering the brothel to use its services; failing to mention why Fred was there leaves that meaning open.

  23. #23 Dan Matthews
    February 7, 2007

    Well, hmmm, according to the U of W website Ball wrote his thesis in 1970. He received a Clifford J. Robson Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1976 and the award listed him as DR. Timothy Ball. There are many other articles on the U of W website. If you do a search for Tim or Timothy Ball, you’ll find a few.

    So I think his statements as to him being at the U of W for the last 28 years are pretty creditable.

  24. #24 John Cross
    February 7, 2007

    Dan, over lunch I had a quick scan over the UofW website to see about Tim Ball. I can find nothing about him there before 1987. I will note that you are correct that Dr. Ball is listed there as being a recipient of the CJ Robson Award in 1976 and he is listed as Dr. Timothy Ball. Which is rather strange when it appears he received his PhD in 1982! I will note that his award was not found by searching for Tim Ball in the UofW website but rather searching for the CJR award. A sample of what was on the UofW website is listed below. In no place is he refered to as a Professor of Climatology and as recently as 1989 he was an associate professor.

    In Edition (the name of the UofW newspaper) Vol 13, #5 refers to him as Tim Ball Professor of Geography in 1995

    In Edition Vol 13, #6 refers to him as Tim Ball Professor of Geography in 1995

    In Edition Vol 4, # 8 Dr. Tim Ball Department of Geography in 1987

    Apparently there is a prize is given in honour of Dr.Tim Ball.

    In 1989 Tim Ball Associate Professor of Geography gave a presentation titled “A Slide Show Walk Through the Orkney Island”. In addition Tim Ball Professor of Geography gave a Presentation titled “The Greenhouse Effect: Myth or Reality”.

  25. #25 Eli Rabett
    February 7, 2007

    The 1970 thesis was a Masters from the University of Manitoba. The listing as Dr. is interesting, although not correct. You can get a better timeline here. There never has been any controvery about the fact that Ball earned his Ph.D. in geography from Queen Mary Collee of the University of London in 1983.

  26. #26 Roy
    March 5, 2007

    I read Ball’s article, and found it informative and enjoyed it very much. After reading all of the foregoing comments here, I am convienced he stepped on a lot toes, which makes me feel he is probably correct about the conspiricy theory.

  27. #27 John Cross
    March 6, 2007

    Roy: It will probably make you feel good to know that you are following in Dr. Ball’s footsteps. On ClimateAudit he once made a statement and used a pretty bad piece of science as a reference. When I called him on it, instead of saying he was wrong he commented that since I was bothering to respond to it there must be something to it afterall. Your statement fits right in with that.

    Let me ask you – which scientific part of his article do you think is the strongest?

    J.

  28. #28 rando
    March 6, 2007

    It’s interesting that methane – which is 22 times more effective in trapping long-wave radiation in the atmosphere than C02 – is now thought to be produced by live vegetation. I guess even the ‘real’ scientists haven’t got everything quite figured out yet. Personally, given that human population increased from about 4.5 billion in 1980 to over 6.5 billion today, I’d be concerned about the effect of all those extra Big Macs and burrito’s being digested and resultant methane releases…and what about all that C02 they put into soda-pop? Hmmmm:-)

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