“Using RICO against climate change skeptics an attack on free speech”

I’m interviewed at Vermont Watchdog about the truly terrible idea of aiming a civil RICO/racketeering action or investigation against the forces of “climate denial” over wrongful advocacy. The notion seems to have some well organized friends, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and, more recently, twenty scientists who recently signed a letter calling for such a probe. “I have no idea how it affects the First Amendment” says one of the letter’s signers, a Vermont scientist, according to a companion report. I should note that when I speak of RICO in the interview transcript, I am referring to the civil-litigation side of the law (“civil RICO”) as distinct from the law’s other wing, “criminal RICO.”

I note, and reject, the idea that the First Amendment protects only truthful speech and thus has no application here because climate skepticism is false. (As Cato and many others argued in last year’s Supreme Court case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, controversial speech need not be true to be protected, and in practice an “only truth has rights” rule would give the state a stifling power to punish advocacy in debates that it considers settled.) In substantial part, I note, debate in Washington (and not just in Washington) proceeds by way of advocates’ deployment of half-truths, selectively marshaled data, scientific studies with agendas, and so forth. It is common for both sides to use these techniques. The same techniques are also accepted as standard currency within the adversary process itself, in which the law takes such pride, which makes it particularly absurd to propose defining it as unlawful racketeering to “use dubious information to advance a cause.”

Among those promoting this bad idea: BoingBoing, often regarded as a pro-free-speech site.

P.S. Adapted together with an earlier post into one at Cato at Liberty.


  • So “res ipsa” wrong, ham handed and plain unAmerican it boggles the mind that anyone would consider endorsing it. Truly sad.

  • “I note, and reject, the idea that the First Amendment protects only truthful speech and thus has no application here because climate skepticism is false.”

    Politely said. It must be tough to treat with respect people who have no respect for others.

  • If “only the truth has rights”, then Whitehouse and the other climate warming alarmists would be the ones facing prosecution. See, e.g., John Goetz, “Approximately 92% (or 99%) of USHCN surface temperature data consists of estimated values” (Sept. 27, 2015) at http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/09/27/approximately-92-or-99-of-ushcn-surface-temperature-data-consists-of-estimated-values/

    The data used by the models has been “adjusted”, or replaced by estimates. Not infrequently, the actual data has been replaced by estimates. The alterations are consistent to support the warmist claims. Generally, temperatures prior to 1965 were lowered by about .5 degrees C. Since then, they have been adjusted upwards from .5 degrees C to more recently, it appears that the adjustment upwards is approaching 1 degree C. Goetz’s article is much too complex to summarize in a couple of sentences; it should be read, studied and then its facts cited to anyone who asserts that warming is occurring. (However, anyone who cites the faux 97% “consensus” probably should be prosecuted under RICO, since that is a true case of liars, damn liars and falsified statistics).

  • The Senate should go on record that this attack on free speech and press is incompatible with the oath of Senators and executive officers to uphold the Constitution. Like Joe McCarthy, Sheldon Whitehouse should be censured (exception: in interests of Senatorial comity, Sen Whitehouse should be offered a chance to recant, in which case the censure could be dropped in favor of a general statement of principle.)

    Scott Walker let slide a wonderful opportunity to make the John Doe scandal Exhibit
    A in a campaign for free speech, press, and the Bill of Rights in general. He never did speak up clearly against John Doe. Although public employee unions have gotten away with much, national voters could not see them as an enemy equivalent to al-Qa’ida.

  • To anyone sympathetic to the notion that environmentalism is the new religion, this tactic is how a Taliban acts in more civilized countries.

  • I fully support the first amendment rights of people to deny climate change, just as I support the first amendment rights of people to deny that smoking causes disease.

    But that is not the issue for me. The issue is whether people are supporting their speech with information they know to be false and doing so when they have an obligation to tell the truth.

    If that is not the case, then perjury cannot be a crime.

    To sum up, lying should not be a crime unless there is an obligation to tell the truth. In most policy debates, there is not an obligation to tell the truth. On the other hand, do you really want to be in the position to say: “Sure, we are liars, just not criminals” when you are trying people to support your positions?

  • One ought always to be truthful in the sense which corresponds with perceivable facts. Stating, “the data, insofar as I am able to correlate and analyze along with supporting testimony by others, appears to give credible evidence for ‘X’ ” is an expressed opinion which can no more be analyzed for truth content than person (or persons) themselves who express opinions in this, or any other, way can be analyzed for honesty. On specific facts and the assention to such, correspondence can be ascertained, but when a generalized theory comprised of open-ended ‘scientific’ induction is under discussion, only the openness of the public dicussion itself, rightly protected under the first amendment, will allow an approach to truth.

  • The RICO case against the tobacco industry ruled that fraudulent speech is not protected.

    That’s the issue here.

  • James: other than both invoking RICO I don’t see the similarities between the two.. ” big tobacco” controlled the info and profited from a product with fairly demonstrable negative health effects.. Here scientists with little direct profit are expressing skepticism..Doesn’t seem analogous to me but my knowledge consists of a brief read…


  • Global Warming is a religion. This is a call for laws against blasphemy.

  • First axiom: Follow the money. Who has the most to lose if global warming doesn’t exist.

    There are numerous poor underpaid college profs who stand to lose millions in research money provided by industries who stand to lose billions if global warming is a bust. And we haven’t even gotten to the poor down trodden politicians who line up at the trough of global warming money for their campaign coffers. And we mustn’t leave out the media, who serve up all the misleading ads and stories for those industries.

    Global warming isn’t a fact, it is a religion. We stand a better chance of proving that Jesus was the “Son of God” than we do global warming exists.