Research spat morphs into $10M lawsuit

Source: Hannah Northey and Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Stanford University professor is suing the National Academy of Sciences and a former grid researcher for $10 million for taking a sledgehammer to his study that found the world could be powered solely on wind, solar and hydropower.

Professor Mark Jacobson filed the complaint against NAS and Christopher Clack in District of Columbia Superior Court on Sept. 29.

Clack has taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and researched at NOAA.

The suit generated attention today on social media after Michael Shellenberger, the vehemently pro-nuclear president of the group Environmental Progress, reported about the filing, which accuses Clack of defamation and breach of contract.

Central to the dispute is a report Clack and 20 other scientists published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this summer that found flaws in Jacobson’s 2015 research, which concluded the U.S. could reliably power itself using only wind, water and solar energy at an affordable price (Climatewire, June 20).

The complaint says Jacobson sent messages to NAS in February warning the organization not to publish Clack’s article due to “thirty false statements and five materially misleading statements.” The professor urged the academy to withdraw the paper or correct the statements he flagged.

NAS, however, published the article in June with slight revisions that Jacobson said did not address his concerns. NAS has not granted his request for a retraction.

The lawsuit says the decision violated the organization’s own publication policies governing research integrity and conflicts of interest. The complaint goes on to list several elements of the Clack paper that Jacobson says are inaccurate.

“Dr. Clack’s actions have proximately caused, and continue to proximately cause, damage to Dr. Jacobson,” the complaint says. “The publication of the Clack article has exposed Dr. Jacobson to ridicule and has injured him in his reputation.”

Plus, it says, NAS’s refusal to retract the article demonstrated “intentional, reckless or callous disregard of Dr. Jacobson and his reputation.”

Paul Thaler, a partner at the firm Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC in D.C., is representing Jacobson and has worked with other researchers involved in misconduct proceedings.

“I would view [the suit] as a significant issue and effort on his behalf to protect the science, as well as his efforts and reputation,” Thaler said.

Jacobson and a spokesman for NAS said they would not be commenting at this time.

Clack did not immediately respond to a request for comment.