Va. attorney general demands info on professor’s climate research

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Editor’s note: The Associated Press reported on May 27 that the University of Virginia had filed a petition in Albemarle County Circuit Court seeking to set aside Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's investigative demands. Rector John O. Wynne said the university’s legal challenge to the investigation was an attempt to defend its academic freedom, including its researchers' free-speech rights.

RICHMOND, Va. — Conservative Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is
investigating a former University of Virginia professor’s climate-change

The Republican is demanding papers from the university as part of an inquiry
of whether Michael Mann defrauded taxpayers by using manipulated data to seek
money to back his research.

Cuccinelli dismisses assertions that manmade gasses cause the planet to warm.
He has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency challenging its authority
to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Since his days in the Virginia Senate, he has rejected the principle that
exhaust from industry and vehicles has warmed the earth’s overall temperatures,
contributing to decades-long droughts on some continents and the thawing of
polar ice caps.

Cuccinelli also found his way into headlines in January for advising
officials at state-supported colleges in Virginia not to consider sexual
orientation as a basis for enforcing legal protections against

The attorney general was out of the office yesterday and unavailable for
comment, said his spokesman Brian J. Gottstein.

Gottstein said the investigation was a legitimate inquiry that follows up on
a controversy last year when climate-change skeptics obtained nearly 1,000
e-mails stolen from a British university and claimed it proved scientists had
exaggerated the threat of global warming.

An independent review of work done at the University of East Anglia’s
Climatic Research Unit found no deliberate scientific malpractice.

“If ‘Climategate’ never came to light,” Gottstein said, “this investigation
would never be happening.”

The civil
investigative demand
seeks information related to five grants for research
projects into climate change in which Mann was involved. It also seeks copies of
e-mails and other correspondence Mann sent to or received from 39 named
scientists or researchers worldwide and an undetermined number of assistants,
secretaries or administrative staff at Virginia.

Gottstein said it was not Cuccinelli’s disdain for global warming that
prompted the investigation but a need to determine whether Mann had
misrepresented or manipulated any data to obtain public research grants while at
the university.

Mann, now at Penn State University, noted in an e-mail to the Associated
Press that his work has repeatedly been validated and key conclusions of his
work have been replicated and confirmed. Among those vindicating his work are
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scholarly scientific journal
Nature, the National Academy of Sciences and the Union of Concerned

“It seems highly vindictive. It seems clearly to me that it’s an attempt to
intimidate and to silence me and to make an example of me for other scientists
who might speak out on the science of climate change,” Mann said in an AP
telephone interview.

He also said the fear of being targeted for investigations by the state
attorney general could drive top researchers and professors away from Virginia’s
public universities.

Several academic and scientific organizations have criticized Cuccinelli’s
investigation as a threat to academic freedom.

Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University
Professors, said Cuccinelli’s demand for records had “echoes of McCarthyism,”
The Washington Post reported yesterday.

“It would be incredibly chilling to anyone else practicing in either the same
area or in any politically sensitive area,” she said.

Timothy Donaghy, a scientific integrity analyst at the Union of Concerned
Scientists, echoed Levinson’s concern.

“Mr. Cuccinelli’s frivolous investigation sends a chill throughout the
science community,” Donaghy said in a statement posted on the organization’s Web
site. “He needs to realize that science thrives on open communication and
debate. If scientists are deprived of their ability to challenge each other’s
work without fear of legal action, public understanding is bound to suffer.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists expressed its concern to Cuccinelli in a letter
May 3 asking him to rescind his request.

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