Cuccinelli Is Following the Law; Mann Up, UVa

Cuccinelli Is Following the Law; Mann Up, UVa

May 23, 2010
Originally published in The Richmond Times-Dispatch

The University of Virginia indicates it will challenge Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's request for records produced, using taxpayer resources, by former Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences Michael Mann. This is regrettable. Cuccinelli is following smoke to see if there is fire, prompted by troubling revelations in leaked documents that raise serious questions about Mann's activities while at the university.

UVa's Faculty Senate has condemned Cuccinelli's request, calling it a serious infringement upon academic freedom and assault on the freedom of scientific inquiry. It joins a chorus of voices enjoying massive financial support from the taxpayer but who, it seems, believe that this should come without conditions, established by law, which follow the money.

On its face, their problem is with a 2002 statute that passed both state legislative chambers unanimously, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. It bears no hint of exempting academics, scientists, or others from its prohibitions or inquiries that attach to the use of appropriated funds. It empowers the attorney general to compel documents, and testimony about them.

No one claims the law doesn't apply here. With a straight face, scientists and academics instead merely argue against applying it to them. Academic freedom apparently means taking taxpayer money free from accountability under standards applying to the rest of us. Since when?

This inquiry derives from the late 2009 leak of e-mails, computer code, and code annotations produced by Mann and colleagues throughout the "climate" establishment. This is known colloquially as "Climategate."

Despite intense efforts to wave the revelations away, the admissions and code annotations establish, among other things, efforts to "hide the decline" in temperatures, and patch thermometer data on the end of tree ring reconstructions despite admonition by colleagues not to do so for it was improper.

Without implausibly recasting the evidence as a series of misinterpretations, how does the attorney general justify ignoring this mountain of evidence in the public domain?

Upon intimidation, it seems. Ritual "McCarthyism!" rhetoric and straw-man arguments abound, including keening about non-existent criminal fraud allegations. Cuccinelli has made none, and is not challenging scientific conclusions. He simply is following the letter of a statute authorizing investigation of possible fraud.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth from scientific, academic, and other establishment salons is of course designed to pressure him to back off. Let's hope they fail, for the signal such a move would send would be a costly one, in several respects.

In the face of Climategate's revelations, it seems critical to remind all of those living off of taxpayer monies, but pondering inappropriate activism, of these conditions. There is no other external incentive to be honest. Climate science, living high on public money, has proven it cannot or will not self-police. But it is our money they are playing with.

The "climate" industry writ large is now spectacularly funded by the taxpayer, to the tune of about $9 billion just at the U.S. federal level in 2009. It now far outpaces even our public expenditures on, for example, AIDS (should AIDS researchers be exempted from responsibility?). It appears burdened by those problems associated with other boom industries springing up almost overnight. Granting passes because certain quarters blanche at the prospect of scrutiny is the inappropriate response.

Adherence to conditions that come with public funding is subject to civil enforcement. This request for documents, indeed the statute authorizing it, put academics on notice that they must do their work openly, honestly, and using the traditional approach of the observer who is indifferent to the outcome of the experiment. That is in grave doubt in the instant case. It is troubling how saying so is considered unacceptable, amid escalating name-calling against an attorney general who is operating under a unanimously enacted law, which plainly applies, about which no one previously complained.

There is one other disturbing aspect of the university's telegraphed challenge. That is the double-standard and seemingly malicious treatment to which it subjects academics less politically correct than Dr. Mann.

Consider former Mann colleague Dr. Pat Michaels, who as a research professor of environmental sciences drew great political and academic wrath by challenging the same political and policy agenda that Mann champions.

In stark contrast to Mann's case, UVa has told Michaels it is preparing to provide his records and e-mails to Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act. The establishment reaction? Silence.

Oddly, UVa informed Del. Bob Marshall that he could not similarly have Mann's records, claiming they were destroyed by virtue of Mann having departed the university.

Of course, so had Michaels. Both were in the same department. Yet Michaels' records remain, and are on their way to Greenpeace. A university FOIA official explained to Michaels that some peoples' records are treated differently.

Indeed. The university needs to self-correct, and faithfully and evenly follow all laws.