Free the Cuccinelli 40: Virginia AG demands e-mails of Michael Mann and 39 other scientists

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Virginia’s combative right-wing state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has issued a “Civil Investigative Demand” calling on the University of Virginia to turn over a large quantity of material about climate scientist Michael Mann, who was at the University during 1999-2005. Among the documents he is demanding are all e-mail and other communications to or from Mann and 39 other scientists, or referencing them. This latest McCarthyite inquisition, by yet another agent of the global warming denial machine, is taking fire even from climate ‘skeptics’ who are no friends of Mann. It sends a chilling message about academic freedom and the freedom of scientists and others to communicate with each other without fear that their communications will be published. 

Post by Rick Piltz

Related CSW Posts:

Nine ways to undermine Virginia AG Cuccinelli’s McCarthyite demand for scientists communication (May 21)

University petitions court to quash Cuccinelli subpoena of climate scientist Michael Mann (May 28)

This post is primarily informational. We will be following up on this story, in particular on the question of how to respond to and push back on Cuccinelli’s inquisition, and others like it.

Rosalind S. Helderman reported in the Washington Post May 4 (“State attorney general demands ex-professor’s files from University of Virginia”):

The civil investigative demand asks for all data and materials presented by former professor Michael Mann when he applied for five research grants from the university. It also gives the school until May 27 to produce all correspondence or e-mails between Mann and 39 other scientists since 1999….

Mann, who works at Penn State, was one of the authors of the “hockey stick” graph, a study that used a variety of data, including tree rings, to chart climate change. His research showed a rapid recent increase in the Earth’s temperature. …

Mann and several academic groups decried Cuccinelli’s subpoena as an unprecedented inquisition that could threaten academic freedom.

“I think he’s simply trying to smear me as part of a larger campaign to discredit my science,” said Mann, who left the University of Virginia in 2005.

Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors, said Cuccinelli’s request had “echoes of McCarthyism.”

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

In an interview, Cuccinelli said the request is part of an “open inquiry” into whether there were “knowing inconsistencies” made by Mann as he sought taxpayer dollars to fund research.

“In light of the Climategate e-mails, there does seem to at least be an argument to be made that a course was undertaken by some of the individuals involved, including potentially Michael Mann, where they were steering a course to reach a conclusion,” he said. “Our act, frankly, just requires honesty.” …

According to the document, the demand was issued under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, a 2002 law that gives the attorney general the right to demand documents and testimony in cases in which tax dollars have allegedly been obtained falsely by state employees. The document indicates that Cuccinelli is investigating possible violations of sections of the act forbidding employees from making false claims for payment, submitting false records for payment or conspiring to defraud the state.

If Cuccinelli were to successfully pursue a civil allegation against Mann, the professor could be forced to return research money or pay a civil fine.

“It’s essentially a subpoena,” said Steve Benjamin, a Richmond defense attorney who advises the General Assembly on legal issues. “It permits the issuance of that subpoena without the filing of any lawsuit and without the intervention or permission of any court.”

Tim Donaghy, a scientific integrity analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that although Mann and other climate scientists have been called to defend their science before Congress and other bodies, he was not aware of a previous attorney general investigating their work as fraud. “It would be a disturbing precedent,” he said…

Among the large body of “DOCUMENTS TO BE PRODUCED” under Cuccinelli’s demand are the following (each iemizes the same list of names, below; underlining added):

1. All documents that constitute or are in any way related to correspondence, messages or e-mails sent to or received by Dr. Michael Mann from any of the following persons:

2. All documents that constitute or that are in any way related to correspondence, messages or e-mails sent from Dr. Michael Mann to any of the following persons:

3. All documents that constitute or that are in any way related to correspondence, messages or e-mails sent to or from Dr. Michael Mann that reference the following people:

Dr. Caspar Ammann
Dr. Raymond Bradley
Dr. Keith Briffa
Dr. John Christy
Dr. Edward Cook
Dr. Thomas Crowley
Dr. Roseanne D’Arrigo
Dr. Valerie Masson-Delmotte
Dr. David Douglass
Dr. Jan Esper
Dr. Melissa Free
Dr. Chris de Freitas
Dr. Vincent Grey
Dr. James Hack
Dr. Malcolm Hughes
Dr. Eystein Jansen
Dr. Phil Jones
Dr. Thomas Karl
Dr. Otto Kinne
Dr. A.T.J. de Laat
Dr. Murari Lal
Dr. Stephen Mackwell
Dr. Glenn McGregor
Stephen McIntyre
Dr. Ross McKitrick
Dr. Patrick Michaels
Dr. Jonathan Overpeck
Dr. Tim Osborn
Dr. Roger Peilke, Jr.
Dr. Benjamin Santer
Dr. Gavin A. Schmidt
Dr. Stephen Schneider
Dr. Olga Solomina
Dr. Susan Solomon
Dr. Kevin Trenberth
Dr. Eugene Wahl
Dr. Edward Wegman
Dr. Thomas Wigley
Dr. Vincent Gray, and
All research assistants, secretaries or administrative staff with whom Dr. Mann
worked while he was at the University of Virginia.

Lauren Morello reported in ClimateWire (subscription) May 4 (“Va.‘s attorney general probes climate scientist’s grants”):

In a letter sent yesterday, officials with the Union of Concerned Scientists urged Cuccinelli to rescind his request.

“I am concerned that this is an attempt to harass and cast doubt on a good scientist for political reasons,” wrote Francesca Grifo, director of UCS’s scientific integrity program, and Lisa Nurnberger, the group’s press secretary. …

Cuccinelli’s records request is not the first time Mann has found himself under close scrutiny by elected officials.

In 2005, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), then chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, launched a yearlong probe that included a request for more than 30 years’ worth of scientific and financial records from Mann and two other scientists who developed the “hockey stick” climate analysis.

First published in 1998 in the journal Nature, the hockey stick reconstructs the Earth’s climate over the last 1,000 years, drawing on data from tree rings, ice cores, boreholes and corals. It is often cited as evidence that human emissions are the dominant cause of rising global temperatures.

In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report that affirmed that Mann’s climate analysis and other climate reconstructions “are consistent with other evidence of global climate change and can be considered as additional supporting evidence.”

See April 12, 2006, CSW post: “Thomas Jefferson Center gives 2006 “Muzzle” award to Rep. Joe Barton”

The Union of Concerned Scientists issued this statement:

VA ATTORNEY GENERAL CUCCINELLI HARASSES CLIMATE SCIENTIST; UCS CALLS FOR HIM TO RESCIND HIS ‘MISGUIDED’ INVESTIGATION

...“While the stolen emails have provided grist for the blogosphere, independent investigations have found that Michael Mann’s research is scientifically defensible and that climate science in general is sound. Attorney General Cuccinelli’s misguided investigation is tantamount to yet another dog barking up the same tree.

“It is unacceptable to go after Dr. Mann and other climate scientists simply because you don’t agree with their research results. The public would be better served by an attorney general who refrains from distracting and intimidating scientists and confusing the public about climate change science.

“Mr. Cuccinelli’s frivolous investigation sends a chill throughout the science community. 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.”

Chris Mooney said on his blog The Intersection May 2:

This is clearly another attempt to make fire out of the mere smoke that was ClimateGate. But remember, so far, Mann has been vindicated by his university. In this context, I don’t see how one can possibly justify putting scientists through such an extensive and burdensome inquiry. There is obviously strong potential for a chilling effect on their research.

And on May 4:

Cuccinelli’s “civil investigative demand” sent to the University of Virginia can be found here in PDF, so you can see just how extensive it is. In the space of a month, the idea seems to be that UVA must vomit up pretty much anything in any way related to Mann’s science, including all his emails with fellow scientists, his computer codes, data, “structured or unstructured information,” etc.

Cuccinelli’s defense of what he’s doing, to the Post, doesn’t remotely cut it:

“In light of the Climategate e-mails, there does seem to at least be an argument to be made that a course was undertaken by some of the individuals involved, including potentially Michael Mann, where they were steering a course to reach a conclusion,” he said. “Our act, frankly, just requires honesty.”

It doesn’t merely require honesty, it also requires massive stress, work, and legal advice. And in light of the Climategate emails, no such argument holds up.

Moreover, if we were going to have such an inquiry into everyone ever suspected or accused of “steering a course to reach a conclusion”….well, that would be the end of research, I would think.

A number of climate change “skeptics” who are no friends of Michael Mann weighed in with comments highly critical of Cuccinelli’s over-raching witch-hunt:

Steve McIntyre on Climate Audit May 3:

This is a repugnant piece of over-zealousness by the Virginia Attorney General, that I condemn. …

I don’t see any connection between Mann’s emails and offences under this statute. As such, Cuccinelli’s actions seem to me to be a capricious exercise of executive power.

People also need to realize that exercises like Cuccinelli’s debase legitimate exercise of executive power. …

Cuccinelli hasn’t singled Mann out for special attention because he’s got reasonable grounds to suspect the financial probity of the invoices. Give me a break. He’s going after an unpopular figure.

Cuccinelli’s enterprise is singularly stupid …

Jeff Id on the Air Vent

I will second Steve’s disgust at the actions of Cuccinelli.

This lawsuit – assuming it is allowed to proceed – sets a very dangerous precedent, wherein individual scientists can be held liable for publically funded research by a third party.  This is tantamount to government censorship of science, topped off by a financial penalty.  Such a misuse of our legal system could have far-reaching consequences, none of which are healthy for science.

Unless Dr. Mann took NSF funds and put them in his own pocket (which he did not), this is an entirely baseless accusation.  The result of Dr. Mann’s research has been published in the peer-reviewed literature.  Regardless of anyone’s opinions concerning peer review, that is the wicket for legitimate research.  Adding an additional wicket that one must not later get sued by the government is despicable. …

Cuccinelli is a glory-hunter who does not mind endangering the freedom of science for his own personal fame (and furthering his political career).  Therefore, I do not mind expressing my opinion that I hope this backfires quite gloriously on him, and he finds himself out of office and faded into obscurity.

Thomas Fuller, quoted on Talking Points Memo:

Climate-change skeptic Thomas Fuller co-wrote a book on Climate-Gate, published earlier this year, which was harshly critical of Mann and other climate scientists. But in an open letter to Cuccinelli, Fuller urged him to call off the dogs, writing: “No matter what has prompted your investigation, there is no doubt that it will be interpreted as a witch hunt.” He continued: “[B]eing wrong is not a crime, and intimidating scientists not a path that this country, including I presume Virginians, should ever pursue. You may consult with colleagues in Salem to determine how long it takes to live this type of thing down.”

Chip Knappenberger, quoted in The Hook (Charlottesville, VA):

One former UVA climate scientist now working with [“skeptic” scientist Patrick] Michaels worries about politicizing— or, in his words, creating a “witch hunt”— what he believes should be an academic debate.

“I didn’t like it when the politicians came after Pat Michaels,” says Chip Knappenberger. “I don’t like it that the politicians are coming after Mike Mann.”

Making his comments via an online posting under an earlier version of this story, Knappenberger worries that scientists at Virginia’s public universities could become “political appointees, with whoever is in charge deciding which science is acceptable, and prosecuting the rest. Say good-bye to science in Virginia.”

Some additional coverage (with thanks to Aaron Huertas, Press Secretary, Union of Concerned Scientists):

USA Today: “Science Group: Climate science ‘witch hunt’ underway in Virginia”

Washington post, Virginia Politics blog:  “Cuccinelli urged to rescind subpoena; U-Va. urged to resist it”

Tim Lambert, Deltoid: “The Republican War on Science”

Discover magazine, Bad Astronomy blog: “Deniers use power to attack scientists”

US News & World Report, J.A. Farrell column: “Virginia Attorney General Goes on Climategate Witch Hunt at UVA”

A few items on Ken Cuccinelli and his right-wing record:

On April 29 The Hook (Charlottesville, VA) led with:

No one can accuse Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli of shying from controversy. In his first four months in office, Cuccinelli directed public universities to remove sexual orientation from their anti-discrimination policies, attacked the Environmental Protection Agency, and filed a lawsuit challenging federal health care reform. Now, it appears, he may be preparing a legal assault on an embattled proponent of global warming theory….

Washington Post election editorial, “Mr. Cuccinelli’s bigotry: As attorney general, he would be an embarrassment to Virginia” (October 30, 2009)

The Virginian-Pilot election editorial (October 26, 2009)

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