Court rules for Univ. of Virginia and Michael Mann against denialist inquisition – scholarly e-mail and documents are protected communication


University of Virginia

A Virginia court has affirmed the University of Virginia’s right to withhold confidential scholarly communications, thus ruling against the global warming denialist American Tradition Institute’s demand to make public climate scientist Michael Mann’s documents and email correspondence with dozens of other scientists during his time at UVa. This is an important victory in a case that threatened to send a chilling message to university scholars that they could no longer  expect to engage in personal communications without having the whole world reading over their shoulders.

From Michael Mann, on  his Facebook page:

Breaking: A victory for science! ATI loses ATI/UVa FOIA case. Judge issues final order. Affirms the university’s right to withhold scholarly communications and finds that the documents & personal emails of mine demanded by ATI were indeed  protected as the university had contended. I am gratified for the hard work and vigorous defense provided by the university to protect scholarly communications and raw materials of scholarship. Fortunately Virginia has a strong exemption in the public records act that protects research and scholarly endeavors.

The judge ruled that the exemption under Virginia’s public records protecting information in furtherance of research on scientific and scholarly issues applies to faculty communications in furtherance of their work. This finding is a potentially important precedent, as ATI and other industry-backed front groups continue to press their attacks on climate scientists through the abuse of public records and FOIA laws and  the issuing of frivolous and vexatious demands for internal scholarly deliberations and personal correspondences.

More background on the case is available at climscifoi.blogspot.

E-mail is 21st century conversation. Generally speaking, you should expect to have no more right to read a professor’s e-mail with colleagues and students than you would have to demand to sit at the table with them if they were having the same interaction over coffee or a beer. Granted there are public freedom of information concerns that must be taken into consideration, but we would start from the premise that we do not want to chill intellectual life by killing e-mail confidentiality.

And any day the people who initiated this inquisition lose one is a good day.

Support the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.

Earlier posts:

Letter calling on Univ. of Virginia to prevent inappropriate open records disclosure of climate scientists’ exempt emails and documents [Union of Concerned Scientists, American Association of University Professors, American Geophysical Union, Climate Science Watch]

In defense of academic freedom against denialist FOIA inquisition tactics [Letter to University of Virginia President Sullivan from American Association of University professors, Virginia ACLU, Union of Concerned Scientists, and nine other groups, including Climate Science Watch]

Virginia Supreme Court tosses out AG Cuccinelli inquisition on Michael Mann

Michael Mann-Bill Blakemore ABC News interview on climate change and the global warming disinformation campaign

Popular Science reviews denialists’ war on climate scientists

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14 Responses to Court rules for Univ. of Virginia and Michael Mann against denialist inquisition – scholarly e-mail and documents are protected communication

  1. Pingback: Another victory over SLAPP hounds: Mann vs American Tradition Institute « Watching the Deniers

  2. aquix says:

    from article:
    “Granted there are public freedom of information concerns that must be taken into consideration, but we would start from the premise that we do not want to chill intellectual life by killing e-mail confidentiality.”

    We clearly saw what went on behind the sceenes in the climategate emails, if you ever read them, let alone understand what they mean. So your actually saying that scientists in public institutions should on tax-payer time be allowed to have private communication on public universities computers? First thats an insult to taxpayers, second it’s an insult to scienctists. Climate alarmists demonstratebly have little regard for the scientific method and how it requires openess, sceptisism and debate,so this is not surprising. We have seen how climate scientist don’t want to reveal methodology, communications and raw data so their conclusions can be reproduced, and how we should trust their finding because they have the right credentials at the right universities. If they are certain on their methods and data they would gladly give it all out, including communications, so people can reproduce their findings and confirm their work. But like Phil Jones at UEA said in two of the climategate e-mails (paraphrasing) “why should I give out my work, so others can find something wrong with it?” and “I’d rather delete the data then give it to sceptics”.

    This has nothing to do with chilling intellectual life, but making it available for other scientists to check and confirm so we can establish facts in a debate. And that requires open conduct, not secrecy. Openess surely can be harsh if your work is not up to standard, but thats nothing personal, only how science should work, since the attack is on the papers, not authors. Open reprodusable data is what science requires, not closed sourced data where you have to trust it’s keepers that their right.

    You say sceptics abuse FOIA. No, they do not, they use FOIA as it’s intended to be used. Yet again I’m not surpriced by this statement from a climate alarmist that has a clear bias. The real question for anyone that want to resolve the issues whereever data might take us, is why, in modern science, is it necessary to use FOIA requests in the first place? You clearly don’t need FOIA requests for data in other sciences. If there is anyone abusing FOIA it’s the people hiding behind it, not the seekers of data and methodology.

    You call this a victory for intellectual life in university and Michael Mann.

    I call it a loss for the free and open scientific method. No great victory here. Science lost today.

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      The data are available for scientists to analyze. There is a mountain of data and a mountain of published scientific literature. But the law in this case says scholars are free to talk among themselves about their work. As a taxpayer and former university teacher, I would want no less.

    • caerbannog says:

      One major reason that “skeptics” have been filing FOI’s is that they are too lazy and/or incompetent to do anything with the *mountains* of freely-available climate data and code that climate scientists have put on line for them to scrutinize.

      Here’s a perfect example. Incompetent deniers have been harassing NASA and James Hansen by filing frivolous FOI requests with respect to the NASA/Hansen global-average temperature results.

      But it turns out that all of the temperature data and code needed to verify NASA/Hansen’s work have been freely available on-line for *years*. The basic algorithm for computing global-average temperatures from raw temperature data is well-documented and is straightforward enough for a lower-division science/compsci/engineering student to code up.

      Confirming that the NASA/Hansen global-average temperature results can be replicated from raw data without applying any homogenization/adjustment steps is something that a competent programmer/analyst should be able to do in a few days *at most*.

      In fact, a really good programmer/analyst could do that in not much more time than it would take your typical incompetent denier hack to fill out and file the FOI paperwork.

      Yet instead of doing just that, deniers have been hassling NASA and James Hansen with frivolous, time-wasting FOI demands.

      BTW, here’s a link to a one-page*** python script that crunches *raw* GHCN V3 temperature data and replicates the NASA/Hansen results very closely:

      (***excluding comments and diagnostic print statements)

      Detailed instructions that explain how to run the script are provided in the comments. If you were shown the script output along with the equivalent NASA/Hansen results on an unlabelled plot, you’d be hard-pressed to tell which is which.

      My challenge to aquix: Download the script and run it per the instructions provided in the comments. Then copy/paste the first 30 lines of the script output here.

  3. Mike Mellor says:

    If you’re allowed to call me a denialist, am I allowed to call you a nazi?

    If you’re not prepared to adhere to the rules of civilized debate, may I assume that I’m dealing with rogues and ruffians?

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      I use the term denialist to refer to corporate and ideologically driven political attacks on climate science and scientists — not to genuine intellectual skeptics. You may call me anything you like and assume anything you like. But don’t get in the habit of bringing it to this civilized patch of cyberspace — keep it at Watts Up With That, or whatever you’ve been reading.

  4. Ricko says:

    This would have been great were it not for the fact that many scientists, M Mann included, has withheld important data needed to replicate and evaluate their work. If Mann, Jones, Briffa, Trenberth et al is to have any respect they must publish, not only their conclusions and reasoning but also all of their data.

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      The data are available for scientists to analyze. The temperature record has been analyzed and re-analyzed, including by skeptic scientists who have found the same global warming as have NASA, NOAA, and others. There is a large community of excellent and conscientious scientists who study this material and document their work. It’s not just a few people who have been singled out for attack by the denial machine, although that group includes some of the most significant scientific contrib utors.

  5. dhogaza says:

    ” If Mann, Jones, Briffa, Trenberth et al is to have any respect they must publish, not only their conclusions and reasoning but also all of their data.”

    Let’s look at Briffa. McIntyre wanted tree ring data from Briffa that wasn’t Briffa’s to give. So what did Briffa do? He gave McIntyre contact information for the Russian scientists who owned the data – there’s stonewalling for you! McIntyre got the data from the Russian scientists and afterwards, for FIVE YEARS, complained that he couldn’t get the data from Briffa! Finally, he admitted he’d had it all along …

    Let’s look at Jones/CRU. About 5% of the data was not publicly available (the rest is cataloged online, though not by CRU). Some national MET offices treat their data as being proprietary and only gave their data to CRU under a non-disclosure agreement (and did not contribute to the online database where roughly 95% of the data has been made available for a long time). CRU refused to break those contracts, this is the “crime” McIntyre has accused them of for a decade. Meanwhile, Jones and CRU worked with those few national governments to get them to agree to make the data available and MADE THIS NEWS PUBLIC. Didn’t stop the bashing. Tch tch.

  6. dhogaza says:

    It’s also worth pointing out that Mann’s work doesn’t depend on Mann’s data – he works with available data from other researchers, which Ricky or any other concerned person can go get for themselves, if it’s really data they want …

  7. Pingback: U Va Court Victory | Planet3.0

  8. bobarl says:

    Many of these blogs that appear to be critical of Mann, Trenberth, Jones, etc. are in my opinion missing the point. Here on this planet there is one form of life that has exploded in its number to dominate the rest of living things, both plant and animal. That form of life is us, human beings. We have so changed this beautiful planet by pollution, over-population and excessive consumption of literally EVERYTHING!!!. In my opinion we have now put ourselves in danger of destroying ourselves and we seem too hair-brained to understand it. These so called “Climategate” scientists have, with thousands of other scientists, tried to do their best to warn us of what their enormous amount of research has shown, that we better make a big change in direction and make it fast before its too late. Greenhouse gases are going to destroy many of us if not all of us, and we will take a great number of other forms of life with us. I think that we are so hair-brained trying to criticize things like one criticism here of using public computers to discuss trivial things, and missing the point. What I see here is a warning to us and one that many of us don’t seem to be getting.

  9. Lars Karlsson says:

    Some good resources for those that want to look at the code and the data:

    ClearClimate Code

    “The Clear Climate Code project writes and maintains software for climate science, with an emphasis on clarity and correctness.

    The results of some climate-related software are used as the basis for important public policy decisions. If the software is not clearly correct, decision-making will be obscured by debates about it. The project goals are to clear away that obscurity, to increase the clarity and correctness of climate science software.”

    OSS Foundation – Global Warming – Hidden Code and Data

    “Global warming denialists claim ‘the data is hidden’ and ‘scientists won’t show the code so no one can verify what they are doing. This page has links to all the hidden data and code that has been available the entire time denialists have been claiming it is hidden.”

  10. In Germany the freedom of research is guaranteed in the constitution. Consequently science is exempt from any freedom of information laws, which are intended to prevent power abuse by politicians and civil servants anyway. Scientists presenting evidence and ideas that are not welcomed by some (powerful) groups should be protected from harassment.

    What I did not understand about this post is whether scholarly communication is now protected in the US as well or whether this was just a specific case. It is a lot of work, especially in the USA, but changing the constitution may be worthwhile. Given the direction the US is heading it might soon become more difficult to protect science against fundamentalists of any kind.

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