• September 2, 2015

Judge Sides With UVa Over State Attorney General's Climate-Research Inquiry

Judge Sides With UVa Over State Attorney General's Climate-Research Inquiry 1

Marvin Joseph, The Washington Post, Getty Images

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general, sought e-mails and other documents related to a climate-change scientist's work at the University of Virginia.

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close Judge Sides With UVa Over State Attorney General's Climate-Research Inquiry 1

Marvin Joseph, The Washington Post, Getty Images

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general, sought e-mails and other documents related to a climate-change scientist's work at the University of Virginia.

A state judge in Virginia on Monday threw out an attempt by the state's attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, to force the University of Virginia to surrender more than a decade's worth of documents related to a leading researcher of climate change.

The judge, Paul M. Peatross Jr., said in his six-page ruling that Mr. Cuccinelli did not sufficiently explain what he believes the former University of Virginia professor, Michael E. Mann, may have done wrong. "The nature of the conduct is not stated so that any reasonable person could glean what Dr. Mann did to violate the statute," Judge Peatross wrote.

Mr. Mann and his supporters in national academic and civil-liberties groups celebrated the ruling, calling it a clear defeat for a state prosecutor who appeared to be using the power of his office to intimidate scientists who have warned of the dangers of manmade global warming.

"It looks like a pretty stinging rebuke of what many have argued is clearly a witch hunt against me, and I hope that it will serve as a wake-up call to the attorney general and his staff," said Mr. Mann, now a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University at University Park.

The case stems from Mr. Cuccinelli's decision in April to issue a "civil investigative demand," or CID, asking the University of Virginia for a broad range of documents involving Mr. Mann, who was an assistant professor at the university from 1999 to 2005.

Mr. Mann had become known as a creator of the "hockey-stick graph," which shows global temperature trends over the last thousand years with a sharp increase in the past few decades. The attorney general, meanwhile, has made a practice of filing legal actions in support of conservative causes, including a challenge of the federal Environmental Protection Agency over its conclusion that manmade greenhouse gases endanger public health.

Mr. Cuccinelli, in a written response to Judge Peatross's ruling, said he planned to issue a new demand of the University of Virginia in compliance with the judge's findings. "We will also take time to fully examine the decision and all of the available options before deciding whether or not to also appeal aspects of the ruling," the attorney general said in his statement.

Limited Options

The attorney general's options appear limited, said Rachel B. Levinson, senior counsel at the American Association of University Professors, which opposed Mr. Cuccinelli's actions. Mr. Cuccinelli sought information concerning five grants that involved Mr. Mann, and four of them were federally financed projects that appear to remain outside state investigative authority, Ms. Levinson said. And the fifth grant was issued before a relevant state fraud statute took effect, she said.

Judge Peatross also considered the university's arguments about interference in academic freedom and did not cite any specific objections on those grounds. "The University of Virginia is a proper subject for a CID, and the attorney general may investigate grants made with Commonwealth of Virginia funds to professors such as Dr. Mann," he wrote. The judge, a retired jurist sitting in Albemarle County Circuit Court, is listed on the university's Web site as an adjunct lecturer at its law school.

Mr. Cuccinelli said in his statement that the judge's ruling "has given us a framework for issuing a new civil investigative demand to get the information necessary to continue our investigation into whether or not fraud has been committed against the commonwealth."

Such investigations by attorneys general are rare, Ms. Levinson said, and the defeat at this stage hopefully will discourage colleagues of Mr. Cuccinelli in other states from similar attempts. Private corporations sometimes make such demands for information from university researchers, but any discouragement they might feel from Judge Peatross's decision could be counterbalanced by his assertion that scholarly work is vulnerable to legal review, she said.

End of the Line?

Mr. Mann, meanwhile, said he hoped he had reached the end of the case and could resume his research without the interruption that he believes was part of the motivation for Mr. Cuccinelli and his allies.

The ruling came just days after the release of data, by groups such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University, showing another year of record worldwide temperatures. It also followed new published revelations about the role played by Koch Industries, a conglomerate that operates oil refineries, among other businesses, in financing a network of groups waging political attacks against scientists who have found evidence of manmade climate change.

Mr. Mann said he and his colleagues and students at Penn State were pursuing several projects aimed at further quantifying projections about the size and effects of global warming because of the use of fossil fuels. Those efforts include projects exploring links between climate change and hurricanes, studying regional effects of climate change such as the behavior of the Asian summer monsoons, and improving the theoretical models used to understand climate change, he said.

The scientists are carrying out such work, Mr. Mann said, while fully conscious of the threat posed by critics such as Mr. Cuccinelli and those responsible for the case last year in which thousands of e-mails and documents were stolen from the Climate Research Unit at Britain's University of East Anglia.

"We're all aware now that there's a concerted effort to try to discredit us by stealing our personal e-mails, trying to take them out of context, and trying to fool the public into thinking that climate change is some sort of hoax," he said. "We're all aware that that is going on, and so of course we're watching our backs."


1. 22199179 - August 30, 2010 at 04:06 pm

I wouldn't count on Mr. Cuccinelli letting go of this just because a judge shut him down this time. He has a reputation in his state for trying to change laws and when that didn't work he has as Attorney General sent out "opinions" as if they are law that have had a negative effect on his states residences civil liberties.

2. nampman - August 30, 2010 at 04:08 pm

A victory for truth and scientific inquiry over political ambition and greed.

3. goodeyes - August 30, 2010 at 09:14 pm

He looks evil.

4. megginson - August 30, 2010 at 09:57 pm

Does anyone else remember the following old episode of Quincy (the Jack Klugman TV series that ran in the late 70s and early 80s)? The following is a thirty year old memory, so the fine points may not be exactly right, but they're close.

A prosecutor had decided that someone had to be corrupt due to the most circumstantial of evidence (in the Quincy case because the father of the "suspect" was a mobster, not because the "suspect" was a famous climate scientist, but the dissimilarities to the case at hand rapidly disappear after that point). The prosecutor kept trying to haul the "suspect" into court, though there was no real evidence that any wrongdoing had actually occurred. Quincy had originally bought into the "like father, like son" scenario, but was ashamed when he finally figured out that the "suspect" was an upstanding citizen, and ended up proving him innocent of the latest speculative charge(whether or not that's the way our justice system is supposed to work). The show came almost to an end with a celebration by Quincy and the family that the persecution of the "suspect" was finally over.

But in the last minute of the show, the scene returned to the prosecutor's office, where he announced to an aide that he was going after the guy again, because he just knew the guy had to be guilty of something, if he could only dredge up the evidence. The show ended with the aide commenting about how scary he found the prosecutor to be, and the prosecutor's response that this pleased him very much.

Talk about life imitating art....

5. legalgibbon - August 30, 2010 at 11:11 pm

". . . scientists who have found evidence of man-made climate change."

I wonder why the author of the article chose to use the phrase "man-made". Would human-made have worked?

6. dank48 - August 31, 2010 at 08:11 am

Well, thank God for that decision. The last thing we want in climatology is sunshine.

7. cwinton - August 31, 2010 at 08:28 am

Perhaps the one who needs to be investigated is Mr. Cuccinelli. I'm sure the State of Virginia has more pressing issues than this kind of grandstanding, legally questionable use of a public office, not to mention the taxpayer money he is squandering to pander to a constituency whose motives are so obviously self-serving. I wonder how well he would hold up under an independent scrutiny of his records of meeting, phone calls, and emails. But then, I'm sure he would wrap himself in a cloak of self-righteous confidentiality since his behavior would indicate he considers himself to be above the law.

8. nuffsed - August 31, 2010 at 08:36 am

Aren't we forgetting all of the emails between Mann and other researchers that clearly show collusion to hide data? http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=490

And I don't know about VA, but in NC emails using state sponsored email programs are public information. Beside that point, if these people are going to use tax dollars to fund their research then the process should be available and transparent to the public, especially if the results of the research are going to be used to force us all to make radical changes to our lifestyle.

9. gasten - August 31, 2010 at 08:43 am

If one is picking the pockets of hard-working tax payers, shouldn't that person be held accountable? Maybe it isn't Cuccinelli, though I applaud him for trying to expose the hoax, but somebody will shine a light on this and the truth eventually will out. The AGW issue appears to be a fairly transparent attempt to scaremonger and then get in line to reap the grant money. The "science" behind the AGW theory is incredibly flimsy and shoddy.

10. softshellcrab - August 31, 2010 at 09:41 am

Mann's climatology "research" was faked and fabricated. Period. It's not an accusation, it's a proven fact. What's more, the evidence is crystal clear that he and his "scientist" cohorts colluded to destroy evidence of their faked research, in an effort to falsely trump up evidence of man-made global warming and get yet more public money for yet more faked research.

Mann should be not only fired, but prosecuted if he broke the law. Cuccinelli isn't giving up on this. In the end, this charlatan Mann is going down.

11. caseyg - August 31, 2010 at 09:51 am

I am worried. Has our academic community become so ossified that we no longer are able to verify our research? When the court becomes the means for validation of scientific investigation then we are lost. It matters not the political affiliation, politics has a far worse track record regarding the manipulation of information than academia. While we are far from perfect, at least our methods attempt to provide insight far greater than the latest political soundbite. Objectivity in research must be maintained without the interference of the court or congress. If the research methods of the work in question are unreliable then let other scientists, from any political agenda, determine the errors. It is essential that the scientific and academic institutions have the primary role to police their work. Maybe we all should analysis our motives in better light. Something less tainted by personal ambition or ignorance. I include my own self interests in that comment and hope others take the time to do the same. The only way to accomplish that is to do your own research, read multiple view points, and stop being so polarized by the emotional rhetoric of others. Ignorance masked as the truth has frequently been the weapon of choice for those who wish to manipulate.

12. high_ed_fac2 - August 31, 2010 at 10:11 am

As a Christian and a Scientist, Cuccinelli's actions here are completely off base. Seriously, what difference does this make to the Commonwealth? That is why science exists in a community. We often to a good job of fact-checking each other over time. This is nothing but ammunition for his political gains. Absurd!

13. high_ed_fac2 - August 31, 2010 at 10:25 am

Oh, and now I guess Cuccinelli better seek and destroy all those that may have fabricated any scientific data. Open up massive investigations into all labs. Every University. Every funding stream! Don't just pick one area that is a political hot bed. Investigate the guy that is doing viral research as well..., find out how that Inorganic Chem lab at Virginia Tech published that paper on nitride solid states in very low temperatures. Must be fruad at the highest levels!

We all know that's not gonna happen...

14. craigchicago - August 31, 2010 at 11:30 am

@softshellcrab #12:
You know as much about Cuccinelli's CID as I know about cricket. The judge's ruling had nothing to do with whether climate warming is fact or fiction. The ruling doesn't inculpate or exonerate Dr. Mann. The judge threw out the case because it was a witch hunt.
But you must be an expert on the whole climate-warming debate. Can you please educate on the issues? But don't make it too complicated because most of us don't have the scientific knowledge--or the mind--that you have.

15. dank48 - August 31, 2010 at 12:12 pm

"Pay no attention to that Mann behind the curtain."

16. marka - August 31, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Hmm ... "We often do a good job of fact-checking each other over time. ... " Really? Then why are we so concerned about suppressing the release of data & analyses? Same problem in the UK with 'researchers' suppressing data, and blowing off public information requests. If the point of academic/scientific research is to contribute to the knowledge base, then why are we so busy 'protecting' said data & analyses?

And, by the way, plenty of studies demonstrating that peer-review is not doing as good a job as we would like to believe - confirmation bias, among other biases, being rampant ...

17. ellenhunt - August 31, 2010 at 08:49 pm

@softshellcrab - No. Mann's work has been very carefully reviewed at it is correct.

18. tee_bee - August 31, 2010 at 11:43 pm

@nuffsed: Sorry to derail your ideology, but an independent review conducted by real, adults scientists found absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing, collusion, or whatever. Of course, such a finding could not possibly persuade you that climate change is real. Because your mind is made up, the weight of scientific evidence notwithstanding.

In any case, even many of the climate skeptics think that the Cuccinelli fishing expedition is foolish.

Finally, your comments about transparency reflect a fundamental ignorance of how science is conducted, how the peer-review process works, how research is funded, and so on.

One hopes that Mr. Cuccinelli is liberated from the constraints of his office by the voters of Va. at the net election.

19. mfortuna - September 01, 2010 at 12:21 am

Let us hope marka is just a kid trying to understand the nuances here, and not an academic or, worse, and administrator. This is Young Nazi impulse to accuse anyone wishing respect and privacy with respect to his work records of hiding something is very, very dangerous.

20. gasten - September 01, 2010 at 09:05 am

mfortuna sounds like the child. Once you trot out "nazi" you show yourself to be nothing more than a weak-minded bomb-thrower. Typical of a certain ilk.

Regarding the "independant review" mentioned by tee_bee --- it could be called a review but nothing about it was independent. The review was not conducted by nazi's, or brown shirts, or the SS, as would happen in mfortuna's fantasy world --- but it was clearly a rigged farce.

Please have the courage to view this debate as a skeptic and you will see that the AGW proponants are playing many for fools --- and apparently winning.

21. signoraf - September 01, 2010 at 09:28 am

Maybe if we were required to use real names and not hide behind made-up names we would formulate better arguments and have less name calling. I am once again shocked at the low content in some of these statements.

Donna Ferrari

22. nuffsed - September 01, 2010 at 09:53 am


You have not derailed a thing. I don't really care what some "independent" review concluded. (Notice the quotation marks indicating that I don't really believe that they were independent and free of the same agenda as Mann.) Read the emails. A fifth grader could see that they were colluding to hide data. Just read the one email I posted the URL to - they are discussing hiding data and skirting the FOIAs in both the U.S. & the U.K. The whole thing just got whitewashed and dropped because the liberal elites and the MSM are all so heavily invested in AGW, a la Algore.

Climate change is completely politicized (can you say "cap & trade"?). It is just another excuse to tax everyone down to their skivvies and to try and keep elites in power. Imagine how disappointed they all are that the Gulf oil spill did not do as much damage as was hyped. It would have been a cakewalk for the government to take over U.S. oil production like they took over GM. And while Obama was here criticizing U.S. offshore drilling he has subsidizing George Soros' investment in Brazillian offshore drilling.

Also, if you will actually READ my post you will see that I used the word "should," indicating that I am contrasting my viewpoint with the current state of affairs. IF Mann is going to accept a taxpayer funded paycheck and taxpayers are going to help fund his research, the the public SHOULD be allowed to see all of his data.

I suggest you examine your own idealogy in view of the facts.

23. 11319762 - September 01, 2010 at 04:31 pm

The judge's decision was based upon jurisdicton, not the validity of Dr. Mann's work. Four of the five grants in question were federal, and thus outside of the purview of the state statute. The fifth grant, the state grant, was made before the fraud law was enacted, thus outside of its purview. the judge did nothing to validate Dr. Mann's work and any claim by Mann that he is vindicated is even more ethereal than his dataset.

Mann's work has been shown to the world to be faulty, if not fraudulent. There is no statistical basis for his "hockey stick" curve, otherwise he would produce the data.

The East Anglia-UVA-Penn State data set has no validity. Neither Mann, nor his colleagues in the UK can or will produce the data, thus preventing any type of testing and reproduction of results. Without that ability what they have published is outside of the realm of science. At best it is opinion. Whether good opinion or bad opinion it is opinion and not of scientific value.

If the results of scientific studies are to have any valid meaning for us, they must strictly adhere to the scientific method. That is, they must be reproducable by other researchers. The inability or unwillingness to present one's dataset for testing and reproduction removes a researcher's work from the scientific world. To claim anything else would be to denigrate the work of those whose work actually can be tested and confirmed.

24. bridgman - September 02, 2010 at 11:54 am

4 out of 5 Christian dentists agree that global warming is a communist lie. Who are we to second-guess these Godly doctors of science?

25. dank48 - September 02, 2010 at 03:44 pm

Four out of five scientists applying for government grants agree that anthropogenic global warming is holy writ and that anyone who thinks otherwise is an unwitting dupe of the oil industry, a conscious stooge for same, or just a heretic.

Some of the rest of us think the sun comprises 99.85% of the matter in the solar system, that Jupiter is two-thirds of the rest, and that the earth is a very small part of the leftover 0.05% that makes up the rest of the planets, the asteroids, comets, and the rest of the details.

Some of us also note that, every single second, the sun converts by nuclear fusion 400,000,000 tons of hydrogen into 396,000,000 tons of helium, in the process converting 4,000,000 tons of matter into energy, according to E = mc^2. That is, every second the earth gets about one two-billionth of that energy, or about four pounds' worth, which rather dwarfs everything else we're doing.

But what the hell, it's only money, truth, and our future, right? What the hell do we care whether these guys faked their data? They have Ph.D.s, right? And no one with a doctorate has ever doctored data. Right?

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