WashPost: University of Virginia should fight AG Cuccinelli’s faulty investigation of Michael Mann

We knew Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had declared war on reality. Now he has declared war on the freedom of academic inquiry as well. We hope that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the University of Virginia have the spine to repudiate Mr. Cuccinelli’s abuse of the legal code. If they do not, the quality of Virginia’s universities will suffer for years to come.

With a few exceptions, the Washington Post‘s editorial page has not been friendly to climate science.  So it’s refreshing to see the paper take on the chilling McCarthyite witchhunt that Cuccinelli has launched again the much-vindicated climate scientist Michael Mann:

In his ongoing campaign to wish away human-induced climate change, Mr. Cuccinelli has targeted Michael Mann, a climate scientist who used to teach at the University of Virginia, investigating him for allegedly defrauding taxpayers by obtaining grants from the commonwealth to conduct research on global temperatures. The attorney general is demanding that the university turn over astonishingly vast numbers of e-mails and other documents relating to Mr. Mann, including all correspondence with a long list of other reputable scientists.

As ammunition for this chilling assault, Mr. Cuccinelli twists beyond recognition a statute designed to punish government contractors who use fake receipts to claim taxpayer funds and those who commit other such frauds. For Mr. Cuccinelli’s “investigation” to have any merit, the attorney general must suppose that Mr. Mann “knowingly” presented “a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval.”  Mr. Cuccinelli’s justification for this suspicion seems to be a series of e-mails that surfaced last year in which Mr. Mann wrote of a “trick” he used in one of his analyses, a term that referred to a method of presenting data to non-experts, not an effort to falsify results.

Cuccinelli is an extremist even among the anti-science crowd, as CP has pointed out many times (see “Virginia AG mocks dangers of CO2, telling Tea Partiers to hold their breath and make the EPA happy” and “Refuting state AG’s anti-science petition, Virginia climate scientists see “great risk” from greenhouse gases“).

The facts are that Professor Mann has been exonerated — and the Hockey Stick replicated — many, many times:

  • The Hockey Stick was affirmed in a major review by the uber-prestigious National Academy of Scientists — in media-speak, the highest scientific “court” in the land (see NAS Report and here).
  • Penn State itself found no evidence for allegations against Mann, concluding its recent inquiry, “After careful consideration of all the evidence and relevant materials, the inquiry committee finding is that there exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had or has ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data.”
  • Actually, it was Dr. Phil Jones who used the word “trick” — and as the House of Commons inquiry that exonerated Jones explained, “”Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the word ‘trick’ is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominately caused by human activity. The balance of evidence patently fails to support this view. It appears to be a colloquialism for a ‘neat’ method of handling data.”
  • The Hockey Stick has not only withstood scrutiny but seen its conclusions expanded (see Sorry deniers, hockey stick gets longer, stronger: Earth hotter now than in past 2,000 years).  It has been replicated and strengthened by numerous independent studies.  My favorite is from Science last year “” see Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds, the source of the figure below:


The Washington Post makes many of these points themselves and then continues:

By equating controversial results with legal fraud, Mr. Cuccinelli demonstrates a dangerous disregard for scientific method and academic freedom. The remedy for unsatisfactory data or analysis is public criticism from peers and more data, not a politically tinged witch hunt or, worse, a civil penalty. Scientists and other academics inevitably will get things wrong, and they will use public funds in the process, because failure is as important to producing good scholarship as success. For the commonwealth to persecute scientists because one official or another dislikes their findings is the fastest way to cripple not only its stellar flagship university, but also its entire public higher education system.

That’s why the university should immediately challenge the attorney general’s “civil investigative demand” for documents, which the law allows, and which a university spokeswoman says it is considering. It’s also why Mr. McDonnell should condemn the attorney general and aid the university, making it clear that Mr. Cuccinelli speaks only for himself.

Kudos to the WashPost for this editorial.

Shame on Cuccinelli for launching this witchhunt.  Both McDonnell and the university need to repudiate the AG’s anti-scientific efforts.

For some of the others who have condemned Cuccinelli, see DotEarth here.

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21 Responses to WashPost: University of Virginia should fight AG Cuccinelli’s faulty investigation of Michael Mann

  1. Monique says:

    How does one reign in a public official who is abusing their office and mandate? This is just getting ridiculous. Aren’t there many other things AGs should be turning their minds to?

  2. Dennis says:

    As I understand it, some of Mann’s prominent critics — folks like McIntyre — have objected to Cuccinelli’s actions, citing concerns like stifling scientific inquiry.

  3. Jim Edelson says:

    Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II is eerily reminiscent of the 10 Catholic Cardinals in the matter of Galileo Galilei on 22 June 1633.

    “Whereas however we wanted to treat you with benignity at that time, it was decided at the Holy Congregation held in the presence of His Holiness on 25 Feb 1616 that the Most Eminent Lord Cardinal Bellarmine would order you to abandon this false opinion completely; that if you refused to do this, the Commissary of the Holy Office would give you an injunction to abandon this doctrine, not to teach it to others, not to defend it, and not to treat of it; and that if you did not acquiesce in this injunction, you should be imprisoned. “

  4. BB says:

    Climate Audit also has repudiated the Cuccinelli investigation.

    This sort of thing certainly goes beyond just whether you agree with or acknowledge the ‘hockey-stick’.

    [JR: Unlike some, CP is not going to “praise” those in the anti-science crowd — which has worked full-time to create a climate that inevitably leads to extremists like Cuccinelli — just because they are now saying, hmm, this goes to far. CA keeps pushing out anti-scientific nonsense about Mann and the hockey-stick. Now they are “shocked, schocked” that extremists have actually been listening to them. Gimme a break.]

  5. ChicagoMike says:

    The most outrageous part of this whole investigation is that Cuccinelli is supposedly upset about the $500,000 (not sure about the exact figure) in grant money taxpayers gave Mann, yet his response is to launch a wasteful investigation that could cost taxpayers just as much. How’s that for chutzpah?!

  6. John McCormick says:

    We Virginians are a sorry lot.

    First, in the Gubernatorial primary among Democratic candidates, we selected Deeds the dummy over Brian J. Moran (or a better choice Terry McAuliffe).

    Then we added chaos to our stupidity..we elected McDonell and Ken Cuccinelli.

    Blame the voters of Virginia and show us no mercy.

  7. Mike says:

    Here is a letter from the AAUP on the VA AG:

    The open letter is Science is also relevant:

  8. Frankie Valejo says:

    If they cooperate with the investigation and are clean, they will be cleared. Looks like something was leaked that shows malfeasance on Mann’s part. We will see. Penn may like him a lot but that will neither help nor hinder his work at Virginia.

  9. Paul K2 says:

    To pretend that McIntyre and McKitrick has nothing to do with this is ridiculous. They set the table for this attack…

  10. Doug Bostrom says:

    What about the official version of the Wegman Inquiry? When will it begin?

    Summary abstracted from DeepClimate writeup:

    Today I continue my exploration of the dubious scholarship in the contrarian touchstone known as the Wegman report, this time focusing on the report’s background section on social network analysis. As many readers may recall, Wegman et al used a simplistic analysis of co-author relationships to speculate about supposed lack of independence between researchers in paleoclimatology, accompanied by lapses of rigour in the peer review process. This, of course, echoed similar accusations by self-styled climate auditor Steve McIntyre.

    In both the original Wegman report and a subsequent follow-up paper by Yasmin Said, Wegman and two others, the background sections on social network research show clear and compelling instances of apparent plagiarism. The three main sources, used almost verbatim and without attribution, have now been identified. These include a Wikipedia article and a classic sociology text book by Wasserman and Faust. But the papers rely even more on the third source, a hands-on text book that explores social network concepts via the Pajek analysis software package – the same tool used by the Wegman team to analyze “hockey stick” author Michael Mann’s co-author network.

    Not only that, but the later Said et al paper acknowledges support from the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as well as the Army Research Laboratory, raising a host of new issues and questions. And chief among those questions is this: Will George Mason University now finally do the right thing and launch a complete investigation of the actions and scholarship of Wegman and Said?

    Here’s what we’re left with, with a hanging question:

    — GMU a public university, is in Virginia.

    — DeepClimate identifies what appear to be some serious integrity problems with research carried out at GMU.

    — AG Cuccinelli professes to be strongly concerned about research integrity at public universities in Virginia, to the point he’s going after Dr. Mann.

    — When will AG Cuccinelli launch an inquiry on Dr. Wegman and his colleagues?

  11. Mike says:

    @Frankie Valejo says: “Looks like something was leaked that shows malfeasance on Mann’s part.”

    Do you have any evidence for this claim?

    @Doug Bostrom:

    Wegman was not receiving state grants for this work. Even though I disagree with Wegman’s report, I would not support harassing him. If he plagiarized some background material, contact the owners of the copyrights and let them decide if it was fair use or not.

  12. Ken Caldeira says:

    Scientists believe that eventually everyone will know the truth.

    Scientific careers are made by being right about important things, and can be ruined by displaying sloppy thinking and sloppy work.

    Therefore, scientists are highly incented to say things they believe to be true and avoid saying things they believe to be false.

    I have never met a scientist who knowingly says false things. Such a scientist would be considered psychopathic.

    The idea that scientists would engage in fraud, that is, would say things they know to be false goes against the logic of the successful scientific career.

    Prior beliefs can color scientific research and lead to false results through selective use of data. I believe that most scientists who are climate change deniers fall into the category — well-intentioned scientists who are held captive by their prior beliefs. But the vast majority of these scientists are not frauds, they are simply wrong.

    It is one thing to say that Michael Mann is wrong, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary.

    It is another thing entirely to accuse someone of fraud when there is absolutely no evidence of fraud.

    There is a historical example where politicians went after scientists because the politicians didn’t like scientific results. The example is Lysenkoism. The country was the Soviet Union.

    Are American politicians following in the footsteps of Stalin?

  13. Jim Eager says:

    Frankie V gives us the tried n’ true “if they are innocent they have nothing to fear” meme.

    Yes, something has indeed leaked out: reason and common sense, along with Cuccinelli’s grey matter.

    Oh, and never mind the fact that Mann’s research grants while at UV were almost all from federal agencies.

  14. Chris Dudley says:

    From what I’ve read, the guy seems like kind of a goofball. He is asking for documents well past the statute’s time limitations. Fouled up from the git go. Prosecutorial misconduct penalties should be the only outcome.

  15. mike roddy says:

    I don’t understand how this kind of investigation could have any legitimacy at all. Don’t university professors work under the protection of academic freedom?
    Since freedom of expression doesn’t mean much in an era of oil company editing of content at the New York Times and. ABC, professors are more important than ever. If they can be fired by lunatics like this Virginia AG, we have officially become a fascist nation.

  16. John Mashey says:

    1) let us recall that U VA was founded by Thomas Jefferson, who (like Franklin) besides his other activities was a pretty good scientist for his era.

    2) Generally, politicians might attack people far away, but is usually unwise to do obviously-silly attacks on a well-respected local university with many in-state alumni.

    3) VA is the recipient of a substantial positive balance of payments with the Federal government, unlike, say CA or NY, which have negative balances. I’d rather see our tax money got to states that support scientists, not hassle them. So … write your Representatives and tell people maybe its time to zero Federal funding in science in Virginia. Good researchers can keep their grants and move to states that will welcome them… [This won’t happen, of course, but maybe it would be a good idea to make VA people think about the longer-term consequences.]

    The Dover, PA creationism trial and its publicity made my friends at Penn State cringe, as they (and PA in general) had been focussing on building biosciences in the state, and they were heartily-relieved with the outcome.

    But this is way worse for VA, because it isn’t some silly school board out of control, it’s the AG.

    4) However, regarding GMU and Cuccinelli:

    Cuccinelli and his Deputy Attorney General for civil litigation, Wesley Russell, both did their J.D.’s at GMU ~1995…

    GMU & various related entities get noticeable donations form Richard Mellon Scaife, the Koch brothers, and other related foundations. See Crescendo to Climategate Cacophony, Table A.6.1(b, c) under CMPA, GMU, InstHumn, Mercatus, STATS.

    Singer was associated with the Institute for Humane Studies.

    Pat Michaels is a Distinguished Senior Fellow there, and is teaching a a course there Summer 2010.

    If you want to visit some of these places, here’s map.

    Somehow, it seems unlikely that Cuccinelli will bug GMU…

  17. Michael Tucker says:

    Succinctly put Dr Caldeira! I agree that: “The idea that scientists would…say things they know to be false goes against the logic of the successful scientific career.”

    Unfortunately, I also believe that some politicians WILL say things they know to be false in order to further their political careers.

  18. Tony Sidaway says:

    The Executive Council of the Faculty Senate of the University of Virginia has issued a statement on the Attorney General’s demand for papers relating to former faculty member Michael Mann.

    They describe it as a threat to academic freedom and say it hinders essential research.

  19. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    If FATA is used for this purpose then there is nothing to stop the next politician using it to go after scientists researching, say, evolution. Or those whose work demonstrates an earth billions of years old. Science find something that contradicts your belief or ideology? Then the scientists must be engaged in knowingly working on, or supporting, fraud and lies. They must know the truth but are suppressing it so they can line their pockets with taxpayer money and further their own agenda (which appears to be a socialist one world government where they’ll come and take away all your guns).

  20. John Mashey says:

    Re: Cuccinelli

    People may recall I spend some time “following the money”, so:

    See: VPAP, by industry, which shows where Cuccinelli got his money.
    You can drill down into, for example “Energy”, finding that “Coal Mining/processing” is #1 on that list, including Massey Coal…
    Electric utilities are there also.

    Or you can go by Donor.

    VA Beer Wholesalers likes him.
    So does Altria, Universal Leaf Tobacco, VA Coal Assn, etc.

  21. dhogaza says:

    JR says …

    CA keeps pushing out anti-scientific nonsense about Mann and the hockey-stick. Now they are “shocked, schocked” that extremists have actually been listening to them. Gimme a break.

    I think the quick response by McI, Tom Fuller, Mosher etc is tactical. I think they fear a backlash against what is clearly a witch hunt on the part of the AG, and are in cover-their-ass mode, trying to put distance between themselves and the logical consequences of their own attacks on Mann, Jones et al.