Breaking: Judge rules against Cuccinelli’s witch-hunt aimed at Michael Mann and climate science

An Albemarle  County Circuit Court  judge has ruled that the Virginia attorney general’s office has not demonstrated a “reason to believe” that the University of Virginia has documents and materials that are relevant to its investigation into possible fraud by former U. Va. climate science professor Michael Mann.

In a six-page decision, Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. also ruled that the attorney general also has not sufficiently “stated the nature of the conduct” believed to constitute possible fraud by Mann alleged to satisfy the requirments of the law under which the office can issue a civil investigative demand for information from the university.

That’s the big breaking story from the Richmond Times Dispatch.   Apparently even in Virginia the AG actually has to have an “objective basis” for legal action, rather than simply being allowed to engage in ideological witchhunts.

UPDATE:  The ruling is here.  The WashPost reports, “The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli” and adds more detail:

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate. But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli’s underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli’s deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann’s fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case.

“The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann’s work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Peatross wrote.

Additionally, the judge said Cuccinelli could only ask about one of five grants issued to Mann that the attorney general has been seeking to investigate. That’s because the other four involved the use of federal, not state, funds.

I’m told that one remaining grant is not for paleoclimate work.

Mann is one of America’s top climatologists.  Few if any climate scientists in the world have been as falsely accused “” and thoroughly vindicated “” over both their academic practices and scientific results as Dr. Michael Mann (see Much-vindicated Michael Mann and Hockey Stick get final exoneration from Penn State “” time for some major media apologies and retractions and Final ‘forensic’ UK report on emails vindicates climate science and research underlying the Hockey Stick).

Here is Dr. Mann’s response to this ruling:

I’m very pleased that the judge has ruled in our favor. It is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically-motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests.

I’m looking forward now to trying to get back full time to the things I really care about: doing research and extending the forefront of our scientific understanding of the science of climate and climate change, teaching and advising students and postdoctoral scholars, and doing the best I can to communicate to the public important scientific findings.

As Nature magazine had editorialized back in May (see Nature rains on Cuccinelli: “The University of Virginia should fight a witch-hunt by the state’s attorney general.”)

Cuccinelli’s actions against Mann hark back to an era when tobacco companies smeared researchers as part of a sophisticated public relations strategy to raise doubts over the science showing that tobacco caused cancer, and delayed the introduction of smoking curbs for decades. Researchers found themselves bogged down in responding to subpoenas and legal challenges, which deterred others from the field. Climate-change deniers have adopted similar strategies with alacrity and, unfortunately, considerable success.

The key point about Mann’s “Hockey Stick” work is that it was repeatedly attacked and utterly vindicated long before we saw any of the trumped up charges around the stolen emails:

  • 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.  The news story in the journal Nature (subs. req’d) on the NAS panel was headlined:  “Academy affirms hockey-stick graph“!
  • The Hockey Stick 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.
  • Mann’s scientific and academic practices have been exonerated by multiple independent investigations as noted above.

Kudos to Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr.

UPDATE:  Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the The Union of Concerned Scientists said today:

“This is a victory for scientific discovery. This ruling makes it clear that when a state attorney general alleges fraud against a scientist, he needs actual evidence to back up his claim.

“The scientific process works. When scientists commit fraud, other scientists discover it. In this case, independent scientists have repeatedly reviewed Michael Mann’s work and found no evidence of wrongdoing. If they had, Ken Cuccinelli’s investigation might have been appropriate. Instead, Cuccinelli targeted Mann because he disagreed with the scientist’s conclusions. These sorts of dangerous attacks distract scientists from their work and can have a chilling effect on all kinds of research.

“Hopefully, Cuccinelli will now stop wasting taxpayer dollars on this misguided crusade against a good scientist. Scientists must be free to do their work without the fear of harassment. Then we all can benefit from the discoveries they make.

TNR’s Bradford Plumer wins the prize for best headline:  “Man’s Inhumanity To Mann.”

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37 Responses to Breaking: Judge rules against Cuccinelli’s witch-hunt aimed at Michael Mann and climate science

  1. Jeff Gazzard says:

    Well, having been thoroughly depressed by the Revkin (is this a blog handle for Revisionist King by any chance?) tale of woe and hubris – “only I am clever enough to keep these pesky group-thinking scientists honest” mindset, a bit like the UK Guardian’s Fred Pearce, I would surmise – this news has cheered me up no end. Here come the Judge!

    Jeff Gazzard

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    There is some sense left in this world.


  3. toby says:

    Good news. Relief. After a bad start, Michael Mann is having a good year. He deserves it.

  4. MarkB says:

    Witch hunt denied

    Prominent scientist not publicly flogged

    Witches hunters upset

  5. its yourself says:

    Thankful this shameful episode is over. I must salute the courage of Michael Mann he is brave and dare I say noble. It takes guts to to stand up and face the onslaught he has. Science is driven forward by people like him, Mann deserves this day.

    [JR: Cuccinelli can refile, but apparently only on one relatively obscure grant, so it isn’t fully over,but I do think that it is essentially over.]

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    Yet . . .

    I recently (two days ago) talked to a close friend of mine who happens to have political views on the “right” side of the political spectrum and who is, “thus”, deeply doubtful about climate change.

    He told me about a TV program he very recently saw talking about the fallacies and problems with climate science and among climate scientists — and mentioned as his first example the Hockey Stick. Apparently, this program he recently saw is still talking about the Hockey Stick as if the whole thing is one big example of the problems and biases of climate science. No kidding.

    I tried to explain to him that climate science is sound, that the Hockey Stick thing had been analyzed and reanalyzed many times, and found not to be faulty, and that the “climategate” thing has been independently reviewed and put to rest, and so forth. He would have none of it. His news and media sources are not covering any of this stuff accurately, and as soon as an accusation is made, and then repeated, on the political right, it sticks very solidly in the minds and deep convictions of that (huge) segment of society.

    The media are dropping a big ball — and at this point, I think that many media leaders and reporters are the ones who should be investigated and charged with fraud and deception and gross negligence.

    The way things work these days: Any accusation can be made, and then repeated in right-wing media, and then it becomes unchangeable truth. Some media don’t sincerely correct mistakes and are happy to repeat the original accusations or let them live and grow on their own. And, of course, although these things are (unfortunately) very hurtful to the individuals involved, such as Dr. Mann, the political/media ideologues on the denialist side of matters don’t really care about the individuals involved: Instead, what they care about is that the public doubt of climate change science is sustained or increased. And that is just what’s happening. Judges can rule correctly, and accusations against individuals can be dropped, and (in some cases) newspapers can print small retractions, and independent panels can affirm the original science, but despite all that, the huge misunderstanding of, and doubt of, the reality of climate change remains in the minds of tens of millions of people, who stubbornly cling to what they believe and what their media tell them.

    The best defense is a good offense. And climate change scientists, climate change organizations, and all of us should begin to realize that. The deniers and those on the “right” who do these things are on the offense, and then we all “respond”. But there is no response that will suffice to heal and reverse the original offense.

    This friend of mine (and others I’ve spoken to who fall into the same political category, even some somewhat open-minded ones) will simply not come to think that climate change is real, and a big problem, as long as their “trusted” media sources are fooling them. I could spend ten hours, or twenty, with these folks, and they’d still not believe that climate change is real. I could show them the position statements of all the scientific organizations, and even that wouldn’t do the trick, IF their own media sources are twisting up things and making up stories that (seem to) undermine the credibility of the genuine sources.

    Some of those people in the media should be sued or boycotted or whatever at this point.



  7. Daniel Ives says:

    Dr. Mann could fill a trophy case with his various exonerations. Hopefully the deniers can finally leave the good scientist in peace. Thank you for your sensible disection, Judge Peatross.

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    Oh My Gosh

    Have you seen the recent New York Times story, on their website, titled “Review Finds Flaws in U.N. Climate Panel Structure”, by Neil MacFarquhar?

    Consider what is says, implies, emphasis, and confuses!

    Compare The New York Times story to the actual official press release description from the InterAcademy Council that actually did the report, here:

    I think that a group of folks should try to arrange an in-person introductory meeting with the new Public Editor of The Times to give him a starting-from-square-one understanding of the problem of The Times’ coverage of climate change. The e-mail complaints don’t do the trick. If we are serious about the need for improvement, then a group of folks such as Joe, Jim Hansen, Dale Jamieson, some folks from the IPCC itself, and two or three of the best folks who are actually on track and honest about the problems of The Times’ reporting, — and please include Naomi Oreskes –, should seek a meeting, together, with the new Public Editor. They should also seek a meeting with Bill Keller and on up. Nothing is going to change until there are some heart-to-heart, face-to-face, serious discussions, brought about by groups of deeply credible and concerned people. Someone should call a meeting with the new Public Editor, and up.


  9. robert says:

    Yes, the decision does allow AG Ken “Hathorne” Cuccinelli to continue. If he were smart, he’d take the exit the judge has offered him. But there’s been little evidence to date of rational thinking, so I’m guessing he’ll double down …

  10. catman306 says:

    Jeff Huggins wrote:

    ‘The media are dropping a big ball — and at this point, I think that many media leaders and reporters are the ones who should be investigated and charged with fraud and deception and gross negligence.’

    In case anyone missed it above. That constant repetition works well for the right-wingers, why not for us?

  11. sod says:

    denialists got their noses punched a lot, this year.

    multiple investigations,retractions of false newspaper stories and climate facts like temperature or melting arctic sea ice did clearly demonstrate, how wrong they are.

    but the problem is, that we are dealing with denialists. they simply deny all evidence, so we just shouldn t wait fro them to learn something from reality.

  12. Lou Grinzo says:

    Jeff: Sounds like we have some of the same friends (and relatives).

    I agree completely with your characterization of the influence some (ahem) media outlets have on some (ahem) people. I find it astonishing that a non-trivial portion of Americans will believe any fool thing that gets repeated endlessly on Fox, for example, but a far more accurate report from one of the (relatively) sane TV or print outlets is instantly dismissed as “spin” or “liberal bias”. In their world, only one “side” is capable of lying, and irony of ironies, it isn’t their side.

    As I’ve said on my own site, I’m convinced that the deniersphere will continue to deny, right up to the point where they’re widely seen to be as credible as Saddam Hussein’s media guy, then they will do a remarkable flip and claim that Yes! The world is warming! And it’s from our emissions! And blast those inept scientists for not figuring it out sooner!!!

    I know — this will trigger exploding head syndrome among the reality based community, and it would redefine “chutzpah”. But I’m convinced the only remaining mystery is how long it will take for this to happen.

    Oh, and as for getting the scientists to play offense, I wouldn’t bet on it, for all the reasons people who read this site could list. This will continue to be Frasier Crane delivering a searing indictment of their actions, replete with wit, vivid imagery, and brilliant metaphors, while he’s being beaten to a pulp by pro wrestlers in front of a wildly cheering crowd.

  13. Lou Grinzo says:

    sod: Of course they’ll continue to deny and, when convenient, simply lie. They’ll talk about all the investigations and how “the theory of global warming is in tatters” and other absurd foo foo, all without mentioning what those investigations found.

    Jeff: Talking to the key boxes in the NYT’s org chart won’t do a thing. They’re under extreme economic pressure, so the only thing that will sway them is cash. They will continue to follow whatever path has the best monetary payoff, period. They have become the business equivalent of cornered rats; expecting anything but lip service and broken promises on better coverage of ACC or anything else is a recipe for disappointment.

  14. I’m surprised he ruled in his favor.

  15. Ani says:

    Good for the judge. This country has been through McArthyism before along with the Birch society/tea bags before. But we are losing that generation so we may be doomed to repeat it but they were nutty then and they are nutty now.

  16. PurpleOzone says:

    This is not over. I think the decision is likely clear and accordingly to the law, so that Cuccinelli won’t appeal it.

    But the state grant isn’t from C’s perspective, “obscure”. It is a door ajar, not locked. He — and the people behind him — are, and are going to, milk this for all they can. Just think of the opportunity if they can get a hold of all those emails.

    If the judge had dismissed the request as “frivolous”, then it would be dead. He said C does have a legal basis to investigate fraud on a state grant, albeit that C did not show a good reason for doing so. C vows to “revise his demand to conform with the judge’s order.” C can go back with a tighter reason to think there was fraud. I’ll guess he comes up with some more hooey about the science).

    Hooeymongers will be delighted to gin up some more pseudo-scientific nonsense.

    I notice S. Fred Singer has written several letters to Virginia papers supporting Cuccinelli’s investigation. “It is quite likely that Cuccinelli will discover a smoking gun.”

    Did Singer also give support to the mis-science in Cuccinelli’s brief? Greenpeace is interested in this question, running their own investigation of Cuccinelli’s investigation.

    If you want to make a reasonable bet that Cuccinelli will drop this, I’ll take the opposite! Short of somebody twisting his b**** to get him to stop, this isn’t going to stop.

  17. Dibble says:

    PurpleOzone says: “If you want to make a reasonable bet that Cuccinelli will drop this, I’ll take the opposite! Short of somebody twisting his b**** to get him to stop, this isn’t going to stop.”

    I fear you’re right. This was not a resounding “Be gone thou beslubbering flap-mouthed malt-worm!” in legalese.

    Sad to say, but I think it’ll embolden them to know that.

  18. With $50 million of Koch brothers’ money behind the Climate Denial Machine, there is no way this is going to stop.

    People need to think of non-violent, but very public ways to humiliate and shame David and Charles Koch.

    They are clearly out of control, and are subverting our democracy which is partly based on a free and honest press.

    They are a danger to the U.S. with their relentless drive to keep us addicted to foreign oil paid for with the lives of our soldiers in Iraq.

    Boycott Georgia-Pacific products. Better yet, use photos of their products as backdrops to ads for fighting carbon emissions.

    The Koch brothers have the blood of our troops on their hands, and this should be made public knowledge everywhere possible.

    Use shame — they deserve to be shamed.

  19. Rob Honeycutt says:

    It’s great that the system works in cases like this. But, behind closed doors, Cuccinelli and the AG office knew they couldn’t get this through. This was all for publicity. Cuccinelli knows where people in politics are making money. Big money. My take is he just put this out to throw his towel in the ring on the issue. He has other political aspirations in the works and knows where to get money to run an extremely expensive campaign.

    He will file again because it will keep his name in the spotlight.

  20. arkitkt says:

    @16 Purple Ozone:

    “This is not over. I think the decision is likely clear and accordingly to the law, so that Cuccinelli won’t appeal it.”

    Cuccinelli is a right-wing ideologue, think Scalia and the Iranian theocracy, but with a lot more funds. His political ambition knows no limit, as evident by his assault on progressive issues (immigration, education, gay marriage, and science) and those ambitions are funded by the now notorious Koch bros. Cuccinelli’s popularity among the Tea Party folks is second only to Sarah Palin and I don’t doubt this is only the beginning of his witch hunt on climate and many social issues.

  21. catman306 says:

    Is there a link somewhere to a list of all corporate and political interests of the Koch brothers and Koch Industries? Everything from the Heritage Foundation to Angel Soft Bathroom Tissue? Everything they have their hands, money, or controls on?

    Here’s the Chad Mitchell Trio playing John Birch Society 1962. Many laughs! Holds up well.

  22. Catman,

    Greenpeace has a huge report on the Kochs available here?

    Some of the Georgia-Pacific products are:

    Koch Industries provides these products, either directly or through Ga. Pacific: Brawny paper towels,
    all Dixie Cups products,
    Georgia Pacific lumber,
    Stainmaster Carpets,
    Angel Soft,
    Quilted Northern,
    Soft n’Gentle,
    Mardi Gras,
    Vanity Fair,
    Zee napkins.

    According to GP’s website “Their European brands include Lotus®, Colhogar®, Delica®, Tenderly® and the Demak’Up® brand of facial cleansing products.”

    (The above info, I got from another commenter here on CP.)

  23. chek says:

    This tidal wave onslaught of groundless accusations really needs to be called out for what it is. Shooting and/or smearing the messenger doesn’t make the problem go away.

    Indeed it colludes with making the problem worse. Climate change is real and it’s happening no matter what the anti-PR effort says. The corporations and shareholders financing those corporations behind these campaigns must be held to account.

  24. Anne says:

    Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II
    Attorney General, Commonweath of Virginia
    900 East Main Street
    Richmond, VA 23219
    (804) 786-2071

    Dear Attorney General Cuccinelli:

    The recent decision by Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. vindicates Michael Mann and implicates you in conducting a witch hunt of climate scientists, without cause or provocation.

    I think I can speak for most of us in the community of people earnestly looking for solutions to climate change: You owe Dr. Mann a public, heartfelt apology. In writing. Within the week. Your behavior has amounted to nothing less than a national embarrassment.

    You also might be interested in seeking the truth of the complex climate issue, rather than feebly attempting to “shoot the messenger.”


  25. Catman,

    Here is the main page of the site that follows the dirty energy money:

    And here is a link to the politicians who receive money from the Kochs:

    (It almost overloads their server when you put Koch Industries into their search field.)

  26. Windsong says:

    To Joe Romm: did you write something about the soils losing their ability to absorb carbon? Seems like one of your bloggs mentioned this. Thanks for any information on this.

  27. HighTest says:

    Thank you for that reminder about the tobacco companies.
    …”Cuccinelli’s actions against Mann hark back to an era when tobacco companies smeared researchers as part of a sophisticated public relations strategy to raise doubts over the science showing that tobacco caused cancer, and delayed the introduction of smoking curbs for decades….”

    1940’s — my mother would scream at Daddy about his smoking, but not about the health dangers. In those years the lying ads showed “doctors” in white coats smoking, smiling, and recommending brands. “Dave!” she would shout, “You can’t smoke in bed! You’ll burn the house down!”
    He died all in one day of a heart attack, 1941, smoking 4 packs a day.

    I must remember to mention that every time friends unwittingly quote climate liars.

  28. Chris Winter says:

    PurpleOzone wrote: “I notice S. Fred Singer has written several letters to Virginia papers supporting Cuccinelli’s investigation.”

    Has he now? He’s campaigned against science from the time when Luther Terry, as Surgeon General, first made known the link between smoking and lung cancer. I think it’s time we shut his campaign down.

    Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway do an excellent job of documenting his obfuscation in Merchants of Doubt. I’ve just completed a review:

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    A federal judge puts a damper on Mr. Cuccinelli’s U-Va. witch hunt

  30. Prokaryotes says:

    The rightwing Kindergarten is astonishing.

    President Obama blasts lies, disinformation

    Tidal wave? 10-point poll edge for GOP

  31. Whatshisname says:

    Cuccinelli is being lured into the sunlight for a fair fight.

  32. Archie Bunker says:

    Dear Attorney General Cuccinelli:

    Stop WASTING taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits! You hear me you [whatever bad name Archie might use]?

  33. Glen Beck has a problem with biased mainstream media:

    “Too many important stories are overlooked. And too many times, we see mainstream media outlets distorting facts to fit rigid agendas.”

    Read more:

    So Beck started his own news media site today to pursue “the truth”: The Blaze

  34. J Bowers says:

    Joe, I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet, but given Cuccinelli’s ties to the Tea Party this seemed the most appropriate place.

    It’s a leaked email for Tea Party candidates. The Guardian has the story. Tea Party seeks candidates who say no to global warming and gay marriage

    We are a Tea Party Group in Erie County called The Freedom Institute of Erie County and we are preparing a Conservative voter guide and would like help form your candidates. We ask they answer the following 15 questions so that we can more clearly define their position on many items.
    2. The regulation of Carbon Dioxide in our atmosphere should be left to God and not government and I oppose all measures of Cap and Trade as well as the teaching of global warming theory in our schools.

    “Stunning”, as you like to say.

  35. Archie Bunker says:

    LMAO, “left to God”? That’s Koch’d-up cash-fed propaganda talking, there. Who needs terrorists when we have meth-head desciples of Koch to wreak havoc?

  36. J Bowers says:

    Here’s the Freedom Institute of Erie County website

    Do click on ‘Partners’.

    Heritage Foundation & Cato Institute are there. Archie gets a gold star.

  37. FedUpWithDenial says:

    How odd, indeed, that we take it upon complete unquestioning faith that a wide variety of unseen physical entities from quarks to invisible electromagnetic waves exist, yet squawk like chickens being led to the slaughter upon being told that the habitability of Earth’s climate depends upon the trapping of invisible heat radiation by certain transparent trace gases and that adding more of these trace gases to the atmosphere leads to the trapping of more radiant heat—this having been known for the best part of two hundred years.

    Odder yet is the way in which, on this cue, society’s self-appointed “guardians”—ranging from wind-up robots like Glenn Beck to cheerless Frankenstein-like characters with ‘size zero’ brains but “size extra” loose nuts and bolts upstairs (chief among whom are the witch-hunting Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and U.S. Senator James Inhofe)—go haywire, attacking the enterprise of science and even (without a shred of evidence to support their suspicion of misdeeds) launching criminal investigations of distinguished scientists whose long-recognized and repeatedly confirmed research results threaten their false view of reality.

    Then there are the armies of newly-minted “experts” who, after five minutes’ acquaintance with what they have been led to believe are technical issues that fatally undermine the idea of a human impact on climate (but which are really just variations upon standard and repeatedly-debunked denier talking points lifted from denialist web sites that cater to ditto-heads) present themselves on blogs as authorities competent to pick apart the “theory” of anthropogenic global warming and expose its presumed fatal weaknesses. They fancy themselves going head to head with the world’s leading climate scientists on such matters as (say) the radiative forcing due to greenhouse gases and actually winning. Could any form of delusion be more pitiful? They tell us: “What the IPCC-led AGW conspirators don’t want you to know is that the CO2 absorption bands are saturated already, so that adding more of it has zero effect!!! There is no AGW!!!! Gotcha!” (Wow, that’s pretty much the end of “global warming,” isn’t it?)

    Curiouser and curiouser, indeed, but now hear this. Conservative candidates for office say they are for fiscal responsibility while declaring unwavering support for the highly irresponsible Bush tax cuts. Tea-Partiers angrily oppose the new health-care law out of concern with “Death Panels” that do not exist. GOP loyalists in Congress declare support for job creation and economic recovery while working furiously to undermine the investments in clean energy and green jobs that offer the only real hope that America can again become competitive in world markets. The Far Right claims competence to lead, but is interested in little else than political trench warfare—divisiveness and the cynical promotion of unending legislative gridlock in order to block any and all progress.

    The follies of Americans, it seems, know no bounds. Home-grown greenwashers that so many of them are, they claim allegiance to Earth and its life forms, yet for the convenience and profit of a few, they allow—indeed, encourage and even applaud—the irreversible destruction of the biosphere. Long after the risks of continued fossil-fuel exploitation are clearly revealed, they continue to mouth the mantra, “drill, baby, drill.” They claim to believe that democracy is the best form of government, all the while working in countless ways to undermine the freedom and self-determination that are democracy’s foundation, even invading other countries to force them into America’s mold. They nevertheless claim full freedom (together with all manner of privilege) for themselves, all the while evading the responsibility that is freedom’s inseparable handmaiden. Finally, they presume themselves good citizens competent to chart the Country’s future course and make critical decisions about who should lead and what policies should be instituted, yet they remain so ignorant of fundamental issues that they are unfit to lead or even to vote.

    It is as if a significant portion of human race today had literally lost its brains. Possibly the load of toxic mercury and lead (not to mention cadmium, arsenic, and other heavy metals) emitted to the atmosphere through decades of intensive coal-burning and deposited in soils and surface waters worldwide, including the oceans—consequently now present throughout the oceanic and terrestrial food chains—has poisoned the brains of enough of the human race to have blunted human intellectual capacities and made us collectively stupid. While such a hypothesis would require to be nailed down by the demonstration of widespread brain pathologies in humans linked by unambiguous toxicological evidence to industrial coal emissions in order to be accepted, a full explanation of contemporary humanity’s “mass failure to think clearly” needs to be forthcoming—aside, that is, from the stultifying effects of the mass media’s relentless “dumbing-down” of the news, the disinformation campaign of ExxonMobil and its allies, and the machinations of the Koch Industry brothers, evil as all of that undoubtedly is. The nightmarish possibility of such inadvertent mass poisoning, hard to rule out definitively but having grave implications if real, offers one more reason to shut down the aging, dirty coal plants and not to license any new ones until the “clean-coal” technology of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) goes from being a pipe-dream to becoming a reality, if it ever does.

    Either way, we’re talking about serious stuff—widespread neurotoxicity in humans due to heavy-metal contamination of air, water, soil, and food from civilization’s long history of coal use, turning many people into idiots; or an entire culture so poisoned with hate, disinformation, and anti-science diatribe that it has begun to go mad and lose its grip on reality.