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Cuccinelli Revives Witchhunt Against Climate Change Scientist

By Ian Millhiser on October 5, 2010 at 4:55 pm

"Cuccinelli Revives Witchhunt Against Climate Change Scientist"

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ken_cuccinelliIn August, a Virginia state judge blocked Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s (R-VA) attempt to subpoena documents from the University of Virginia to try to discredit a leading climate scientist.  In addition to citing several amateurish errors in Cuccinelli’s document request, the judge found that Cuccinelli failed to provide even the most rudimentary explanation of just what Professor Michael Mann did “that was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Yesterday, Cuccinelli tried to revive this witchhunt:

Cuccinelli’s new subpoena narrows the scope of the documents he’s requesting to only those related to one $214,700 state grant to fund a 2003 climate study. Cuccinelli claims that Mann “mislead the granter” by basing his application on flawed studies, and that UVa. has documents that his office needs to investigate that assertion. He also expands his reasoning for the request, arguing that two of Mann’s papers on global warming “have come under significant criticism” and that Mann knowingly included “false information, unsubstantiated claims and/or were otherwise misleading” in his publications.

“Specifically, but without limitation, some of the conclusions of the papers demonstrate a complete lack of rigor regarding the statistical analysis of the alleged data, meaning that the result reported lacked statistical significance without a specific statement to that effect,” the civil investigative demand from the AG’s office states.

It’s not at all clear that Cuccinelli’s office actually read the judge’s opinion tossing out its first subpoena before issuing this second one.  That opinion stated that the document request must state “[w]hat the Attorney General suspects that Dr. Mann did that was false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth” in order to move forward.  Yet Cuccinelli’s doc request barely even mentions any evidence suggesting that Mann misled the state, instead largely claiming that Dr. Mann’s research lacks “rigor,” that it “was contrary to what had been previously regarded as the known historical record,” and that it engages in “inncorrect calculation[s].”  At best, most of Cuccinelli’s arguments simply suggest that Mann is a bad scientist, not that he engaged in any kind of fraud or deliberate deception.

And Cuccinelli’s attacks on Mann’s professional competence are laughable.  The primary source of his claim that Mann showed a “lack of rigor” is the so-called “Wegman Report,” an attack document commissioned by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) — the same Joe Barton who apologized to BP after the White House pressured BP to actually pay for the harm it caused in the recent oil catastrophy.  Likewise, one of Cuccinelli’s very few claims that Mann actually took misleading action misreads an independent review of climate science that actually exonerated climate scientists such as Mann.

Needless to say, it would be a disaster if a court does not reject Cuccinelli’s attempt to revive this witchhunt.  For one thing, the witchhunt is shockingly broad in scope — Cuccinelli is demanding all of Mann’s communications with 39 different scientists, as well as all his communications with all of his research assistants, secretaries and other administrative staff, and any correspondence Mann has had with UVA since he left for another university’s faculty. If an industry shill in Congress — Joe Barton — can produce a false report and then another industry shill in a state AG’s office can use that report to demand such an expansive investigation, then it will be a cakewalk for industry to cow other research institutions into silence.

Sadly, UVA has been already been forced to spend over $350,000 in legal fees defending against Cuccinelli’s frivolous subpoenas, so this witchhunt has already done a great deal to intimidate researchers with potential financial consequences if they dare to tell the truth about climate change.

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