Cuccinelli attempts to criminalize all of climate science — with Post Normal logic & fervor

Mann: “Mr. Cuccinelli wants to prosecute people based on the words they choose to use. I’m not sure even George Orwell ever dreamed up anything that frightening.”

The latest move by Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of Virginia, against Mike Mann and UVa is so ridiculous it needs to be highlighted to the widest audience possible.

So begins a must-read RealClimate post, “Cuccinelli goes fishing again.”  Before reposting it, here’s some background.

In August, Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled against Virgina AG Cuccinelli’s witch-hunt aimed at Michael Mann and climate science.  The Court issued a sane, normal ruling:

“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.

In normal times, that would have been the end of it, especially since the one remaining grant is not for paleoclimate work, and has no bearing on or connection to Mann’s uber-vindicated Hockey Stick work (see Much-vindicated Michael Mann and Hockey Stick get final exoneration from Penn State “” time for some major media apologies and retractions.

But these are Post Normal times.  The Tea-Party crowd,  the hardcore anti-science extremists, can’t stomach the scientific reality that mutiple independent studies back Mann’s core finding  Hockey Stick: Recent global warming is unprecedented in magnitude and speed and cause.  And so Cuccinelli goes after Mann and the University of Virginia once again.  His new case is infinitely weaker but his fervor has reached OCD levels.

Indeed, absent any genuine legal basis for his actions, he has embraced Post Normal logic — logic that is beyond Orwellian, as RC explains:

In keeping with our role as a site that tries to deal with the science of climate change rather than the politics, we have specifically refrained from commenting on various politically-motivated legal shenanigans relating to climate science. Some of them have involved us directly, but we didn’t (don’t) want to have RC become just a blog about us. However, the latest move by Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of Virginia, against Mike Mann and UVa is so ridiculous it needs to be highlighted to the widest audience possible.

For background, Rosalind Helderman at the Washington Post has covered most of the story. The last installment was that Cuccinelli’s attempt to subpoena 10 years of emails between 39 scientists and Mike Mann and ‘all documents’ residing at UVa related to four federal and one Commonwealth of Virginia grant, was thrown out by a judge because Cuccinelli did not provide any reason to suspect that fraud had occurred and that federal grants are not covered by the relevant statute. Without due cause, the AG is not allowed to investigate (and without such a restriction, there would be no end to politically motivated witch hunts).

Yesterday, Cuccinelli filed a new demand that takes this previous judgment into account. Namely, he attempts to give a reason to suspect fraud and only targets the Commonwealth grant – though still asks for 10 years of emails with an assortment of scientists. However, his reasoning should scare the bejesus of anyone who has ever published a paper on any topic that any attorney might have a political grudge against. For the two papers in question the fraud allegation is that the authors

“¦ knew or should have known [that they] contained false information, unsubstantiated claims, and/or were otherwise misleading. 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 the result reported lacked statistical significance without a specific statement to that effect.

So in other words, if you publish a result that might turn out to be statistically weak or with understated error bars – even if this was in no way deliberate and regardless if you were aware of it at the time – Cuccinelli thinks that is equivalent to fraud. And any grant that you apply for that even cites this paper would therefore be a false claim under the statute. Cuccinelli is specifically not stating that deliberate scientific misconduct must have occurred, all you need to have performed is an inadequate (according to him) statistical treatment or you made an unsubstantiated claim. If you want “unsubstainted claims”, Soon and Baliunas (2003) (cited approvingly by Cuccinelli) would be a great example of course. But more generally, this would clearly open up pretty much the entire literature to ‘fraud’ investigations since one can almost always improve on the statistics. You didn’t take temporal auto-correlation into account in calculating the trend? Cuccinelli thinks that’s fraud. You didn’t fully characterise the systematic uncertainty in the “unknown unknowns”? That too. You weren’t aware of the new data that showed an older paper was incomplete? Too bad. This is not just an attack on Mike Mann, it is an attack on the whole scientific enterprise.

However, as appalling as this reasoning is, Cuccinelli’s latest request is simply bone-headed because the grant in question, entitled “Resolving the scale-wise sensitivities in the dynamical coupling between the climate and biosphere”, simply has nothing to do with the MBH98 and MBH99 papers! Even if one agreed with Cuccinelli about their quality (which we don’t), they are not referenced or mentioned even obliquely. The grant was to look at how climate variability impacted land-atmosphere fluxes of carbon, water and heat and doesn’t involve paleo-climate at all. So even if, for arguments sake, one accepted Cuccinelli’s definition of what constitutes ‘fraud’, nothing associated with this grant would qualify. We doubt there could be a clearer demonstration of the inappropriateness of Cuccinelli’s case.

Well, maybe one. In the attachment to the subpoena, Cuccinelli repeats his claim that since Mann used the word “community” in [and email and more recently] a blog post here on RC, he must therefore be using “Post Normal” jargon, and that might be “misleading/fraudulent” in the context of a grant application. Really? Scientists who use the word “community” regardless of context are therefore to be suspected of fraud? This is just embarrassing.

It might be worth pointing out that under the Virginia Bar ethics guidelines, it states that:

A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others.

We can only wonder when this will start to be applied to the current AG. should warn you to put your head in a vise before reading Cuccinelli’s filing or the following excerpt. [Note to self:  If only the participants in a recent British video had done the same, we might have avoided a big kerfuffle.  But I digress.]

The filing ends [capitalizations as in the original]:

Mann’s reference to “the community” when writing to Hulme in the first e-mail quoted above appears to be Post Normal jargon.  As recently as September 16, 2009, Mann posted this remark to his blog RealClimate:  “More than anything else, the book attempts to show us what the community is doing wrong in our efforts to communicate our science to the public.” (emphasis added).  This is also probably Post Normal jargon.

Academics are free to follow any philosophy of science they wish. Nonetheless, Post-Normal Science has produced jargon which might be misleading/fraudulent in the context of a grant application if its specialized meaning is not disclosed or otherwise known to the grantmaker.

[Pause to clean up gray matter off the floor — sorry for not warning you that no vise known to humankind could have protected you.]

Yes, Ken Cuccinelli has just attempted to criminalize all of climate science.

As Mann wrote me in an email, “Mr. Cuccinelli wants to prosecute people based on  the words they choose to use. I’m not sure even George Orwell ever dreamed up anything that frightening.”

What is Post-Normal Science?  You can read the filing to try to figure it out — but I can’t guarantee your newly repatched cranium will hold.  Or you can read Lost in translation: In a Brazilian interview, Judith Curry incluir uma cena demasiado longa ou uma varia§£o do tema de um programa de televis£o indicando que este est¡ com os seus dias contados.

The notion that one could base an entire legalistic witch-hunt on an entirely meaningless and undefinable concept is beyond imagining, even for people who have drunk the anti-scientific iced tea.  I hope the judge reprimands Cuccinelli for this harassment.

I have a new phrase for Cuccinelli:  Post Normal Climate.

After more than 10,000 years of relatively stable climate that allowed modern human civilization to develop and ‘sustain’  several billion people, Post Normal Climate is what you get when you ignore decades of observation and research and warnings by the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists, leading scientific organizations, major journals, and National Academies of Science around the world.  It’s what you get when you demonize real science and try to label it Post Normal or tribalistic or severely biased.

What does a Post Normal Climate look like?  Well, of course nobody knows for certain, and nobody rational wants to find out, but we have some paleoclimate clues:

Assuming we keep listening to those who try to spread disinformation and even want to criminalize normal science, then it probably looks something like this:  Hell and High Water.


46 Responses to Cuccinelli attempts to criminalize all of climate science — with Post Normal logic & fervor

  1. This is an important post and an important fight!

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    Mean while Back in Vietnam –

    Up to 51 inches (130 centimeters) of heavy rain fell in the region from Friday to Monday.

  3. Rob C. says:

    Why has there been no investigation into this comically corrupt scumbag’s attempts to abuse the power of his office for his paymasters’ profits? What is the money trail here? Who is financing his reelection campaign?

  4. Esop says:

    Someone should subpoena mr. Cuccinellis emails over the past 10 years.

  5. Scrooge says:

    Mcarthyism at its finest. The tea party should mean the end of the GOP as we know it. At least I hope so. The other alternative is the end of America as we know it. I have to believe thee are enough sane people in America to stand up to this 1930’s style attack.

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    Just starting to count up the costs in NC –
    “After ’99, nobody thought it would happen again in their lifetime, and now 11 years later we’re reliving the same thing,” said Vanceboro Mayor Chad Braxton, referring to Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

  7. Paulm says:

    #ESOP I second that.

  8. Mark S says:

    Isn’t it possible that Cuccinelli has not only jumped the shark but is abusing his power as AG? I would think that some right minded person in Virginia could take the AG to task and possibly get him disbarred.

  9. Jeff Gazzard says:

    I think the key to returning Mr Cuccinelli to the bottom of whichever wood pile he crawled out from under is to use the probable ethics code violation route via legal regulators and associations, as Joe Romm points out above.

    Anybody up for this, I wonder? Perhaps the Environmental Law Alliance might step in – I realise, however, that the Cuccinellis of this world wouldn’t recognise ethics if they marched down the street in an orderly column towards them!

    It is truly beyond Orwellian. Michael Mann has, for what it’s worth, my unconditional support. Post modern I get – post normal, utterly, utterly bonkers!

    Jeff Gazzard

  10. Peter M says:

    Sounds like the Catholic Church against Galileo in 1611

    is this the Republican party that wants to guide us into the 21st Century?

    Where is JFK and the New Frontier with Space & Science in the mid 20th


    Regressive Republican Party?

  11. Berbalang says:

    Since Mr. Cuccinelli is so fond of fishing I suggest we each mail him a fish wrapped in paper. It seems appropriate on so many levels…

  12. Richard Brenne says:

    Here’s the thing to ask yourself: What could Cuccinelli’s actions, if successful in any way, lead to? They can become precedent, just as George W. Bush’s pro-torture stance is a dangerous precedent. Just as any American being tortured at any point in the future in a foreign or domestic setting can look to Bush as the seminal figure in that result, any persecuted scientist can look to Cuccinelli if he succeeds at all.

    These are the techniques that can lead to a Pol Pot, especially as things unravel in ways Americans can’t now imagine, though Cambodians who lived through the 1970s can, as can Chinese who lived through the overlapping Cultural Revolution, and Stalin’s purges before that.

    All decent people need to oppose Cuccinelli and his tactics, wherever found. He needs to be soundly defeated and ideally disbarred or dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of Cuccinellis could breed like rats, if rodents could rabidly froth with completely irrational ideologies.

  13. Mike#22 says:

    I just read Cuccinellis filing. Wow, what a pile of doodoo.

    A new category for these inquisitions is needed. Post Normal Witch Hunts? Cuccinquisition?

    Can Mann sue for harassment?

  14. Will Koroluk says:

    Normally I don’t like to comment on another country’s internal affairs. But, damn, I hope someone nails this guy’s hide to the wall!

  15. Colorado Bob says:

    Sounds like the Catholic Church against Galileo in 1611

    ” Rome is the mob “

  16. Colorado Bob says:

    Gracchus: Fear and wonder, a powerful combination.
    Falco: You really think people are going to be seduced by that?
    Gracchus: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it’s the sand of the coliseum. He’ll bring them death – and they will love him for it.

  17. PurpleOzone says:

    There are several guys running for election, or currently minority party members, who are planning head splitting investigations on climate science. Depending on if they win or their party wins control of the house or senate on Nov. 2.

  18. pete best says:

    Its hard righing the right in the USA as they have a lot of power, media exposure and money in some regards. The right are seemingly very powerful in the USA relative to the liberal left.

  19. mike roddy says:

    I smell the bad breath of Steve McIntyre in Cuccinelli’s accusations. Even some of the deniers have figured out it’s pointless to argue about the science, since even their few credible allies (like Lindzen and Curry) will concede most of the basic points.

    That leaves us with statistics. McIntyre’s style is to rant with statistical jargon, most of which we forgot after graduate school, and pick out apparent errors. Nobody understands what he’s saying, including him, but the deniers need confirmation that sounds credible, which is echoed in Cuccinelli’s proposal.

    Oddly, McIntyre is not even a statistician. He was a mathematician at one time, but that moniker doesn’t apply to anyone over 40, unfortunately- the computational demands are too high for aging brains. And Mac’s career has been as an oil and mining industry hustler, putting together business plans with glowing profit margins. This also doesn’t require knowledge of either statistics or mathematics. What he does have is a sober and serious demeanor combined with a willingness to twist and bullshit whenever it suits his purpose. That explains why he’s in such demand on the denier lecture circuit.

    Cuccinelli himself is just another dispicable camera hogging politician. His grand plan to parlay this into higher office might succeed in Oklahoma, but not Virginia. He’ll be forgotten soon, thank God.

  20. Lore says:

    This guy, Cuccinelli, just has a ruff time admiting he’s a loser.

  21. MapleLeaf says:

    Cuccinelli = Joseph McCarthy

    Sadly, Cuccinelli is probably awfully proud to be likened to Joseph McCarthy.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Instead of those other things, complain to the Virgina Bar Association.


  23. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Cuccinelli is doing this to keep his name in the media. He’s aspiring to higher office and knows the Koch’s are going to take notice of these kinds of antics.

  24. Nick says:

    There is no vise yet made that can prevent head explosion on reading Attachment B. None. If Cuccinelli thinks this is grounds for his subpoena he is deeply,deeply stupid. He needs legal advice.

  25. The Wonderer says:

    Mann wrote you an e-mail? I demand an investigation! ;-)

  26. Bizarre but that’s where we are right now. Here’s another example: A new educational tool on climate change in Canada called Climate Prosperity says 50% decline in summer sea ice by 2070!

  27. MapleLeaf says:

    Stephen @24,

    Have you contacted them to notify them of the error?

  28. MapleLeaf @27 yes but they defend it saying they had experts to peer review the thing…Canadian govt scientists mainly which means I can’t talk to them because I’m a journalist — “Canadian Gov’t Tightens Gag on Climate Scientists”

  29. MapleLeaf says:


    FWIW, I’ll email them when I have a chance. According to NSIDC September Arctic sea ice extent 2010 was about 30% below the long term average, 2007 was 40% below.

    Even Goddard says most of the summer Arctic sea ice will be gone by 2065, and I’m sure that forecasts of his is also going to be wrong.

    It seems that they are citing AR4, which the data are showing to be way too conservative/optimistic.

  30. Let me see if I have this right.
    The emails are full of secret code words (Post Normal Jargon) that have meaning only to the authors. Cuccinelli thinks he has broken the code. Which means the emails mean anything Cuccinelli says they do? Or that because he doesn’t know what the emails mean they must be fraudulent?

    And why on Eaarth would they use secret code words in a grant application or in their reports? Cuccinelli needs a double breasted jacket with wrap around sleeves.

  31. PurpleOzone says:

    Cuccinelli’s weird notions of law were verified when the judge said the state of Virginia had no jurisdiction to investigate federal contracts. Duh.

    His motives: It’s my opinion he doesn’t care. He’s not looking toward Koch support. He’s plugged into the Koch network already. Where could he get the sciency gobbledegook except via George Mason University?

    This is politics; tea-party/Koch lead elements of the Republican party are ready to spring lots of investigations of climate scientists if they get in power.

  32. MapleLeaf says:

    A must watch for all concerned:

    Seems Mr. Cuccinelli is an ardent Tea Bagger. So yes, it would seem that he is in bed with Koch et al. already.

  33. Anu says:

    Cuccinelli was a Republican Member of the Virginia Senate
    from the 37th district in office August 2002 – January 12, 2010. He was elected as a Republican Attorney General in November 2009.

    After the Arctic ice disappears some summer soon, and the large, overworked “undecided” segment of the population realizes that the scientists were correct, and the political operative “Skeptics/Deniers” were endangering their children and grandchildren, one political Party will have Denier tattooed to their foreheads, a label they cannot escape:

    Like the Whig Party in 1856, the GOP Party will be killed by this unshakeable bond to a deadly error.

    Careers will be destroyed, Kenny Boy – you got that right.

  34. richard pauli says:

    Hey, I feel left out!

    I once emailed Mann, How come my name is NOT on the list!?!

  35. Whatshisname says:

    Attorney General Cuccinelli acts like a very desperate man. He knows people smell a rat(s). Reporters are crawling all over the place, which means lawyers are also snooping and trying to make a name for themselves. There may even be a grand jury or two in his rear view mirror. The already overworked judges of Virginia know it and must be weary of Cuccinelli’s bizarre antics. They also know any trial would be unusually lengthy because Dr. Mann would have financial and legal support from all over the world. And after seeing the sham case put forward by deniers in recent years, they realize any trial would end with a slam dunk by the nearly endless line of the defense witnesses including the world’s top scientists.

    In the end, Cuccinelli and his supporters have ask themselves if they want to risk having the case turned back on them? After all, their denial witnesses and sham science would be proven to be the real fraud. That is, fraudulent to the point of being punishable.

    The judges have to ask themselves if the world is prepared for its deepest, darkest fears to be proven once and for all in a court of law?

  36. I have an idea: Let’s make it a criminally punishable offence for politicians and appointed officials to lie or even misinform the public, even if this misinformation was not intentional.

    There wouldn’t be enough prison space to hold them.

  37. Dave says:

    How much money has the Commonwealth of Virginia paid for Cuccinelli to pursue these false claims of fraud? Perhaps it is time for folks to file complaints against Cuccinelli for Fraud Against Taypayers.

    I would guess the cost of his persecution of Mann now must be well into the hundreds of thousands in taxpayer funds. Even without formal charges being filed or moves toward impeachment, it is time to examine political ways to embarrass Cuccinelli, starting with some good opposition research into how much his witch hunt against Mann is costing the state.

  38. Leif says:

    No reason to leave out board of directors and CEOs, Tyler @ 36.

    I can see a need for liberal parole rules to keep the world functioning. Perhaps a three strikes clause.

  39. george ennis says:

    What is frighteing is not just how stupid/ignorant etc the AG for the state of Virginia is but rather what it says about the popular culture and political culture that could propel such a person into this office.

    What does it say about the state of science in public schools not just in Virginia but generally in the US?

    What does it say about the media who have rarely challenged tis lunacy?
    in political discourse in the US. Unfortunately this new normal conflicts with the new normal of climate today and in the near future. By the time Americans wake up to the threat that people like the AG of Virginia represent it may not make any difference who they elect and how utterly stupid their public utterances are, not unless a future AG believes he can issue and enforce an injunction against mother nature and climate change.

  40. After Cuccinelli’s first fishing expedition, Horatio did a rendition of Hoochie Coochie Man that’s as apt today as it was then (surprise!)

    Abby somebody…Abby Normal.

  41. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Cuccinelli’s little project for a pogrom of climate scientists is just another brick in the wall.In Australia, for quite some time, Rightwing bloggers have been uncensored when they called for climate scientists to be dealt with in violent fashion. Climate scientists have been abused in the vilest terms and threatened by e-mail, their e-mail addresses published on blogs. In the Rightwing media and in denialist think-tanks like the quaintly and insulting misnamed ‘Lavoisier Group’, they have been vilified and traduced in increasingly hysterical and hateful fashion.
    When environmentalism emerged in Australia as a cause, usually taken to be the late 1960s with the flooding of Lake Pedder in Tasmania, it soon became plain that the Right hated environmentalists with a real fury. This has only grown over the years, as the ecological crisis, now clearly in its end-stage, became apparent to more and more people. The Right here denies every single ecological crisis, not just anthropogenic climate change, and has the Murdoch press as its bully pulpit and the rest of the Rightwing mainstream media presenting a ‘balanced’ viewpoint, that credits the denialists with a credibility that they do not merit.
    I think it is pretty clear that the Right will NEVER accept the reality of ecological collapse. It calls into question their religion of limitless greed and unbounded egomania. They will,instead of accepting reality, resort to their favoured tactic in all things-the use of violence to silence and intimidate. The use of ‘lawfare’ ie legal means to intimidate and silence, and to tie people up in useless legalistic manoeuvring,is a tactic that they are perfecting. We must never forget that for the Right,hatred is both an end in itself, the existential fuel of their lives, and a means to get their way, and to hell with everybody else. These leopards can never change their spots.

  42. MapleLeaf says:

    Tyler @36,

    That made me laugh. Too true…the double standard KC is applying (hi Ken) would be amusing if it were not so tragic.

  43. Donald Brown says:

    This is such an abuse of the legal process. Hopefully someone in the media will continue to investigate what is going on.

  44. Chris Winter says:

    OK, comment posted on YouTube. I had to remove the URL; I forgot that YouTube does not allow them in comments.

    Joe, could you remove my #43, #45 and this one? No sense cluttering up the thread.

  45. Doesn’t this guy have a boss called the Governor of the State of Virginia?

    Is the governor also a complete idiot?