UVA Fights Back Against Cuccinelli’s Climate Witch Hunt

Our guest blogger is Luke Cole, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was confronted at the University of Virginia for targeting one of its scientists in his crusade against the science of global warming. Despite the over $350,000 incurred by the University of Virginia to defend climate scientist Michael Mann and the university’s Department of Environmental Sciences from Cuccinelli’s global warming witch hunt, the UVA College Republicans invited Cuccinelli to an informal speaking engagement last week. Over 25 students protesting the AG’s actions greeted Cuccinelli with signs including “God Hates Data,” “Skeptical of Cuccinelli,” and “Science: Not Determined By Popular Vote.” Cuccinelli was also confronted by a UVA environmental policy professor during the Q&A. The following day, Cuccinelli wrote on his Twitter account:

Awesome day in central Virginia – gorgeous in the fall! Lively discussion at UVA – only rude person was a prof, students were great.

Cuccinelli spoke briefly of his civil investigative demands against the university, claiming that the university continues to support Mann despite the accepted view that his findings were falsified and have been disproved — neither of which are true.

During the question and answer section of the visit, Professor Vivian Thomson, an environmental policy expert who is on the faculty of the Department of Environmental Sciences and the Department of Politics at UVA and who regulated air quality in Virginia for eight years as a member (and Vice Chair) of the State Air Pollution Control Board, questioned Mr. Cuccinelli’s claims about the science of climate change and the actions undertaken by the US EPA to date, which I captured on my smartphone:

Thomson asked if he disagrees with the Supreme Court’s conclusions in Massachusetts v EPA (2007) that “the harms associated with climate change are serious and well-recognized?”

Cuccinelli responded that Massachusetts v EPA was all about legal standing.

Mr. Cuccinelli also implied that EPA is undertaking a costly cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases. Professor Thomson observed that the Agency is not undertaking a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program. EPA’s regulations to date have included (a) clean vehicle standards that will increase fuel efficiency and enhance energy security that should save motorists thousands of dollars over the life of their vehicles, and whose economic benefits far outweigh their costs; and, (b) a regulatory relief rule that exempts many small and medium-sized businesses from regulation for their greenhouse gas emissions.

“The costs that I am talking about are analogous to cap-and-trade, not that they are cap-and-trade,” Cuccinelli admitted. Professor Thomson asked Cuccinelli if he could share the cost studies that formed the basis for his claims about the costs of EPA’s actions to date. He had no such cost studies to offer.

Cuccinelli (R) has twice issued civil investigative demands or CIDs (essentially civil subpoenas) to the University of Virginia where Mann, the author of a seminal 1998 paper that helped establish how unusual modern global warming is, was an assistant professor from 1999-2005. The CIDs have requested that the university turn over all correspondences between Mann and dozens of other researchers. After Albermarle County Circuit Court Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. rejected the first civil investigative demand, Cuccinelli reissued a new demand again citing the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. Cuccinelli is alleging that Mann committed fraud in obtaining state grants, since Mann’s papers on climate change were listed in his curriculum vitae for a state grant to research land, atmosphere, and vegetation interactions in African savannahs.

What scientists see as especially troubling is that there is already an established, respected, rigorous, and thorough data review process in place for scientific literature designed to weed out publications that are lacking in any way. A ruling in favor of the AG would put the work of scientists in jeopardy of being edited, molded, and manipulated to support an ill-conceived political agenda. Cuccinelli’s claims are based on misrepresented quotes in emails leaked during “Climategate.” Independent reviews from the University of East Anglia (from which the emails were originally leaked) and Penn State University (where Mann is currently employed) have cleared Mann of any wrongdoing.

The efforts made by the University of Virginia in defense of Mann and recognition of academic freedom have been supported and lauded by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the American Association of University Professors, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the American Meteorological Society, the University Corportation for Atmospheric Research, Nature Magazine, Virginia state Senator Donald McEachin (D), the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, Old Dominion University, Dhalia Lithwick (legal journalist for, and many others.

To date, Mann’s 1998 Nature paper has been cited in primary literature over 1000 times.


Yesterday, the University of Virginia made two court filings, characterizing Cuccinelli’s investigation as “an unprecedented and improper governmental intrusion into ongoing scientific research” and said that Cuccinelli is targeting Mann because he “disagrees with his academic research regarding climate change.”

UVA also asked the county court to put the case on hold while the Virginia Supreme Court resolves an appeal Cuccinelli filed seeking to overturn a previous August ruling rejecting his investigation.

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