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.

I 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.