No one can accuse Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli of shying from controversy. In his first four months in office, Cuccinelli directed public universities to remove sexual orientation from their anti-discrimination policies, attacked the Environmental Protection Agency, and filed a lawsuit challenging federal health care reform. Now, it appears, he may be preparing a legal assault on an embattled proponent of global warming theory who used to teach at the University of Virginia, Michael Mann.
In papers sent to UVA April 23, Cuccinelli’s office commands the university to produce a sweeping swath of documents relating to Mann’s receipt of nearly half a million dollars in state grant-funded climate research conducted while Mann— now director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State— was at UVA between 1999 and 2005.
If Cuccinelli succeeds in finding a smoking gun like the purloined emails that led to the international scandal dubbed Climategate, Cuccinelli could seek the return of all the research money, legal fees, and trebled damages.
Yeah, I get it that this was public money, so one can claim this is an accountability exercise, but in practice this is pure intimidation and harassment of an academic whose work one disagrees with. Errors in Mann’s work should be dealt with through criticism and replication, not through legal actions by grandstanding politicians.
I am the last one to defend the dumb ass academic projects that government money often goes towards funding, but once granted, scientists and academics need some room to pursue truth (even incorrectly) without being harassed by elected officials. I would have no problem with the entire state grant program being evaluated for effectiveness, or some investigation into UVA’s financial or academic controls it exercises over its research.
For skeptics cheering this on, would you be OK with Eric Holder going after, say, Roy Spencer in the same way? Do you really think that if the guys in Virginia establish the precedent, the Chicago-trained folks in the White House aren’t willing and able to go one better?
Update: This seems a more productive approach. Why not go after the University for its data sharing practices on publicly funded studies, rather than try to go after a scientist one disagrees with on criminal charges. If we tried every academic for not fully disclosing data potentially contradictory to their pet theory, we would empty out the universities. We handle these issues by replication and challenge by other academics. Therefore, the better approach is to focus on release of data required to do the replication and verification.