A Really Bad Idea

I know lots of your disagree with me on this, but it needs to be said.  I have had people argue that , well, its about management of public funds, but compared to what the average university wastes, this is trivial.  The funds management issue is just window dressing, in my view, for people looking for a heaping helping of retribution. Cross posted from Coyote Blog

Regular readers will have no doubts about my skepticism of the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming.  In particular, in these pages and at Coyote Blog, I have repeatedly criticized the details of Michael Mann’s work on the hockey stick.  I won’t repeat those issues today, though some of the past articles are indexed here.  Or watch my video linked to the right, it has plenty of stuff about the hockey stick.

That being said, efforts by Republicans in Virginia to bring legislative or even criminal action against Mann for his work when he was at the University of Virginia is about the worst idea I have heard in quite some time.  Though nominally about forcing public disclosure (something I am always in favor of from state entities) the ultimate goal is to drag Mann into court

Cuccinelli has said he wants to see whether a fraud investigation would be warranted into Mann’s work, which showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming

[As an aside, this is actually NOT what Mann’s hockey stick work purports to show.  The point of the hockey stick is to make the case that historic temperatures before 1850 were incredibly stable and flat, and thus recent increases of 0.6-0.8C over the last 150 years are unprecedented in comparison.   His research added nothing to our knowledge about recent warming, it was on focused on pre-industrial warming.   The same folks that say with confidence the science is settled don’t even understand it].

For those frustrated with just how bad Mann’s work is and upset at the incredible effort to protect this work from criticism or scrutiny by hiding key data (as documented in the East Anglia climategate emails), I know it must feel good to get some sort of public retribution.  But the potential precedent here of bringing up scientists on charges essentially for sloppy or incorrect work is awful.

Bad science happens all the time, completely absent any evil conspiracies.  Human nature is to see only the data that confirms ones hypotheses and, if possible, to resists scrutiny and criticism.  This happens all the time in science and if we started hauling everyone into court or into a Senate committee, we have half of academia there  (and then likely the other half when the party in power changed).  Team politics are a terrible disease and the last thing we need is to drag them any further into science and academia.

Science will eventually right itself, and what is needed is simply the time and openness to allow adversarial scrutiny and replication within academia to run its course.  Seriously, are we next going to drag the cold fusion guys in to court?  How about all the folks in the geology field that resisted plate tectonics for so long.  Will we call to account the losers in the string theory debate?

If legislators want to help, they can

  • Make sure there are standards in place for archiving and public availability of any data and code associated with government funded research
  • Improve the governments own climate data management
  • Ensure that state funding is distributed in a way to support a rich dialog on multiple sides of contested scientific issues.
  • BargHumer

    Excellent stuff!

  • RobtHague

    Spot on, sir. The very last thing any scientist wants is to have to ambitious politicians get involved in second-guessing research results. Such things smell of Lysenko’s USSR

  • robler

    Agree 100%. That same power used today against your enemies can be used tomorrow against you.

  • stan

    robler,

    it already is. This is a case of what come around goes around.

  • chris haynes

    Mann should be investigated by federal grand jury.

    A government consultant or subcontractor, who performs dishonest services, such as preparing a misleading report, or who attempts to mislead third parties on government time, or who performs honest services, using telephone, internet, radio, or UPS, is guilty of mail fraud.

    Peer reviwed scientists may dislike this. Let them write their congressman. Until then they can raise private funds.

  • N. Joseph Potts

    This is tough. Mann documentably committed fraud deliberately – “wrong” results are hardly at issue here.

    The conclusion of this post, that granting authorities (governments) must impose extensive public-access requirements on both results and data that the public has paid for, is at least as important as the issue of prosecuting Mann – and quite possibly more-important.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Disagree.

    Fraud in the inducement is a tort.

    Actionable.

  • Waldo Econguy

    * Make sure there are standards in place for archiving and public availability of any data and code associated with government funded research
    * Improve the governments own climate data management
    * Ensure that state funding is distributed in a way to support a rich dialog on multiple sides of contested scientific issues.

    These are all very laudatory goals–somewhat ironic considering the overall rhetoric of this blog in general, but laudatory nevertheless.

    Of course, Mr. Meyer and the denialist tribe will simply not be satisfied unless there is a clear denunciation by virtually everyone, which is simply not coming. No matter what, despite the mounting evidence, Mr. Meyer et al will simply be convinced that someday, by virtue of some miraculous genius stepping forward, AGW will be conclusively proven a dead issue. In the mean time, we must make do with all these darn experts and scientists from around the world who, dang them, keep taking tax payer money to offer that ridiculous scientific evidence!

    Sorry folks, you are a bit too early with your charges of “fraud” and whatnot. There is no proof of that whatsoever (and yes, I’ve read the CRU emails). The scientific community is squarely behind Mann and the AGW gang and there is only the flimsiest pretext for challenge and a tiny minority of qualified scientists who disagree–and a number of these are questionable voices.

    If Mr. Meyer really wants a dialogue within the scientific community, he’d shut this site down and let the scientists talk.

  • Russ R.

    Waldo,

    You’ve entirely (and quite predictably) missed the point of this posting.

    Better luck next time.

  • Waldo R

    So Russ, what is the point of the post?

    How about this: someone as disingenuous, misinformative and misleading as Mr. Meyer is calling for honesty and transparency from the scientific community; at the same time, one of the people who fosters the antagonistic nature of the climate conversation is now calling for restraint from a public official. The reason that someone like this Cuccinelli character attempts to bring legislative and even criminal charges against someone like Mann is entirely because of characters like Mr. Meyer. And like yourself. And now Mr. Meyer wants to tamp down the flames he’s helped fan.

    That is the point of the post.

    Really Russ, you’re a smart man, but critical thinking is not your strongest suit when it comes to the conversation about climate science.

  • Russ R.

    Waldo,

    One sign that you’re truly being objective is when you find yourself defending, as a matter of principle, people with whom you disagree on matters of fact or opinion.

    I have my own views on Dr. Mann and the quality of his work, but I find myself defending him because I happen to agree with Mr. Meyer that the Virginia AG is recklessly abusing his authority by embarking on a witch-hunt to punish a scientist for the content his research.

    Reasonable people do not advocate subjecting people to criminal trials for being wrong, or branding people as traitors for holding politically disagreeable views. Do they?

    “The reason that someone like this Cuccinelli character attempts to bring legislative and even criminal charges against someone like Mann is entirely because of characters like Mr. Meyer. And like yourself. And now Mr. Meyer wants to tamp down the flames he’s helped fan.”

    Now Waldo, I particularly resent that you would point fingers at me for Cuccinelli’s misuse of power. I’d invite you to present a single shred of evidence of me suggesting any such action against any climate scientist.

  • JBT

    So there can be no crime in science? The science should just work itself out?
    For me, theft is still theft. The Virginia AG has the obligation to determine if fraud was committed. This is not a new concept. unless you are untouchable. Is that what scientists are?

  • JBT

    So there can be no crime in science? The science should just work itself out?
    For me, theft is still theft. The Virginia AG has the obligation to determine if fraud was committed. This is not a new concept, unless you are untouchable. Is that what scientists are?

  • Waldocinelli

    **** “Mr. Meyer that the Virginia AG is recklessly abusing his authority by embarking on a witch-hunt to punish a scientist for the content his research.”

    Yeeeeees Russ, I read the same post you did.

    But look over your head. “Mann documentably committed fraud deliberately” “Disagree./Fraud in the inducement is a tort./Actionable.” “fraud” “Mann should be investigated by federal grand jury”

    These people want exactly what Cuccinelli offers.

    Mr. Meyer talks a good line at the same time he fans the fires that heat up a guy like Cuccinelli.

    Look back at the April 12, ironically titled “Two Sides of a Debate” posting—I did a very brief investigation and found that what Mr. Meyer posted completely misrepresents the truth—-and it’s not the only time. And now he piously points the finger at the Frankenstein monster he helped create through just such deception.

    **** “I particularly resent that you would point fingers at me for Cuccinelli’s misuse of power.”

    I’m sorry, Russ, I would not offend you deliberately, but this “subjecting people to criminal trials for being wrong, or branding people as traitors for holding politically disagreeable views” is not what is happening in either of the links you posted above.

    Sorry man, but you have helped animate the monster. Even if you did not come out and string up a noose, you foment the sort of attitudes that so badly damage the fabric of the “debate” (which is really no debate). And you continue to do so, even as you deny it.

  • Investigating Mann solus would be a mistake. Exposing the academic-political complex that has transformed contemporary science into just another interest group is a worthier endeavor. The former will serve only to create a martyr; the latter, just possibly, to restore the integrity of scientific inquiry.

  • cedarhill

    This is like saying “black on black crime” is not as bad as “white on black crime” or “black on white crime”. Crime, simply, is crime. Life is replete with criminals doing all sorts of things to obtain money. Mann, very, very obviously, intentionally used data to promote a specific outcome and used that outcome to obtain money. He’s no different than those that go around and tell seniors their roof needs “work” and proceeds to take 20,000$US from them. Mann is a liar, a fraud, is deceptive, is a con … how is all that so hard to understand? He’s been all over the world in the media pushing his quackery, holding secret meetings, etc., etc. If only Adolf Eichmann had been a scientist, he’d get our blessings and be given a Noble prize? Mann practices in the seemy side corruption. Like cockroaches, they scurry around when light is occasional shone in their direction but they always return.

    Regarding elected representatives proposing specific crimes. Mann entered the political arena years ago. Those that think otherwise are, to borrow Brit terms, simply as daft as a barking mad dog. Given the manner in which the academic world has moved to block review by those that pay their bills is enough to pass some laws regarding accountability. Repeat, again. Crime is crime.

  • Russ R.

    Waldo,

    You seem to believe that everyone who posts on this blog shares a homogeneity of opinion.

    This broad-brush generalization of yours causes you to misunderstand people’s statements, and attribute motives where none exist.

    I’d suggest you read people’s comments a bit more closely to better understand what they’re actually saying, instead of simply labeling everyone a “denialist” because you disagree with them.

    For what it’s worth, while I agree with Meyer’s post, I strongly disagree with the majority of the comments which have followed.

  • Wondering Aloud

    I understand your position, though the attempt to corrupt the review process by tax funded scientists, evidenced in those same climategate emails, seems like misuse of public funds at the very least. The funding process is wildly corrupt. It forces a scientist to get results that supports a certain predetermined position or lose his funding.

    Isn’t this Lysenkoism?

  • Waldo Broad Brush

    My friend Russ says: “This broad-brush generalization of yours causes you to misunderstand people’s statements, and attribute motives where none exist.”

    Cedarhill says: “Crime, simply, is crime. Life is replete with criminals doing all sorts of things to obtain money. Mann, very, very obviously, intentionally used data to promote a specific outcome and used that outcome to obtain money. He’s no different than those that go around and tell seniors their roof needs ‘work’ and proceeds to take 20,000$US from them.”

    My friend Russ says: “I strongly disagree with the majority of the comments which have followed.”

    Yet my friend says nothing, except to me.

    It is obvious, Russ, what I am posting about. It is obvious that I am right. Don’t ignore it. This is a denialist camp, these are denialist comments. It has nothing to do with whether or not I agree with them—it is all about the mentality of the poster. If I am painting everyone with the same brush, it is because it is the correct color.

    But what is the color of denialism? Not sure, but there are no gray areas, only strong primary colors.

  • dearieme

    Could you perhaps outline which laws you think University scientists should be above, and which they should be subject to like the rest of us?

  • Wadlieme

    Who are you responding to, dearieme?

    My response would be something to the effect of ‘quit asking obvious and silly rhetorical questions.’

    And this isn’t the issue anyway—we all live under the same rule of law.

    The issue is that Mann has not been convicted of any crimes nor is there any good evidence that he has broken any laws—in fact, the people in the know (ya’know, the scientists) are behind his work. And yet he is being hounded by a rouge AG.

    At issue is whether or not Cuccinelli is involved in a witch hunt.

    Please don’t play dumb.

  • cedarhill

    This is an interesting thread. It’s not like folks like Waldo, et al, are defending monies they gave Mann wilfully but it’s how one defends the blocking of investigations under the flimsiest of rationale.

    There simply is no argument to counter beliefs. Perhaps, if you work in the private world you should know that anything you do at work on the employer’s time and even when not at work but with the employer’s equipment, it’s the property of the employer. Thus, when legal beagles come barking, you fork over everything. If you’ve saved your aunt’s brownie recipe on your employer’s laptop, they get to read it. Very few, if any, exceptions. Same rational, same reasons, same principles apply with “public” work. Mann did and continues to do “public” work. VA is the “employer” and the legislature has designated the AG as the “boss” to enforce taxpayers property rights. It’s not even “criminal”. It’s not even free speech. It’s not even “academic freedom” and clearly, it’s not “science sainthood”. Think of Mann as if he were the person that had the janitorial contract for University and used University trucks, University computers and University trash.

  • Richard A.

    I’m not confortable with the government investigating scientists either, but what’s the alternative here? Use of public money for research *should* mean meeting certain standards for transparency, but once you inject public money into the mix you automatically politicize the science and can be pretty well assured that even if such standards were developed that they would also be applied unevenly. The only answer is for people to either rely on private donnations to fund research, or be prepared for the long arm of the law to come around and slap you if you break the law or even piss off the wrong person in power. That’s the nature of the beast.

  • epobirs
  • Waldoha

    *** “when legal beagles come barking, you fork over everything.”

    Well, one does need a judge, a warrant, a supina, and probable cause. None of which has been issued to Mann.

    No one disputes that public employees should do their jobs. But Mann, like the rest of us, has rights. And, at least in the country Mann lives in, one is supposed to be presumed innocent.

    The issue, cedarhill, is, once again, is this a witchhunt?

  • Wally

    Waldo,

    I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty confident one doesn’t need those things for your employer to access things stored on their computers, that they are letting you use. To use that information against you in any way, I do believe they need some sort of reason to be checking in on you in first place, like slacking performance. But they don’t need a warrant to search their own computers, not even to check private email.

    I don’t remember the specifics, and don’t care to look them up, but I believe this has come up in the tech industry several times, were employees where using company computers to pursue potentially profitable side projects, with the intention of using them for personal gain. Their employer then essentially claimed rights to what ever they were doing, because they where using the employer’s equipment to create this thing in the first place.

    While it might seem trivial, the computer hardware and software is a capital investment made by the company to produce a gain. As you can imagine, the company doesn’t like it when you use their investments for your own gain, without including them. And as you can probably also understand, we have good reason for creating laws to protect capital investments.

    Now, replace “employer” or “company” with “the public” or something similar, and its basically the same thing. This has been an issue occasionally in the bio-sciences where direct private profits from basic research is a little easier to come by than in the more theoretical sciences, like physics or climate science. Basically, what happens is that professors with public labs at universities end up starting private companies that closely parallel their public work. But they have to be very careful that not one cent of public money is spent on projects to be used by the private company. Not one beaker, not a laptop computer, nothing. Then, as far as the moral implication of the simple knowledge gained by the public lab transferring over to the private lab is a huge gray area. Since you can’t publish experimental results in real time (well you could, it doesn’t happen), its hard to imagine that these results of publicly funded experiments don’t spend some time helping to advance private projects before they really become public information.

    So like was mentioned from Richard A’s post, its just the nature of the beast. You’re using public funds, and like an employer, the public has the right to make sure their funds are being used under the conditions set out at the time the funds were awarded. And this public or private employee does not have the same rights protecting him from such an audit, as he does protecting, say, a search of his private residence.

  • Russ R.

    Waldo:

    “My friend Russ says: “I strongly disagree with the majority of the comments which have followed.”
    Yet my friend says nothing, except to me.”

    You have a very fair point here. I absolutely should reply with a rebuttal to every extremist comment with which I disagree. But I don’t, because it isn’t worth my time.

    I much prefer to debate with people who are moderates, and can respond in a reasoned manner, without resorting to hyperbole, name-calling, or other juvenile tactics. And if I have a tendency to focus your comments Waldo (and those from a handful of others), it’s because, while we may often disagree, we are able to do so in a respectful, civil, and usually enlightening manner. Usually.

    I couldn’t be bothered to engage extremists on either side in debate because I would have nothing to learn from the interaction, except how irrational, closed-minded and frustrating extremists of both stripes can be.

  • Gavin O

    Don’t you morons get it? We scientists are insulated from such silly things as accountability and standards.

    So what if social largesse floats our way? We had some evidence. It’s over there.

    When we start our Irrefutable Global Warming Fund ™ we’ll show you, because we have evidence.

    Possibly 10 years worth.

    Which might withstand some SEC scrutiny for price performance over required disclosure periods.

    Just like our carbon exchange did, before it shut down last month.

    But we’ll show you. Dammit.

  • Rod Siller

    I disagree. Mann committed fraud. Honest scientists have nothing to fear about publishing the truth and scientific fact. Unless we have jail terms for these people then the circle will perpetuate until science is nothing more than the political football (and lacky) that it has become. Jailing a few politicians too wouldn’t be a bad idea for lying either! Al Gore should be the first.

  • Dave Funk

    First, Mann is neither innocent nor a scientist.
    Second, he knowingly committed fraud.
    Mann knew that he was using public funds to do research, which did not say what he wanted to say, so he cooked the books. He did this because he went from being a scientist to being a politican. A scientist sees results he did not expect and says “hey, this is interesting!” A politician says “How can I make this say what I want it to say.”
    He received public money to perform research and falsified the results of that research. If Phillip Morris uses it’s own money to conduct research and cooks the books then uses it to steer public debate, that is fair (perhaps not nice.) When Michael Mann used public money to conduct research and cooked the books and used it to steer public debate, as a state employee, that is fraud. On top of that, he personnaly benifited from the results of steering the public debate. That was reprehensible (I’m no lawyer) and probably against the law, though pretty common about 200 miles to the north-north-east of the scene of the crime.
    I’m no lawyer, but I am a computer security guy, and will say that in most circumstances your work on the computer belongs to the employer (in this case the Commonsealth of Virginia). There are exceptions, based on circumstance and jurisdiction, but these pretty much exclusively deal with ‘personal’ stuff, like the detrius of access to personnal web email, or a folder marked ‘personal’. But work and work products, belong to the employer. Mann has no personnal rights to it and will lose the court case to limit Virginia’s access to it. His actions and those of the administration of the University of Virginia to attempt to block access to it are also reprehensible and possibly illegal.
    That said, I agree that Cuccinelli is grandstanding, and taking political advantage. But all agree that he is a politician, and that is pretty much what he is paid for (aside from enforcing the law). Like it or not, he is doing what he is being paid for.