The Supreme Court of Virginia has ruled against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s bid, on the grounds of investigating fraud, to obtain the email files of former UVa climatologist Michael Mann. The court stated that the university and other state agencies cannot be considered “persons” under the Virginia’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
“From the beginning, we have said that we were simply trying to review documents that are unquestionably state property to determine whether or not fraud had been committed,” said Cuccinelli in a prepared statement. “Today, the court effectively held that state agencies do not have to provide state-owned property to state investigators looking into potential fraud involving government funds.”
Frankly, I’m a little bit relieved. Although I sympathized with Cuccinelli’s aim of exposing Mann, the global warming zealot who concocted the famous hockey stick graph purporting to show an unprecedented spike in global temperatures, I was uncomfortable with the means. Cuccinelli tried to use an anti-fraud statute to probe the flaws in Mann’s work. That set a dangerous precedent for politicizing scientific research in Virginia universities. I certainly wouldn’t like it if a liberal AG was probing a conservative scholar. Hopefully, the court ruling will eliminate any future temptation to meddle in this way.
The proper way to expose Mann is through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which the American Tradition Institute (ATI) is doing. Alas, the University of Virginia, which reportedly turned over the emails of global warming skeptic Patrick Michaels to Greenpeace without a peep of protest, has steadfastly resisted doing the same in Mann’s case.
Here is an ATI update on that matter. After a year of legal wrangling, UVa has turned over 1,700 emails but withheld 12,000 others that allegedly contain “proprietary” information. We’re not talking about technology with commercial potential here. ATI is seeking to understand how Mann devised his hockey stick graph — information that, according to ATI, he has so far refused to make public. So much for the ideal of subjecting one’s scientific work to peer review.
As far as I can see, UVa’s logic is as bogus as Cuccinelli’s. Either the administration is worried that the emails might embarrass Mann and thus the university, or it is caving into faculty pressure to protect “academic freedom,” which apparently is something granted only to liberal scholars, not conservative ones.
Mann was a central figure in the so-called “Climate-gate” email scandal. The emails revealed how Mann and others had acted to squelch the views of scientists skeptical of the more alarmist view on global warming. Access to Mann’s UVa emails could shed more light on the extent to which he might have fudged his hockey-stick result or otherwise corrupted the scientific process. This is a proper matter for citizens and scholars to look into, using FOIA. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a Virginia Supreme Court ruling to get UVa to turn the emails over.