UVa Coughs up Mann Emails

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, and the American Tradition Institute (ATI) won a circuit court order Tuesday ordering the University of Virginia to disgorge emails and other communications sent and received by Dr. Michael Mann, creator of the infamous “hockey stick” graph. The graph, which purported to show a dramatic spike in global temperatures in the late 20th century, provided vivid confirmation of the fears of many scientists that Global Warming is a real and accelerating phenomenon.

Mann was one of the key players involved in the East Anglia Climate Research Unit scandal that did so much to discredit Global Warming alarmism a couple of years ago by showing how a small cadre of scientists manipulated data and used their clout to stifle opposing viewpoints from the U.N.’s supposedly definitive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Now, Global Warming skeptics are hoping that Mann’s correspondence during his time as an environmental science professor at UVa will yield more embarrassing revelations.

As ATI noted in its press release, “There … already appears — from records AT has received — to be additional information of the kind released in the ‘Climategate’ emails that originated from the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University.”

UVa had stonewalled the release of the records for months, at one point denying that they even existed, and later insisting that ATI be charged in excess of $8,000 for copying and reproduction charges. The university also fought a parallel probe by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to gain access to the records in an investigation of possible fraud on Mann’s part in the use of state research funds.

As of yesterday, ATI had received one fifth of the 9,000 pages that UVA says are responsive to ATI’s request. Most of what ATI has received so far is junk: “ads for Halloween costumes, public news releases from lay and scientific journals, and a few emails that were printed in computer code so as to be unintelligible in that form.” However, some material made it through UVa’s “filter,” stated ATI, which the institute will reveal to the public in the future.

UVa has done itself no favors by its conduct in this matter. I am somewhat sympathetic to the university’s decision to fight Cuccinelli’s probe, which could be viewed as a politically motivated fishing expedition on the spurious grounds that Mann might have committed fraud in his use of state research funds. As sympathetic as I am to those who wish to expose Mann for committing intellectual fraud, not criminal fraud, I did fret that Cuccinelli’s action set a dangerous precedent for politicizing and criminalizing academic discourse.

But releasing emails under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act is a very different matter. The ATI is a private institute seeking information of a type that the University had released previously — specifically, the emails of Patrick Michaels, a Global Warming skeptic, under an FOIA request from a leftist group. The data will not be used to criminalize Mann but to expose any machinations in stifling opposing academic views that he might have been engaged in. Justice will be served, and it will be served in a way that does not involve the Attorney General’s office, which has no business being involved in a dispute of this nature.

Now, I can only hope that UVa, my alma mater, does not become discredited by the ClimateGate scandal in the same way that East Anglia University in the United Kingdom has been. If administrators had simply handed over the emails, as they did in Michaels’ case, they would have avoided any taint if the emails contained scandalous content. But by trying to hush potential revelations, administrators will be seen as complicit with Mann and will be tarred along with him.

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