Oh, Mann: Cuccinelli targets UVA papers in Climategate salvo
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.
"Since it's public money, there's enough controversy to look in to the possible manipulation of data," says Dr. Charles Battig, president of the nonprofit Piedmont Chapter Virginia Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment, a group that doubts the underpinnings of climate change theory.
Mann is one of the lead authors of the controversial "hockey stick graph," which contends that global temperatures have experienced a sudden and unprecedented upward spike (like the shape of a hockey stick).
UVA spokesperson Carol Wood says the school will fulfill its legal obligation, noting that the scope of the documents requested mean it could take some time. Mann had not returned a reporter's calls at posting time, but Mann–- whose research remains under investigation at Penn State–- recently defended his work in a front page story in USA Today saying while there could be "minor" errors in his work there's nothing that would amount to fraud or change his ultimate conclusions that the earth is warming as a result of human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.
"Mike is an outstanding and extremely reputable climate scientist," says UVA climate faculty member Howie Epstein. "And I don't really know what they're looking for or expecting to find."
Among the documents Cuccinelli demands are any and all emailed or written correspondence between or relating to Mann and more than 40 climate scientists, documents supporting any of five applications for the $484,875 in grants, and evidence of any documents that no longer exist along with proof of why, when, and how they were destroyed or disappeared.
Last fall, the release of some emails by researchers caused turmoil in the climate science world and bolstered critics of the human-blaming scientific models. (Among Climategate's embarrassing revelations was that one researcher professed an interest in punching Charlottesville-based doubting climate scientist Patrick Michaels in the nose.")
One former UVA climate scientist now working with Michaels worries about politicizing–- or, in his words, creating a "witch hunt"–- what he believes should be an academic debate.
"I didn’t like it when the politicians came after Pat Michaels," says Chip Knappenberger. "I don’t like it that the politicians are coming after Mike Mann."
Making his comments via an online posting under an earlier version of this story, Knappenberger worries that scientists at Virginia’s public universities could become "political appointees, with whoever is in charge deciding which science is acceptable, and prosecuting the rest. Say good-bye to science in Virginia."
–last updated 3:11pm Friday, April 30