While I don’t have anything to link to yet, I’ve learned that the University of Virginia has responded in court to Ken Cuccinelli’s abusive legal move, opposing his discovery attempt on academic freedom grounds. Bravo! I hope to update this post with a link to the legal document as soon as I can.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is now the latest organization to instruct Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli in how science works. In particular, I liked this aspect of the AAAS board statement:
Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations simply for providing scientific results that may be controversial or inconvenient, particularly on high profile topics of interest to society. The way to resolve controversies of this nature is through scientific review and additional research.
In the majority of cases, scientific disagreements are unrelated to any kind of fraud and are considered a legitimate and normal part of the process of scientific progress. The scientific community takes seriously their responsibility for policing scientific misconduct, and extensive procedures exist to ensure the credibility of the research enterprise. Unless founded on some openly discussed evidence of potential misconduct, investigations such as that targeting Professor Mann could have a long-lasting and chilling effect on a broad spectrum of research fields that are critical to a range of national interests from public health to national security to the environment. Unless more clearly justified, Attorney General Cuccinelli’s apparently political action should be withdrawn.
That’s right–the AAAS just called Cuccinelli’s investigation “political.” It is, of course–but them’s fighting words from the leading U.S. scientific society.
But of course, sometimes fighting is really, really necessary. This is one of those times.
See here and here. The Union of Concerned Scientists has organized a statement from 800 researchers in Virginia defending Michael Mann and denouncing Ken Cuccinelli’s tactics and investigation. Key quote: “In the interests of the people of Virginia, we urge you to halt this burdensome and entirely unwarranted investigation.” Now if only the University of Virgina would lend its heft to the cause…
UVA is filing an extension in response to Cuccinelli’s egregious request–but it should be fighting back in court, writes the paper:
Mr. Cuccinelli, apparently, speculates that Mr. Mann defrauded taxpayers by obtaining research grants to study global temperatures. It’s clear from his statements that the “Climategate” controversy — in which hackers stole records of e-mails between climate researchers that global warming skeptics then distorted — inspired his witch hunt. Is there any doubt that the attorney general is trying to restoke that row with a fresh batch of e-mails?
In the process, he would deal grave harm to scientific inquiry throughout Virginia’s public higher education system. Science progresses when researchers can propose ideas freely, differ in their methods and argue about the interpretations of their results. The commonwealth should nurture that process, not make scientists fear that they will be subject to investigation if a politician dislikes their conclusions.
There comes a time when one has to stand up to bullying tactics–not to mention fundamental assaults on the ability of scientists to do their work. This is one of those times.
UVA needs to stand up and be counted in defense of reason.
I missed this late yesterday in Slate, but it is priceless. Among other things, Lithwick shows that Cuccinelli’s investigation holds no benefit for Virginia taxpayers:
…State Sen. Donald McEachin estimates that the Cuccinelli lawsuit will cost Virginia taxpayers between $250,000 and $500,000 if it goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Spending half a million dollars of taxpayer funds to possibly recover some part of half a million dollars of misspent grant money doesn’t even begin to make sense.
But it’s not just Mann on the hook here. “With a weapon like this in Cuccinelli’s hands, any faculty member at a public university in Virginia has got to be thinking twice about doing politically controversial research or communicating with other scholars about it,” says Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors. UVA environmental science professor Howard Epstein, a former colleague of Mann’s, puts it this way: “Who is going to want to be on our faculty when they realize Virginia is the state where the A.G. investigates climate scientists?” If researchers are really afraid to do cutting-edge research in Virginia, the state’s flagship university is in enormous trouble.
Well, yeah. But is UVA standing up for itself and its scientists? Two important new points from Lithwick’s piece are 1) even many of Mann’s critics think Cuccinelli is going way too far and 2) UVA is not defending itself, or scientific inquiry, strenuously enough. On the latter point:
In March, when Cuccinelli tried to revoke legal protections for its gay workers, UVA responded with outrage. University President John Casteen said that he was “alarmed” by Cuccinelli’s reading of the state anti-discrimination laws and that the attorney general’s letter “cuts to the core of our common claims to the most fundamental kinds of personal security under the rule of law.” About the Mann investigation, thus far what we have heard from the university is muted. UVA has “a legal obligation to answer this request and it is our intention to respond to the extent required by law,” said Carol Wood, a UVA spokeswoman. Well, yes. But it’s probably time to point out that harassing the faculty for thousands of 10-year-old e-mails from a respected former colleague cuts to the core of intellectual and academic freedom as well.
Yes indeed. The University of Virginia is a massive institution and not without power. It should defend itself, and its scientists, much more vigorously.
See here. I am glad this story is being covered and that people are starting to denounce the investigation in suitable terms:
Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors, said Cuccinelli’s request had “echoes of McCarthyism.”
“It would be incredibly chilling to anyone else practicing in either the same area or in any politically sensitive area,” she said.
Cuccinelli’s “civil investigative demand” sent to the University of Virginia can be found here in PDF, so you can see just how extensive it is. In the space of a month, the idea seems to be that UVA must vomit up pretty much anything in any way related to Mann’s science, including all his emails with fellow scientists, his computer codes, data, “structured or unstructured information,” etc.
Cuccinelli’s defense of what he’s doing, to the Post, doesn’t remotely cut it:
“In light of the Climategate e-mails, there does seem to at least be an argument to be made that a course was undertaken by some of the individuals involved, including potentially Michael Mann, where they were steering a course to reach a conclusion,” he said. “Our act, frankly, just requires honesty.”
It doesn’t merely require honesty, it also requires massive stress, work, and legal advice. And in light of the Climategate emails, no such argument holds up.
Moreover, if we were going to have such an inquiry into everyone ever suspected or accused of “steering a course to reach a conclusion”….well, that would be the end of research, I would think.
P.S.: The Union of Concerned Scientists has more.