27 May 2010

UVA Tells Cuccinelli to Show His Cards

The University of Virgina has petitioned a court to set aside the request of Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli to Michael Mann, a former professor at UVA, for disclosure of a large amount of material related to his research while a faculty member by invoking a statute focused on rooting out fraud in the use of public funds.

The petition (here in PDF) basically calls Cuccinelli's bluff. I wrote about this earlier this month, arguing that "I'm no lawyer, but the chances of Mann being found guilty of violating this statute are precisely zero." The petition explains that Cuccinelli's request fails on both procedural and substantive grounds - the two Aces in the hole.

However, since this is a public relations stunt by the Attorney General, he could still win in the court of public opinion, even if the petition were to be granted on procedural grounds, by showing evidence of the fraudulent use of taxpayer money by Mann. On the other hand, if he cannot show such substance, he will be the one that looks like a fraud on a fishing expedition. As I wrote this month, I don't think that the AG has the evidence, because there is no such evidence to have.

What about Michael Mann and climate science? As I wrote earlier this month:
The worst that can be said about Mann is that he may have done sloppy research using poor methods that won't stand the test of time, and when challenged he tends to act petulant and nasty. Let's just accept this as true for the purposes of discussion. OK, so what? None of this rises to scientific misconduct or fraud, not even close, and no one has even made such a case, despite the ample noise in the blogosphere.
If this plays out as I anticipate, with the petition granted and the AG coming up with nothing, then Mann and his supporters would do well not to confuse this legal victory with evidence for scientific accuracy and integrity -- a conflation that has been too often made in the aftermath of the recent UK reviews of the UEA situation, which simply adds to the partisan flames.

Mann's opponents will continue to shout "fraud" but until they can match the talk with evidence, they should probably stay silent. If Mann is confident that his files show no wrongdoing, he might consider just releasing them after the petition is granted as a gesture of his confidence. I doubt that would happen, but it would be quite powerful if it was done by choice, not by coercion.

However, after this episode is over, I expect fault lines to remain pretty much as they were before and the battle will simply shift to new turf in the never-ending climate wars.


  1. It was a source of much annoyance for me that Cuccinelli tried to venture out on his political fishing trip, so I'm naturally comforted that UVA has a plan to scupper his boat.

    Cuccinelli's done the sceptics no favours. He's made a scientific issue - Mann's substandard, advocacy-tainted work - into a political issue. We will have to re-double our efforts to reassert that the "Mann discussion" regards the validity of the science; ideologies, politics and policy are subsequential. No mean feat.

    I do anticipate that the ideologically motivated AGW alarmists/activists will portray UVA's "victory" over Cuccinelli as a victory for science vs.. I dunno, creationism?.. but they're the same people that think that Oxburgh vindicated the CRU's science.

    I'm hoping that common sense prevails, but I'm not counting on it yet.

  2. Cuccinelli's Petition for Reconsideration of the EPA's CO2 Endangerment Find. It specifically references 'climate gate'.


    I seriously doubt he cares one iota about Michael Mann. It's Michael Mann's working papers related to the IPCC that he is interested in.

  3. I should add that the petition asks the court to "award any relief that the court deems just and appropriate"

    It would really hot things up if the court awarded Mann damages for the pain and suffering caused by the witch hunt. A few hundred thousand (or more) would liven up the debate ;-)

  4. Roger

    You would be disappointed if I wasn't suspicious of the fact that Mann's research was contemporaneous with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, published or unpublished.

    I am not suggesting for one second that there is evidence of fraud, and I'm sure I would abhor Mr Cuccinelli'a politics, but sometimes even Batman makes the bad guys sweat a bit.

    Wall Street Journal

    Then there's the famous "hockey stick" data from American geoscientist Michael Mann. Prior to publication of Mr. Mann's data in 1998, all climate scientists accepted that the Earth had undergone large temperature variations within recorded human history. This included a Medieval warm period when the Vikings farmed Greenland and a "little ice age" more recently when the Thames River often froze solid. Seen in that perspective, the slight warming believed to have occurred in the past century could well be no more than a natural rebound, especially since most of that warming occurred before 1940.

    Enter Mr. Mann, who suggested that both the history books and other historical temperature data were wrong. His temperature graph for the past millennium was essentially flat until the 20th century, when a sharp upward spike occurs -- i.e., it looks like a hockey stick. The graph was embraced by the global warming lobby as proof that we are in a crisis, and that radical solutions are called for


  5. You drastically overestimate the efficiency of our legal system.

    1. Lawyers are well trained to argue minutiae.

    2. Judges, having risen from that rank, are expert in entertaining notions and motions.

    3. The rules of engagement were written by lawyers for the benefit of lawyers.

    The use of an image of chips and cards is an apt analogy given that the system is gamed against the players on both sides of the table. Only the house wins in the long term.

    AGs are loath to lose a fight. They have very deep pockets and tremendous power. If Cuccinelli is committed, if he believes there is political capital to be harvested, he will take advantage of multiple opportunities to respond; the likelihood of UV prevailing in the short term is very low.

  6. Roger Pielke, Jr. said... 4

    "I should add that the petition asks the court to "award any relief that the court deems just and appropriate"

    Relief would to be either quash the subpoena or narrow it's scope.

    Damages have to be specifically requested by the 'injured party'.

  7. I would not confuse UVA's pose with any sort of actual likelihood of successfully stonewalling the audit.
    Again, why should scientists be any more immune to audit of their use of public funds than anyone else? While you seem very interested in pointing out that an elected state officer is acting political, I think many more people are interested in universities and professors playing politics with tax payer money on an poorly or non-disclosed basis.
    Mann either committed fraud or he did not.
    We know Mann and his pals wasted a great deal of money to fabricate evidence of a climate crisis. Did it rise to criminality?
    Not being a lawyer, I do not know.
    While you are an excellent economist, somehow I think you are not a lawyer either.

  8. BALONEY, AGAIN! Mann ain't that stupid. You need to get out of academia-warp-space for awhile. It is NOT true that you can repeat a falsehood enough times that it becomes true. But I suppose you will keep trying.

  9. What is hillarious about all this is that the AGW fanatics made the whole "science-is-settled" debate a political fight. Now the politics is biting them in the butt.

  10. Having read through UV's petition they may have a point as to those projects funded "soley" by NOAA and the NSF. The WP has this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/08/AR2010050802020.html

    Mann noted Friday that only one of the five grants Cuccinelli is investigating came from the university. The others were federal grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.

    The NSF's paleoclimate program conducts several layers of peer reviews before distributing about $10 million yearly for research into climate change, said David Verardo, its director. The federal agency has its own inspector general to examine allegations of misuse of grant money.

    "If scientists are pulling their punches on the science to fall in line with some perceived bias, that's a problem for me, and it's a problem for science," Verardo said.

    Perhaps it is better to see how this plays out without trying to spin a speculated outcome.

  11. I just read a guest post at WUWT on this same matter: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/05/30/ken-cuccinelli-versus-810-academics/#more-20046

    Two thoughts come to mind:

    == If the university freely gave up Dr. Patrick Michaels' "private" emails to Greenpeace without any legal requirement, it is hard to see how the university can now play the other side of the fence where there is a legal proceeding.

    == Where was the outrage, on the scale demonstrated here, when Dr. Michaels was fired for not supporting the "consensus?" Why this fervent defense of academic freedom for Dr. Mann but not for Dr. Michaels?

  12. Roger,
    Craig 1st pegs it.
    If Mann was a skeptic, he would have lost tenure, been run off, had his credit file, e-mails leaked and been dragged through the media mud long ago.
    The deference given to Mann and the others who have committed obvious malpractice while utilizing public money baffles me.

  13. Eli eagerly looks forward to your releasing the last ten years of your email.