Misuse of political office: science under attack

by Bryan Walker on May 7, 2010

A couple of months ago I posted on Michael Mann’s fight back against the denialist attacks he is constantly subjected to.  Now there’s a new kind of attack.  The Attorney General of Virginia, one Ken Cuccinelli, has made a Civil Investigative Demand to the University of Virginia for a long list of documents relating to the grant-funded research of Michael Mann while he was working at the University from 1999 to 2005. Among the materials requested by May 27 were email correspondence with a long list of other climate scientists, including several who, like Mann, were prominent figures in Climategate. The Attorney General’s demand is made on the grounds that he is investigating possible violations by Mann against the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act when he sought funding for a number of research projects.

Cuccinelli is a climate change denier who describes the science as “unreliable, unverifiable and doctored”.  He is currently suing the Environment Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

His justification of his action against Mann to the Washington Post this week was: “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. Our act, frankly, just requires honesty.”

In addition to Mann’s email correspondence with other scientists, Cuccinelli asks for material which suggests he intends a scientific investigation of Mann’s work. It includes “any and all computer algorithms, programs, source code, or the like created or edited by … Mann” from 1999 to the present, and “any data, information or databases, structured or unstructured information, source code and formulas that may be stored in any format or media type…”  Such investigation is obviously well beyond the expertise of a law enforcement office and one wonders who Cuccinelli has in mind to do it.  Fred Singer perhaps? Singer has already welcomed Cuccinelli’s move:

“There is a good chance that Virginia’s Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli will come up with the “smoking gun” — where other so-called investigations have only produced one whitewash after another.

“We know from the leaked e-mails of Climategate that Prof. Michael Mann was involved in the international conspiracy to ‘hide the decline’ [in global temperatures], using what chief conspirator Dr. Phil Jones refers to as ‘Mike [Mann]’s trick.’ Now at last we may find out just how this was done.”

It’s worth noting that not all deniers welcome what Cuccinelli has done. Steve McIntyre calls it “a repugnant piece of over-zealousness by the Virginia Attorney General, that I condemn.”

Mann went from Virginia to Penn State University in 2005.  He says: “It seems clearly to me that it’s an attempt to intimidate and to silence me and to make an example of me for other scientists who might speak out on the science of climate change.”

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.”

The faculty of the University of Virginia has made a strong statement, which includes the following:

“Dr. Mann is an internationally respected and highly cited climate scientist. The funding he received for his research resulted from impartial, stringent peer review by respected independent scientists under the auspices of national scientific research organizations. His research findings, including many of those involved in this investigation, have been reported in leading scientific journals, which are themselves subject to additional exacting review by the scientific community prior to publication…

“We maintain that peer review by the scientific community is the appropriate means by which to identify error in the generation, presentation and interpretation of scientific data. The Attorney General’s use of his power to issue a CID under the provisions of Virginia’s FATA is an inappropriate way to engage with the process of scientific inquiry. His action and the potential threat of legal prosecution of scientific endeavor that has satisfied peer-review standards send a chilling message to scientists engaged in basic research involving Earth’s climate and indeed to scholars in any discipline. Such actions directly threaten academic freedom and, thus, our ability to generate the knowledge upon which informed public policy relies.”

In a subsequent television interview Cuccinelli, who has been in his elected office only three months, drew back from the implication that he was making a scientific enquiry:

Warren: “What gives your office the authority to interpret what is scientific data?”
Cuccinelli: “That’s a worthwhile question. We aren’t targeting scientific conclusions. That’s not the issue. It’s the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.”
Warren: “Do you believe that manmade gases are actually warming the climate?”
Cuccinelli: “I think the jury is still out.” He went on to say, “I don’t think the evidence at this moment as it’s been presented would lead one to man-caused conclusion in that respect.”
Warren: “If you don’t believe manmade gases are warming the earth, how can we trust what your office finds? In other words, politics could be at play here?”
Cuccinelli: “There are some people who will never believe anything we do. But, for people who know me, I’m capable of being extremely objective.”

That objective capability he claims is hardly demonstrated in the demand he has made of the University of Virginia. The University at least initially believes it is obliged to accede to the demand, but the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors have sent a joint letter to the Rector urging him to use every legal avenue to resist providing the information and offering their assistance if wanted.

It is too soon to sense how this will play out. Probably the action of Cuccinelli should come as no surprise given the fevered pitch and irrationality of American denialism.  But attacks by politicians on established science and scientists are always unnerving.  Even Rodney Hide’s foolish statements in the New Zealand parliament carried a touch of menace with them. American academics and scientists will need to be united and firm in their defence of scientific independence. There is plenty of evidence that they will be, some of it referred to above, and more seen in an open letter from prominent members of the National Academy of Sciences published in the Guardian today.  It probably predates the Cuccinelli affair, but the principle clearly applies.

“We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular…

“Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence.

“…there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change.”

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Wrathall May 6, 2010 at 10:03 pm

"Cuccinelli is a climate change denier…"
Please post evidence that this person has ever denied that climate changes.

Bryan Walker May 6, 2010 at 10:33 pm

All right, for "climate change denier" read "human-caused climate change denier", as everyone else reading this post will understand.

Steve Wrathall May 7, 2010 at 2:34 am

Again, do you have any evidence that Mr Cuccinelli denies that there may be a human influence on climate? I think what you are grasping to say is that he challenges the notion that human activities are causing catastrophic climate change. But that makes him sound kinda reasonable eh?
Better to just repeat that he's a "climate change denier", despite the fact that such behavior is one of the primary reasons that the credibility of warmists is collapsing.

Bryan Walker May 7, 2010 at 3:27 am

So where have we got to Steve? That there may be human-caused climate change, but the science is “unreliable, unverifiable and doctored”. And that makes Cuccinelli sound "kinda reasonable"?

Steve Wrathall May 9, 2010 at 2:01 am

“unreliable, unverifiable and doctored”?
Mann's hockey stick is all of these. How else can you describe a construct that magically made he MWP and LIO disappear, and when he was asked how he constructed it refused to divulge his raw data, his selection procedures, his methods of weighting, his methods for infilling missing data, and then changes his story multiple times. It took years of detective work by McIntyre & McKitrick to uncover the tricks he'd used to hide declines.

Today's economically suffering citizens have every right to expect their elected representatives to call Mann & his ilk to task when further impoverishent is being called for.

Bryan Walker May 9, 2010 at 2:50 am

This is an appalling statement Steve. McIntyre himself, as I point out in the post, disapproves of Cuccinelli's action. Neither you nor Cuccinelli's office are qualified in any way to pass the sweeping judgment you're quite happy to declare on Mann's work.

Bryan Walker May 9, 2010 at 2:50 am

This is an appalling statement Steve. McIntyre himself, as I point out in the post, disapproves of Cuccinelli's action. Neither you nor Cuccinelli's office are qualified in any way to pass the sweeping judgment you're quite happy to declare on Mann's work.

bill May 7, 2010 at 6:53 am

Not to mention –

“The Attorney General’s office is a very reactive office. We wouldn’t be suing the EPA if the EPA did not abandon all semblance of science and law to put out its endangerment finding on the CO2. Now, let’s make them all happy just for a moment and everybody just hold your breath,” Cuccinelli waited several seconds before saying “There you go, just a short period of time with no CO2. Now the trees are going protest but at least the EPA will be happy”.

And

we are not prepared to stand by while the EPA proceeds to implement job-destroying regulations based on unverifiable and unrepeatable so-called science

Unverifiable and unrepeatable? This guy should tour with Lord Monckton!

'Kinda reasonable', huh? Well, on Planet Wrathall I suppose he is…

(On the entertainment side, this is the same guy who recently changed the use of the Seal of the State of Virginia within his office to suit his prudish tastes.)

Sorry, whose credibility is collapsing again?

Bryan Walker May 6, 2010 at 10:33 pm

All right, for "climate change denier" read "human-caused climate change denier", as everyone else reading this post will understand.

Leapy99 May 7, 2010 at 2:31 am

I must write in support of Prof. Mann to give him his correct title.
This is just a political witch hunt trying to find more dirt on scientists that investigate climate change and sully their names with at best dubious aspersions.
Philibert's arguments are amusing. By extension we should ban from scientific input all of the climate deniers who spout false information, which is nearly all of them. This would be a one sided argument, but the funny thing is, in the realm of clearing thinking adults and real scientists, it already is.
Check out the link below from many scientists including a few Nobels asking us all to return to focus on the science and ignore the underhand tactics of the climate deniers. Of course this won't sway public opinion as the waters are too dirty, but it is a step in the right direction.
Thank the stars above that I am a scientist that does not work in the field of climate change.

Philibert May 7, 2010 at 10:23 am

"Thank the stars above that I am a scientist that does not work in the field of climate change."
and if you were involved in or have some friends/relatives involved in, you will have a clear view on how science works for climatology. The process is simple if you want public funds the only policy is the following one : Your are with us (AGW) or you are against us…..
And for your information the biggest "false information" can be taken in the IPCC TAR1 in 1991, with strong probability of evolution for 2010-2020….. all false.

Be concerned of climate potential change, yes
Play with people fears and fasle science, clearly no.

bill May 7, 2010 at 11:16 am

Eh? 'The process is simple if you want public funds the only policy is the following one : Your are with us (AGW) or you are against us….. ' I assume you're trying to say that only 'warmists' get funding?

Yeah, sure. If it wasn't for the oil company money all the deniers would be starving! You 'know' this how?

Are we to infer that you referring to yourself with 'if you were involved in or have some friends/relatives involved in you will have a clear view on how science works for climatology'? Well, perhaps one might! In your case I'm not so sure…

Doug May 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Philibert of course knows nothing about the scientific community. There is no us or them. You work stands or falls on it merits. The reason that Lindzen recent work has been dismissed is because it does not stand up. if he were to publish something tomorrow that stood up to questioning adding weight to the argument that humans are NOT causing warming then a lot of people in the climate science community would be really interested in that work.

They would then apply for funding to further explore this new insight. See you can get funding in climate science that over turns current thinking. You just have to have a good idea. Unfortunately there have been no good ideas that contradict our current understanding of the climate system.

I look forward to someone finding them, but until then I will support the current consensus in the science.

bill May 7, 2010 at 3:06 am

This has echoes of Monckton's 'thoughts' as part of his 'scientific' advisor status to the UKIP, that the case for AGW should be decided in a court of law. Nonsense really.

Philibert May 6, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Mister M. Mann is a so " internationally respected and highly cited climate scientist" that is famous HockeyCross Stick has been retrieved from the IPCC AR4. He is so "independent" that he, in one of his emails with Wigley (Climategate):
"Wigley to Mann: If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find
documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted…. Mann
(eight months later): The GRL leak may have been plugged up now w/ new editorial leadership there…."
..they clearly mention their acts to control adverse publications.
He may be not deserved to be prosecuted by Cuccineli ….but clearly to be banned from scientific IPCC works.

Doug May 7, 2010 at 3:48 am

I can't be bothered with the email stuff. I am pretty sure that it is being taken out context. However, even if it is true it does not make a difference to the science, it just shows that scientists are people and can get pissed off like anyone else. That is why we have multiple forms of peer review.

The science indicates that the globe is warming, we can measure it. We can't identify any natural cause for the warming and we know that CO2 is a warming agent. We are releasing a lot of CO2.

These facts are undenialable (except by those not attached to reality). They are sufficent to convince me that we are causing the warming. Our understanding of past natural climate changes at both the global and regional levels indicate that such events have adverse impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity (increased rates of extinction) and in more recent time human societies. This makes me concerned about the difficulties that will be faced by future generations. Caution indicates pre-emptive action to avoid or mitigate these effects, especailly when these actions can be justified other reasons (i.e. energy security).

Philibert May 7, 2010 at 10:13 am

Dear Doug,

If you don't see the difference on how the Mann's chart has been used between AR3 (Hockey Stick) and classic Mann's publication 2006 in AR4 mixed with other less controversial charts, YOU keep talking rubbish.

Taking into account that most of the final trend is taken from tree rings analysis, you better take a look on the reality of the Grudd works that strangely do not create any hockey stick (and Grudd is not supposed to be a skeptical)…. and with an open mind the McIntyre re-analysis.

For the rest your assement is a non sense in terms of science (CO2 a warming agent…very funny). You are free to believe that Climategate is only a "out of context' mess….. but I don't know who will be the most "not attached to reality" between us…..
Peer reviewed publication never mean "true result" above all when auditors are linked to the author of the publication (no conspiracy theory, we all face the same friendly business in our scientific publications).

Don't try to hide yourself behind that poor future generations to motivate your weak theory. Nobel lies remain lies.

There is a global warming in the last decades, we are reeaising CO2 (it's less true for Dev. Countries (exc. USA), but more than accurate for Emerg. ones). But with +0,55°C to + 0,73°C in 150 years (the only thing we can be sure of), while world population increased from 1 to 6 billions human beings….. sorry to tell you that but I don't see anything to be alarmed on… even with 1 or 2 more °C before the end of the century ……

By the way I always been amused by that strange dual theory sold by the AGW alarmist : danger of a continuous fossil energy production releasing CO2 for the next 100 years and the necessity to change our energy dependancy because of the nearly end (in the next decades) of these fossil energies.
When the AGW "club" considers that a Lindzen (for example) is the best climatologist before AR3 and the worst after… we clearly understand that the discussion is not on a scientific basis but on a political one.

Let's make science not science fiction.

NB: thanks to Bryan Walker for the precision on Saiers position, but if it was true I don't see why Wigley and Mann worried about his position (whatever the context of their emails).

dappledwater May 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm

"Sorry to tell you that but I don't see anything to be alarmed on… even with 1 or 2 more °C before the end of the century " – Philibert

So you brazenly admit your ignorance of climate science?. Not very assuring.

"By the way I always been amused by that strange dual theory sold by the AGW alarmist : danger of a continuous fossil energy production releasing CO2 for the next 100 years and the necessity to change our energy dependancy because of the nearly end (in the next decades) of these fossil energies. " – Philibert

Hmmm, it may seem contradictory to you, however did you ever consider oil and coal are both fossil fuels, but not exactly the same?. Easily extractable oil is likely to run out in the coming decades, coal not so much.

"When the AGW "club" considers that a Lindzen (for example) is the best climatologist before AR3 and the worst after… we clearly understand that the discussion is not on a scientific basis but on a political one." – Philibert

What is an AGW club?. Why did they consider him any good?. We had that rather flawed paper from him and Choi last year, and this after the guffaw inducing Iris effect – you know the one contradicted by the ice ages.

dappledwater May 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm

"Sorry to tell you that but I don't see anything to be alarmed on… even with 1 or 2 more °C before the end of the century " – Philibert

So you brazenly admit your ignorance of climate science?. Not very assuring.

"By the way I always been amused by that strange dual theory sold by the AGW alarmist : danger of a continuous fossil energy production releasing CO2 for the next 100 years and the necessity to change our energy dependancy because of the nearly end (in the next decades) of these fossil energies. " – Philibert

Hmmm, it may seem contradictory to you, however did you ever consider oil and coal are both fossil fuels, but not exactly the same?. Easily extractable oil is likely to run out in the coming decades, coal not so much.

"When the AGW "club" considers that a Lindzen (for example) is the best climatologist before AR3 and the worst after… we clearly understand that the discussion is not on a scientific basis but on a political one." – Philibert

What is an AGW club?. Why did they consider him any good?. We had that rather flawed paper from him and Choi last year, and this after the guffaw inducing Iris effect – you know the one contradicted by the ice ages.

Doug May 7, 2010 at 11:12 pm

A couple of comments on the two previous posts.

In the AR3 report the IPCC put the poxy reconstruction up front because they thought it proivided a useful overview of the issue and therefore useful as a communcition tool. It became, and still is, a denialist football misrepresented and used as a distraction by the denalist community. To try and get the discssion back on track a decision was made not to put it up front despite further research adding weight to the value of the methodology and further supporting the earlier results.

Philibert argues that peer review is a friendly cosy arrangement among friends. Not in my experience. I don't know where he has published but I suggest he try a more respected journal to find out how the peer review process works.

Doug May 7, 2010 at 3:49 am

P.S. The Hockey stick is alive and well in chapter 6 of the WG1 AR4 report. So stop talking rubbish. see
http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/

Bryan Walker May 7, 2010 at 3:58 am

Philibert, here's one of many possible sources that will give you a correct picture of the status of Mann's hockey stick. So far as the email exchange is concerned, serious scientists have every right to be concerned if poor quality papers are finding publication in reputable journals. Saiers was not ousted, but finished his term out.

Bryan Walker May 7, 2010 at 3:58 am

Philibert, here's one of many possible sources that will give you a correct picture of the status of Mann's hockey stick. So far as the email exchange is concerned, serious scientists have every right to be concerned if poor quality papers are finding publication in reputable journals. Saiers was not ousted, but finished his term out.

Leapy99 May 7, 2010 at 2:33 am
bill May 7, 2010 at 4:54 am

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.

From an open letter signed by 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences – including 11 Nobel Laureates – to be published in Science tomorrow.

Also worth noting –

There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

bill May 7, 2010 at 4:54 am

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.

From an open letter signed by 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences – including 11 Nobel Laureates – to be published in Science tomorrow.

Also worth noting –

There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

Doug May 7, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Part 2

DP's comment on fossil fuel is spot on. As conventional crude oil is harder to find and is no longer meeting BAU demand non-conventional fossil fuels (and biofuels) are expected to make up the difference. These fuels sources include tar sands, oil shales (a misnomer), heavy oils (bitumen), coal to liquids and the direct use fo coal in power stations. All of which produce much higher CO2 emissions. These resources will not meet BAU demand for energy due to issues around scalability, energy quality, net energy etc. but if used to try and sustain the current energy use paradigm they will have a huge adverse impact on the climate.

Now I will take a alarmist position, going down a fossil future is much more likely to lead to economic failure than any political intervention that puts a price on carbon.

Bryan Walker May 7, 2010 at 7:48 pm

This Washington Post editorial is encouraging.

"We knew Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had declared war on reality. Now he has declared war on the freedom of academic inquiry as well. We hope that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the University of Virginia have the spine to repudiate Mr. Cuccinelli's abuse of the legal code. If they do not, the quality of Virginia's universities will suffer for years to come."

The WP editors have a generally poor record on climate change issues, but they haven't lost all judgment.

bill May 7, 2010 at 10:19 pm

When you reach a certain level of transparent nuttiness – this is a man apparently referred to as 'Kookinelli' in his home state – you start becoming a liability rather than an asset to 'respectable' mainstream denial.

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