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Monday, August 30, 2010

Koch Brothers and Big Coal foiled again! Judge throws out Cuccinelli's harassment suit against Michael Mann. Kudos to Virginia Judge Paul M. Peatross, Jr.!

Breaking: Judge rules against Cuccinelli’s witch-hunt aimed at Michael Mann and climate science

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, August 30, 2010
An Albemarle  County Circuit Court  judge has ruled that the Virginia attorney general’s office has not demonstrated a “reason to believe” that the University of Virginia has documents and materials that are relevant to its investigation into possible fraud by former U. Va. climate science professor Michael Mann. 
In a six-page decision, Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. also ruled that the attorney general also has not sufficiently “stated the nature of the conduct” believed to constitute possible fraud by Mann alleged to satisfy the requirements of the law under which the office can issue a civil investigative demand for information from the university.
That’s the big breaking story from the Richmond Times Dispatch.   Apparently even in Virginia the AG actually has to have an “objective basis” for legal action, rather than simply being allowed to engage in ideological witchhunts.

UPDATE:  The ruling is here.  The WashPost reports, “The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli” and adds more detail:

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do. 
Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate.  
But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli’s underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli’s deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann’s fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case. 
“The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann’s work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Peatross wrote. 
Additionally, the judge said Cuccinelli could only ask about one of five grants issued to Mann that the attorney general has been seeking to investigate. That’s because the other four involved the use of federal, not state, funds.
I’m told that one remaining grant is not for paleoclimate work.

Mann is one of America’s top climatologists.  Few if any climate scientists in the world have been as falsely accused — and thoroughly vindicated — over both their academic practices and scientific results as Dr. Michael Mann (see Much-vindicated Michael Mann and Hockey Stick get final exoneration from Penn State — time for some major media apologies and retractionsand Final ‘forensic’ UK report on emails vindicates climate science and research underlying the Hockey Stick).

Here is Dr. Mann’s response to this ruling:

I’m very pleased that the judge has ruled in our favor. It is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically-motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests. 
I’m looking forward now to trying to get back full time to the things I really care about: doing research and extending the forefront of our scientific understanding of the science of climate and climate change, teaching and advising students and postdoctoral scholars, and doing the best I can to communicate to the public important scientific findings.
As Nature magazine had editorialized back in May (see Nature rains on Cuccinelli: “The University of Virginia should fight a witch-hunt by the state’s attorney general.”)
Cuccinelli’s actions against Mann hark back to an era when tobacco companies smeared researchers as part of a sophisticated public relations strategy to raise doubts over the science showing that tobacco caused cancer, and delayed the introduction of smoking curbs for decades. Researchers found themselves bogged down in responding to subpoenas and legal challenges, which deterred others from the field. Climate-change deniers have adopted similar strategies with alacrity and, unfortunately, considerable success.
The key point about Mann’s “Hockey Stick” work is that it was repeatedly attacked and utterly vindicated long before we saw any of the trumped up charges around the stolen emails:
  • The Hockey Stick was affirmed in a major review by the uber-prestigious National Academy of Scientists (in media-speak, the highest scientific “court” in the land) — seeNAS Report and here.  The news story in the journal Nature (subs. req’d) on the NAS panel was headlined:  “Academy affirms hockey-stick graph“!
  • The Hockey Stick has been replicated and strengthened by numerous independent studies.  My favorite is from Science last year — see Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds.
  • Mann’s scientific and academic practices have been exonerated by multiple independent investigations as noted above.
Kudos to Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr.

UPDATE:  Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the The Union of Concerned Scientists said today:
“This is a victory for scientific discovery. This ruling makes it clear that when a state attorney general alleges fraud against a scientist, he needs actual evidence to back up his claim. 
“The scientific process works. When scientists commit fraud, other scientists discover it. In this case, independent scientists have repeatedly reviewed Michael Mann’s work and found no evidence of wrongdoing. If they had, Ken Cuccinelli’s investigation might have been appropriate. Instead, Cuccinelli targeted Mann because he disagreed with the scientist’s conclusions. These sorts of dangerous attacks distract scientists from their work and can have a chilling effect on all kinds of research. 
“Hopefully, Cuccinelli will now stop wasting taxpayer dollars on this misguided crusade against a good scientist. Scientists must be free to do their work without the fear of harassment. Then we all can benefit from the discoveries they make.
TNR’s Bradford Plumer wins the prize for best headline:  “Man’s Inhumanity To Mann.”

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