Climate scientist calls Va. attorney general’s fraud probe ‘harassment’

Ken Cuccinelli, now the Virginia attorney general, during the 2005 state Senate session. Cuccinelli is pursuing a climate scientist for fraud against tax payers. AP Photo/Steve Helber

An influential climate scientist who has been accused by the Virginia attorney general of defrauding the public said Tuesday that the investigation into his work amounted to “criminal harassment,” and warned that the case could set a “horrifying” precedent if allowed to proceed.

Michael Mann, the former University of Virginia researcher whose well-known “hockey stick” graph was one of the first and most powerful displays of rising global temperatures in the industrial era, said in an interview that the attorney general’s probe could open up scientists in any number of fields to a flood of politically motivated lawsuits and investigations.

“It’s very clear that the intent here is to chill scientific inquiry in areas that are inconvenient to some very powerful special interests,” Mann said. “It would basically mean that politicians would have license to harass scientists who are engaged in research that might be inconvenient to their political beliefs.”

He added: “It’s basically a return to the McCarthyist witch hunts of decades ago.”

The Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has filed a civil investigative demand with the University of Virginia, where Mann worked until 2005, requesting “any correspondence, messages or e-mails” between Mann and other prominent climate scientists. Cuccinelli has also asked for any “documents, things or data” that might have been used to support Mann’s applications for grant money. Mann received about $500,000 in public funding while at UVA.

Cuccinelli is using his authority under the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, a Virginia law passed in 2002 that empowers the attorney general to investigate wrongful uses of taxpayer dollars. In court last week, a lawyer for Cuccinelli’s office argued that there was evidence to suggest a “consistent pattern of manipulation of data” in Mann’s work.

The claims are based in large part on hacked e-mails released last year that climate change skeptics say showed a concerted effort by scientists to conceal or manipulate data that might have undercut claims of a link between human activity and global warming. The so-called “Climategate” e-mails included several missives about Mann’s work, in which Mann and his colleagues seemed to suggest that he had used a statistical “trick” to “hide the decline” in global temperatures over the years.

But as several investigations and editorials in scientific journals have shown, the messages were taken out of context, their meaning distorted. Pennsylvania State University, Mann’s current employer, dismissed the claims as unfounded in two separate investigations, and Mann’s work has been upheld as sound by the National Academy of Sciences. A British panel commissioned to investigate the leak of the hacked e-mails also found that they contained no evidence of wrongdoing, as did a committee formed by the British parliament.

Those findings have not deterred Cuccinelli, an avowed climate change skeptic who is also suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block the implementation of tough new federal emissions standards. The EPA declared greenhouse gases a public health risk last year, allowing the agency to regulate emissions under the federal Clean Air Act. Cuccinelli is joining business groups and conservative activists in challenging that determination, and critics say the suit against Mann is an attempt to undermine the science behind the new regulations.

Cuccinelli said in a statement last week that his office had the authority under the law to request Mann’s records, which he said were stored on government databases. He also denied that the investigation was politically motivated. “Our office is investigating whether a false claim was presented to the university to secure payment under government-funded grants,” Cuccinelli said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

Judge Paul Peatross of Albemarle Circuit Court in Virginia has said he will rule on Cuccinelli’s request by the end of the month. Several advocacy organizations filed amicus briefs siding with Mann and the University of Virginia on Friday, including the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which argued that the records were protected by the First Amendment. “The attorney general’s approach — investigating a professor on suspicion of fraud simply because his work has sparked political and scientific controversy — could have a grave chilling effect on scholarship and research at universities,” the group wrote in its brief.

Francesca Grifo, director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program, said in a statement that Cuccinelli’s investigation could also touch off a wave of similar probes by public officials across the country. “Calling politically controversial scientific findings ‘fraudulent’ is dangerous,” Grifo said, adding that such charges could undermine the scientific community’s rigorous peer review process.

Mann and other climate scientists, including the editors of the journal Nature in a May editorial, have compared the legal assault on climate science to the strategy of tobacco companies from a decade ago. Major energy companies, they say, have funded think tanks and donated to political campaigns in an effort to undermine the integrity of climate change research, stifling political attempts to curb global warming.

And the tactics have worked, Mann said. Cap and trade legislation seems to have stalled in Congress this year, and last year’s climate change summit in Copenhagen failed to deliver a strong international consensus on how to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“What we have is a very successful smear campaign that likely stalled progress at a critical juncture,” Mann said of the climate change skeptics. “They’re scratching and clawing and doing everything they can.”

He added: “Some lasting damage has been done.”

 
SUGGESTED STORIES
  • Differing views on fracking's impact
    Studies conducted on the counties above the Marcellus and Barnett Shale for example — where extensive drilling has already taken place — present mixed economic results.
  • thumb
    Too much solar energy?
    The proliferation of privately owned solar has large power companies in Germany worried.
  • thumb
    Nominee has industry ties
    Energy secretary nominee had deep connections to industry, including as a paid adviser to BP until 2011.

Comments

  • Animal Wallpapers

    “What we have is a very successful smear campaign that likely stalled progress at a critical juncture,” Mann said of the climate change skeptics. “They’re scratching and clawing and doing everything they can.”

    I dont now….?

  • John Logan

    It is apparent after reading many of the emails that there was an organized effort to suppress any data that did not support the AGW theory that is being pushed.
    The more I look into what the media has called “climategate” the more something stinks.
    Why don’t we ever hear the media talking about what actually has been occurring with the manipulation of data instead of always hearing them discuss the misinterpretation of the word “trick”?
    There is scientific fraud happening here.

  • Matt

    It’s perfectly reasonable for government officials to demand satisfaction when government money is being poured into various pursuits, whether it’s science or the arts. Climate scientists are almost notorious for not sharing their data and work with anyone other than fellow global warming advocates, even when asking for purposes of review — of course, by peers who have questions and/or reservations about the conclusions drawn. If the truth doesn’t need anyone to provide cover for it, then why do they not share openly? That’s a perfectly reasonable question.

  • MetalRabbit13

    John Logan, did you actually read this paragraph: “But as several investigations and editorials in scientific journals have shown, the messages were taken out of context, their meaning distorted. Pennsylvania State University, Mann’s current employer, dismissed the claims as unfounded in two separate investigations, and Mann’s work has been upheld as sound by the National Academy of Sciences. A British panel commissioned to investigate the leak of the hacked e-mails also found that they contained no evidence of wrongdoing, as did a committee formed by the British parliament.”? Do you really think that the National Academy of Sciences would stand behind fraud?

  • Stephanie

    Ken Cuchinelli has nothing but attempt to push his personal views on the State of Virginia since the day he stepped into office. The bulk of the cases he’s involved in and the opinions he’s issued have more to to do with his little pet projects than the well-being of the state. He’s even gone so far as to suggest that our State Seal needs an overhaul since Virtus has her breast bared (gasp!) This suit against the University of Virginia is nothing more than an attempt at a frantic dig through records in order to further his personal, uninformed views. I do not appreciate my tax money being spent in such a frivolous manner in this economy; however, our AG continues to tilt at windmills. I wish UVa all success in this case.

  • Jan Tessier

    Anyone who believes that global climate change isn’t happening also believes in the Tooth Fairy, the Rapture, and Elvis being alive on some island. Idiots. I hate this country now. It’s run by corporate fascists and stupid followers.

  • Ron

    Where I live, the Republican sheriff a few years ago spent $300,000 taxpayer dollars to fight a contempt of court fine of $300 dollars. After incidents lke that one and the Bush administration shipping pallets of paper dollars to Iraq with no accountability from the contractors who gobbled them up, after the decades-ong syystem-destroying policies David Stockman recently called “The Four Deformations of the Apocalypse” in a recent New York Times editorial, which have ruined Americans’ prospects for prosperity forever, after also thwarting a concerted push for alternative energy sources for decades… well, I’m amazed even the rich are still voting Republican any more. Truly, the party gets by on a coalition of the rich and the stupid. Thousands of studies have confirmed man-made climate change, and events in this decade have shown estimates of the damage were (truly) conservative. In that light, it is particularly shameful that Barack Obama, who vowed to “restore science to its rightful place,” has now matched Bush/Christie Whitman’s EPA for deceit with his phoney “swim in the Gulf” at Alligator Point Aug. 14. He seemed sincere for a while, even after being sworn in as President. Now he stands altogether naked as “Bush II” instead of a “hope for change.” The Republicans are undoubtedly the worst of the worst, but the two party system can’t seem to deliver much better where it counts the most. Americans have to stop letting the tail of this country wag the dog. So, who’s really pulling the strings backstage, and how can we dislodge them from their positions of power? We’ve got to stop wishfully thinking, and start taking names and (honest-to-God-really) kicking asses. That’s going to be a hell of a tough job, considering all the money power and the top officialdom are arrayed against the financial solvency, physical and mental health of the general population. I think we’re headed for the whole country waking up one morning to discover it’s become a never-ending zombie movie.

  • Dane

    The evidence suggests that humanity’s contribution to the CO2 content in the atmosphere is 0.03% of the total pre-existing 3%. Nobody EVER says anything about the SUN which has MORE than enough ability to raise the Global Temp without the aid of humans. Argon is a more potent greenhouse gas and it makes up 26% of the air we breathe. When will people realize that the numbers were falsified to promote stricter government regulations so they can make MORE MONEY.

  • greg

    Two points to make here:
    One) The AG has no clue about science or he would quickly recognize that all grants given to any life scientist could be recalled due to “fraud” as the process of science builds itself upon failed theories. Two) So, do you think that this right wing schill will go after faith-based initiatives supported in part through my taxes? How much evidence would one need to prove is fraudulent?

  • Helena

    This kind of corruption in our government *is* horrifying. Far from Mann being investigated, the tables should immediately be turned to rid Virginia of such a cynical, transparently partisan douchebag as Cuccinelli.

  • Helena

    Also, @Ron: excellent analysis of what’s become of our country–thank you. It’s genuinely criminal what our government is.

  • bruce ryan

    Jan it just isn’t so. AGW is nothing to do with climate change, its a power play. Please study the responses to AGW and you will find for yourself that the scare mongering is lies.

    The level of corruption involved in the Warming fraternity outweighs anything big business could attempt.

  • http://usaads.biz/losangeles/community/politics/ucs-union-of-concerned-propagandists-world/ UCS (Union of Concerned Propagandists) (World) | USA ADS – Los Angeles Ads
  • Beam Me Up Scotty

    Cuchi should be disbarred.
    I generally ignore denialists… most of them are tools of Big Oil and Big Coal… but to use your power to intimidate scientists because you don’t like what they discover is misconduct “under color of law”
    We need to get together and file a class action suit against those financing the climate change denialist campaign.

  • Mrs. H

    In an article published in Discovery magazine several years ago, a well-known scientist defended his work. His scientific research showed that the sun’s solar rays have a great deal to do with global warming. The article also stated that global warming has happened before–during Roman times, long before the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately for him, this was an unpopular discovery. This scientist even recieved death threats. I wonder why? I also wonder why I haven’t heard anything about his theory since then.

  • Dallas Alphonso

    “In an article published in Discovery magazine several years ago, a well-known scientist defended his work. His scientific research showed that the sun’s solar rays have a great deal to do with global warming. The article also stated that global warming has happened before–during Roman times, long before the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately for him, this was an unpopular discovery. This scientist even recieved death threats. I wonder why? I also wonder why I haven’t heard anything about his theory since then.”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Cause it’s junk science. So there is a correlation between the sun heating up the planet and the industrial revolution and that disproves Global Warming! Quite the contrary, that is the whole point, the additional CO2 generated in our atmosphere, by the burning of fossil fuels, is storing more of the sun’s energy in the atmosphere than it should and is thus causes global warming.

  • cato

    Go Ken! This piece of damage control from PBS sounds like the Attorney General may be making an impression on the riders of the climate fraud bandwagon. Too bad that any damages they may eventually be forced to pony up could never come close to paying for the damage already done to the economy (i.e., to everyone) by even the present partial adoption of their ideas.

    For a review of the facts, you suckers who still believe in anthropogenic global warming can check out the speech by Lord Monckton here:
    http://www.globalclimatescam.com/2009/10/climate-chains-and-lord-christopher-monckton/
    Here is another talk by him on the details of Climategate:http://www.globalclimatescam.com/2009/11/lord-christopher-monkton-on-climategate/

  • Charles

    You facts are wrong Argon is 0.93 percent and co2 0.02 percent. If you are going to be a climate skeptics get your facts correct.