If Virginia (Professor Michael Mann’s former haunt) and Penn State (Professor Michael Mann’s current home) face off again next year, I already know who I’m cheering for. Sorry UVA , I know it’s not your fault, but your state’s Attorney General has, in one week, gone from lame to dangerous.
Earlier this week VA AG Ken Cuccinelli felt it worth his time to deliver new lapel pins to his staff with the usually exposed left breast of the state seal’s Virtus covered with a breastplate. And now, as Dahlia Lithwick reports, he’s burdening the state’s flagship university, already considering increasing class size due to budget problems, with a witch hunt against former professor Michael Mann, creator of the controversial hockey-stick climate data. Incoming freshmen: if you feel like you’re not getting enough access to your professors, consider joining the college democrats.
During exams, the University will be forced to produce a decade worth of documents and correspondence, an exercise expected to cost up to half a million dollars. He justifies the action under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, which, in this case, if all of Professor Mann’s grants were returned, would save the taxpayers…half a million dollars. But, it won’t.
Boy does Lithwick take him to task. Mann’s data has been repeatedly scrutinized — by a commission created by Republican Congressman Joe Barton, a National Science Foundation panel, a National Research Council report, and a Penn State panel — and, each time, no malpractice has been found. Cuccinelli certainly knows this, and Lithwick suggests another goal, scaring those who might want do worthwhile research in the future. Limiting cutting-edge work at your flagship university? That’s a great idea.
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.
Even Mann-critic Tom Fuller has issued a letter to Cuccinelli to back off:
There are ample avenues of professional and academic recourse for people like me who think he has done something wrong. But being wrong is not a crime, and intimidating scientists not a path that this country, including I presume Virginians, should ever pursue. You may consult with colleagues in Salem to determine how long it takes to live this type of thing down.
I would be letting Cuccinelli off the hook if I simply called his actions irresponsible. It’s pretty hard to see his repeated actions (see Lithwick) as anything but an attempt to pander to a small minority for his own political benefit and to the general detriment of all Virginians.