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ACLU, AAUP to U-Va.: Go to court over Cuccinelli demand for climate change records

Rosalind Helderman

The ACLU of Virginia and the American Assocation of University Professors have sent a joint letter to John O. Wynne, the rector of the University of Virginia, urging that he and other members of the Board of Visitors "use every legal avenue at your disposal" to resist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's civil information demand on the work of climate scientist and former U.-Va. professor Michael Mann.

Read the whole letter here.

In the letter, AAUP General Counsel Martha S. West and ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg offer their assistance to the university, if the visitors choose to seek judicial review of Cuccinelli's civil investigation demand. The demand, in effect a subpoena, is part of a process outlined in the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. Cuccinelli has said he is investigating whether Mann defrauded taxpayers when he sought public grants for his research.

"The nature of scientific research is to generate debate both within and without the scientific community. Scientists within a field frequently disagree about methodological questions such as how data should be collected, which data are relevant, and how data should be analyzed and interpreted. If scientists refrain from novel methodological approaches because they may be characterized as 'fraudulent,' then scientific research, and, by extension, society as a whole, will be the loser," they write.

We've reached out to the university for a response and will let you know what we hear back. So far, in a statement, the university has said it believes it has a legal obligation to answer Cuccinelli's demand and will do so "to the extent required by law."

Cuccinelli: I'm not 'targeting scientific conclusions'

U-Va. faculty senate: Actions 'threaten academic freedom'

McDonnell can't recall civil demand similar to Cuccinelli's

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By Rosalind Helderman  |  May 6, 2010; 12:04 PM ET
Categories:  Rosalind Helderman  | Tags: American Civil Liberties Union, Ken Cuccinelli, University of Virginia, Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act  
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Evangelical Christians cannot use government funds to proselytize and scientists cannot use government funds for political purposes. There is a right to review how public funds were spent.

Posted by: blasmaic | May 6, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

The operative words are "public grants." No one seems to question his right to pursue "novel methodological approaches", but the use of public funds should carry with it a responsibility to act ethically in the public's interests. A private benefactor or foundation would scrutinize methods and approaches as well.

Posted by: beeman | May 6, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Any criminal in VA would be wise to vote for Cuccinelli when he comes up for re-election, because he spends all of his office's time on crazy political stunts like this rather than pursuing actual criminals.

Posted by: VirginiaDad | May 6, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

The proper place for the review of this material is in a scientific peer review. Cuccinelli is simply too stupid to possibly understand the material. It's clearly a witch hunt - after all - these are christians, it's all they do (it's too hard to learn science and math - far easier to "believe")

Posted by: bflorhodes | May 6, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Its one thing to disagree with the man's science, its another to attack how he funded it. You better believe that Cuccinelli would NEVER have even noticed the funding of this research if the research results weren't so darned inconvenient. If we can ban smoking in public places and we're traditionally a tobacco state, why are emission reductions so hard?

Posted by: dcombs001 | May 6, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Cuccinelli is a member and proud spokesman for The Tea Party which is funded by Oil and Coal interests. He is abusing his office and Taxpayer resources to pursue the Oil and Coal Tea Party agenda.

The primary funding sources for the Tea Party are two conservative groups: Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks which receive substantial funding from David Koch of Koch Industries, the largest privately-held energy company in the country, and the conservative Koch Family Foundations. Koch industries are responsible for hundreds of Oil spills spread over multiple states.

Why isn’t the Tea Party organizing and demonstrating against Industries causing the Deaths and Lost Livelihoods of Millions of Americans? Why aren't they protesting Lack of Regulation against Wall Street, Oil and Coal companies that are Killing People and caused the Financial Devastation of Millions of Americans? Why aren't they protesting against BP and Halliburton's Gross Negligence in the destruction of Multi-Billion dollar Tourism and Commercial Fishing Industries in the Gulf Coast Oil disaster?

Because the Companies Responsible is who Started, Fund and Direct Tea Party actions.
The Tea Party has a Clear Allegiance: The Rich, Oil and Coal and Kookanelli is firmly in their pocket.

Posted by: liveride | May 6, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Excuse me, but if Prof Mann has followed sound scientific research principles and methodologies, then he has nothing to fear. If, on the other hand, he used spurious methodologies in data collection and analysis, then his conclusions are suspect and a complete waste of public funds. As a taxpayer, I believe that any scientific research subsidized by the public must be available for evaluation and that includes whatever methodologies were employed. Is Ms. West's reference to "novel" methods simply a euphemism for "questionable" or "unfounded"? Let Prof Mann pursue his "novel" methods using private or personal funds. His position as a scientist does not insulate him from scrutiny, nor should it.

Mr. Cucinelli appears to be on sound legal footing. Whether or not he should be spending his time on this pursuit is another matter.

Posted by: mtaweigh | May 6, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of the attack by the Church against Galileo's scientific finding that the Earth revolved around the Sun not the other way around. Galileo was right - the Church was wrong.
Cuccinelli doesn't like the findings of Dr.Mann about climate change but that doesn't mean it isn't true. It just means that Mr. Cuccinelli has a medieval mindset. In my opinion, a closed mind because he thinks HE'S right.

Posted by: mcdonalsherry | May 6, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure that almost every one of the over 3,000 universities and colleges in the U.S. will support the Univ. of Virginia in fighting this clear challenge to academic freedom. We saw what happened during the McCarthy era and we can't let it happen again!If he get away with this, it will create a chilling effect on any academic research that doesn't fit with the right-wing, extremist agenda.

I also wonder why the voters and taxpayers of Virginia allow this fanatic to spend their money on his crusade.

Posted by: gary16 | May 6, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

This guy should be impeached. How do we get this started?

Posted by: patryot | May 6, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

If some of these commentators would take the time to read the ClimateGate history, they'd be hardpressed to criticize Virginia's position. What's also amazing is neither is the science that complicated.

Read a climate tutorial before pontificating!

Posted by: gofigure | May 6, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

The entire climate thing is such a bunch of baloney and truly a waste of taxpayer dollars. There's Al Gore adding to his billions with his investments in the "greening" of America. Now follow this people: Climate change advocates (and they changed the name from global warming, hmmm) advocate that the "changes" coming will raise sea levels 24+ feet or something ridiculous like that. Yet Mr. money-bags Gore just bought a $9 million house, on the beach, in California. Now would not those waters rise also???? Liberals are so gullible.

Posted by: ReneesOpinion | May 6, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

My, MY!!

Is there something they are afraid of?

Its science. Should be open for all to see.

Posted by: 15of18 | May 6, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Cuccinelli and his army of morons are wasting Virginia's funds pursuing the political agenda of the flat-earth society. He should be investigated, impeached and sent back to the rock he crawled out from under. Political quacks like him have no business deciding what is scientifically valid and what is not. And his lunatic fringe followers couldn't pass an 6th grade spelling quiz, let alone understand atmospheric science.

Posted by: thuff7 | May 6, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Imagine if Goldman Sachs was investigated by a panel of Goldman Sachs investors, instead of by the government. Imagine if BP's Oil spill was investigated by the BP Board of Directors. Imagine a soldier in Iraq being tried by his friends in the squad, and not allowing victims to testify.

None of those would be acceptable. So why is it not only acceptable, but mandatory that Climate Science only be investigated by those with a vested interest? We expect our government to investigate those who cannot be trusted to do their own investigations, so we must allow the government to do an investigation even when we believe that the parties are trustworthy (the scientists).

Climate Science can't afford any more forbidden texts. Every time we object to a review, it influences the public into believing we have something to hide. By the time the truth comes out, nobody cares.

McCarthyism was investigating people's political affiliation. Cuccelli is investigating one person's actions with Taxpayer money, as per VA law. Just because a theoretical conservative is investigating a theoretical liberal doesn't make it McCarthyism.

Taxpayer money was used to fund research of public interest, the results of which are being used to justify billions in dollars in new taxes. If that doesn't demand an investigation, what does?

Posted by: ecocampaigner | May 6, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

If this professor really is blameless as the NAS has found him to be, then he should try to sue Cuccenelli under Federal law for violations of his civil rights, since if there is no fraud that is what this amounts to. A Federal lawsuit, if not immediately thrown out, due to corruption or just lawyers looking out for lawyers, would reveal much about Cuccinelli's motivations and HIS emails about Mann and who knows what else, but it ought to be tried.

Posted by: boatbrain | May 6, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Good grief. Where does this philosophy end? I see. We'll force the scientific community to start thinking twice about seeking government money. Better to let scientists anguish over potential attorneys fees to mount a defense at some later date should their conclusions displease an elected official? Have I got that right? Is that the conservative approach?

In answer to some of the questions above, yes, taxpayer money was used to fund his research. This professor does not write legislation, he simply reveals scientific truths. Thats the beauty of science.

There is also a small group of scientists out there sowing doubt that have done absolutely no primary research. They're simply being hired by energy companies to create the incorrect sense that the scientific community is continuing to debate the conclusions of the IPCC. Does the Attorney General intend to sue them also?

How absurd to point to a University professor as being swayed by the money when we all know who's got the most at stake: The incumbent energy companies.

I have no problem with the oil companies. I have no problem with oil. But oil industry experts (Matthew Simmons, T. Boone Pickens, Dr. Robert Hirsch) are telling us that global production will soon peak and begin a remorseless decline just as US production did back in 1970. It will take us decades to re-engineer how our economy can sustain growth in an era when we have less oil each year anyway.

In a post-Peak Oil era, it will continue to become more expensive every year. Ask yourself this: at what price/barrel will our economy simply collapse? $200/bbl? $300/bbl?

America and the world are flirting with twin converging catastrophes: Global Warming and Peak Oil. Yes, they're both real. If you care about your children and grandchildren at all, you care about solving these problems. Attacking the messengers undermines our chances of meeting the challenges they pose.

And what leadership can we expect from people like Mr. Cuccinelli? "Pay no attention to these challenges. They're too expensive to fix. Let's just hope they go away."

Did we learn nothing in 2008? How about 1973? How about 1978? If you thought that was bad, believe me, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Posted by: sdavis3398 | May 6, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

It is clear Cucinelli has an ideological ax to grind. I bet he wishes he could bring back the Inquisition to make sure his version of the world prevailed. On the other hand, I wonder why the scientific principle of open sharing of the methods and results, does not prompt the researcher to just turn over his data and records. Why give the anti-science crowd any reason to be suspicious and claim cover up?

Posted by: meltee | May 7, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

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