In another disturbing instance of politically-motivated intimidation of climate scientists, last week Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a new civil investigative demand (CID) to the University of Virginia for emails and documents related to Dr. Michael Mann. This follows on an earlier demand issued by Cuccinelli that was fought by the University and rejected by an Albemarle County Circuit Court judge for being unfounded. Cuccinelli's latest demand is a revised version of his first, unsuccessful CID, and attempts to work around the judge's prior ruling.
To anyone that reads Cuccinelli's demand, it looks more like a fishing expedition designed to smear scientists than a real fraud investigation. Cuccinelli demands documents related to 39 people, but many of them are unrelated to Dr. Mann's research grant that is nominally the focus of the investigation.
For example, one of the 39 is Dr. Murari Lal, an Indian glaciologist featured in news reports about an error in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC's) latest report. It is completely unclear how Dr. Lal's work is relevant to an investigation of Dr. Mann's research grant. Notably absent from the list are Dr. Mann's two co-investigators on the research grant in question. Instead, the list reads like a Google search of "climate," "emails," and "IPCC." Cuccinelli casts his net so wide he can't decide whether to ask for information relating to Dr. Vincent GrEy or Dr. Vincent GrAy and instead lists them each separately as targets of his request.
Cuccinelli's broad definition of suspected fraud would make nearly every scientific enterprise subject to a similar investigation. That is the type of behavior one might expect of Renaissance-era inquisitors or Soviet-era commissars, but is not what Americans expect from a state attorney general.
Technological innovation has been critical to the success of America. Officials should be supporting science, not silencing it. The academic community agrees: in response to the earlier CID, more than 900 Virginia scientists sent a letter to Cuccinelli stating that his demand for documents was unfounded and a form of intimidation.
Cuccinelli's justification for the latest document demands rest on claims that two of Dr. Mann's papers lacked scientific rigor. However, the National Academy of Sciences and numerous research teams have upheld the basic conclusions in Dr. Mann's papers. Further, Penn State University has already exonerated Dr. Mann in response to similar allegations.
In fact, all of the climate scientists whose emails were stolen in November of last year have been cleared of any wrongdoing by numerous panels, including the UK House of Commons and independent inquiry panels led by Lord Oxburgh and Sir Muir Russell. These reviews indicated that there was no real substance to this manufactured scandal.
Knowing that their scientific arguments are not persuasive, those that have an interest in keeping the world hooked on fossil fuels have turned to attacking the scientists themselves - but, as the email hacking incident showed, these personal attacks don't stand up to scrutiny either.
What is perhaps most appalling is that Republican leaders in Washington are pledging more Cuccinelli-style intimidation tactics, if they take control of the House. For example, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who hopes to chair the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, promises to make it a top priority to further investigate climate scientists.
The right wing assault on science poses a threat to academic freedom and open scientific inquiry. As Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, I held a hearing in May on the harassment of climate scientists and its chilling effect on the scientific enterprise. All of the witnesses decried attacks that hinder scientific research and the communication of the results to the public. Even Dr. William Happer, whose testimony was highly critical of mainstream climate science, agreed with Rep. Jay Inslee that Attorney General Cuccinelli should "knock it off".
Dr. Ben Santer, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told the Select Committee that "powerful forces of unreason" are attacking him for scientific findings that they don't want to hear. "I firmly believe that I would now be leading a different life if my research suggested that there was no human effect on climate. I would not be the subject of congressional inquiries, Freedom of Information Act requests, or e mail threats. I would not need to be concerned about the safety of my family," said Dr. Santer. The late Dr. Stephen Schneider, an early and influential voice on climate change, described a troubling shift in the climate dialogue since he first testified to Congress in the 1970s: "It was always civil. It was always bipartisan. And it has now gotten to the point where things have become accusatory and highly ideological, and that is very unfortunate."
Scientists should have the freedom to follow the science where it leads and not have to fear the consequences of sharing their results. Preserving this freedom to explore new ideas and technologies is critical to understanding our world and meeting society's great challenges. Attorney General Cuccinelli's misdirected, anti-science fishing investigation doesn't help us understand the truth of climate change or the urgent need to develop clean energy solutions.