800 VA Scientists, Academic Leaders Tell Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to Stop Harassing Climate Scientist

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Elliott Negin
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800 VA Scientists, Academic Leaders Tell Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to Stop Harassing Climate Scientist

WASHINGTON - More than 800 scientists and academics in Virginia, including nearly 300 from the University of Virginia (UVA), today sent a letter
(pdf) to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, urging him to drop
his investigation of former UVA Professor Michael Mann's scientific
research.

“This letter shows that much of Virginia's
scientific and academic community is appalled that their attorney
general has launched such a blatantly political investigation,” said
Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which facilitated the organizing
of the letter.

UVA has until Thursday, May 27, to decide
whether it will contest the attorney general’s “civil investigative
demand,” which essentially subpoenaed documents related to state grants
Mann received. Cuccinelli, who has said he does not believe climate
change is caused by human activity, is investigating Mann under the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, which makes it illegal to “knowingly” present a “false or fraudulent” claim to the state to obtain compensation.

“Labeling
scientific findings ‘fraudulent’ sets a disturbing precedent for
attacking peer-reviewed science in the legal system,” said Grifo.

The
attorney general's action is just the most recent unjustified attack
against climate science and scientists, but the letter signers fear it
could have a much more lasting and damaging effect.

“Science
is a search for the truth,” said Jeff Holt, an associate professor in
UVA's Department of Neuroscience, one of the 810 people who signed the
letter. “If scientists are hassled, reprimanded or sued based on their
data or their findings, it will dissuade scientists in their search for
the truth. This lawsuit harkens back to the Dark Ages when scientists
were tried for heresy when their findings ran contrary to the dogma of
the day.” 

Another letter signatory, Amato Evan, an assistant
professor in UVA's Department of Environmental Sciences, is worried
about who could be targeted next. “As long as Virginia Attorney General
Ken Cuccinelli is in office, in the back of my head I'll be wondering
if my work on global climate change is going to fall under the same
senseless attacks as Dr. Mann's has,” he said. “This feels like
harassment, plain and simple, and is wasting the time of the other
faculty and staff members in my department. I sincerely hope enough
pressure is put on the Virginia attorney general to halt this absurd inquisition.”

The letter makes it clear that a criminal
investigation of scientific research is inappropriate: “Fortunately,
there are numerous safeguards within science that root out scientific
misconduct,” it states. “It is entirely appropriate for scientific
institutions to review the work of scientists and hold them accountable
for their actions. But scientists who face unwarranted legal
intimidation will be less able to make new discoveries that can protect
our health, safety, and environment.”

In addition, the letter
points out that historically, scientific discovery is held back when
government officials harass scientists.

Cuccinelli's office has
demanded that the university turn over what amounts to reams of
documents, including correspondence between Mann and other climate
scientists whose names appear in emails stolen from Britain's
University of East Anglia that generated media attention late last
year. 

In the emails, scientists expressed frustration with
relentless attacks on their data and research methods. Every
investigation conducted to date of the email contents has concluded
that they have no bearing on climate science, which remains robust. A
number of investigations over the last few years also have vindicated
Mann's data and research methods.

Scientists “are searching
for cures for diseases, measuring the toxicity of environmental
contaminants, and developing new technologies that will keep America
strong,” the letter states. If scientists are to serve the public good,
wrote the scientists, “they must have the freedom to explore ideas
without fearing that any individual statement or email will be taken
out of context.”

Scientists and academics from most of
Virginia’s major higher education institutions signed the letter,
including Christopher Newport University (5), College of William and
Mary (38), George Mason University (85), James Madison University (31),
Old Dominion University (19), Radford University (15), Randolph-Macon
College (30), University of Mary Washington (21), University of
Richmond (26), UVA (296), Virginia Commonwealth University (30),
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (68).

 

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The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

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