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Virginia Probes Climate Science

Investigation: Attorney General has gone too far, research supporters and critics agree

by Cheryl Hogue and Steve Ritter
May 10, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 19

Credit: Carrie Devorah/
Cuccinelli is scrutinizing climate science for possible fraud.
Credit: Carrie Devorah/
Cuccinelli is scrutinizing climate science for possible fraud.

Scientists—and critics—of climate researcher Michael E. Mann are pushing back against the Virginia attorney general’s probe into possible fraud connected with five grants Mann received while at the University of Virginia.

Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II is ordering UVA to turn over data and e-mails associated with those grants. Mann, a geophysicist, developed the once hotly contested “hockey stick” graph of historical temperature fluctuations over the past millennium. Now director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, Mann is also one of the climate scientists whose controversial e-mails were made public in late 2009 (C&EN, Dec. 21, 2009, page 11).

Mann received the grants, together worth $484,875, while working at UVA between 1999 and 2005, according to Cuccinelli’s late-April order issued under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. Three of the grants were sponsored by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, one was from the National Science Foundation, and another came from UVA’s Fund for Excellence in Science & Technology.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and, independently, some of the harshest critics of Mann’s research say Cuccinelli should back off.

For instance, Stephen McIntyre, a prominent critic of Mann’s work and editor of the blog “Climate Audit,” which analyzes climate data, condemned Cuccinelli’s action as “a repugnant piece of over-zealousness.”

“The notion of labeling controversial scientific findings as ‘fraudulent’ is extremely troubling,” says Francesca T. Grifo, director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program. “Disagreement among scientists—to say nothing of disagreements between scientists and politicians—is simply not the same thing as fraud.”

Mann stands by his results, telling C&EN that independent of where he has worked “all of my data and research methods are available in the public domain.” A recent Penn State investigation cleared Mann of misconduct allegations related to the e-mail controversy.

Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican, is opposed to action to curb climate change, contending that it will harm the economy. Shortly after taking office in January, he petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. He plans to sue the agency over federal greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles.

UVA says it intends to respond to Cuccinelli’s order. It has until May 27 to produce the requested materials.



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