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Virginia Re-Ignites Climate Fraud Probe

Climate Change: Attorney general again subpoena's documents of university climate researcher

by Cheryl Hogue
October 11, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 41

A new order demanding that the University of Virginia hand over reams of documents and emails sent to or from climate researcher Michael E. Mann while he worked at UVA was ordered by Virginia State Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II (R) on Sept. 29. Mann, who is now the director of Pennsylvania State University's Earth System Science Center, was employed by UVA from 1999 to 2005.

To comply with a Virginia Circuit Court ruling in August that stopped his attempts to get the data from UVA earlier this year, Cuccinelli has this time narrowed his fraud investigation. The new order—a state subpoena--focuses solely on a $214,700 grant from UVA's Fund for Excellence in Science & Technology on which Mann was a co-investigator. It makes no mention of four federal grants that Cuccinelli sought to probe earlier (C&EN, Sept. 6, page 56).

In the new order, Cuccinelli says two of Mann papers, published in 1998 and 1999, are the basis for the fraud probe.

"The grant application references Dr. Mann's prior work, including two papers ... which have come under significant criticism and which Dr. Mann knew or should have known contained false information, unsubstantiated claims and/or were otherwise misleading."

Those two papers gave rise to what Cuccinelli calls "the now notorious ‘hockey stick' graph." The once debated graph is a favorite target of many climate change skeptics, who dismiss it for appearing to overlook the Medieval Warm Period of 900-1250 and the Little Ice Age of 1400-1700 and overemphasizing the warming of the late 20th century. Nonetheless, other scientists have produced temperature reconstructions similar to Mann's (C&EN, Dec. 21, 2009, page 11).

Mann's graph "is based on suspect data," Cuccinelli states. "Others have shown that random numbers can be put into Mann's algorithm, and they always produce a hockey stick graph," says the attorney general, who is seeking Mann's algorithm as part of the probe.

Cuccinelli also makes pointed political arguments in his order. For instance, he alleges  that the two Mann papers "were freighted with enormous public policy implications and appeared at a time when climate science was subject to unique political pressures and influence."

Mann's now-accepted graph was part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2001 assessment report. Under the influence of that report, "nations made energy policy decisions that will increase costs for years to come inasmuch as all alternative renewable energy sources are prohibitively expensive without governmental subsidies," the Cuccinelli writes in the subpoena.

"The attorney general continues to harass Michael Mann and other climate scientists simply because their results don't fit with his political views," says Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The attorney general is sending a message that legitimate scientific research is not welcome in the Commonwealth of Virginia."

UVA says in a statement that it will challenge Cuccinelli's newest order. "University leaders are disappointed that the institution must continue to litigate with the attorney general, but will continue to stand for the principles the University has articulated since ... April and to support academic communities here and elsewhere."

UVA says that thus far, it has incurred $352,875 in legal fees connected to Cuccinelli's orders, paying them from private funds.


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