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Michael Phelan
Michael Phelan
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University of Virginia May Fight Virginia AG's Demand for Climatology Files

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The University of Virginia may have finally grown a set of coconuts and decided to fight back against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s demand that UVA turn over documents and correspondence related to a former professor of environmental science, Michael Mann, who is widely known for his research into global climate change. Cuccinelli is proceeding under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (the "Act") which authorizes the Attorney General to investigate any violation of the Act. The Act makes liable to the Commonwealth of Virginia, inter alia, any person who knowingly makes a false or fraudulent claim paid or approved by the Commonwealth.

Cuccinelli’s subpoena (which is called an "investigative demand" under the Act) states that the Attorney General is looking into the possibility that Mann defrauded taxpayers when seeking grant funding for the climate research he did while employed by UVA years ago. Professor Mann taught at UVA in the Department of Environmental Sciences from 1999-2005. He has been the Director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center since 2005. He was selected as one of the 50 leading visionaries in Science and Technology by Scientific American, one of the nation’s most respected science magazines. In November 2009, some of Mann’s correspondence with fellow climate researchers was among the hacked e-mails at the center of the Climate Research Unit controversy. Mann rejected allegations of wrongdoing, claiming that the e-mails had been "misrepresented, cherry-picked…[and] completely twisted [by global warming skeptics] to imply the opposite of what was actually being said." Pennsylvania State University investigated the matter, and, in February 2010, published a statement clearing Mann of any research misconduct.

One of the first steps Mr. Cuccinelli took upon entering office was to sue the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emmisions. So, was the subpoena to UVA another step toward advancing Mr. Cuccinelli’s political agenda or does he honestly believe that he can use the Act to prove that Mann defrauded the Commonwealth to obtain grant funding? There is a critical difference between disagreeing with the science and being able to prove fraud. The later would essentially require getting Mann to admit that at the time he applied for the funding he knew that global warming was a hoax. Mann has written over 80 peer- reviewed science journal publications on global warming. He isn’t about to disavow global warming. Moreover, in the unlikely event that fraud could be proven, how would the Commonwealth retrieve the grant money? The research at UVA is finished and Mann is in Pennsylvania living on a professor’s salary. Seems like a waste of taxpayer money, especially since I know that the AG’s office previously declined to pursue legitimate fraud claims brought under the Act. This is why I conclude that the AG is simply using his office to bully academics whom he perceives to be in the wrong political camp. Indeed, those notorious lefties at the American Association of University Professors says that our AG’s demand on UVA "echoes of McCarthyism." UVA just hired a law firm to look into fighting the AG’s demands for the files. I would much rather have my kids taught by professors with whom I disagree than have my government trying to silence said professors through intimidation, so I hope UVA sticks to its guns.

2 Comments

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  1. Richard Roseen says:
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    Who are you to decide that Mann is completely innocent?

    Global warming is a farce since the amount research done has never been large enough.

  2. Michael Phelan says:
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    Dear Mr. Rosen:
    I never expressed an opinion whether Mann was “completely innocent.” The points I made were that I disagree with the government trying to use its subpoena power to squelch academic debate and that the reason the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act was passed was to recover money paid by the Commonwealth as a result of fraud. In this case, I don’t think the AG has a prayer of proving fraud or recovering money for the state.