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WashPost editorial board calls out Kook-inelli

May 7th, 2010 · 3 Comments

The Washington Post lead editorial this morning strongly rebukes the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, for seeking to repudiate reality and to throw out the concept of academic freedom. They highlight that Cuccinelli’s witch hunt could cost Virginia dearly, undermining the reputation of Virginia’s excellent universities while risking real falls in academic quality (for difficulties in recruiting professors and students, if nothing else).

WE KNEW Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had declared war on reality. Now he has declared war on the freedom of academic inquiry as well. We hope that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the University of Virginia have the spine to repudiate Mr. Cuccinelli’s abuse of the legal code. If they do not, the quality of Virginia’s universities will suffer for years to come.

The editorial rightly calls out Cuccinelli for taking  “his ongoing campaign to wish away human-induced climate change” to a new level with use of his office’s resources and powers to attack a specific scientist who has already been vindicated by multiple investigations by other scientists and by review panels.

As ammunition for this chilling assault, Mr. Cuccinelli twists beyond recognition a statute designed to punish government contractors who use fake receipts to claim taxpayer funds and those who commit other such frauds. For Mr. Cuccinelli’s “investigation” to have any merit, the attorney general must suppose that Mr. Mann “knowingly” presented “a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval.” Mr. Cuccinelli’s justification for this suspicion seems to be a series of e-mails that surfaced last year in which Mr. Mann wrote of a “trick” he used in one of his analyses, a term that referred to a method of presenting data to non-experts, not an effort to falsify results.

IN FACT, the scientific community, including a National Academy of Sciences panel, has pored over Mr. Mann’s work for more than a decade, and though supporters and skeptics still disagree on much, it’s clear that his conclusions are not obviously, premeditatedly fraudulent,particularly since they come with admissions about the uncertainties inherent to his work.

The Commonwealth of Virginia faces quite serious economic challenges, with teachers being fired and roads not being repaired. In the face of these challenges, the Attorney General is committing serious resources to ideological anti-science crusades that are damaging the Commonwealth’s reputation and will damage its strong educational system.

Cuccinelli’s attack is an example of virulent anti-science syndrome suffering hatred of a livable economy.  As the Post notes,

By equating controversial results with legal fraud, Mr. Cuccinelli demonstrates a dangerous disregard for scientific method and academic freedom. The remedy for unsatisfactory data or analysis is public criticism from peers and more data, not a politically tinged witch hunt or, worse, a civil penalty. Scientists and other academics inevitably will get things wrong, and they will use public funds in the process, because failure is as important to producing good scholarship as success. For the commonwealth to persecute scientists because one official or another dislikes their findings is the fastest way to cripple not only its stellar flagship university, but also its entire public higher education system.

The Post calls on the University of Virginia to fight the Attorney General and, as well, for the Governor to repudiate his actions.

NOTE:  Sadly, The Washington Post has yet to acknowledge its role in fostering confusion in its readership (and in the US political system as the paper read by Congressional staff) over the state of climate science.  And, see today’s important statement from 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences on the state of climate science.

The Post also has three excellent letters / comments about Cuccinelli’s kookiness published on the same page.

Stuart Endick

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s investigation of climate science work at the University of Virginia to determine whether taxpayers were defrauded as a professor sought grants for global warming research is highly ironic.

Mr. Cuccinelli has used his office to undermine civil rights, national health reform and environmental protections. The biggest waste of the taxpayers’ money is the attorney general’s pursuit of his ultraconservative political agenda.

Wendy Zomparelli,

The elimination of fraud, waste and abuse is often touted as the solution to budget woes in government. I wonder how much it will cost Virginia’s taxpayers to have the University of Virginia collect the documents that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II is demanding to investigate research grants received by professor Michael Mann.

Four organizations have determined there was no fraud or malpractice in the climate studies conducted by Mr. Mann and others. Mr. Cuccinelli is supplying the waste and abuse.

Daniel Lashof

The political harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II [“Cuccinelli demands files from U-Va.,” Metro, May 4] is reprehensible. It does us all a disservice by distracting from the risks Virginia faces — to our economy, our security and our environment — if we fail to address climate change before it’s too late.

The recent attacks on climate science, including the accusations against Mr. Mann, a former University of Virginia professor, have been repeatedly investigated and thoroughly dismissed. Most recently, a panel appointed by Penn State, Mr. Mann’s current affiliation, cleared him of any significant misconduct. The National Academy of Sciences also reviewed the underlying research and found it to be sound.

The science has proved solid, and more political attacks can’t change that fact. The more salient question is: Whose interests are served by Mr. Cuccinelli’s harassment tactics while Virginians wait for action to address the real impacts of climate change?

Tags: Washington Post · anti-science syndrome · virginia

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