Quote of the moment: Jefferson, public education as the protector of freedom

November 23, 2010

South Elevation of the Rotunda, University of Virginia -- Thomas Jefferson design for the university he founded and shepherded - UVA image

Thomas Jefferson. South Elevation of the Rotunda, begun 1818, completed March 29, 1819. Ink and pencil drawing. Courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Architectural Drawings, University Archives, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library

By far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people.  No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness.

Jefferson in a letter to his mentor George Wythe, from Paris, August 13, 1786; referring to his Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, proposed in 1779

Excerpted from The Quotable Jefferson, collected and edited by John Kaminski, Princeton University Press, 2006


Yet another blow against warming “skeptics”: Virginia judge quashed Cuccinelli’s witch hunt

September 2, 2010

Vivian Paige pulled together early reports and the actual court documents:  A judge in Virginia quashed the subpeona issued by Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia, in a rather blatant attempt to silence a famous scientist working on global warming, Michael Mann.

Rosalind Helderman explained in the Virginia Politics blog of the Washington Post:

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate. But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli’s underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli’s deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann’s fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case.

“The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann’s work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Peatross wrote.

Also, as suggested earlier here, the judge noted that Cuccinelli’s authority did not extend to four of the five grants questioned, because they were federal grants, not state grants.  (See here, too.)

Comments at Helderman’s article show the fault lines of division on global warming — purely political faultlines.

Since opponents of action against warming so frantically publicized stolen e-mails from researchers late last year, in official proceedings scientists have smacked down skeptics on almost every issue.

Which only means that scientists now sit in the position of Cassandra after Apollo’s curse.


Virginia county judge tells Cuccinelli to cool his jets

June 24, 2010

Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a heckler of higher education in his state (and probably all states) and a climate science heretic, must wait to get the information he asks of the University of Virginia and its association with super-researcher Michael Mann, at least until a hearing August 20 on whether Cuccinelli is trying to act bigger than his breeches beyond his constitutional powers.

A report in the Danville Daily Progress and Go.Danville.com explains:

Albemarle County Circuit Judge Cheryl V. Higgins has temporarily stayed a subpoena that demands the University of Virginia produce reams of documents related to the research activities of a former climate change researcher.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a civil investigative demand – which carries the legal force of a subpoena – in search of documents relating to Michael Mann, a prominent climate change scientist who worked at UVa from 1999 to 2005.

Cuccinelli, a climate change skeptic, has said he is seeking evidence of possible violations of Virginia’s anti-fraud law in connection with five grants totaling $466,000 that Mann obtained while at UVa.

UVa has challenged Cuccinelli’s CID in court, arguing that it is unprecedented, overly broad, oversteps the attorney general’s authority, and violates the basic tenet of academic freedom.

Higgins’ order allows UVa to hold off on Cuccinelli’s demand until the dispute is resolved in court.

A hearing date has been set for Aug. 20.

Resources, and more:

It’s not just that Mr. Cuccinelli has presented no real evidence that Mr. Mann did anything “fraudulent” while conducting his research, applying for his grants or analyzing his data; in fact, Mr. Cuccinelli’s targeting of Mr. Mann appears to be based on little more than a misreading of e-mails the scientist wrote. Multiple scientific review committees have examined Mr. Mann’s work, and all have cleared the scientist of wrongdoing.

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.


Cuccinelli Witch Project

May 3, 2010

So, you didn’t think the opposition to global warming was political?  You thought “skeptics” were just out to make a scientific case?

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - campaign photo

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - campaign photo

As the Hook explains, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has ordered the University of Virginia to turn over all records they have of research done by Michael Mann while he was at the UVA (he left five years ago for Penn State). (Civil Investigative Demand, here)

It’s a fishing expedition, the very definition of a witch hunt.  Also, as I read the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act upon which Cuccinelli bases his actions [see comments -- better source here], it’s probably outside the statute of limitations.

Research that Cuccinelli has targeted to investigate  includes work Mann did with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Cuccinelli probably lacks jurisdiction for much of the stuff he wants, trumped by those federal agencies.

Mann is the guy who put together the chart of all the different threads of research that show warming climate, commonly known as the “hockey stick” after Al Gore’s years of presentations on the chart and the movie, “Inconvenient Truths.”  Mann also is among those scientists in U.S. and England whose private e-mails were exposed in the breach of the e-mail servers at England’s Hadley Climate Research Unit.

Three different investigations have put Mann in the clear so far (Penn State’s .pdf of investigation results; response to Texas U.S. Rep. Joe Barton’s assault) — odd that stolen e-mails would produce doubts about the victims of the theft, but ethical standards in science research are indeed that high.  Caesar’s wife couldn’t be considered for research grants.

Why do I think the statute of limitations may apply?  Look at the law, linked above, the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act:

§ 8.01-216.9. Procedure; statute of limitations.

A subpoena requiring the attendance of a witness at a trial or hearing conducted under this article may be served at any place in the Commonwealth.

A civil action under § 8.01-216.4 or 8.01-216.5 may not be brought (i) more than six years after the date on which the violation is committed or (ii) more than three years after the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the Commonwealth charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances, but in that event no more than ten years after the date on which the violation is committed, whichever occurs last.

In any action brought under § 8.01-216.5, the Commonwealth shall be required to prove all essential elements of the cause of action, including damages, by a preponderance of the evidence.

Research at a major research institution like a big, public university involves many layers of regulation and bureaucratic checking.  Generally the university’s research office will require adherence to the school’s ethical code and all state laws up front, and then the auditors check the money flow and research activities through the project.  There is a final sign off at most schools, which would qualify as “the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the Commonwealth charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances.”

Cuccinelli is sending a clear signal to researchers that they are unwelcome in Virginia if their research doesn’t square with his politics — and his politics are weird. Watch to see what the response of the University is, especially if their delivery of documents doesn’t put this witch hunt to bed.

[Update notice:  The text of the law noting the statute of limitations was updated on May 5, to show application to § 801-216.4 as well as § 801-216.5]

Other sources to check:

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