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Monday, May 10, 2010

"Virginia AG Cuccinelli Out To Kill Academic Freedom"

This is in today's daily links, but I think it deserves a bit more notice:

Virginia AG Cuccinelli Out To Kill Academic Freedom, by Barkley Rosser: Friday's WaPo reports that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, following up on his efforts to end efforts by state universities and colleges to avoid discriminating against GLBT folks, has decided to interfere directly in scientific research in a criminal way. In particular, Cuccinelli is claiming that climate scientist, Michael Mann of hockey stick fame, engaged in billing fraud with the state while working on this subject while a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, where he has not been located for some years (now at Penn State). Cuccinelli is demanding all kinds of emails and other materials from the university, apparently attempting to imitate the climategate gang that did this over at East Anglia, only to end up with no fraud being discovered.

I think that some of the critics of Mann's work were correct, but this is an outrage. There is no evidence at all of fraud (and those claiming the email in which he spoke of using a "trick" as evidence for this do not understand or are willfully misrepresenting how this term is used in these situations) on his part, whatever errors he may have made in his study of the hockey stick (and it really does not matter exactly what the temperature was 1000 years ago; I have posted on this here previously). ...

Here's a bit more from the article:
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. ...


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. ... 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.

Tenure is supposed to offer some protection against these attempts to curtail academic freedom, but If the right people come after you, tenure won't help. There are always ways to bypass the protection tenure offers, e.g. through trumped up charges of fraud as is being attempted in this case. Fortunately, however, though this is not yet fully resolved, Ken Cuccinelli does not appear to be one of the right people, and, in fact, is very obviously wrong.

    Posted by on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 03:51 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (41)


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