27 May 2010

UVA Tells Cuccinelli to Show His Cards

The University of Virgina has petitioned a court to set aside the request of Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli to Michael Mann, a former professor at UVA, for disclosure of a large amount of material related to his research while a faculty member by invoking a statute focused on rooting out fraud in the use of public funds.

The petition (here in PDF) basically calls Cuccinelli's bluff. I wrote about this earlier this month, arguing that "I'm no lawyer, but the chances of Mann being found guilty of violating this statute are precisely zero." The petition explains that Cuccinelli's request fails on both procedural and substantive grounds - the two Aces in the hole.

However, since this is a public relations stunt by the Attorney General, he could still win in the court of public opinion, even if the petition were to be granted on procedural grounds, by showing evidence of the fraudulent use of taxpayer money by Mann. On the other hand, if he cannot show such substance, he will be the one that looks like a fraud on a fishing expedition. As I wrote this month, I don't think that the AG has the evidence, because there is no such evidence to have.

What about Michael Mann and climate science? As I wrote earlier this month:
The worst that can be said about Mann is that he may have done sloppy research using poor methods that won't stand the test of time, and when challenged he tends to act petulant and nasty. Let's just accept this as true for the purposes of discussion. OK, so what? None of this rises to scientific misconduct or fraud, not even close, and no one has even made such a case, despite the ample noise in the blogosphere.
If this plays out as I anticipate, with the petition granted and the AG coming up with nothing, then Mann and his supporters would do well not to confuse this legal victory with evidence for scientific accuracy and integrity -- a conflation that has been too often made in the aftermath of the recent UK reviews of the UEA situation, which simply adds to the partisan flames.

Mann's opponents will continue to shout "fraud" but until they can match the talk with evidence, they should probably stay silent. If Mann is confident that his files show no wrongdoing, he might consider just releasing them after the petition is granted as a gesture of his confidence. I doubt that would happen, but it would be quite powerful if it was done by choice, not by coercion.

However, after this episode is over, I expect fault lines to remain pretty much as they were before and the battle will simply shift to new turf in the never-ending climate wars.