Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Tuesday that his investigation into the research activities of a former University of Virginia climate change scientist is about rooting out possible fraud and does not infringe upon academic freedom.
“The same legal standards for fraud apply to the academic setting that apply elsewhere,” said Cuccinelli, who on Tuesday attended a fundraiser barbecue in Ivy for an abstinence-only education group. “The same rule of law, the same objective fact-finding process will take place.”
Cuccinelli sent a Civil Investigative Demand to UVa to obtain documents related to the work of Michael Mann, a leading researcher in climate change who was part of UVa’s faculty between 1999 and 2005.
UVa has hired a law firm to explore its options, possibly signaling that the university will fight Cuccinelli’s demand.
According to Cuccinelli’s CID — which is the equivalent of a subpoena — the attorney general is investigating the possibility that Mann violated the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act by presenting false or misleading data related to climate change when seeking state-funded research grants. Cuccinelli is a vocal skeptic of global warming and is challenging in court the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Cuccinelli’s investigation into Mann has drawn pointed criticism from the academic and scientific communities.
On Tuesday, 810 Virginia scientists and academics sent a letter to Cuccinelli urging him to back off his investigation of Mann. The letter, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, includes signatures from some 300 faculty members of UVa.
“I signed the petition because I think that scientific debates should be played out in the academic arena. If Michael Mann’s conclusions are unsupported by his data, his scientific critics will eventually demonstrate this,” said David Carr, a professor in UVa’s department of environmental sciences. “I do not have any special knowledge about Mr. Cuccinelli’s motives, but this CID seems to be an attempt to create noise for the purpose of drowning out a critical scientific debate.”
Carr noted that he was speaking for himself, not the university or his department.
Amato Evan, another professor in the UVa’s department of environmental sciences, said in a Union of Concerned Scientists news release that he is worried about who might be targeted next.
“As long as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is in office, in the back of my head I’ll be wondering if my work on global climate change is going to fall under the same senseless attacks as Dr. Mann’s has,” he said. “This feels like harassment, plain and simple, and is wasting the time of the other faculty and staff members in my department. I sincerely hope enough pressure is put on the Virginia attorney general to halt this absurd inquisition.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that its Board of Directors is asking Cuccinelli to justify his probe into Mann’s work or end it, saying Cuccinelli’s investigation is a political action that could have a chilling effect on cutting-edge scientific research.
“[Cuccinelli’s investigation] is making many, many scientists nervous,” said Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the association. “The purpose of science is to tell us about the natural world, whether we like the answer or not.”
Cuccinelli said Tuesday that concerned scientists and others should have no fear.
“They need not worry, but I doubt anybody screaming about it will take that from me,” he said. “We’re going to work our way through the process in a professional way.”