Skip to content

A team of lawyers for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a vocal skeptic of global warming, went to court Friday to further his investigation into whether former University of Virginia professor Michael Mann manipulated data to show that there has been a rapid, recent rise in the Earth’s temperature.

Lawyers from the attorney general’s office said the climate scientist might have engaged in fraud by purposely designing his well-known “hockey-stick” graph to show global warming or including manipulated research on his curriculum vitae, which he submitted for grants.

Deputy Attorney General Wesley G. Russell Jr., who argued the case on Cuccinelli’s behalf, said there was a possibility of a “consistent pattern of manipulation of data.”

But attorneys for the university say other investigations found no wrongdoing by Mann, who did not attend Friday’s hearing.

Cuccinelli issued a civil investigative demand, essentially a subpoena, for documents from U-Va. for five grant applications Mann prepared and all e-mail between Mann and his research assistants, secretaries and 39 other scientists across the country. U-Va. is fighting back, arguing that the demand exceeds Cuccinelli’s authority under state law and intrudes on the rights of professors to pursue academic inquiry free from political pressure.

Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross took the matter under advisement, saying he would rule within 10 days.

“It’s frankly offensive to be attacked by a sitting attorney general in a state I know and love,” Mann said in a phone interview after the hearing. “These charges continue to be made by climate-change deniers. There is no grounds whatsoever for the claims they are making.”

The long-awaited courtroom showdown between Cuccinelli and Virginia’s flagship university drew a packed house. Cuccinelli, who is suing the Environmental Protection Agency over global warming, has denied that he is seeking the documents because of Mann’s scientific findings. He did not appear in Charlottesville on Friday but issued a brief statement.

“The attorney general is the sole official charged with enforcing Virginia’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act,” he said. “Our office is investigating whether a false claim was presented to the university to secure payment under government-funded grants — nothing more, nothing less.”

Russell argued that the attorney general’s office is allowed to have the documents because they are on state e-mail servers and because the grant money is in a state bank account. But Chuck Rosenberg, an attorney for the university, argued that four of the grants were from the federal government and are not subject to state law.

Rosenberg also argued that Cuccinelli failed to specifically identify in the civil investigative demand what Mann allegedly did wrong, which is required by law. Peatross repeatedly pressed Russell for that information.

“There is reason to believe that in information he submitted for grants, there is manipulated data,” Russell responded.

Cuccinelli issued a civil investigative demand under a 2002 state statute designed to catch government employees defrauding the public of tax dollars.

Mann’s work has long been under attack by global warming skeptics, particularly after references to a statistical “trick” Mann used in his research surfaced in a series of leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Mann has said the e-mail was taken out of context. Some of his methodologies have been criticized by other scientists, but an inquiry by Pennsylvania State University concluded that there was no evidence that Mann engaged in efforts to falsify or suppress data. Mann worked at U-Va. from 1999 to 2005 and now works at Penn State.

“Calling scientific findings ‘fraudulent’ because you don’t agree with them is dangerous,” said Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Washington Post, 21 August 2010