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The Washington Post lead editorial Friday strongly rebukes the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, for seeking to repudiate reality and to throw out the concept of academic freedom.  They highlight that Cuccinelli's witch hunt could cost Virginia dearly, undermining the reputation of Virginia's excellent universities while risking real falls in academic quality (for difficulties in recruiting professors and students, if nothing else).

WE KNEW Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had declared war on reality. Now he has declared war on the freedom of academic inquiry as well. We hope that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the University of Virginia have the spine to repudiate Mr. Cuccinelli's abuse of the legal code. If they do not, the quality of Virginia's universities will suffer for years to come.

The editorial rightly calls out Cuccinelli for taking  "his ongoing campaign to wish away human-induced climate change" to a new level with use of his office's resources and powers to attack a specific scientist who has already been vindicated by multiple investigations by other scientists and by review panels.

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.

IN FACT, the scientific community, including a National Academy of  Sciences panel, has pored over Mr. Mann's work for more than a decade,  and though supporters and skeptics still disagree on much, it's clear  that his conclusions are not obviously, premeditatedly fraudulent,particularly since they come with admissions about the uncertainties  inherent to his work.

The Commonwealth of Virginia faces quite serious economic challenges, with teachers being fired and roads not being repaired. In the face of these challenges, the Attorney General is committing serious resources to ideological anti-science crusades that are damaging the Commonwealth's reputation and will damage its strong educational system.

Cuccinelli's attack is an example of a virulent case of anti-science syndrome (A.S.S.) Hatred Of a Livable Economy (H.O.L.E.).  Sadly, Virginia's voters put him in a powerful position rather than quarantine.  As The Post notes,

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. Scientists and other academics inevitably  will get things wrong, and they will use public funds in the process,  because failure is as important to producing good scholarship as  success. 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.

The Post calls on the University of Virginia to fight the Attorney General and, as well, for the Governor to repudiate his actions.

Sadly, The Washington Post has yet to acknowledge its role in fostering confusion in its readership (and in the US political system as the paper read by Congressional staff) over the state of climate science.  Publishing deceptive, truthiness-laden falsehoods from the likes of George Will, Sarah Palin, and Bjorn Lomborg does not help create an environment where people will better understand the scientific method and have a stronger basis for understanding Cuccinelli's kookiness.  In fact, The Post's faux and balanced approach to reporting and opinion pieces fosters a public attitude that would suggest that, contrary to this strong oped (and reality), a legal inquiry is a sensible use of public resources rather than a definitional statement of waste & abuse (perhaps not 'fraud') of public resources.

And, this OPED fits well with the same-day Science publication of an  important statement from 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences on the state of climate science.

The Post also published three excellent letters / comments about Cuccinelli's kookiness on the same page as the editorial.  (Note, however, that the online commentary did not run nearly as heavily in favor of the Kook as I feared it would ...  The Kook-ites are there, but they aren't dominant.)

Stuart Endick

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s investigation of  climate science work at the University of Virginia to determine whether  taxpayers were defrauded as a professor sought grants for global warming  research is highly ironic.

Mr. Cuccinelli has used his office to undermine civil rights,  national health reform and environmental protections. The biggest waste  of the taxpayers’ money is the attorney general’s pursuit of his  ultraconservative political agenda.

Wendy Zomparelli,

The elimination of fraud, waste and abuse is often touted as the  solution to budget woes in government. I wonder how much it will cost  Virginia’s taxpayers to have the University of Virginia collect the  documents that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II is demanding to  investigate research grants received by professor Michael Mann.

Four organizations have determined there was no fraud or malpractice  in the climate studies conducted by Mr. Mann and others. Mr. Cuccinelli  is supplying the waste and abuse.

Daniel Lashof

The political harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann by  Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II ["Cuccinelli  demands files from U-Va.," Metro, May 4] is reprehensible. It does  us all a disservice by distracting from the risks Virginia faces — to  our economy, our security and our environment — if we fail to address  climate change before it’s too late.

The recent attacks on climate science, including the accusations  against Mr. Mann, a former University of Virginia professor, have been  repeatedly investigated and thoroughly dismissed. Most recently, a panel  appointed by Penn State, Mr. Mann’s current affiliation, cleared him of  any significant misconduct. The National Academy of Sciences also  reviewed the underlying research and found it to be sound.

The science has proved solid, and more political attacks can’t change  that fact. The more salient question is: Whose interests are served by  Mr. Cuccinelli’s harassment tactics while Virginians wait for action to  address the real impacts of climate change?

Kook-inelli is a real favorite of the Tea Party (Tea Bagging) enthusiasts around the country for his, for example, taking on the sexually provocative nature of the Virginia state seal.  (Have to say my favorite traditional media title on this came from the Hampton Roads Pilot: Cuccinellie pin covers some skin.)  While the pin issue might make us laugh with the absurdity, as with the witch hunt against climate scientist Michael Mann, Cuccinelli is a position to do real damage against real people on issues that matter.

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NOTE:  Wanted to post this yesterday morning but, well, there is that peskly little diary limit issue.  This item, however, provides a very strong bookend to the 255 National Academy of Science members publishing an open letter stating the strength of climate science and calling out the unreasoned attacks on climate scientists.

Related discussion at DKos: Kindler with Virginia's Lysenko which would serve as an excellent OPED on this issue. From it:

The state has an important role in science: to fund research and education, to use and promote science, to ensure it is freely conducted.  It is not the role of the state to dictate, for political reasons, which scientific theories may be considered right or wrong. When governments do take such a stance, and get away with it, it is a sign of a deep sickness in the body politic.

Originally posted to A Siegel on Sat May 08, 2010 at 03:18 AM PDT.

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