Dan Casey, the free-spirited columnist for the Roanoke Times, has a “spot on” column today about Virginia’s strange new attorney general. Casey states,
This cornball prudery, on lapel pins handed out to Cuccinelli’s staffers, produced news over the weekend that’s worth a laugh or two at the expense of our apparent boob-fearing AG. But it shouldn’t distract us from some very unfunny moves Cuccinelli is making.
Casey is referring to Cuccinelli’s over-reaching demand to the University of Virginia for all the correspondence of former UVa climate researcher, Michael Mann. Cooch’s 14-page subpoena demands not only copies of all of Mann’s conversations with 38 other climate scientists but even wants all contacts with “all research assistants, secretaries or administrative staff” with whom he worked, plus all his research data.
All of us should keep in mind that this “fishing expedition” by Cuccinelli is in the hopes of finding a reason to file a civil case against a highly respected scientist. Just how respected is Dr. Mann?
Mann received his PhD in Geology and Geophysics from Yale University and was awarded, along with many other climate scientists, the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Cooch’s subpoena even wants “the data Mann submitted to procure…grants, and all data the grants produced, and other documents, computer programs, databases or source code related to his work.” (Who in Cooch’s office is going to understand such topics as, “Multitaper spectral analysis which provides an optimally low-variance, high-resolution spectral estimate. Assumptions regarding signal (narrowband, but not strictly periodic) and noise (‘red’) that are most appropriate in the context of climate studies.” That’s just one of the research documents published by Dr. Mann in 1996.)
Dan Casey contacted a highly respected scientist and emeritus distinguished professor at Virginia Tech, Dr. Jerry Gibbs. Gibbs explained how scientific research and inquiry works.
I’ll just sum up the scientific method here in my own words. Science is based on inductive reasoning. That is, the gathering of a large body of evidence leads ultimately to a conclusion. Researchers use that data to devise an hypothesis about what causes the phenomenon. Other scientists, independent of the first ones, will test the hypothesis. After experimental data again confirms the validity of the hypothesis, it will then become a theory, which is always open to review and revision.
On the very face of it, scientific research quite often leads down dead ends and includes avenues of inquiry that turn out ultimately to be incorrect. As Dr. Gibbs put it, “I find it incredible. They don’t understand how science is done. Cuccinelli hasn’t ever done scientific work in his life. You can’t consider it fraud because you come up with the wrong interpretation. Because all of us do this all the time.”
Cuccinelli obviously operates on his own version of deductive reasoning. That is, he decides that something that he believes is fact. Then, he only looks at evidence that backs up his pre-conceived notion, thus his need for mountains of evidence to comb through looking for some sort of fraud.
Casey noted one of the most obvious examples of how this type of reasoning can lead to terrible consequences. I’ll tell that story in more detail.
In the 17th century the Catholic Church still insisted that a stationary earth was the center of a very small universe, basing that teaching on Biblical verses. Because Galileo Galilei, a brilliant astronomer, mathematician, and inventor, observed through his telescope that the earth moved in orbit around the sun and dared to refute Church teaching, he was tried by a Papal Court and put under house arrest as a heretic for the rest of his life. Poor Galileo had to wait until 1992 for the Church to completely clear him of heretical charges. (He was luckier that Giordano Bruno, however, who in 1600 said that the earth moved around the sun. Bruno was burned to death as a heretic.)
Casey is implying – and I am absolutely contending – the Ken Cuccinelli is very much like that Pope of long ago. He has decided that the presently accepted scientific theory of climate change – the earth is warming in part because of man-made pollution – is wrong. He now has demanded, like that Papal court of old, that Michael Mann defend himself from Cuccinelli-posed charges of fraud. (Thankfully, he does not have the power to impose house arrest or capital punishment. Plus, Dr. Mann is presently at Penn State University.) This subpoena amounts to legal harassment of both Dr. Mann and UVa.
I agree with Dan Casey that Cuccinelli may well make the best scientific minds in this country think twice about whether they want to come to Virginia to conduct research and to teach. This action by a dangerously over-reaching attorney general once again puts Virginia in a very bad light and is a mistake that should be corrected right away.
Just think a moment. We now have an attorney general – the prosecutor and lawyer for the entire state – who decides guilt and innocence in advance and then goes “fishing” for something to back up his belief. Talk about politicians ignoring the nation’s laws, i.e., the presumption of innocence!
Casey ends by noting, “As laughable as it seems, we’d all be better off if Cuccinelli would stick to eliminating stray nipples from official Virginia artwork. As one wag wrote on my blog, ‘As long as there are politicians, there will be boobs in politics.’ Cuccinelli is proof of that.”
I’ll end with this question: When will Gov. Bob McDonnell grow a set of leadership accoutrements and put a stop to the damage Cuccinelli is doing to the Commonwealth? Or, barring that, is Cuccinelli simply doing the bidding of the governor?