UVA Stands Up To the Bully, Calls Cooch’s Bluff

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    We all know how much damage bullies do in high school.  But how about when the bully is a powerful government official?

    That’s when the bully’s targets need to stand up, challenge him and let the world know that such noxious behavior will not be tolerated – before such government officials start to think that they can get away with bullying us all.  So thank God for the University of Virginia’s bold stance in opposition to the Bully of the Commonwealth, Ken Cuccinelli.

    On Tuesday, UVA filed the latest brief in its legal challenge to Cuccinelli’s “civil investigative demands” (subpoenas, basically) aimed at acclaimed climate scientist (and former UVA professor) Michael Mann.  It is an excellent piece of work, so let’s allow it to speak for itself with the following excerpts:

    The implications of [Cuccinelli’s] position are staggering in their breadth; according to the Attorney General, whenever an academic offers a disagreement with another academic’s scientific conclusions, that disagreement opens the debate up to participation from the Attorney General’s office in the form of a civil investigative demand.  No discipline – and no professor – falls outside this claimed authority.

    The Attorney General’s opposition itself makes clear that the Attorney General did not issue the civil investigative demands under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers act to investigate fraud on Commonwealth taxpayers. Rather, the CIDs were issued in an unprecedented attempt to challenge a university professor’s peer reviewed data, methodologies and conclusions. But FATA does not authorize the Attorney General to police academic debate — and it certainly does not authorize the Attorney General to target for government investigation those who conduct scientific research with which the Attorney General disagrees.

    …the Attorney General offers the perfectly circular rationale that it can issue CIDs for information relevant to an ‘investigation’ so long as the Attorney General says that it is conducting an ‘investigation’ to which the information is relevant.

    By definition, a FATA investigation may only be used to investigate a potential FATA violation…and the information requested in a CID must be ‘relevant to a [FATA] investigation’…Here the extreme breadth of the information sought fails that basic test.  Notwithstanding the Attorney General’s concerns about the Little Ice Age, the Medieval Warm Period, and Post Normal Science, FATA does not give the Attorney General license to sift through Dr. Mann’s research data, materials, discussions, conclusions and correspondence with dozens of other academics over a period spanning more than ten years.

    Let me say once again, thank you, UVA for defending my freedoms.  And, mark my words, conservatives will thank you some day too, when an overreaching liberal attorney general somewhere in the country tries to criminalize their research and they have the precedent of this case to draw from.  

    Academic disputes belong in academia, not the courtroom.  Hopefully, the outstanding work of UVA’s lawyers in this case will prevail, as it should in a country – and state – with a tradition of free speech lasting well over two centuries.