U-Va. urged to fight subpoena of climate scientist's documents

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2010

RICHMOND -- Academics from across the country are rallying against a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II seeking documents related to the work of a former University of Virginia climate scientist, even as the university says it is preparing to comply with Cuccinelli's request.

Cuccinelli (R) issued the civil investigative demand to the university last month for all documents related to five grant applications made by Michael Mann, a climate-change expert who joined Penn State in 2005.

Cuccinelli also sought all e-mails between Mann and 39 other scientists as well as any correspondence between Mann and research assistants, secretaries or administrative staff with whom he worked from 1999 until he left the university.

In a statement Thursday night, a spokeswoman for the university said the school is "required by law to comply." She said that the university received an extension from the original deadline and that documents are now due July 26.

"The University has never received a complaint or allegation of academic misconduct on the part of Professor Mann," spokeswoman Carol Wood said in an e-mail. "While we may not understand the basis of the [demand], we will gather what information may still reside at the University."

Cuccinelli has said he is investigating whether Mann defrauded taxpayers as he sought grants. In several interviews this past week, Cuccinelli has rejected the notion that he is targeting Mann over the scientific conclusions on climate change with which he disagrees.

"We're not investigating his academic work," Cuccinelli said Friday on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU radio. "That subpoena is directed at the expenditure of dollars. Whether he does a good job, bad job or I don't like the outcome -- and I think everybody already knows his position on some of this is one that I question. But that is not what that's about."

U-Va.'s Board of Visitors is coming under increasing pressure from the school's faculty and others to ask a judge to set aside the demand.

"I think the university should take the strongest possible stand on this," said Patricia Wiberg, chairwoman of the Environmental Sciences Department, where Mann worked. "There are legitimate disagreements that can be held within the scientific community. If that were to constitute fraud, it would change the whole game in terms of doing research."

Also urging the board to resist the subpoena are the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors, which this past week sent the university a joint letter on the issue.

And on Friday, the magazine Science published a letter by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences decrying "political assaults" against climate scientists.

Peter Gleick, one of the letter's authors, said it was written six weeks ago but that Cuccinelli's subpoena has caught the attention of scientists nationally and is "precisely the kind of attack on climate scientists that the letter criticizes."

Mann was one of the authors of a study that used a variety of data to to point to a rapid recent increase in the Earth's temperature.

His work has been targeted by those who are skeptical of global-warming theories, particularly after an e-mail from him referring to a statistical "trick" he used in his research was among those leaked from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit. Although some scientists have expressed doubts about some his conclusions and methods, a recent Penn State inquiry concluded that there was no evidence he engaged in efforts to falsify or suppress data.

Mann noted Friday that only one of the five grants Cuccinelli is investigating came from the university. The others were federal grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.

The NSF's paleoclimate program conducts several layers of peer reviews before distributing about $10 million yearly for research into climate change, said David Verardo, its director. The federal agency has its own inspector general to examine allegations of misuse of grant money.

"If scientists are pulling their punches on the science to fall in line with some perceived bias, that's a problem for me, and it's a problem for science," Verardo said.

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