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University of Virginia should fight the Va. attorney general's inquiry

Thursday, May 13, 2010; A16

VIRGINIA ATTORNEY General Ken Cuccinelli II has decided to misuse state funds in his personal war against climate science. But that doesn't mean anyone else should cooperate.

The University of Virginia has until next week to challenge the attorney general's demand that it turn over vast numbers of documents written by or relating to Michael Mann, one of the most famous American climate scientists, who worked at U-Va. from 1999 to 2005. The attorney general wants the university to hand over practically every document Mr. Mann touched during his years at U-Va., including correspondence between him and a long list of other prominent climate scientists.

Mr. Cuccinelli, apparently, speculates that Mr. Mann defrauded taxpayers by obtaining research grants to study global temperatures. It's clear from his statements that the "Climategate" controversy -- in which hackers stole records of e-mails between climate researchers that global warming skeptics then distorted -- inspired his witch hunt. Is there any doubt that the attorney general is trying to restoke that row with a fresh batch of e-mails?

In the process, he would deal grave harm to scientific inquiry throughout Virginia's public higher education system. Science progresses when researchers can propose ideas freely, differ in their methods and argue about the interpretations of their results. The commonwealth should nurture that process, not make scientists fear that they will be subject to investigation if a politician dislikes their conclusions.

The university plans to seek an extension of the deadline for challenging the attorney general's "civil investigative demand." But it must file a challenge. Moreover, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell should join the dozens of others -- including some of Mr. Mann's harshest critics -- in condemning Mr. Cuccinelli, lest he be implicated in this assault on reason.

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