A judge puts a damper on Mr. Cuccinelli's U-Va. witch hunt

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

EARLY THIS YEAR, climate-change skeptics went on the attack, pointing to two molehills of scandal that they claimed were towering peaks of scientific malfeasance. One was "Climategate," in which skeptics used highly selective excerpts of stolen e-mails in an effort to discredit some well-known scientists. The other was the identification of errors in the last assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- the canon of the international consensus on global warming -- particularly a dubious prediction that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035.

Investigation after investigation has since shown that neither episode undermined the basic science of climate change or the credibility of climate scientists. On Monday, the scientists were vindicated again, twice.

One such important action came in an Albemarle County courtroom, where Circuit Court Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. put a damper on a pernicious fishing expedition by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R). Mr. Cuccinelli, twisting a state law aimed at preventing fraud in contracting, had sought to force the University of Virginia to provide a warehouse of documents and correspondence relating to climate scientist Michael Mann, who used to work at the university.

Judge Peatross pointed out that the attorney general hadn't provided an "objective basis" to conclude that the scientist did anything fraudulent. That's because there is no objective basis for the charge. Mr. Mann's work might be construed as controversial, but it has been heavily scrutinized and found to be legitimate.

Also on Monday, an international review panel from the independent InterAcademy Council released a report on the IPCC's procedures for producing "assessments" of climate science, which are supposed to provide policymakers with a rigorous guide to the evidence and its interpretation. Though Fox News claimed it "slams" the IPCC, the study doesn't show that the much-maligned assessment process was rigged or even fundamentally flawed. In fact, much of what the review panel suggests involves enhancing and making more transparent the procedures already in place, and the report's authors underscore how valuable the IPCC's work has been.

So the overblown critique of climate science that emerged early this year continues to underwhelm. But that hasn't dampened Mr. Cuccinelli's zeal, at least so far; he announced Monday that he would keep after Mr. Mann and redraft his demands on the university, thereby extending his assault on academic freedom. We hope he rethinks his course. At this point all he can do is waste more taxpayer money, force the university to waste more of its money and embarrass Virginia in a way that can only harm its higher education system.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company