When intervention in scientific debate is political

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I cheered Albemarle County Circuit Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr.'s August decision to reject Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II's demand for private e-mails and other documents related to the research of a former University of Virginia professor who studied climate change. Now, I am dismayed that Mr. Cuccinelli has renewed his probe ["Climate research legal fight heats up," Metro, Oct. 4].

Judge Peatross's original decision was clear that Mr. Cuccinelli's first subpoena lacked merit. Since Mr. Cuccinelli has stated publicly that he does not believe that human activities are responsible for global warming, his persistence raises concern that an elected official might be using the power of his office to pursue a personal agenda rather than to defend his state's interests.

Political intervention in scientific debate harms the public good. The scientific process has produced human flight, life-saving drugs, telecommunications, abundant food, and cleaner water and air. The same process is helping us understand how and why the climate is changing, the risks involved and options for managing those risks.

If political pressure squelches scientific research, climate change will not magically disappear, but the objective knowledge needed to inform good decisions will. The University of Virginia should continue to resist unwarranted pressure from the attorney general.

Michael J. McPhaden, Seattle

The writer is president of the American Geophysical Union.

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