May 28th, 2010

University Shields Climate Scientist with Legal Delay Tactic

The legal ramifications from Climategate rumble on. As expected, the university accused of shielding a climate scientist from a fraud probe finally shows its legal cards.

Accused by climate sceptics as apologists for scientific misconduct the 
University of Virginia’s (UVA) petition has been duly served on Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli. The writ is to protect discredited climate scientist, Michael Mann from a possible fraud prosecution.

Naturally, the legal writ opposes Cuccinelli's demand for disclosure of what may be important hidden climate data withheld by that once impeachable institution. But buried within the legal papers is a potentially cynical delay tactic.

Filed on May 27, 2010, UVA's attorneys make a thin case; they cite little or no legal precedents; hardly surprising when there are few, if any similar cases in the annals of Virginia's case law.

Hypocrisy of 'Academic Freedom' Meme

Certain auspicious sections of academia have been quick to roast Cuccinelli in the build up to this. They and their lawyers spuriously contend that Virginia's Attorney General had impinged upon their ‘academic freedom’ with his recent demand for UVA's records of their former employee, Michael 'hockey stick' Mann. 

To sceptics of man-made global warming this is a rather galling view to take in the circumstances. No such 'academic freedom' was bestowed on those sceptic scientists who disagreed with the global warming lobby. As distinguished legal professor,
Jason Scott Johnston, points out many such reputable scientists have been marginalized or rejected by IPCC gatekeepers. As we learned from the ‘Climategate’ emails, there was a concerted effort behind the scenes to ensure that only one side of the story was heard.

Scott Johnston's well-publicised take on all this proves that at least some sections of the legal profession hold a different view from that of the self-serving section of the ivory towers of academia.

Academics Have No Exemption from Fraud Laws

Academia has no over-riding privilege that places that profession above and beyond the fraud laws. There does seem to be
a prima facie case and Cuccinelli is right to test if there is any fire behind this smoke.

The UVA seeks to rebut this by claiming there are "no objective reasons to believe" Mann has done wrong-well, let's the hidden data first, shall we? The petition accuses Cuccinelli of being ‘overbroad’ and ‘burdensome’ in his disclosure demands. What this precisely means isn't specified.

Aside from the legal ramifications, filing this petition does UVA no favors at all. It merely plays into their opponents' hands and vindicates the view that climate science is unlike any other science and is exempt from any meaningful public scrutiny. This is a moral as well as a legal issue: publicly-funded research should be open to public scrutiny.

A 'lose-lose' scenario?

UVA has decided to risk jeopardising its outstanding reputation by seeking to perpetuate the smoke screen that keeps the core data of discredited climate scientists well hidden. Even if this petition succeeds UVA will forever stand accused of being just another apologist institution for scientific misconduct.

There is no dispute at all over the fact that that independent analysts seeking reasonable Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to view key climate data have been unlawfully denied, in some cases by between three to seven years (as per NASA and Britain’s Climatic Research Unit). The shabby cover up has to stop.

University Refuses to Comply with Subpoena

The petition concedes there is a controversy revolving around Michael Mann's hidden data. But it doesn't concede the fact Mann, contrary to established scientific procedure, has taken the unusual line of refusing to disclose his meta data reasonably sought by independent climate analysts.

The petition offers no reason for unwillingness of Mann and his former employers to let others audit his numbers. Indeed, nowhere does the petition address any of the 
charges of wrongdoing against Mann. 

Neither does the petition acknowledge that the 
Oxburgh Committeea British independent inquiry into Climategate that addressed the conduct of the clique of climate scientists to which Mann belongs, found that scientists had, indeed, cherry-picked, lost and/or destroyed key climate data. At least one of the clique, CRU’s Phil Jones, escaped criminal prosecution only by a legal technicality. So the question is: what are these scientists so desperate to hide?

Is Petition a Cynical Delay Tactic?

A considerable portion of the argument in UVA’s instant petition is cleverly intertwined and dependent on the outcome of the AG’s other pending case that was filed on February16, 2010 (Commonwealth of Virginia v. United States Envtl. Agency, Case No. 10-1036 (D.C. Cir.)). No further state proceedings can be meaningfully advanced until the federal case has been concluded.

As much as taxpayers and climate sceptics would love to see this issue promptly disposed with this now seems unlikely. Slick lawyering may have bought Mann and the university more breathing space and there is little Cuccinelli can do about it. 

Where to From Here?

As Jason Scott Johnston Professor of Law, and Director of the Program on Law, Environment and Economy of the University of Pennsylvania Law School concluded in his fine essay, certain facts will remain; global warming advocates and their institutions have applied “a rhetoric of persuasion, of advocacy that prevails throughout establishment climate science." 

The consequence of such bias and subterfuge has been that federal and state policymakers will remain blissfully ignorant of all the climate facts. They thus blindly stumble on in the dark pursuing what are increasingly perceived as dystopian cap and trade climate taxes without any credible and proven scientific basis.