The Sciences

Dahlia Lithwick Trashes Cuccinelli's Attack on Climate Research

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMay 6, 2010 12:35 AM


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I missed this late yesterday in Slate, but it is priceless. Among other things, Lithwick shows that Cuccinelli's investigation holds no benefit for Virginia taxpayers:

...State Sen. Donald McEachin estimates that the Cuccinelli lawsuit will cost Virginia taxpayers between $250,000 and $500,000 if it goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Spending half a million dollars of taxpayer funds to possibly recover some part of half a million dollars of misspent grant money doesn't even begin to make sense. But it's not just Mann on the hook here. "With a weapon like this in Cuccinelli's hands, any faculty member at a public university in Virginia has got to be thinking twice about doing politically controversial research or communicating with other scholars about it," says Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors. UVA environmental science professor Howard Epstein, a former colleague of Mann's, puts it this way: "Who is going to want to be on our faculty when they realize Virginia is the state where the A.G. investigates climate scientists?" If researchers are really afraid to do cutting-edge research in Virginia, the state's flagship university is in enormous trouble.

Well, yeah. But is UVA standing up for itself and its scientists? Two important new points from Lithwick's piece are 1) even many of Mann's critics think Cuccinelli is going way too far and 2) UVA is not defending itself, or scientific inquiry, strenuously enough. On the latter point:

In March, when Cuccinelli tried to revoke legal protections for its gay workers, UVA responded with outrage. University President John Casteen said that he was "alarmed" by Cuccinelli's reading of the state anti-discrimination laws and that the attorney general's letter "cuts to the core of our common claims to the most fundamental kinds of personal security under the rule of law." About the Mann investigation, thus far what we have heard from the university is muted. UVA has "a legal obligation to answer this request and it is our intention to respond to the extent required by law," said Carol Wood, a UVA spokeswoman. Well, yes. But it's probably time to point out that harassing the faculty for thousands of 10-year-old e-mails from a respected former colleague cuts to the core of intellectual and academic freedom as well.

Yes indeed. The University of Virginia is a massive institution and not without power. It should defend itself, and its scientists, much more vigorously.

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