An Important Victory for Climate Science

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You’ve heard about “ClimateGate.” ClimateGate was a very successful but illegal campaign by anti-science to discredit climate science and climate scientists. Rest assured, the climate science is fine and the climate scientists are just trying to do their jobs, and doing quite well at that. Nonetheless, a combination of inaccurate representation of the contents of various emails written between climate scientists and what amounts to unethical treatment of climate science by the press resulted in a shift among the general populous in the US from about half of the people thinking that Global Warming is some sort of hoax (at worst) or bad science (at best) to something closer to 80% of citizens thinking this to be the case.

As a followup on ClimateGate, anti-science forces have continued to harass climate sciences, and this harassment has involved suing to have access to private correspondence among climate scientists which would allegedly include evidence that they were making up data in order to get grant money.

In 2010 newly-elected Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a climate change denier, sued the University of Virginia to get Mann’s private papers. Cuccinelli wanted to sift through them in the wake of “climategate” to see if he could find anything he could spin into a case under the state’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, arguing that while an employee of UVA, Mann’s work on climate change may have used public money to perpetrate a fraud.*

This initial attempt failed. Then, a group called the Western Tradition Partnership, backed by the energy industry and the Republican Party, which later changed its name to the American Tradition Partnership (ATP), initiated a suit against the University of Virginia to gain access to the same private information.

Michael Mann, one of the top climate scientists in the world and creator of the so-called “Hockey Stick Graph” would be one of the main targets of this vigilante investigation, but was not part of the suit. So, he went to court to make a motion that he be allowed to intervene in the suit in order to protect his own interests. One might expect that an institution like UVA would have a different point of view regarding access to private information than the person who’s information is being pillaged, so this seemed a reasonable request.

Yesterday a hearing was held to determine the outcome of Mann’s motion.

At Tuesday’s hearing, attorneys representing Mann and UVA went on the offensive. Mann’s attorney, Peter Fontaine of the firm Cozen O’Connor, called ATI an extreme right-wing group bent on attacking climate scientists and preventing any kind of action on global warming. After documenting links to various conservative organizations, Fontaine said ATI is part of a “shadowy political network that is largely funded by petroleum companies.”

My colleague John Abraham has been in touch with Mike Mann, and relayed this information yesterday:

ATI could not convince the court that he (Mike Mann) did not have legal standing. The court has allowed him legal standing so he can be a party in the settlement.

Second, the court allowed that there was reason for UVA to reopen the protective order before the court. The original protective order would have allowed ATI to review the emails themselves. That court order is now invalid. ATI will not see the exempt emails.

The only matter to be resolved is the process by which ATI can challenge the exempt emails. Now, a neutral party will be able to see the emails, not ATI. The neutral party must be agreed upon by all parties in the good.

The broader message is that this is a major victory and a huge setback for ATI. ATI might appeal this to the Supreme Court.

A small but important victory for science. And the planet, actually.

My summary of this situation lacks many important details, but several other people have written extensively and intensively about this over the last 12 hours or so. Here is a set of links to those reports:

Shawn Lawrence Otto, author of Fool Me Twice, wirting for the Huffington Post: Climate Scientist Wins A Round for America:

What is at stake in Mann’s case is something much larger and more precious than papers and emails, or partisan politics — what is at stake is Americans’ freedom to investigate, debate and express ideas that run counter to those of corporations. Attacks on this basic freedom are a step away from democracy and toward tyranny.

Jeff Tollefson writing for Nature:

Initially worried when UVA granted ATI access to his emails, Mann says he is pleased that he and the university are now on the same legal page. But he nonetheless wants to maintain his own representation going forward – along with some funding from a new organization called the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. “Universities are often quite limited in what they can do when academics are under attack,” Mann says. “These skeptic groups are trying to exploit that.”

Chris Mooney, writing for DeSmogBlog:

Yesterday in a Virginia courtroom, Michael Mann–who is quickly becoming the Galileo of climate science–triumphed over the conservative American Tradition Institute, and ongoing attempts at scientist-harassment.

Global Warming: Man or Myth has this summary and a list of links to prior writing on this topic.

Suzanne Goldenberg writes at The Guardian:

Mann has been repeatedly cleared of any scientific misconduct. But Cuccinelli, and more recently the ATI, launched their own investigations, alleging Mann may have manipulated data to help get government research grants. Cuccinelli lost his case but it is under appeal.

Deep Climate has an open thread on which this topic has come up.

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28 thoughts on “An Important Victory for Climate Science

  1. speaking of scandals and harrassing scientists, we all have heard the horror stories of what happenes to climate scientists who refuse to walk lock step with the global community on this issue. No one is allowed to question climate change/global warming/global cooling. Any scientists who refuses to adhere to the global climate change/global warming/global cooling “science” is discarded from the issue.

    All this time I thought science involved experiments, theories, etc. Never did I dream that United nations politics would get involved. Never did I dream that marxism would take over science. Never saw that coming.

    Round one goes to the challenger – real scientists who outed criminals known as climategate.

    Round two goes to teh crazies.

    13 more rounds to go before the final bell rings.

    Global warming/cooling is real, but is NOT manmade. It is natural cycles. This science was settled in the 1970s. Now the crazies on the marxist left are using the issue for global wealth redistribution and global governance funding. Besides, read your Bible. Does revelation not forewarn of such occurences in the last days?

  2. *He’s a real right wing wacko with a web site and everything.*

    Do you have a URL for that website? Serious inquiry: I study garbage like his.

  3. More an more people consider that anti-science forces are those who hide behind antiquated notions such as academic freedom when information IS RIGHTFULLY the property of the public. All publically funded research + emails should automatically be put into the public domain and accessible. Academia can choose to opt out of public money if they have a problem with this. It is time for change as no person should should receive special privelege and special treatment when accepting public monies. This that needs to end.

  4. “information IS RIGHTFULLY the property of the public.”

    Is it? Who says?
    Is that why they always, “information wants to be free”?

    Lots of information is ALREADY available to the public. I know, right – believe it OR NOT1!! Why not read up on that a bit first?

    See, the government IS the people, right? And the people have this that information. But they don’t want YOU to see it. Why? Who knows, they’re fickle that way.

    Either way, I hope the barely comprehensible writing in your post isn’t a sign of stress, because you might be taking this that too seriously. Why don’t you go and have a nice hot bath?

  5. @Sundance

    *All publically funded research + emails should automatically be put into the public domain and accessible.*

    You might have an arguable case about publicly funded research being put into the public domain (indeed, there are plenty of arguments going on about this at this very moment), but scientists’ private emails? You gotta be joking.

    Can you imagine the stultifying effect it’d have if researchers were inhibited from floating wild ideas among their colleagues or, at another extreme, describing their bosses as stinkers. Would you be happy for your every conversation at the water cooler or in the restroom to be publicly reported?

  6. Also, it is common practice at most institutions, and accepted, legal, and ethical, for a person’s institutional email to become their primary or only email. Businesses sometimes do this, sometimes not, but Universities often do.

  7. “Chris Mooney, writing … Michael Mann–who is quickly becoming the Galileo of climate science …”
    Greg – your arguments do not exactly win by surrounding them with looney stuff. Also, if it went all the way from 50% to 80%, does this not indicate that there is something important worth considering? This loss of trust into science is an extremely dangerous issue inside a technological society that aims to decide democratically. Your total refusal of all responsibility of scientists’ behavior for the loss of public trust is way below your intellectual capabilities. Climate gate is not about climate. Don’t get carried away in rants too much – it feels good but backfires. You render yourself untrustworthy with such. Articles like this help bring the 80% to 81%. Do you really want that?

  8. Greg’s argument that foes of the acceptance of AGW are using extra-legal means to try to shut up a scientist is going to be undermined by linking a Mooney article that says people are trying to shut up Mann based on something other than whether he’s right? This is going to convince more people that AGW is some kind of hoax?

    This is an interesting world in which you live, Sascha.

  9. Public funding of science, while a good thing, creates a few problems in the current system. Publication costs money and is done by private companies. The public paid for the research and then individuals within the public have to pay again to read the results. That’s not so horrible, really. It just seems more fair to make the results free to the public, or the have publicly funded journals to publish the results from publicly funded research. Also, lab notebooks and the like should be available for public scrutiny under certain circumstances (fraud investigations, etc). I don’t see why personal email accounts should be subject to scrutiny, though.

    Real problems come with the current system under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which allows universities monopoly patents on the results of research done with public money. Sure, this is a great financial incentive to do awesome applied research and marketable inventions, but, damn, shouldn’t the results be public domain? This gets really weird when it comes to patenting living organisms or genes and the like, which in the US, is legal.

    This is just the nature of government subsidies. It creates moral hazards, conflicts of interest, etc on down the line. It’s just the way it is.

  10. Sascha, are you suggesting that there is something “to” Climategate? That those scientists did something wrong?

    I’m not clear what you are annoyed at. And, I don’t think I made any arguments in this post.

  11. The Manhattan Project was funded with public money. Was the public allowed to read the mail going in and out of Los Alamos? Just because a project is funded with public money doesn’t give the public the right to read private emails of those involved with the project.

    How are we to tell the difference between genuine investigation of wrongdoing and harassment in the guise of investigation of wrongdoing? We can’t and that’s why the Right Wing Whacko Denialist are using that strategy.

    It’s pretty obvious the RWWD are wetting their pants at the possibility of getting their hands on those emails. If the prospect of that happening wasn’t so serious it would be funny just watching their moves.

  12. How are we to tell the difference between genuine investigation of wrongdoing and harassment in the guise of investigation of wrongdoing?

    Well, there’s these things called “subpoenas,” which you can use to get access to relevant documents and witnesses. Thing is, to get a subpoena, you need another thing called “probable cause.” Which I’m sure most denialists don’t have.

  13. It’s weather manipulation as well. To say people shouldn’t be allowed to read the emails pertaining to the “science” says it all. If you are funded to provide certain results then you will find the results required to continue being funded. These people are paid liars

  14. @ Stephanie Z
    The first part of my remark was concerning the Mann-Galileo equivalence, which is looney. You need to twist history (well, or the present) to argue that comparison.

  15. @ Greg:
    You ask â??are you suggesting that there is something “to” Climategate? That those scientists did something wrong? I’m not clear what you are annoyed at.â?
    The emails confirm that established scientists, while upholding a picture of modest saints that are judged by an objective peer review process, are often arrogant people who manipulate the publishing process etc. wherever they can in order to silence criticism. I personally have only ever been able to put mediocre work into higher impact journals while all my good work is consistently rejected because I dare to criticize established people (e.g. in nanotechnology). The public does not understand fine points, but people easily pick up on arrogance, and it is arrogance of power much more than (of course also necessary) power that fosters resistance. Your â??victory danceâ? above leaves a bad aftertaste, too â?? no matter whether you do not see that or find it justified â?? it really does. Your great articles for example disagreeing with S. Pinker prove you can do much better.
    Science understanding in systems under democratic doctrines is a deep issue that I (related to climate for example here:
    ) and others try to tackle in long articles and they are still misread as â??anti-scienceâ?, so I wonâ??t in a comment (gosh, even J. Lehrer on the â??decline effectâ? was commented on as if it is supporting climate denial – there is no softer way to be “critical” than Lehrer). I say only so much here: Established science (scientists, science media, popular science blogs, â?¦) callously refusing any and all responsibility for the decline of the public trust in science is by now one of the main drivers of the public being confirmed in that decision. There is so much bias and wrong argumentations being tossed around in established science that I have stopped entirely referring to scientific â??consensusâ?, because doing so soils my scientific arguments. If this discussion and reform of publish-or-perish and all that is not taken seriously, 80% will go to 90% and further, and this will be justified.

  16. You asked what they did wrong, I answered that the mails help to show that they are the typical ‘big shots in the field’ type that use their influence into the peer review process to silence criticism. You may not see it that way, but that does not matter, because the public and people like me increasingly do perceive it that way, so reform is looooong overdue.

    What is at stake? Unbiased peer review is *the* ingredient to unbiased science. If it is obviously corrupted as it is in today’s publish-or-perish culture, which turned science into a popularity contest, there is no reason to trust established scientific “consensus” anymore than other established belief systems.

    Or did you mean the environment with “at stake”? In that case, I cannot know, because I am no expert on climate. As a physicist, I know temperatures are rising with CO2, but whether this just means we will grow food on the south pole, that I would need a trustworthy expert consensus on. I am an expert on QM/gravity and nanotechnology. In these two very different fields, I know well that peer review silences criticism: emergent gravity has been suppressed for 50 years, my criticisms of some nanotech papers are unpublishable, … . That is two out of two fields I know well. Thus, if I take my expertise into account, I should conclude that trustworthy expert consensus about what is at stake is unavailable.

  17. The emails confirm that established scientists, while upholding a picture of modest saints that are judged by an objective peer review process, are often arrogant people who manipulate the publishing process etc. wherever they can in order to silence criticism.

    Several investigations have found there is nothing to answer for. What have you found–aside from strawmen–that several independent investigations missed? Both of the papers mentioned in emails are in the IPCC literature and were not excluded/suppressed. If you’re thinking of editor resignations, find out from the people who resigned why they resigned (they have open letters). Again, nothing to answer for.

    Or did you mean the environment with “at stake”? In that case, I cannot know, because I am no expert on climate.

    We don’t know for sure so let’s do nothing then? Or is it We don’t know for sure so let’s accuse climate scientists of arrogance, silencing critics and manipulating peer review?

    Being arrogant, btw, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong. All you have to do is see what the pseudoskeptics offer to realize that they can’t possibly be right. So many contradictory claims often made by the same people. So many claims based on math that a high school stat student could debunk. So many cherry-picked quotes taken out of context.

    But if you’re looking for arrogance, how about the absolute surety that pseudoskeptics have that they’re right and that they know more than the experts and scientific academies around the world despite their lack of expertise or credentials (often not even having a science background).

    As for your QM ideas, keep doing what other scientists do when they’re doubted by their peers. Do more experiments, find more evidence, win them over by sheer evidence a la Marguilis (endosymbiotic hypothesis), McClintock (jumping genes), and Marshall and Warren (H. pylori and ulcers) to name a few.

    Sincere good wishes with that because many of us (scientists) love it when the lone voice is shown to be right, even if we’re shown to be wrong. Yeah, it can grate depending on how much effort you’ve put into your ideas and depending on how big an a**hole the person has been, but if we can’t disprove it (and we’d really like to at times because that person has been such a pompous arrogant prick), we’ll incorporate it and build on it. If we can’t overturn it, then our next revenge strategy is to take it beyond what the discoverer does and maybe wrestle some recognition away from that s.o.b.

  18. Edit to add: We’re not always so cut-throat. Most times (least in my experience) someone presents a hypothesis, we discuss it, bounce it around, realize it is interesting, but we’re not going to give up what we know works just for an interesting idea. The other person then starts doing work to gain evidence, we remain skeptical but open, s/he gives us evidence, and “hey, that looks very interesting…let me run a few experiments/do more research…not sure you’re right, but let’s see where this goes…”

  19. “Sascha, you need to do a reality check. See you on the south pole where you will be happily farming!”

    This was funnny. It’s good to see you have a sense of humor.

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