Join
Search

In Virginia, the Emperor Has No Clothes

Bookmark and Share

Today, the Virginia Supreme Court rebuffed Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s attempts to access the personal correspondence of climate scientists at Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia. The court’s ruling found that the university does not constitute a “person” and is therefore not subject to the Civil Investigative Demands—essentially subpoenas—issued by the attorney general under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act in 2010.

A circuit court judge said in August 2010 that if the attorney general wants to pursue a fraud investigation, he needs to have some reason to suspect that fraud has been committed. And in the lower court’s eyes, he failed to produce a shred of credible evidence to support his case.

Dome Room Inside the Rotunda at the University of Virginia

Dome Room Inside the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Photo: Flickr/Alex E. Proimos

UCS has followed the University of Virginia case closely—supporting the scientists and the university in the media, signing on to two amicus briefs opposing the attorney general’s actions, and organizing 800+ scientists and academic leaders to urge the attorney general to stop his fishing expedition—because the ability of researchers in Virginia to pursue tough and sometimes contentious research was at stake.

You can see a timeline of this nearly two-year charade here.

The high court’s majority opinion did not address the merits of the subpoenas. But in a minority opinion, The Honorable Elizabeth A. McClanahan wrote that she would have ruled against the attorney general because his subpoenas “did not sufficiently state what the Attorney General suspected Dr. Mann did that was ‘false or fraudulent.’”

Perhaps—just maybe—this has something to do with the fact that there is not, and has never been, a legitimate case to pursue. Despite an incredible amount of hyperbole created to infect the national discussion about climate change science, investigation after investigation after investigation after investigation after investigation after investigation (deep breath) has found climate scientists’ research and methods to be sound. Even some climate skeptics called the attorney general’s subpoenas a witch hunt.

Unfortunately, we will continue to hear the protestations of some conspiracy theorists for whom no amount of evidence of the human influence on climate change is enough. I have little faith that today’s developments will stop groups backed by fossil fuel interests from attacking scientists who are in the line of fire simply because they have the misfortune of making discoveries about our environment that are threatening to powerful, vested interests.

The real question is when the anti-science position on climate change will be so laughable that no politician or pundit will want to be associated with it. There was a time when opinion leaders could doubt the link between smoking and lung cancer and get away with it. Let’s hope that the time for climate science is soon.

Posted in: Scientific Integrity Tags: , , , , ,

About the author: Michael Halpern is an expert on political interference in science and solutions to reduce suppression, manipulation, and distortion of government science. See Michael's full bio.

Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

  • Dave W

    I wish we could use the term “atmosphere modification” instead of “climate change”. I think it’s more scientifically accurate.

    It is our modification of the atmosphere that is not only affecting the climate but also acidifying the oceans and having other effects, some perhaps still to be discovered. So atmosphere modification is the underlying cause of more things than just climate change. Besides, the climate is affected by other things than just our output of greenhouse gasses, like volcanoes and the 11-year solar cycle.

    An unscientific person who sticks his head out the window on a cold day and says “No global warming here!” can can attack the idea of climate change with cherry-picked anecdotal evidence. Weather is personal for many people so logic has to battle emotion (often a tough fight).

    But an analysis of the changing percentages of gases in the atmosphere, their isotopic ratios (showing origins), historical records, ice cores, etc. is way more cut-and-dried, isn’t it? It’s not an emotional topic like the weather (which to many is the same thing as climate).

    Once we establish beyond a doubt, even among the skeptics, that we are indeed making a significant change to the mix of gasses in the atmosphere, then it’s a smaller step of logic to climate change, as well as to other deleterious effects on the planet. Then, the burden of proof falls on the skeptics to show that the atmosphere can be modified as we are doing without negative effects.

    How can we possibly crank up the CO2 to Eocene-levels and not have an effect? See, currently we are not forcing the skeptics to answer this question. I think we let them off the hook by blathering on about the climate during an unusually quiet solar cycle.

  • Barbara O’Leary

    BIT BY BIY OUR GOVERNMENT IS ALLOWING BIG BUSINESS TO DESTROY OUR LAND AND WATER WAYS. CANADIAN BUSINESSES WANT TO DIG UP THE EARTH HERE TO PUT DIRTY OIL DOWN TO TEXAS TO BE REFINED AND THE IT WILL GET SOLD TO ANOTHER COUNTRY. WE I WILL NOT BENEFIT FROM IT. AGAIN CANADIAN COMPANIES ARE WANTING TO LEVEL A MOUNTAIN NEAR MONTANA FOR MINERALS THAT BELONG TO AMERICANS ON PROTECTED LANDS, AND CANADIAN BIG BUSIESS ALSO WANT TO PUT UP HUGE ELECTRICAL POWER LINES RIGHT THROUGH PRISTINE NEW HAMPSHIRE DESTROYING AS THEY GO, TREES, HABITAT, ETC, JUST TO HAVE POWER FOR MASSACHUSETTS AND OTHER GRID SUPPLIERS. IT’S A BATTLE EVERYWHERE NOW. CONSIDER ALSO THAT THE PRESIDENT HAS GIVEN THESE PERMITS BY EXECUTIVE ORDER TO CANADIANS. DOES THAT HIT A NERVE? YOU CAN FIND IT BY KEYING IN PRESIDENTIAL EXECUTIVE ORDERS. ALL IN BLACK AND WHITE. SO MANY IT WILL TAKE A BIT OF TIME TO FIND WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR.

  • Barbara O’Leary

    I CAN IMAGINE LOTS OF ABUSE OF POWER. LOBBYIST HAVE TAKEN OVER OUR COUNTRY. THEY LOBBY FOR DRUGS, LAND, KILL WILD MUSTANGS FOR THEIR CATTLE AND THE LIST GOES ON AND ON. CHECK OUT BLM AND WILD MUSTANGS BLOGS. MILLIONS HAVE COMPAINED ABOUT LOTS OF THING BUT IT FALLS ON DEAF EARS.

  • Barbara O’Leary

    ABOUT CLIMAT CONTROL, ARE WE TALKING ABOUT “HAARP” IN ALASKA?

  • http://begreen.botw.org Be Green

    Good analogy with the smoking/lung cancer. You have to believe that we are getting to the point that none but those on the fringe will continue to cling to the anti-climate change argument.

  • Pat B

    Hi! Saw you quoted in the Washington Post. Thanks to UCS for all of your hard work pushing back on this guy’s ridiculous crusade. If it wasn’t for UCS, his tilting at windmills might have scored him some political points but turned off scientists from coming to Virginia. What an abuse of power. My state is a happier place today.

Comment Policy

UCS welcomes comments that foster civil conversation and debate. To help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion, please focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand, and refrain from personal attacks. Posts that are commercial, obscene, rude or disruptive will be removed.

Please note that comments are open for two weeks following each blog post. When commenting, you must use your real name. Valid email addresses are required. (UCS respects your privacy; we will not display, lend, or sell your email address for any reason.)