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:
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.