For those who haven’t heard rightwing extremist Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has subpoenaed all of the documents related to climatologist Michael Mann’s state-funded research while Mann was at the University of Virginia (italics mine):
In papers sent to UVA April 23, Cuccinelli’s office commands the university to produce a sweeping swath of documents relating to Mann’s receipt of nearly half a million dollars in state grant-funded climate research conducted while Mann– now director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State– was at UVA between 1999 and 2005.
If Cuccinelli succeeds in finding a smoking gun like the purloined emails that led to the international scandal dubbed Climategate, Cuccinelli could seek the return of all the research money, legal fees, and trebled damages.
“Since it’s public money, there’s enough controversy to look in to the possible manipulation of data,” says Dr. Charles Battig, president of the nonprofit Piedmont Chapter Virginia Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment, a group that doubts the underpinnings of climate change theory….
Among the documents Cuccinelli demands are any and all emailed or written correspondence between or relating to Mann and more than 40 climate scientists, documents supporting any of five applications for the $484,875 in grants, and evidence of any documents that no longer exist along with proof of why, when, and how they were destroyed or disappeared.
One former UVA climate scientist now working with Michaels worries about politicizing– or, in his words, creating a “witch hunt”– what he believes should be an academic debate….
Making his comments via an online posting under an earlier version of this story, Knappenberger worries that scientists at Virginia’s public universities could become “political appointees, with whoever is in charge deciding which science is acceptable, and prosecuting the rest. Say good-bye to science in Virginia.”
Regarding grant funding, one review criterion is the research environment. Typically, this refers to the facilities and other infrastructure. For example, if you’re proposing to do genome sequencing, you must have sufficient technology and capacity to actually do the proposed work. It can also involve having other resources that can be tapped if necessary, such as a departmental statistician. Now, suppose a climatologist from UVA submitted a proposal. Should a reviewer take into account the potential for political mischief interfering with the ability to conduct the research? What if the researcher has a state grant, and could be investigated as Mann is? Keep in mind that most faculty receive start up funds from their institutions (money awarded by the university upon hire to provision the lab and serve as initial funding). I wouldn’t put it past someone like Cuccinelli to use that as a pretext for a witch hunt.
Given Cuccinelli’s political
lunacy leanings, it’s not just climatology we should worry about. What about some who is also doing stem cell research? Or sexually transmitted diseases? The latter is not far-fetched. In a field I work in, one project addresses sexually transmitted diseases in teenagers using some creative methods. It’s an important study, but everyone single colleague I know has said that if conservative fucking morons like Cuccinelli were to find out about it, they would start complaining–the funding agency showed some guts and took a chance on this.
(An aside: For obvious reasons, I’m not going into further detail about the project. But there’s no chilling effect on science. None at all.)
I’m not saying reviewers should be ‘punishing’ VA for Cuccinelli’s stupidity. First, that’s petty (and, depending on the agency, illegal), even for me. Second, people shouldn’t be punished because other people, like Cuccinelli, are fucking morons. But certain research areas make theopolitical conservatives all hot and bothered. If their political chicanery and opportunism might impair the progress of the research or the researcher to do the project, then, that should be considered, just as an instituion’s track record in other areas should be considered (e.g., administrative misuse of funds).