|Plot of temperature over the past 1,000|
years, showing a dramatic rise in the past
century. From the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change report, 2007.
Virginia nominates extreme anti-science candidate for governor
By Steven Salzberg on 5/26/2013 06:19:00 AM
Last week, the Virginia Republican party nominated Ken Cuccinelli for governor, in an election to be held later this year. Just three years ago, in his current job as Attorney General of Virginia, Cuccinelli launched one of the most outrageous attacks on an academic scientist that I've seen in many decades. His actions would not be out of place in a totalitarian state such as the Soviet Union, or perhaps in the 1950's McCarthyism era, when many Americans were blacklisted, denied jobs, and even fired because of their political views. But in a country where the freedom to speak is a fundamental right, Cuccinelli's actions are frightening.
Cuccinelli used the power of government to intimidate a scientist with whom he disagreed. Not just one scientist, but 40 scientists and their colleagues, all working at the University of Virginia. His message was clear: if you disagree with me, I will come after you. Now Cuccinelli is running for governor, and in a state fairly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, he has a good chance of winning.
Ken Cuccinelli is a climate change denialist, one of many U.S. politicians who think that the Earth is not warming, or if it is, that the warming is unrelated to human activities. The science is completely against Cuccinelli on this, but if he were simply scientifically ignorant I wouldn't be writing about him. After all, he's not the only politician who ignores science when he finds it inconvenient.
Cucinelli goes further - much, much further. In 2010, he used the power of his office as Attorney general to launch a major legal attack on climate scientist Michael Mann, who was a professor at the University of Virginia from 199-2005. Never mind that Mann had left UVA five years earlier; Cuccinelli wanted to make a public statement, and he chose his victim carefully. (Mann is now at Penn State, where he holds the title Distinguished Professor of Meterology.)
Michael Mann is the author of a famous paper that reconstructed temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years. Man showed that we are experiencing an unprecented warming trend over the last century, shown in this figure from the IPCC report
Did Cuccinelli try to find scientific evidence refuting Mann's data? No. He simply accused Mann, with no concrete evidence, of fraudulently manipulating data. He then served formal legal orders on UVA, demanding all emails and other corresponding to or from Michael Mann and 39 other climate scientists, plus their research assistants and administrative staff, from 1999 through 2010. They also demanded all "computer algorithms, programs, source code or the like" created by Mann and others. Cuccinelli's paper-thin legal justification for this attack was that Mann had violated a Virginia law called the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, and that because Mann had request grant funding from the state, Cuccinelli could go after him and everyone associated with him.
UVA showed some backbone and refused to cave. Hundreds of professors across the U.S. signed a petition organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The editors at Nature published an editorial saying that "The University of Virginia should fight a witch-hunt by the state's attorney general."
Two years later, after many court hearings and countless wasted taxpayer dollars, Virginia's Supreme Court threw out Cucinelli's charges and the case was over.
But just last week, Virginia Republicans nominated this modern-day McCarthyite to be their candidate for governor. You can be sure that if he wins, Cuccinelli will use the heavy hand of government to intimidate anyone who disagrees with him. His past actions show that he doesn't care about free speech or free inquiry, and he seems eager to go after anyone who might discover facts that he doesn't like. I'd hate to be a professor at any of Virginia's universities if Cuccinelli takes over the reigns of power.