Virginia nominates extreme anti-science candidate for governor

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

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.
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.

7 comments:

  1. I agree with you completely, but the last statement you made is not the attitude that we should have in this case. The right way to approach it is to pursue a faculty position at UVA and dare Cucinelli to come after you. We are all being way to spineless in fighting this crap. The time for being nice has passed. This is not a policy debate, this concerns our future.
    Rich S.

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    1. I agree with you - we should fight this kind of political extremism. But it's really too bad that scientists have to spend significant time simply fighting to be allowed to report their findings openly and honestly.

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    2. True. Maybe the way to relieve the scientists of this burden is to have organizations that do the defending for them. Like an ACLU for the scientific community that will do the fighting. I'm sure there are such people already, maybe they just need to be more forceful and active in the endeavor.
      Rich S.

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  2. Maybe if the science community was not so politicized and subjective the public would be more sympathetic or trusting toward your viewpoint. However the left has taken an elitist tack and has shown itself to be dishonest in its premature conclusions of human caused global warming, oh sorry, climate change.
    I think that any sound thinking teenager could shoot holes in most of the supposedly scientific conclusions that the climate change community comes to. From what i have seen the science is rife with assumptions and presuppositions as premises’.
    Keep up the good work of name calling and bullying anyone the can do simple critical thinking and who don’t care what the latest trend is in group think
    Sorry to break in on your Black Panther party.

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    1. Anon: you miss the point entirely. If you (or Cuccinelli) has any sound arguments against global warming, or any scientific question, bring 'em on. Cuccinelli very pointedly did not do that. Instead, he attacked Michael Mann and UVA by essentially filing a lawsuit accusing them of fraud. This forced the state to spend many $$ (millions? who knows) attacking and defending its own premier public university. No light was cast on the science, nor did Cuccinelli even attempt to do so. So the "bullying" as you say was entirely done by him.

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    2. When I said earlier that the time for being nice to people like this anonynous right-wing lunatic are passed, I meant it.
      Mr. Right-Wing Anonymous Fool, you think you see science rife with assumptions and presuppositions because your head is buried up your ass.
      I know lot's of guys like you. Engineers who should know better than to dismiss science for the sake of politics. If you choose to remain so wilfully ignorant, then stay inside your echo chamber so the rest of us don't have to listen to your bullshit. It is almost too late mitigate the consequences of our actions, and fools like you have thus far made it impossible for anything to be done. So just STFU.
      Rich S.

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  3. I would usually say that a comment like Rich S.'s last entry crossed a line, but I'm ready to say he's right--absolutely right. Enough is enough of such nonsense, er....bullshit.

    I mean, calling the science community "subjective" is just the most ignorant thing I've heard in a while and the ignorance just goes on and on after that one. Only someone ignorant of the scientific method could even say such a thing. Critical thinking my patootie. Not one example is given, of course and this rant is nearly identical to one I read on another blog today; do you all just copy this garbage from each other?

    C'mon, "anonymous", shoot some holes in climate science for me--just one! At least I've got the balls to use my real name.

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