Bringing Out The Hockey Sticks At The End Of August

Rosalind Helderman at The Washington Post:

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate. But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli’s underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli’s deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann’s fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case.

Jillian Rayfield at TPM:

Mann, who now works at Penn State University, left UVA in 2005. As TPM previously reported, Mann was one of several climate change researchers who were connected to the “Climate-Gate” emails that “showed some scientists discussing ways to keep views skeptical of global warming out of peer-reviewed journals, among other things.”

Three major UK investigations have since exonerated the “Climate-Gate” scientists of any wrongdoing. Mann himself was additionally let off the hook after an investigation by his employer, Penn State.

Cuccinelli’s probe had been denounced by climate change believers and skeptics alike as a “witch hunt” and a threat to academic freedom.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress:

Mann is one of America’s top climatologists.  Few if any climate scientists in the world have been as falsely accused — and thoroughly vindicated — over both their academic practices and scientific results as Dr. Michael Mann (see Much-vindicated Michael Mann and Hockey Stick get final exoneration from Penn State — time for some major media apologies and retractions and Final ‘forensic’ UK report on emails vindicates climate science and research underlying the Hockey Stick).

Here is Dr. Mann’s response to this ruling:

I’m very pleased that the judge has ruled in our favor. It is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically-motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests.

I’m looking forward now to trying to get back full time to the things I really care about: doing research and extending the forefront of our scientific understanding of the science of climate and climate change, teaching and advising students and postdoctoral scholars, and doing the best I can to communicate to the public important scientific findings.

As Nature magazine had editorialized back in May (see Nature rains on Cuccinelli: “The University of Virginia should fight a witch-hunt by the state’s attorney general.”)

Cuccinelli’s actions against Mann hark back to an era when tobacco companies smeared researchers as part of a sophisticated public relations strategy to raise doubts over the science showing that tobacco caused cancer, and delayed the introduction of smoking curbs for decades. Researchers found themselves bogged down in responding to subpoenas and legal challenges, which deterred others from the field. Climate-change deniers have adopted similar strategies with alacrity and, unfortunately, considerable success.

The key point about Mann’s “Hockey Stick” work is that it was repeatedly attacked and utterly vindicated long before we saw any of the trumped up charges around the stolen emails:

  • The Hockey Stick was affirmed in a major review by the uber-prestigious National Academy of Scientists (in media-speak, the highest scientific “court” in the land) — see NAS Report and here.  The news story in the journal Nature (subs. req’d) on the NAS panel was headlined:  “Academy affirms hockey-stick graph“!
  • The Hockey Stick has been replicated and strengthened by numerous independent studies.  My favorite is from Science last year — see Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds.
  • Mann’s scientific and academic practices have been exonerated by multiple independent investigations as noted above.

Kudos to Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr.

Bradford Plumer at TNR:

Of all the pet causes by climate skeptics, the obsession with Michael Mann has always struck me as one of the weirdest. Most of the broader public probably has no idea who Mann even is—he was one of the climatologists who created the “hockey stick” graph that used various bits of proxy data (such as tree-ring samples and ice-core measurements) to reconstruct global temperatures over the past 1,000 years. Mann and his co-authors found that the current spate of global warming is unprecedented during that time span. Hence the term “hockey stick”—the temperature graph swerves sharply upward at the end.

Mann’s work is important for giving us a fuller historical picture of the Earth’s climate, but the case for global warming doesn’t really hinge on it. The fact that the Earth is now hotter than it has been in the past 1,000 years tells us nothing about whether human activity is currently warming the planet. Those two things are logically separate. As Potsdam oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf has explained, the argument that greenhouse gases are heating things up was built on “detection-and-attribution studies” that look at recent temperature trends and sift through different possible culprits, such as CO2 or solar variations or volcanoes. (See here for Rahmstorf’s post, “What if the hockey stick were wrong?”)

And yet, for some reason, Mann has consistently remained one of the most popular targets for attacks by climate skeptics. Back when they ran Congress, Republicans held hearings that tried to discredit work. Critics pored through those “Climategate” e-mails from East Anglia for evidence that Mann committed fraud. And for years, skeptic blogs have scoured through tree-ring data and other assorted curiosities in an attempt to show that the hockey stick is wrong. It seems like a lot of people out there have somehow convinced themselves that if Mann can be taken down, the case for global warming will crumble.

And yet, Mann’s work has held up pretty well. Back in 2006, the National Academy of Sciences looked into all the criticisms of the hockey-stick graph, and while the resulting report lodged a few complaints, it basically affirmed Mann’s research. Other scientists have replicated his findings: The 2007 IPCC showcased a whole bunch of graphs suggesting that it’s currently hotter than it’s been in the last millennium. Studies and reconstructions continue to get refined, and the same results keep cropping up. What’s more, the independent panels that have looked into Climategate have all cleared Mann of charges of fraud.

Steve Benen:

As for the bigger picture, I’d add that the list of Cuccinelli’s other excesses is getting pretty long. Virginia’s A.G. has, after all, been palling around with radicals, recently considered a literacy test for some Virginians wishing to vote, questioned President Obama’s citizenship, rescinded legal protections for gays at Virginia universities, argued publicly that it doesn’t cost the public any money when he and his office work on a frivolous lawsuit, and, of course temporarily added a modesty shield to Virginia’s great seal.

And he’s only been in office since January.

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