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Judge Quashes Subpoena of UVA Research Records 293

Posted by Soulskill
from the closing-the-climategate dept.
esocid writes "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. He also set aside the subpoena without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli can rewrite it to better explain why he wants to investigate, but seemed skeptical about the underlying claim of fraud. The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005. 'The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann's work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia,' Peatross wrote. The ruling also limited Cuccinelli to asking about only one of the five grants issued, which was the only one using state funds."
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Judge Quashes Subpoena of UVA Research Records

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  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbone (558574) on Monday August 30, 2010 @05:41PM (#33420908)

    If this is not a political prosecution, I don't know what is. As a Virginia taxpayer, I don't mind politicians bloviating, but I don't like them chewing up public resources to do so.

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Monday August 30, 2010 @05:44PM (#33420942) Homepage

    They're not all bad...I know that the judges at our local courthouse (which is less than a mile away from our apartment...keeps crime down:-)) vary greatly.

  • by QuantumLeaper (607189) on Monday August 30, 2010 @05:46PM (#33420958) Journal
    Judges are not stupid, unlike a lot of people who think the Courts are an extension of the Political machine. People may appoint Judges for political reasons but they should never bow to those reasons.
  • Politics aside (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hsmith (818216) on Monday August 30, 2010 @05:59PM (#33421074)
    Why should a public funded university not have to respond to such requests? Why, if I were to file a FOIA request for the same data would it be denied? My tax money has paid for it, I have every right as I do to FOIA the video tapes of a traffic stop.

    As such a website that so often cries for "free information" - it is amusing to see "zomg good!" due to the motivations behind the request and why it was denied.
  • by mangu (126918) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:12PM (#33421170)

    It is interesting (and very bigoted of you) to assume anyone who is a AGW skeptic is anti-science and pro-intelligent design

    Well, an argument often seen here on Slashdot is that "correlation does not imply causation".

    However, correlation is a good argument for further studies on causation. And there's a very strong correlation between being a global warming skeptic and having a strong anti-science and pro-creationist stance.

  • by MrHanky (141717) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:18PM (#33421216) Homepage Journal

    True. But most self-proclaimed climate change skeptics are simply denialists.

  • by StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:20PM (#33421242)

    Well stereotypes have survival value and when you consider that 99.99% of research and 100% of reputable research supports the conclusion that mans efforts at living the good life have effected the climate in such a way that polar ice caps are melting, storms are getting stronger and weather patterns changing. It will be funny to see Cuccinelli trying to get votes from those portions of Virginia like Hampton and Norfolk are as under sea level as New Orleans. Speaking of which they had better build those leevies higher down there.

    There is no dispute certainly that there is global warming. The only dispute might be what percentage is due to man's activity. So arguing about who put the hole in the boat while your sinking seems to be counter productive. In this case it effects business, like who needs to add the cost to the planet for their business practices, or who might get sued over their business practices. So he might not be anti science, just pro-"Take the money and run"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:24PM (#33421268)

    The term "AGW skeptic" is a misnomer. Skepticism in the typical scientific or philosophical sense is about asking for evidence for claims. The problem with "AGW skeptics" is that evidence for AGW is plentiful and evidence against it is scant. Someone who refuses to accept evidence presented, no matter how scientifically sound the evidence is, is not a skeptic. The more accurate term is "AGW denier".

  • by DamienRBlack (1165691) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:27PM (#33421288)
    The judge ruled that Cuccinelli's subpoena didn't include sufficient reason to suspect fraud. Cuccinelli is allowed to rewrite his subpoena if he wants to. Quit seeing liberal conspiracy where there is only conservative stupidity.
  • by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:29PM (#33421304)

    It comes down to suing researchers out of existance if their results conflict with a political stance

    This is beyond scary, it is a sign of America moving from a world leader in research to a has-been backwater

  • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:51PM (#33421494)
    "deny" implies that there is no shadow of a question about the factuality AGW (or how significant it is), which is just not true-- hence why it is a theory. I would reserve the term denier for actual factual historical events, not theories which can never be more than theories.

    If you dont understand or agree, it may be helpful to recall what the difference between historical fact and scientific theory is, and whether theories can ever be exhaustively proven.
  • I knew a guy in college who was a gravity skeptic. We were discussing the repeatable nature of science, and he said, "No, just because it's repeatable doesn't mean it's predictable." I slapped the giant pile of books and notebooks out of his hand. "See? Gravity works."

    He shot back, "Just because you're pointing to one instance..."

    Skepticism ends at some point. Skepticism ends when you get answers like, "The reason why WTC7 went down was because of damage from a large chunk of another building hitting it" or "All the evidence points to global warming" or "Obama was born in Hawaii and is currently a Christian." Skepticism doesn't continue after getting answers you don't like. That's paranoia and delusional thinking.

  • by Kaenneth (82978) on Monday August 30, 2010 @06:59PM (#33421574) Homepage Journal

    I'm not for or against global warming, I just don't care. It's just a change, which has happened any number of times in (pre)history. Some land will become less useful to humans, some will become more useful; some species which can't adapt will die off, others will thrive. If burning fossil fuels is a cause, well, we're almost out of those anyway. Methane from cow farts?, beef can't sustain a growing global population anyway.

    I hate that some people have turned it into a virtually religious issue, and intentionally refuse to consider that the possibility that it might not be happening, it probably is occuring, but to attach labels like 'deniers' (I have to think this is an attept to emotionally link it to the jewish holocaust, but I might be wrong.) and to attack the speaker of the idea, instead of the idea itself is just wrong. That AG is wrong to use his position to attack the scientist; and it's also wrong to label someone who dosn't think global warming is happening as a troll, idiot, or worse.

    Talking about the weather used to be 'safe', but now it's infused with conspiracy nuts, scientific cranks, and irrational believers, ON BOTH SIDES.

  • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:01PM (#33421598) Homepage

    No, to deny merely means to refuse to accept the claim regardless of what evidence has been put forward. The word makes not assumptions as to whether the claim is true or untrue. It's possible to disagree with AGW without being a denier, but such a person would be open to the possibility of it being accurate.

    These people are certainly deniers. Their counter-claims have little validity (most have none and many are outright fabrications) and most of their arguments lately have been ad hominem attacks on the researchers. So far, I have yet to see one of them acknowledge the strength of the data or admit to having made a mistake when they were shown to be wrong. They're deniers, pure and simple.

  • by bunratty (545641) on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:02PM (#33421602)
  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:09PM (#33421638) Journal

    Which brings up a more accurate point: while the "skeptics" may not all be anti-science, they definitely come across as anti-scientist.

    Which is worse, saying we should believe everything scientists say, or being anti-scientist? Maybe neither, but there's definitely blind faith on both sides in this debate.

    Also, good that the judge knocked the AG down.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mangu (126918) on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:12PM (#33421662)

    the argument could be made, it just wasn't on the warrant, to investigate the use of the one grant.

    Is the Virginia Attorney General qualified to do that investigation?

    A public officer needs to have some basis for any investigation he starts. Unless he has the proper scientific qualifications, or has received reliable information from an expert in the field, anything he does is nothing but political pressure.

    And you have no clue if it's politicians bloviating with public resources or not until something is found or nothing is found

    Unless something is found, it's the Virginia Attorney General who must prove he had cause to start that investigation. If he didn't have anything concrete, then he's at least guilty of wasting the state's resources.

  • by Doomdark (136619) on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:30PM (#33421826) Homepage Journal
    I don't think many claim people should believe everything scientists say. It would be silly, too, since unlike various movements, scientists as a group do not really have much of coherent message -- not more than a herd of cats.

    But even when considering specific domain (like climate science), I disagree in that there is equivalence between trusting scientific community's consensus and discrediting it completely: positions are rather asymmetric. Especially when latter is not done by specific argumentation against consensus by presenting credible alternative theories; or providing reasons as to why such expertise should be discarded. Mostly arguments are along lines of "but you can't prove any of it!" or "it ain't necessarily so". It is ok to be sceptical, but over time one should produce some actual counter-proposals. "Beyond reasonable doubt" is necessary for court of law because of significant losses that convicting innocent people causes; but it is not the level that is needed for engineering efforts and society-level planning of environmental issues.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:33PM (#33421848)

    As Carl Sagan once said, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.

    Yes. And when neither side has any, then what?

    Which is not the case here. There's ample, extraordinary, proof that CO2 absorbs infrared radiation. It's an elementary physics lab experiment that any college student in physics, chemistry, or a number of related subjects has performed. There's absolutely no evidence to the contrary.

    If you claim that an increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere does not cause global warming, then the burden of proof is on you alone.

  • by Score Whore (32328) on Monday August 30, 2010 @07:57PM (#33422042)

    Eh? It seems to me that it comes down to needing a subpoena in order to get access to a public employee's work product.

    If you want to talk scary, that's scary. Mann worked/works for public universities paid for with tax dollars. Explain why getting access to anything that he does while on tax payer time isn't as simple as saying "hey dude, can we see your work?"

  • by bunratty (545641) on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:00PM (#33422064)

    So why are so many people saying that the boat is not taking on any water, or saying that until it's proven that it's taking on water we should take no action about it, or even if the boat is taking on water there's nothing we can do about it anyway? Why not take the safe cource of action and turn on a pump, any one? If it's later determined that it wasn't sufficient or that it was more than necessary, at least we took action.

    Can you come up with a rational argument for not reducing carbon dioxide emissions?

  • Re:Politics aside (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:03PM (#33422082) Homepage Journal

    Our long term survival and health as a species is far more important than your petty complaints over taxes. To whatever extent we can steer this, we must.

  • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:05PM (#33422102)
    IANAL, but i strongly suspect that an "open records request" is very different from a subpoena as part of an accusation of fraud. I could certainly understand a professor being, er, open to one and hostile to the other. The attitude/method of the person asking can certainly make a difference in the response.
  • by Raenex (947668) on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:26PM (#33422260)

    "Beyond reasonable doubt" is necessary for court of law because of significant losses that convicting innocent people causes; but it is not the level that is needed for engineering efforts and society-level planning of environmental issues.

    When you're talking about changing the basis for the global economy, it is needed.

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:51PM (#33422398)
    That's as sensible as going up to a road worker and asking to borrow his hammer to do some work back at your house. Sure, the hammer was bought with public funds, but that doesn't mean that the worker must give up his tools or that you have any right to them.

    The results of the work should be public. The ownership of the copyright/patent of the results should be public. That's the work product. And that's not what they are after. They have the work product. And they don't like it, so they want the notes and such leading up to the work product so they can invalidate it. And not because it's actually invalid, but because you can take incomplete anything and spin it to be invalid.
  • by bunratty (545641) on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:54PM (#33422416)
    The research is open for all to see. It has been subjected to unprecedented scrutiny, and yet no one can find that the scientific conclusions are unwarranted. Quite the opposite -- no matter how much the IPCC report and the CLU climate researchers are studied, no one can find fault with the science. As far as I can tell, not one scientific paper has been published that concludes that AGW is not happening [norvig.com]. Saying that a judge denying a subpoena on the basis that no fraud was involved means there's a "liberal agenda" is grasping at straws.
  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Monday August 30, 2010 @08:57PM (#33422458)

    I'm not for or against global warming, I just don't care. It's just a change, which has happened any number of times in (pre)history. Some land will become less useful to humans, some will become more useful; some species which can't adapt will die off, others will thrive.

    Basically, your argument boils down to:

    Hey, I bumped my car into a wall once with 3mph. If I do that at mach 3, totally the same thing!.

    About your "running out of fossil fuels" argument:

    If burning fossil fuels is a cause, well, we're almost out of those anyway.

    We're running out for certain values of running out. Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] says this about the proven reserves:

    * Coal: 148 years
    * Oil: 43 years
    * Natural gas: 61 years

    There is more than enough fossil fuels left to continue polluting the atmosphere for decades.

    Methane from cow farts?, beef can't sustain a growing global population anyway.

    Beef can't sustain a growing global population, however this statement completely sidesteps the issue that methane from current beef production significantly contributes to global warming. Sadly, an increase in global population wouldn't change social structure. If there isn't enough food to go around the top 1-10% of society won't say "ah, fuck beef, let's eat something else instead!", but we'll (if you live in a western country with internet access that pretty much puts you in the top 10%) let the remaining 90% starve until the "growth problem solves itself".

    Talking about the weather used to be 'safe', but now it's infused with conspiracy nuts, scientific cranks, and irrational believers, ON BOTH SIDES.

    That's a true, but incomplete statement. There is a lot more irrationality and pseudoscience going on on the denialist side, just as a lot more irrationality exists on the side of creationists, anti-vaccine campaigners or among the people who claim you can cure AIDS with beetroot.

  • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968.gmail@com> on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:28PM (#33422644) Journal

    I wouldn't say so. I personally am not big on AGW simply because too many of the scientists we have seen for it have a serious "we don't have to show data to riff raff" attitude, and to me that is the opposite of science. Scientists, those that I consider "real" scientists anyway, like Einstein, were happy to show you their work. Hell I'm sure Hawking would probably bury you alive in data if asked. That to me is what made science great, in that it doesn't require faith or belief in an individual or individuals. A true scientist, and I hate to use a FLOSS analogy but that is all I can think of ATM, wants you to find the "bugs" because they are concerned with finding the answers not pushing an agenda one way or another.

    So I would say, while being an atheist and VERY pro science, that I am an AGW skeptic, simply because way too many in the AGW camp have this "You are for us or you are a (insert truther, denier, other derogatory name)" which is to me the exact opposite of how true science is supposed to work. I shouldn't have to take their word for anything because the data should be out there for all. That's my feelings on the subject anyway.

  • by tgibbs (83782) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:46PM (#33423130)

    As Carl Sagan once said, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof

    And given what has been known for many decades about the radiative properties of atmospheric CO2, it would indeed be extraordinary if we could increase CO2 by so much and not experience substantial changes in climate.

  • by dachshund (300733) on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:38PM (#33423414)

    If you want to talk scary, that's scary. Mann worked/works for public universities paid for with tax dollars. Explain why getting access to anything that he does while on tax payer time isn't as simple as saying "hey dude, can we see your work?"

    Asking to see his work would have amounted to asking for a dump of his published, peer reviewed research papers. They're available without a subpoena. Just because someone works for the public does not mean that they're subject to arbitrary, unjustified investigation at any time, especially when that investigation is expensive and has to be paid for by the public.

    And that's all this judge has said: present evidence that this expensive, time consuming investigation is justified, you get your information. Fail to present it, the public will be spared the cost both of the investigation, and the cost of lost research time that the public will have to bear while this individual is investigated for no reason. It's a valuable function, and our government wouldn't survive without it. In a hypothetical world where investigations have no cost, maybe it would be reasonable to allow this to go forward with no justification. We don't live in that world.

    I guess that's "scary".

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @01:13AM (#33423738) Journal
    Considering the number of political investigations and FOI requests that Mann has been subjected to and complied with, what makes you think there is anything that is not already on the public record?

    Just because the AG tried to issue a supoena without probable cause does not mean the information is not already available. The same is true for many of the FOI requests Mann gets from the likes of McIntryre, etc. Much of the requested information is already available either in his published work or in previous replies to FOI requests. The intent with these tatics not to shead light on the subject rather it is to create the impression that Mann is hiding something while at the same time bogging down his reseach with a mountain of legal paperwork.

    Anti-AGW proponents like to paint themselves as modern day Galileo's but none of them are subjected to anywhere near the level of offical harrasment directed towards Mann and his team. Instead these unpublished, unqualified political hacks are invited to offer thier discredited opinions in the halls of power with depressing monotony. Lord Monckton is just one obvious example in this morally and ethically bankrupt abuse of political power.
  • Re:Politics aside (Score:3, Insightful)

    by riverat1 (1048260) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @02:37AM (#33423992)

    and as we all know, Mr. Mann refused to provide any actual climate data and advised some to destroy data.

    You're talking about Phil Jones in the UK, not Michael Mann. Dr. Mann's "hockey stick" data and methods can be found here [psu.edu]. Please tell me what part of that is falsified. But Mann's work is a small, not terribly important in itself piece of a large body of data and theory. Even if you threw it out completely it wouldn't change a thing.

  • by mpe (36238) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @02:49AM (#33424016)
    When you're talking about changing the basis for the global economy, it is needed.

    Especially when it is unclear if these changes would actually do anything about the alleged "problem" in the first place.
    Even some AGW advocates oppose the whole "carbon trading" idea.
  • by mpe (36238) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @03:15AM (#33424092)
    I personally am not big on AGW simply because too many of the scientists we have seen for it have a serious "we don't have to show data to riff raff" attitude, and to me that is the opposite of science. Scientists, those that I consider "real" scientists anyway, like Einstein, were happy to show you their work. Hell I'm sure Hawking would probably bury you alive in data if asked.

    IIRC Darwin was well aware that his theory of evolution was incomplete and indicated in his published works where he though further research was needed.

    That to me is what made science great, in that it doesn't require faith or belief in an individual or individuals.

    Or for that matter organisations.

    A true scientist, and I hate to use a FLOSS analogy but that is all I can think of ATM, wants you to find the "bugs" because they are concerned with finding the answers not pushing an agenda one way or another.

    Sometimes an "outsider" can easily find bugs that have been overlooked. It also appears daft not to run computer models past computer experts, statistics past statistics experts and in attempting to work out what conditions existed in the past to not ask historians & archaeologists.
  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @04:18AM (#33424284) Journal
    "The climategate scandal was really about climatologists hiding their data and methods from critical review."

    I suppose you're going to tell me that the three [parliament.uk] independent [uea.ac.uk] inquries [cce-review.org] that exonerated Jones and the CRU (including the CRU investigation headed by the ex-chairman of Shell) were a whitewash. Look closely at the third one where it describes how the investigators were able to obtain the "hiden data" from public sources within two days. If you still belive the CRU was hiding anything after the thourough debunking of those claims then you haven't been paying attention.
  • by sg_oneill (159032) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @04:29AM (#33424320)

    Yes. Especailly when there have been multiple investigations by other Government, and institutional panels that have found over and over again that the whole climategate thing was a giant beat up of a couple of shit-talking guys who didnt understand their FOI responsibilities. *ALL* the claims of scientific malpractice where extensively examined and the CRU and related scientists like Mann came out smelling of roses.

    Just because conservative anti-scientists dont like global warming, well shit neither does anyone else. But pretending its not real and conducting witchhunts against good hard working scientists is not only absusive politicization of science. It may well end up getting us all killed in the long run.

  • by dachshund (300733) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:26PM (#33427334)

    Peer reviewed papers are one thing. But science also requires the ability of anyone to replicate the experiment and validate the results. This requires the original models (code), data, and procedure used. Without this, the science is invalid.

    This subpoena was not looking to get Mann's code or find data that could reproduce his experiments. Mann doesn't even work for that university anymore, and it's doubtful they have his notes. Rather it was an attempt to find evidence of fraud and misuse of funds. That might be noble if there was any particular reason to believe that funds had been misused. But in this case the judge rightly pointed out that AG Cuccinelli had presented no such reason, not even the slightest hint.

    Now what the judge did not say is that Cuccinelli's subpoena was obviously politically motivated, and clearly an attempt to increase his standing within the Republican party by persecuting the hell out of a scientist who took a position that the GOP (and its backers) don't like. But anyone with an ounce of sense can see that's what it was. If anti-AGW advocates have an ounce of scientific credibility, I'd expect that they'd be as upset by this as anyone else.

  • by mjwx (966435) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @09:28PM (#33432084)

    but to attach labels like 'deniers'

    Because the Sceptics have diluted and changed the meaning of the word sceptic.

    We've relabelled them Deniers because that's what they are. They aren't interested in evaluating evidence and will cling to the tiniest error and use that as evidence that the science is wrong. A typical conversation between a scientist, sceptic and denier:

    Scientist: Here is my publication with my results.
    Sceptic: I'll need more proof, I want to replicate your experiments and get my own results.
    Denier: You didn't dot an "i" on page 158, this report is a sham and all your so called "science" is wrong. You need to be forced out of the scientific community.

    This is pretty much what the Climategate and IPCC controversies boiled down to, typo's and misinterpretations. Fortunately the real sceptics won in the end but not before the deniers did enough damage.

    Side note, The Climate Skeptics party in the 2010 Australian election misspelled "Sceptic" (Skeptic = En_US, Sceptic = En_UK/En_AU) so it's little wonder they got 607 votes in total.

The key elements in human thinking are not numbers but labels of fuzzy sets. -- L. Zadeh

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