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Academic Bias, Accuracy in Academia, Recent News, U.S. Politics

Mann Freed of FOIA

Professor Michael Mann is perhaps best known among climate change skeptics for his appropriately dubbed “nature trick,” as described by Phil Jones in the ClimateGate emails. An advocacy group, the American Tradition Institute (ATI), lost a court battle this Monday to look into Professor Mann’s conduct at the University of Virginia.

Michael Mann will have his emails exempted from a Freedom Of Information Act request made by the American Tradition Institute, reports Lizzy Turner for the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily today. ATI had submitted a FOIA request asking for access to Mann’s emails following the Climategate scandal.

“Should the ruling stand, it could set a precedent that researchers in public institutions do not have to disclose to the public proprietary documents relating to their research,” writes Turner.

“Monday, retired Arlington Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan ruled Mann’s correspondence was public, but could be exempted from release by a specific exclusion that absolves proprietary information collected by faculty members at public universities,” she reports.

Professor Mann, who currently teaches at Pennsylvania State University, wrote an email to Turner asserting that “Fossil fuel industry front groups like the one (‘ATI’) behind this latest lawsuit, seek to intimidate and harass climate scientists whose findings are inconvenient to well-heeled vested interests whose bidding these groups are doing.”

“ATI sought to provide the supposedly missing ‘context’ to the Climategate scandal that, all are told, would explain away as non-problematic the revelations of ‘hide the decline,’ ‘Mike’s Nature (Magazine) trick,’ ‘recruiting’ journalists to go after opponents, have journal editors dismissed and challengers suffer professionally,’ [sic]” states the group’s website.

Although Michael Mann considered the ruling a victory for his cause, the judge “rejected all arguments by Intervenor Michael Mann whose intervention, the Court said from the bench, unnecessarily complicated matters, and without impact,” notes ATI.

“The court did not accept any ‘academic freedom’ or First Amendment arguments. Its ruling was purely grounded in the meaning of the term ‘proprietary’ in the Virginia statute, and the reading of that provision the Court suggests means that public universities can hide from the taxpayer even what the Telegraph’s Christopher Booker called ‘the greatest scientific scandal of our generation,’” writes ATI. “ATI is troubled by this implication, as should be all Virginia taxpayers and supporters of transparency in government, science and public policy.”  ATI called the ruling a “seemingly broad reading” of Virginia’s exemption 4.

In 2010, following the ClimateGate scandal, I wrote a special report for Accuracy in Academia outlining obstacles to a fair Pennsylvania State University investigation into the actions of Professor Michael Mann and his infamous “hockey stick” graph; this can be read at www.academia.org/Mann-Overboard. “However, several parts of the committee’s initial inquiry lend themselves to the conclusion that the Penn State investigation will likely remain toothless,” I wrote at the time. Naturally, in the investigation did not question the science behind Professor Mann’s research but only his professional conduct. “Had Dr. Mann’s conduct of his research been outside the range of accepted practices, it would have been impossible for him to receive so many awards and recognitions, which typically involve intense scrutiny from scientists who may or may not agree with his scientific conclusions,” states the University’s report (pdf). In other words, they believe that praise by his fellow researchers and the grants which he has received are sufficient cause to ensure that Dr. Mann has acted in a professionally acceptable, if not laudable, manner.

The unanimous decision of the Investigatory Committee at Pennsylvania State  University was that Dr. Mann “… did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities.”

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