May 21, 2010 - I want to update a story that has been of great interest to me. For a full background, please see my last two blogs (links 1 and 2 at the end of this entry blog).
Before I left work on Friday night (May 21), I sent an email to the Office of the Attorney General. As I am working media, I thought it would be appropriate to send it to the Office's Director of Communications, Brian Gottstein. Below is the text of my letter. As of this writing (May 27), I have had no response.
* * * * *
From: Sean Sublette
Sent: Friday, May 21, 2010 11:41 PM
Subject: UVa CID Request
Dear Mr. Gottstein:
I am writing in response to the recent CID issued by your office to the University of Virginia. Admittedly, I am disappointed and somewhat puzzled by the need for this inquiry. To further my understanding, I was hoping you could respond to a few questions.
Does it concern you that the foundation of this CID arises from emails that were obtained illegally? While I understand it is not your jurisdiction, do you know of any investigation that is ongoing to determine the source of this crime?
Secondly, I would like to follow up on your May 19 statement, "The use of manipulated data to apply for taxpayer-funded research grants in Virginia is potentially fraud."
Respectfully, Dr. Mann has been investigated at Penn State and testified before Congress about his work. His publications have survived the peer-review process. Other scientists of his caliber, such as Steve McIntyre, have legitimate scientific questions about his methodologies, but even McIntyre believes the CID is not warranted. On May 19, McIntyre wrote in his Climate Audit blog, "Regardless of what one may think of the quality of Mann's work, he has published diligently."
Had Mann's data been truly fraudulent, how would it have gone undetected by other scientists in this field before his results were published?
Therefore, by extrapolation, this CID implies that the peer-review process has been compromised. Is that the position of your office? Additionally, do you believe your office possesses the scientific understanding necessary to determine if data are fraudulent?
Finally, the CID specifies five grants. Four of these grants are from federal sources: NOAA and NSF. On those four grants, the CID lists financial sums labeled: UVa award or UVa subcontract. This suggests federal funds were passed to UVa in these four grants. If this assumption is correct, how does the use of federal grants correlate to potentially fraudulent use of Virginia state tax revenue?
Thank you very much for any information you can provide. I appreciate your time and your service to the Commonwealth.
* * * * *
Earlier today, UVa filed a motion to challenge the CID. Below is the text of the UVa press release. The contents of the motion are surprisingly easy to read and very thin on legalese. You can find it at: http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/pdf/052710_petition.pdf
* * * * *
May 27, 2010
"Academic freedom is essential to the mission of our Nation's institutions of higher learning and a core First Amendment concern. As Thomas Jefferson intended, the University of Virginia has a long and proud tradition of embracing the 'illimitable freedom of the human mind' by fully endorsing and supporting faculty research and scholarly pursuits. Our Nation also has a long and proud tradition of limited government framed by enumerated powers which Jefferson ardently believed was necessary for a civil society to endure."
This is the preliminary statement of a petition filed today by the University of Virginia to "set aside" the Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs) issued to the University by Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II on April 23, 2010.
In announcing today's filing, University President John T. Casteen III said the University intends to protect academic freedom. Casteen said that issuance of the CIDs "has sent a chill through the Commonwealth's colleges and universities – a chill that has reached across the country and attracted the attention of all of higher education."
The CIDs seek to investigate the research activities of Michael Mann, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at the University from 1999 to 2005. Mann, who has since joined the faculty of The Pennsylvania State University, is known for his research on global warming.
On May 14, Casteen announced that the Board of Visitors had engaged the law firm of Hogan Lovells and its premier education practice group to represent and advise the University in its response to the CIDs.
Rector John O. Wynne said that the University is prepared to fight for the right of its research faculty to engage in debate and free expression without fear of reprisal. "We are fighting for preservation of the basic principles on which our country was founded," he said.
The University's petition, which was filed in Albemarle County Circuit Court this afternoon, is the first step in a legal process to set aside the CIDs. In addition to challenging the CIDs on academic freedom grounds, the petition also argues that the attorney general exceeded his authority under the state's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
A CID has the legal force of a subpoena. The CIDs issued to the University are extremely broad and far-reaching, requesting information and documents in connection with five grants as well as correspondence between Mann and more than 40 scientists and other individuals over an 11-year period.
The five grants at issue – four of them awarded by federal agencies and involving the disbursement of federal funds – totaled some $466,000.
Earlier this month, the University's Faculty Senate issued a statement regarding the CIDs, reflecting the organization's concern that this investigation would have a "chilling effect" on scientific inquiry worldwide.
Ann Hamric, chair of the Faculty Senate and a professor in the School of Nursing, said she was deeply grateful to University leaders for mounting a vigorous defense of academic freedom.
"I join with my faculty colleagues in applauding this action from our president and Board of Visitors," she said. "Academic freedom is crucial to the academic life of our (and any) university."
* * * * *