Bad Astronomy

How not to fight antiscience zealotry

Ken Cuccinelli is the Attorney General of Virginia. He’s a Tea Party favorite, and has been waging a pogrom-like witch hunt against climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann for years. Cuccinelli is a climate change denier, and has been hounding Mann and his research, using his power of subpoena to hamstring Mann and the University of Virginia, where Mann did much of research (he’s now at Penn State University). Ironically, Cuccinelli has been spending quite a large passel of taxpayer money to try to prove that Mann’s research was fraudulent and therefore a waste of taxpayers’ money*.


Anyway, as much as I dislike what Cuccinelli is doing, I also dislike what two Virginia legislators are trying to do: remove the Attorney General’s ability to issue subpoenas to people, called civil investigative demands. If the AG suspects fraud, he can issue these CIDs to get documents needed to investigate the case.

If the senators get their way, Cuccinelli would no longer be able to harass Mann, but if I understand this correctly it would also remove his ability to pursue cases of actual fraud. And while I think Cucinelli’s actions are really, really skeevy, he is the Attorney General and should be able to issue CIDs as needed. And of course, eventually he’ll leave the AG office (hopefully not to run for higher office, something I dread) and someone else will be in there, someone who may fight for reality. Without the power of issuing CIDs that’ll be tougher. That’s why more freedom is nearly always better than less.

Cucinelli has responded to the senators’ actions, saying basically what I just did. I hate to agree with him, but I think he’s right in this case.

We do need to safeguard academic freedom, and we do need to protect scientific research from ideologically driven fishing expeditions, but this is the wrong way to do it. Taking away the AG’s abilities to do their job is a bad idea, and doing it this way makes it look like the senators (both Democrats) are trying to change the rules for their benefit… which seems to me to be just what they’re doing. And looking at this in a practical manner, given this is a Republican-controlled State Assembly, their chances are slim to none of getting their legislation passed anyway.

But that last point isn’t the important one. The bigger picture here is that as much as we may loathe some of the tactics being used to suppress science, if they’re being done in a legal manner then we must find ways within the system to fight them, and not try to undermine the system itself to achieve that goal.

* As Richard Littlemore points out, if Cuccinelli is so concerned about taxpayer fraud, will he investigate another Virginia professor, climate change denier Patrick Michaels, who may have misled Congress about his industry based income?

Related posts:

- Exclusive: Michael Mann responds to Rep. Barton
- They are not good faith questioning of scientific research
- UVa still fighting climate witch hunt, ups the rhetoric
- The global warming witch hunt continues