Saturday, May 08, 2010

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli: Virginia's Grand Inquisitor

"In his ongoing campaign to wish away human-induced climate change, Mr. Cuccinelli has targeted Michael Mann, a climate scientist who used to teach at the University of Virginia, investigating him for allegedly defrauding taxpayers by obtaining grants from the commonwealth to conduct research on global temperatures....

For the commonwealth to persecute scientists because one official or another dislikes their findings is the fastest way to cripple not only its stellar flagship university, but also its entire public higher education system."---The Washington Post (5-7-10)

Stalin's ignorant agronomist Trofim Denisovich Lysenko once used his position as the head of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VASKhNIL) and later as director of the Institute of Genetics within the USSR's Academy of Sciences "to denounce biologists as 'fly-lovers and people haters,' and to decry the 'wreckers' in biology, whom he claimed were trying to purposely disable the Soviet economy and cause it to fail" (See Wikipedia's Lysenkoism entry).

"Wrecking" was a crime according to Article 58 of the RFSFR Criminal Code and was used to imprison many important, highly-skilled people. In his novel The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn characterizes the broad scope of Article 58 in this way:

One can find more epithets in praise of this article than Turgenev once assembled to praise the Russian language, or Nekrasov to praise Mother Russia: great, powerful, abundant, highly ramified, multiform, wide sweeping 58, which summed up the world not so much through the exact terms of its sections as in their extended diacritical interpretation.

Who among us has not experienced its all-encompassing embrace? In all truth, there is no step, thought, action, or lack of action under the heavens which could not be punished by the heavy hand of Article 58. [Cited in Wikipedia's entry on Article 58, note 2: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago. Harper & Row, First Edition, 1973. ISBN 0060139145. Chapter 2, Page 60]

Today, global warming deniers spread similar falsehoods about the motives of scientists who study global warming. Most of these lies are collected at Climate Depot, a blog run by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe's former aid and scandal-monger, the clownish and increasingly desperate Marc Morano.

Ironically, "conservative" conspiracists and witch-hunters who depict the science of global warming as a "communist plot" on the part of "crafty scientists" scheming to take-over the American economy actually sound like Soviet-era KGB conspiracy theorists, who typically modelled their conspiracy theories on that notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

As the Russian newspaper Izvestiya (3-19-92) reported during the Glasnost' era:

[KGB chief Yevgeni Primakov] mentioned the well known articles printed a few years ago in our central newspapers about AIDS supposedly originating from secret Pentagon laboratories. According to Yevgeni Primakov, the articles exposing US scientists' 'crafty' plots were fabricated in KGB offices.

The tactics being used by global warming denialists such as Marc Morano remind me of the dirty tricks of Russian political operatives. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (2-5-10) describe the tactics of political consultants for the ruling United Russia party in Saratov, Russia:

The United Russia party machine uses a noxious slurry of dirty tricks, illegal activities, and domination of the media to discredit and destroy any politician, businessperson, or anyone else deemed an enemy of the Saratov Oblast United Russia party boss and Duma deputy speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.


The authors of The Black PR Practitioners Of The White Bear, a forthcoming book on the tactics of political consultants for the ruling United Russia party explain:

At first when a person is identified as a personal enemy of Volodin they initiate a series of negative articles in the mass media. Next those representatives of the public who only imitate the feverish activity of building civil society are activated. These pseudo-activists create paid-for articles in the media that create the necessary public outcry. Or their activities become the excuse for new paid-for articles and television reports. When the number of publications reaches a critical mass, local deputies begin flooding the state organs of the Russian Federation with official inquiries and letters from residents of Saratov Oblast demanding decisive action be taken against the target of Volodin’s attacks, although they produce no real facts that the person has violated the law, because there are no such facts. They merely cite the numerous publications in the media. As a result, authorities higher up in the government form a false image of the real situation in Saratov Oblast. People who are undesirable to Volodin and his entourage and clan are seen in a negative light, which has negative consequences for the political climate inside the region and for the level of decision making here. In short, using such political tactics is a form of disinformation targeting the highest levels of government, which should be considered a premeditated, conspiratorial crime. [See the
full text.]

In Richmond, Virginia's
Attorney General Cuccinelli's campaign against Michael Mann and the science of global warming reminds me of Stalin's KGB-led purges of the so-called "wreckers." Cuccinelli, who fancies that he can blithely dictate the laws of science as if he were Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, a Soviet Bloc AIDS propagandist, a 9-11 Truther publication, a Gazprom political operative, or a political consultant for the ruling United Russia Party, has sent a "civil investigative demand" for documents regarding the research of climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann to the University of Virginia. The Attorney General is trying to smear Dr. Mann as a fraud, as if the renowned Dr. Mann were a charlatan like the discredited University of Colorado ex-professor and charlatan Ward Churchill.

The Washington Post (5-7-10) has published an article about the slimy Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli's persecution of the famed climate scientist Michael Mann:

WE KNEW Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had declared war on reality. Now he has declared war on the freedom of academic inquiry as well. We hope that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the University of Virginia have the spine to repudiate Mr. Cuccinelli's abuse of the legal code. If they do not, the quality of Virginia's universities will suffer for years to come.

In his ongoing campaign to wish away human-induced climate change, Mr. Cuccinelli has targeted Michael Mann, a climate scientist who used to teach at the University of Virginia, investigating him for allegedly defrauding taxpayers by obtaining grants from the commonwealth to conduct research on global temperatures. The attorney general is demanding that the university turn over astonishingly vast numbers of e-mails and other documents relating to Mr. Mann, including all correspondence with a long list of other reputable scientists.

As ammunition for this chilling assault, Mr. Cuccinelli twists beyond recognition a statute designed to punish government contractors who use fake receipts to claim taxpayer funds and those who commit other such frauds. For Mr. Cuccinelli's "investigation" to have any merit, the attorney general must suppose that Mr. Mann "knowingly" presented "a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval." Mr. Cuccinelli's justification for this suspicion seems to be a series of e-mails that surfaced last year in which Mr. Mann wrote of a "trick" he used in one of his analyses, a term that referred to a method of presenting data to non-experts, not an effort to falsify results.

IN FACT, the scientific community, including a National Academy of Sciences panel, has pored over Mr. Mann's work for more than a decade, and though supporters and skeptics still disagree on much, it's clear that his conclusions are not obviously, premeditatedly fraudulent, particularly since they come with admissions about the uncertainties inherent to his work. Inquiries in Britain and one at Pennsylvania State University, Mr. Mann's current academic home, also absolved him of wrongdoing with regard to the e-mail controversy, the latter noting in particular that there is no evidence that he "suppressed or falsified data."

By equating controversial results with legal fraud, Mr. Cuccinelli demonstrates a dangerous disregard for scientific method and academic freedom. The remedy for unsatisfactory data or analysis is public criticism from peers and more data, not a politically tinged witch hunt or, worse, a civil penalty. Scientists and other academics inevitably will get things wrong, and they will use public funds in the process, because failure is as important to producing good scholarship as success. For the commonwealth to persecute scientists because one official or another dislikes their findings is the fastest way to cripple not only its stellar flagship university, but also its entire public higher education system.

That's why the university should immediately challenge the attorney general's "civil investigative demand" for documents, which the law allows, and which a university spokeswoman says it is considering. It's also why Mr. McDonnell should condemn the attorney general and aid the university, making it clear that Mr. Cuccinelli speaks only for himself.

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