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Cuccinelli, campus cop

May 9, 2010 12:36 am

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FIT, confident, and eager, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli always looks ready to fight for the light-heavyweight title. That's a good quality in the state's top law-enforcement official. Alas, regarding former U.Va. professor Michael Mann, a leading theorist of manmade global warming, Mr. Cuccinelli seems to have taken up a less appropriate sport: fishing. Says he to The Washington Post:

"In light of the Climategate e-mails"--intercepted messages at East Anglia University's Climate Research Unit revealing that global-warming researchers suppressed data counterindicative of human-caused climate change--"there does seem to at least be an argument to be made that a course was undertaken by some of the individuals involved, including potentially Michael Mann, where they were steering a course to reach a conclusion."

"Does seem." "At least." "An argument to be made." "Potentially Michael Mann." On this hey-it's-not-impossible basis, Mr. Cuccinelli launches an expensive and disruptive fishing expedition at U.Va. to harpoon the great white whale of global-warming deception? At least the first Captain Ahab had actually seen Moby Dick.

No one disputes that the A.G. is acting lawfully. The 2002 Fraud Against Taxpayers Act can assess civil penalties on state employees who stoop to funny business to secure public funds. Mr. Mann, who got almost a half-million dollars in state research grants while on the U.Va. payroll from 1999 to 2005, helped create the dramatic 1,000-year "hockey stick graph," which shows a sudden jump in global temperatures starting in the mid-20th century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cited the graph in its U.N. report warning of planetary calamity. East Anglia is a bank of IPCC data--some now tainted, and some supplied by Mr. Mann while at U.Va. Those connections were all the wind Mr. Cuccinelli needed to fill his investigatory sails.

A FATEFUL INCURSION

Did Mr. Mann cook data to secure Virginia taxpayer funding, with which he produced more climate-change hooey? That evidently is Mr. Cuccinelli's hunch. But there are two arguments against his demand that U.Va. turn over voluminous e-mails between Mr. Mann and more than 40 other scientists, supporting materials for the grant requests, and other documents.

First, scientific panels in Great Britain and at Penn State, Mr. Mann's current college home, have combed the scientist's research and found no signs of dishonesty. One of four parts of the Penn State probe is incomplete. Couldn't the A.G. have waited for peer review to run its course?

Second, even if Mr. Cuccinelli thinks that academic scientists are "all in it together," it is wrong-headed and dangerous for him to go slashing through the ivy. The total-war mentality of modern American politics abhors the existence of neutrals. In today's vicious ideological battles there are few honest brokers and little affection for independent thinking. Yet the college campus must be a citadel of unmolested thought, a sanctuary from what George Orwell called the "smelly little orthodoxies" of politicians left and right. Because if it is not, its many imperfections will not yield what justifies them all--a drop, now and then, of unadulterated, liberating truth. Conservatives once knew that. True conservatives still do.

Mr. Cuccinelli, at least, is a lawyer, so he must appreciate the power of precedent. If he continues his charge into academe, it will not be without result. The result, however, probably won't be what's he seeking. It will be a trodden path for future A.G.s and others in authority to harass scholars whose research annoys them.

At the same University of Virginia whose records Mr. Cuccinelli is tossing are professors who are famously skeptical of global warming (Pat Michaels); others who hold that the decline of marriage is destroying U.S. society (Bradford Wilcox); still others who resist the entire liberal agenda (Gerard Alexander). They now have targets on their backs, too. And the whole academic enterprise, under direct political fire, may cower in its bunker, taking no chances-and shining no light.

Mr. Cuccinelli may be spoiling for a fight. But he should withdraw from this one, lest all Virginians rue the day he picked it.





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