Washington Post: On the Harassment of Climate Researchers
May 30, 2011
FREEDOM OF information laws are critical tools that allow Americans to see what their leaders do on their behalf. But some global warming skeptics in Virginia are showing that even the best tools can be misused.
It’s more evidence of the twisted and perverse nature of America’s right wing know-nothing brigade, that legislation dedicated to greater openness in politics could be used as an instrument of repression. Lately we’ve seen a number of instances where far right wing organizations and individuals are attempting to use the Freedom of Information Act as a tool to intimidate, silence, and punish their perceived adversaries. In Michigan, educators have been put on notice that their emails may be subject to seizure if they contain key words such as “Madison”, “Scott Walker”, “Wisconsin”, or even “Maddow”. The obvious take-away for would-be thinkers in academia is that if you are discussing current events with students or colleagues, you are a person of interest.
In Virginia, the State’s Climate denialist Attorney General, Ken Cuchinelli, along with the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a right wing think tank, have been demanding to see emails from climate researcher Michael Mann, formerly of the University of Virginia, now at Penn State.
Kuchinelli’s primary claim to fame has been his crusade to change the Virginia State Seal so as to cover an all-too-arousing nipple on the figure of the Roman goddess Virtus.
A judge recently denied Kuchinelli’s request, but is granting ATI’s.
ATI’s motives are clear enough. The group’s Web site boasts about its challenges to environmental regulations across the country. Christopher Horner, its director of litigation, wrote a book called “Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud and Deception to Keep You Misinformed.” (We wonder whether the “alarmists” who wrote the National Research Council’s latest report on climate change are threatening, fraudulent or merely deceptive.) And ATI declares that Mr. Mann’s U-Va. e-mails contain material similar to that which inspired the trumped-up “Climategate” scandal, in which warming skeptics misrepresented lines from e-mails stored at a British climate science center.
Going after Mr. Mann only discourages the sort of scientific inquiry that, over time, sorts out fact from speculation, good science from bad. Academics must feel comfortable sharing research, disagreeing with colleagues and proposing conclusions — not all of which will be correct — without fear that those who dislike their findings will conduct invasive fishing expeditions in search of a pretext to discredit them. That give-and-take should be unhindered by how popular a professor’s ideas are or whose ideological convictions might be hurt.
For the fossil fuel interests that fund right wing think-tanks and politicians, the goal is merely to keep the US, and the world, wedded to the technologies of the 19th century. But for climate deniers, often that’s not far enough. In their minds, the 14th century knew best how to deal with those who preferred reason to dogma.