Science 1. Thought Police 0.

April 18, 2014

Critical battle won against yet another Koch funded “think” tank. Significant because it involves the attempt too use the Freedom of Information Act as a bludgeon against free thought and inquiry.
Rick Piltz has a good wrap with links at Climate Science Watch.

Climate Science Watch:

The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected the American Tradition Institute’s demand for email correspondence between former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann and his colleagues. In upholding a higher education research exclusion from freedom of information access in this case, the Court cited the potential for “harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.” This is the result we have advocated in this case for the past three years.

The Richmond [Virginia] Times Dispatch reported

RICHMOND — The Virginia Supreme Court today rejected a conservative group’s attempt to obtain a University of Virginia climate researcher’s emails.

The justices said retired Arlington Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan was right when he ruled that Michael Mann’s emails are proprietary records dealing with scholarly research and therefore are exempt from disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The ruling ends the American Tradition Institute’s three-year court battle to obtain the emails. …

The Washington Post reported 

Unpublished research by university scientists is exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday, rejecting an attempt by skeptics of global warming to view the work of a prominent climate researcher during his years at the University of Virginia.

The ruling is the latest turn in the FOIA request filed in 2011 by Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) and the American Tradition Institute to obtain research and e-mails of former U-Va. profesor Michael Mann. …

In 2012, Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan sided with U-Va., saying that Mann’s work was exempt and that the FOIA exemption arose “from the concept of academic freedom and from the interest in protecting research.” Marshall and ATI appealed.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruling includes this:

“We reject ATI’s narrow construction of financial competitive advantage as a definition of ‘proprietary’ because it is not consistent with the General Assembly’s intent to protect public universities and colleges from being placed at a competitive disadvantage in relation to private universities and colleges. In the context of the higher education research exclusion, competitive disadvantage implicates not only financial injury, but also harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.”

Michael Halpern at the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The Court’s decision signals to scientists at public universities that the pursuit of scientific knowledge will be protected in Virginia, no matter how their research results might be received. …

[D]emanding private email correspondence among scientists is the 21st Century equivalent to eavesdropping on conversations around the water cooler. All of us need safe space to develop ideas and open them up to scrutiny so that we can make them better.

The Court quotes liberally from a brief submitted by UVa Provost John Simon: “For faculty at public institutions such as the University of Virginia,” wrote Simon, “Compelled disclosure of their unpublished thoughts, data, and personal scholarly communications would mean a fundamental disruption of the norms and expectations which have enabled research to flourish at the great public institutions for over a century.”

Rick Piltz comments:

I am well-aware of and strongly supportive of the need for effectively implemented Freedom of Information laws in dealing with government agencies, in order to foster open government and the public’s need to know. On the other hand, generally Freedom of Information advocates recognize there is a balance to be struck when it comes to protecting academic freedom and the confidentiality of communications among university scholars. I strongly support the Court’s ruling in this case.

In the 21st century, email can be a form of conversation among people who are separated geographically. Think: suppose you were a group of academics sitting at a table, over coffee or a beer, candidly discussing, say, colleagues and their work, appraising graduate students, criticizing university administrators, perhaps sharing personal information including perhaps medically related information that might be affecting your work schedule, trying out very tentative hypotheses or brainstorming about new lines of research, discussing the status of your grant proposals — you get the idea. So, should just anyone who is not part of your group — including those with a predatory interest in using or misusing anything that could be cherry-picked and used to smear you or to seek to discredit you — be allowed to sit at your table and listen in, record your conversation, and publish whatever pieces of it they chose to extract? Why would this be OK? Then, analogously, if your ‘table’ is a virtual table in cyberspace because the conversants are in dispersed locations, when should your right to converse freely via email be abridged? How much of your freedom of candid conversation should be chilled by the prospect of having it made public? Where and how are the lines to be drawn?

On the question of why academics might be legitimately concerned about the potential for abuse and misuse of having everyone, including those with a predatory interest, allowed to read and post their email conversations with each other, an article in the Columbia Journalism Review (“Strange Bedfellows”) has this, following a reference to the abusive, trumped-up, so-called “Climategate”:

“Researchers say they are increasingly subject to freedom of information requests that, rather than gathering data for public disclosure, take the form of fishing expeditions for smear campaigns. In a two-part series in Climate Wire, Stephanie Paige Ogburn reports that the deluge has grown such that that researchers are increasingly turning to organizations like the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, all designed to support scientists managing the onslaught.

 In March of 2012, The Washington Post ran an editorial criticizing this particular usage of FOIA, arguing that allowing records requests to be used as harassment needlessly hinders science.

“’Academics must feel comfortable sharing research, disagreeing with colleagues and proposing conclusions — not all of which will be correct,’ wrote the Post, adding that making correspondence subject to public scrutiny ‘discourages the sort of scientific inquiry that, over time, sorts out fact from speculation, good science from bad.'”

Response to the Supreme Court ruling by ATI (now known as Energy & Environment Legal Institute), which of course won’t own up to their misuse of Freedom of Information law to harass climate scientists and promote global warming denialism.

Statement by Michael Mann on the Virginia Supreme Court ruling:

We are glad that Judge Sheridan’s decision was upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court. This is a victory for science, public university faculty, and academic freedom.

We are grateful for the vigorous defense waged by the University of Virginia in protecting their faculty and the integrity of research and scholarship.

Hopefully the ruling can serve as a precedent in other states confronting this same assault on public universities and their faculty.

Earlier posts:

Court rules for Univ. of Virginia and Michael Mann against denialist inquisition – scholarly e-mail and documents are protected communication (September 17, 2012)

A Virginia court has affirmed the University of Virginia’s right to withhold confidential scholarly communications, thus ruling against the global warming denialist American Tradition Institute’s demand to make public climate scientist Michael Mann’s documents and email correspondence with dozens of other scientists during his time at UVa. This is an important victory in a case that threatened to send a chilling message to university scholars that they could no longer  expect to engage in personal communications without having the whole world reading over their shoulders.

Letter calling on Univ. of Virginia to prevent inappropriate open records disclosure of climate scientists’ exempt emails and documents (August 12, 2011)

Climate Science Watch joined the American Association of University Professors, the American Geophysical Union, and the Union of Concerned Scientists in calling on the University of Virginia to revise an agreement that would needlessly and inappropriately give the American Tradition Institute access to personal email correspondence and other documents from climate scientist Michael Mann and more than thirty other scientists. The University should honor its earlier commitment to utilize “all available exemptions” in responding to the request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by ATI, a ‘free market’ ideology group and legal arm of the global warming denial machine.

Washington Post editorial: Resist denialist ‘freedom of information’ harassment of climate change scientists (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,” says the Washington Post in a May 30 editorial. The case at hand is the current demand by the right-wing American Tradition Institute and its global warming denialist lawyer Christopher Horner to obtain and publish years’ worth of former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann’s email correspondence with dozens of colleagues in the science community, and other documents. The Post urges the University to dig in and make full use of legal tools to resist meeting this demand. Amen to that.

Here is a clip from what I posted on this from November 2011:

But if you thought this was just about climate science, you are mistaken. This is the template for a new strategy of McCarthy-ist, authoritarian oppression and witch hunting.

New York Times: 

The latest technique used by conservatives to silence liberal academics is to demand copies of e-mails and other documents. Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli of Virginia tried it last year with a climate-change scientist, and now the Wisconsin Republican Party is doing it to a distinguished historian who dared to criticize the state’s new union-busting law. These demands not only abuse academic freedom, but make the instigators look like petty and medieval inquisitors.

The historian, William Cronon, is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas research professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, and was recently elected president of the American Historical Association. Earlier this month, he was asked to write an Op-Ed article for The Times on the historical context of Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip public-employee unions of bargaining rights. While researching the subject, he posted on his blog several critical observations about the powerful network of conservatives working to undermine union rights and disenfranchise Democratic voters in many states.

In particular, he pointed to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by business interests that circulates draft legislation in every state capital, much of it similar to the Wisconsin law, and all of it unmatched by the left. Two days later, the state Republican Party filed a freedom-of-information request with the university, demanding all of his e-mails containing the words “Republican,” “Scott Walker,” “union,” “rally,” and other such incendiary terms.

Michigan Public Radio:

Controversy continues to swirl around collective bargaining rights–and the protests that recent legislation has sparked–in Michigan and Wisconsin.

At issue now is a number of Freedom of Information Act requests done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The requests have been made for information on faculty at Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.

Some critics are claiming that the FOIA requests are being used to intimidate college professors from participating in pro-labor protests.

New York Times:

A conservative research group in Michigan has issued a far-reaching public records request to the labor studies departments at three public universities in the state, seeking any e-mails involving the Wisconsin labor turmoil.

The group, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, declined to explain why it was making the Freedom of Information Act request for material from professors at the University of MichiganMichigan State and Wayne State University. But several professors who received the records request, which was first reported by Talking Points Memo on Tuesday, said it appeared to be an attempt to intimidate or embarrass professors who are sympathetic to organized labor.

This records request, which was filed Friday, comes several days after the Republican Party of Wisconsin made a records request to a prominent University of Wisconsin history professor, William Cronon, who had severely criticized the state’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, over his push for legislation to weaken public-sector unions.

The Mackinac Center, which describes itself as a nonpartisan research and educational institution and receives money from numerous conservative foundations, asked the three universities’ labor studies faculty members for any e-mails mentioning “Scott Walker,” “Madison,” “Wisconsin” or “Rachel Maddow,” the liberal talk show host on MSNBC.

Greg Scholtz, the director of academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, said: “We think all this will have a chilling effect on academic freedom. We’ve never seen FOIA requests used like this before.”

“Rachel Maddow”?  Now, the right wing wants to view your emails based on what kind of TV shows you’ve been watching.

Talking Points Memo, March 29, 2011:

A free enterprise think tank in Michigan — backed by some of the biggest names in national conservative donor circles — has made a broad public records request to at least three in-state universities with departments that specialize in the study of labor relations, seeking all their emails regarding the union battle in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, TPM has learned.

According to professors subject to the request, filed under Michigan’s version of the Freedom Of Information Act, the request is extremely rare in academic circles. An employee at the think tank requesting the emails tells TPM they’re part of an investigation into what labor studies professors at state schools in Michigan are saying about the situation in Madison, Wisc., the epicenter of the clashes between unions and Republican-run state governments across the Midwest.

One professor subject to the FOIA described it as anti-union advocates “going after folks they don’t agree with.”

The Mackinac Center For Public Policy, based in Midland, Mich., submitted the FOIA requests last Friday and Monday to the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan and theDouglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University. A third FOIA was directed to Michigan State University, which has a School of Human Resources & Labor Relations.

The requests specifically seek emails from all labor studies faculty at each school.

The Mackinac Center For Public Policy describes itself as a “nonpartisan research and educational institute” focused on providing free market “solutions to state and local policy questions” in Michigan. The center does not disclose its donors but
according to recent reporting by Mother Jones, Mackinac “is part of a network of state-based groups associated with the Heritage Foundation.”



25 Responses to “Science 1. Thought Police 0.”

  1. Is there such a thing as a dumb tank? Because the Koch funded tank should definitely be called a dumb tank.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Dumb Tank! I like that!

      Unfortunately, we also have that other thing called the Money Tank, and as long as the Kochs are willing to shell it out, we will be besieged by dumbness.

      • I think there has to be some kind of formula that calculates the amount of money going in to the ratio of intelligence going out…

        We could probably label Fox News a Dumb Tank as well. But lately and less humorously, they’ve been an Incite Violence Tank…

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Please get the spelling right or people may not understand who you’re talking about.

          FOX News is what I get locally, and it’s just MSM and not much different friom CBS and NBC.

          If you are talking about the cable network of Hannity et al, it’s FAUX News, a far different animal.

        • Fox news is an oxymoron.

    • Is there such a thing as a dumb tank?

      There appears to be a family of organizations which deserve to be called Drink Tanks, whose major beneficiaries are sots.  Teddy Kennedy was one such beneficiary.

  2. I didn’t know they’d re-branded? 😉

    • dumboldguy Says:

      LOL They didn’t “rebrand”, at least in their own minds. The FAUX label comes from those thinking Americans who have come to understand that Fox News is not a “news” channel but a propaganda arm for the right.

  3. Of course these morons will just see this as absolute proof that Mann et. al. are hiding something that will prove global warming false and that the government is helping them do so.

  4. rayduray Says:

    Have you heard that Barack Obama is publishing a new book? It’s called “The Audacity of Mendacity”.

    Here’s a peek at an early chapter, “How Keystone XL became a Political Football And Got Punted Downfield”:

    Keeping to the American football analogy, can’t we charge the White House with “delay of game”?

    I’ll bet that if this pipeline went from Kiev to Brussells Obama would approve it in an instant. Why it’s a matter of national security that we meddle in Europe!

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Ray is here with a little standup routine to entertain us.

      He neglected to state up front that he is going off-topic (again) to bring up today’s announcement that the Keystone XL decision is being put off again, if you didn’t read as far as the link. I myself hope to hell that the administration has psyched this thing out and the delay is really going to help the vulnerable folks in the midterms. I get a headache if I try too hard to figure it out.

      On the other hand, A few more months delay is still a delay, and it’s adding up—-with any luck, we’ll be able to delay it to the point that they either give up or build pipelines to ship the stuff out of Canada instead.

  5. andrewfez Says:

    The billionaires are just wiggling their fingers to distract you with these harassment maneuvers, whilst they hold the gerrymandering and citizen’s-united-mccutcheon-ruling, etc. clubs above their heads, in their opposite hands, with the design to knock you on the head…

  6. mfellion Says:

    You posters really seem to believe the lies. Everything is the Koch brothers the evil masterminds of everything evil. Mann has been caught lying before, his emails could help clarify what lies he told and is telling assuming his is telling lies. Even if you believe Mann, he is trying to tell a story to make you poorer and the Al Gores of this world richer. You should be at least concerned that his story is true. The court is simply saying under the law the emails are privileged, it says nothing of whether Mann is lying. Mann research claims to show CO2 admitted by man is warming the climate. No actual science supports this claim. All the research on past climate changes shows zero correlation between CO2 levels and climate change for at least the last 800k years. The hockey stick does not in fact exist, it is a result of one tree in Siberia and the world has not warmed per the NASA giss data in 17 years a fact even the IPCC admits and trys to explain away with opinions which is not science. Opinions are God exists , I like McDonalds hamburgers. Science has data to support the hypothesis. Mann has distortions and blah.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Everything Mann publishes is subject to review and correction. This is in the nature of Science – every conclusion is backed up with evidence, and contrary evidence invited. Mann’s hockey stick dates to 1998. He could have been wrong, as it happens his hockey stick was prescient. For example, this shows the last 2,000 years of global temperature.
      Please realize that although this graph completely supports Mann’s groundbreaking 1998 ‘Hockey Stick’ paper, nothing in it is actually FROM that paper. The blue line is derived from ocean sediment data. The green is tree ring data (google ‘Pages 2k’ for more info: its from a global tree-ring database composed of 80 different collaborators from around the world: it is most definitely NOT ‘one tree in Siberia’). The red is modern thermometer and satellite data. Note that the central characteristic of the ‘hockey stick’ (i.e. the Blade) is supported by the red line, which is definitely not ‘one tree in Siberia’: it’s the modern temperature record you hold so much fondness for when applied to the last 17 years.

      Scientific journals are a public forum. There is nothing published in them that is immune to scrutiny, skepticism, counter-evidence, and retraction. The fossil-fueled neo-Puritans would combat the Science within this forum if they could. It is a sign of their failure in this regard, that they instead want to police the personal emails of Scientists whose conclusions they disagree with.

    • redskylite Says:

      For a start the original emails were hacked (or stolen) which tells us something about the loathsome qualities of the criminals who perpetrated the crime (and why have they not been caught and brought to justice ?) .

      Then some devious types tried to make a deal about mention of a trick in a particular email, which was meant not in a tricky Dicky sort of way but a method of joining palaeoclimatology evidence with modern satellite and thermometer records. (Now several other people have produce similar hockey sticks independently as illustrated by Ubrew12 ) Why people are still bellyaching about Mann was I guess his was the first at showing that our climate had not been so warm for at least several thousand years ( in the Medieval warm period it was around .5 degrees C warmer than pre- industrial times, it is now above that at around .7 and still rising and at least 50% of this due to man industrial emitted CO2 radiative forcing, and it is predicted to continue, accompanied by sea level rise and other effects of a warmer world. Are you not concerned for the welfare of your offspring ?

    • pendantry Says:

      You posters really seem to believe the lies.

      So much irony: so little time…

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Aren’t Motivated Reasoners like mfellion cute and cuddly?
      Just like brain-damaged snapping turtles.

    • skeptictmac57 Says:

      mfellion is doing a cover ballad of the ‘greatest hits’ of 1990’s climate denialism.
      Don’t you just love the oldies? 🙂

      Hint mfellion: Even the dullest of deniers has pretty much moved on from (most) of those non-starter arguments.You should really get out more.

    • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

      You sound like the star of this film:

  7. Why don’t they try to get all the email correspondence with all the participants of the IPCC? Why not all the scientific organizations and universities who all support the AGW consensus?

    This is a silly witch hunt to discredit Dr. Mann.

    Someone really should counter sue these idiots to get them to shut up about this nonsense witch hunt. I believe Mann is doing exactly that in one case at least. 🙂

    • Problem is, they’re following the radical’s rulebook:

      “‘Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It and Polarize It.”

      Al Gore being passé, they’ve moved on to Michael Mann.  It’s the Two Minutes Hate.

  8. redskylite Says:

    Just sharing for interest, a very interesting video I came across on Utube from Chicago Booth:

    The Big Question: why are we still debating climate change

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