The University of Virginia has joined a list of institutions claiming that there has been an actual inquiry into, and even 'exoneration' of, scientists exposed by the November 2009 "ClimateGate" leak, while simultaneously through its actions making a mockery of the idea.
UVa's August 23 release under court order of 3,800 pages of emails - records that UVa previously denied existed - was its second since the American Tradition Institute (ATI) sought judicial assistance in bringing the school into compliance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA).
The school has spent approximately $500,000 to date keeping these records from the taxpayer, who paid for their production to begin with.
The university again labored to avoid releasing correspondence directly addressing the now discredited “Hockey Stick” graph produced while former assistant research professor Michael Mann worked there.
At least 126 of those emails were sent to or from Mann at UVa and were central to ClimateGate, which exposed a purported, now disavowed temperature record, as well as the Hockey Stick and related activities by scientists to keep dissenting work from publication. The emails showed scientists circling the wagons to protect their claims, funding and careers.
Each of these 126 UVa ClimateGate emails, as with other related Mann correspondence with third parties of which we are aware, is covered by our VFOI request. Not one of them made it into UVa's releases.
UVa acknowledges withholding between 3,500 and 4,000 more pages. This likely represents around ten times the original number of UVa emails revealed in “ClimateGate.”
Even before ATI was able to review these emails, Mann described the release to Science Magazine, indicating a collaborative effort with the university in what amounts to hiding from the taxpayer efforts to derail exposure of the “Hockey Stick.”
We certainly appreciate that he is worried. But no argument exists that these records belong to Mann. Further, the VFOIA protects the taxpayers' interests and, secondarily, the university's. Not former faculty whose actions, once revealed, created a dense cloud of suspicion over their work.
These records are inarguably the property of the University of Virginia and therefore, barring a legitimate exemption under VFOI, the Virginia taxpayer.
A useful example of complying with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act is George Mason University's prompt release to the media of correspondence from Professor Edward Wegman.
In one of life's coincidences, these involved Wegman's work exposing the dubious methods involved in creating the “Hockey Stick.”
ClimateGate emails sent or received by Mann's UVa email address include certain now-notorious, often nasty missives, many highly questionable from a legal or ethics perspective and most reflecting wagon-circling by alarmists discussing how to defeat substantive challenge and even requests for transparency involving an already published paper.
It is reasonable to surmise that these are among the 9,000 pages UVa finally identified as responsive to ATI. If so, each of them is being withheld on the remarkable claim that they are "Data, records or information of a proprietary nature produced or collected by or for faculty ... in the conduct of or as a result of study or research on medical, scientific, technical or scholarly issues." Really.
Excerpts of apparently scholarly research of commercial intent and value presumably include the ClimateGate gems "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!", and one gleefully noting the death of a skeptic who had dared correspond with them.
This is the sort of Top Secret “proprietary” emails UVa will risk fortune, reputation and sanction to keep from producing. A UVa official informed us on no less than three occasions that the school was, in effect, ignoring the law's mandate to interpret exemptions narrowly.
Clearly he wasn't kidding. But will the court will find this funny?
The university's legal argument remains hazy but, if it is indeed grounded in the such correspondence being somehow “proprietary,” this latest act in UVa's deeply troubling history on this matter threatens to permanently tar a name built over many years, if by the achievements of others who surely weep in their graves over the ongoing spectacle.
This is a school that prides itself on its honor code. Yet instead of acting forthrightly like its fellow ward of the taxpayer, George Mason University, UVa exacerbates the scandal and the increasingly warranted public distrust of Big Science, particularly “climate” science, an edifice built upon hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars annually and dedicated to keeping that gravy train rolling.
Why does this matter, outside of basic principles embedded in the law such as the taxpayers' right to know how their resources are being used, particularly when so much question exists about certain, well-funded activities?
Consider the UK High Court opinion about -- per the judge -- the global warming movement's "alarmist" claims, as featured in the film "An Inconvenient Truth:"
“[Claimant attorney] has established his case that the views in the film are political by submitting that Mr. Gore promotes an apocalyptic vision, which would be used to influence a vast array of political policies, which he illustrates in paragraph 30 of his skeleton argument:
“(i) Fiscal policy and the way that a whole variety of activities are taxed, including fuel consumption, travel and manufacturing … (ii) Investment policy and the way that governments encourage directly and indirectly various forms of activity. (iii) Energy policy and the fuels (in particular nuclear) employed for the future. (iv) Foreign policy and the relationship held with nations that consume and/or produce carbon-based fuels.”
This cannot be attended by such trifling by a public institution with its transparency obligations under the law. That the University of Virginia has chosen to persist in a campaign diminishing its stature and credibility changes nothing under that law. The taxpayers have rights, and we are exercising them.
Christopher C. Horner is director of litigation for the American Tradition Institute's Environmental Law Center, which is suing the University of Virginia.