Cuccinelli Targets ‘Climate-Gate’ Scientist

Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s ambitious and deeply conservative attorney general, has launched two new fronts in his right-wing crusade: one absurd, the other deeply troubling.

Absurdity first: Cuccinelli recently handed out to his staff lapel pins with a redesigned version of the state seal, which shows the Roman goddess Virtus, or virtue, the Virginian-Pilot reported over the weekend. In the usual version of the seal, Virtus’s left breast is exposed. In Cuccinelli’s version, it’s covered up.The paper adds that the AG joked at a recent meeting that the new design turns a risqué image into a PG one. (AG humor, perhaps.)

In 2002, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft drew ridicule after ordering that Department of Justice statutes showing partially nude forms be covered.

In the past, Cuccinelli has appeared to go out of his way to appeal to social conservative voters in the state. That he may be doing so again here is suggested by the fact that his spokesman told the Pilot that the new pins were paid for not with state funds but with money from Cuccinelli’s recently launched political action committee. That would seem to acknowledge that the pins were created, at least in part, with political concerns in mind. The spokesman did not immediately respond to TPMmuckraker’s request for comment.

Now for the more troubling news: Cuccinelli has launched an investigation into one of the climate scientists who was embarrassed by last year’s Climate-Gate controversy — and in doing so, he may be challenging long-held norms about academic freedom.

Last month, reports The Hook of Charlottesville, the AG requested “a sweeping swath of documents” from the University of Virginia, relating to the climate research work — funded through state grants — of Michael Mann.

Mann worked at the university from 1999 to 2005, and now runs Penn State’s Earth System Science Center. If he were found to have manipulated data, Cuccinelli could seek to have the research money — plus damages — returned to the state.

It’s not clear that there’s much evidence of that, however. The climate-gate emails showed some scientists discussing ways to keep views skeptical of global warming out of peer-reviewed journals, among other things — but they did not show outright fraud. Nor did they undermine the broad expert consensus that man-made warming is occurring and must be addressed.

Mann’s work is currently being investigated by Penn State. In a recent USA Today story, he defended it, saying that though errors might exist, they were not fraudulent.

UVA has said it will do its best to comply with Cuccinelli’s request. But even climate skeptics appear taken aback by the potential for Cuccinelli’s move to undermine standards of academic freedom that have been in place for decades or more. One such skeptic, Chip Knappenburger, formerly at UVA, wrote online that the probe could create a “witch hunt,” adding: “I didn’t like it when the politicians came after [climate skeptic] Pat Michaels. I don’t like it that the politicians are coming after Mike Mann.”

Cuccinelli already is suing the EPA over its efforts to regulate global warming pollution. He also has filed a lawsuit claiming that health-care reform is unconstitutional, and has tried to stop Virginia’s universities from banning anti-gay discrimination, among other rightward moves.

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