Regular readers will have no doubts about my skepticism of the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming. In particular, in these pages and at Climate Skeptic, I have repeatedly criticized the details of Michael Mann's work on the hockey stick. I won't repeat those issues today, though some of the past articles are indexed here.
That being said, efforts by Republicans in Virginia to bring legislative or even criminal action against Mann for his work when he was at the University of Virginia is about the worst idea I have heard in quite some time. Though nominally about forcing public disclosure (something I am always in favor of from state entities) the ultimate goal is to drag Mann into court
Cuccinelli has said he wants to see whether a fraud investigation would be warranted into Mann's work, which showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming
[As an aside, this is actually NOT what Mann's hockey stick work purports to show. The point of the hockey stick is to make the case that historic temperatures before 1850 were incredibly stable and flat, and thus recent increases of 0.6-0.8C over the last 150 years are unprecedented in comparison. His research added nothing to our knowledge about recent warming, it was on focused on pre-industrial warming. The same folks that say with confidence the science is settled don't even understand it].
For those frustrated with just how bad Mann's work is and upset at the incredible effort to protect this work from criticism or scrutiny by hiding key data (as documented in the East Anglia climategate emails), I know it must feel good to get some sort of public retribution. But the potential precedent here of bringing up scientists on charges essentially for sloppy or incorrect work is awful.
Bad science happens all the time, completely absent any evil conspiracies. Human nature is to see only the data that confirms ones hypotheses and, if possible, to resists scrutiny and criticism. This happens all the time in science and if we started hauling everyone into court or into a Senate committee, we have half of academia there (and then likely the other half when the party in power changed). Team politics are a terrible disease and the last thing we need is to drag them any further into science and academia.
Science will eventually right itself, and what is needed is simply the time and openness to allow adversarial scrutiny and replication within academia to run its course. Seriously, are we next going to drag the cold fusion guys in to court? How about all the folks in the geology field that resisted plate tectonics for so long. Will we call to account the losers in the string theory debate?
If legislators want to help, they can
- Make sure there are standards in place for archiving and public availability of any data and code associated with government funded research
- Improve the governments own climate data management
- Ensure that state funding is distributed in a way to support a rich dialog on multiple sides of contested scientific issues.