Eight-Hundred Virginia Scientists Slam Attorney General on Mann Probe

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

Days after it emerged that the University of Virginia has hired a law firm to consider its options regarding the state's attorney general's investigation of climatologist Michael Mann, 800 of the state's scientists and academics have written a letter to Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli opposing the probe:

As scientists and academic leaders living and working in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we strongly urge you to rescind the April 23, 2010 Civil Investigative Demand your office issued to the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia regarding the scientific research of Dr. Michael Mann. The request is unfounded and could undermine the effectiveness of not only climate scientists but also thousands of other Virginia researchers.

Science thrives on rigorous debate and a frank exchange of differing ideas and perspectives. The freedom of scientists to openly disagree and discuss critical scientific topics has brought Virginia and the United States prosperity and global leadership in science. Research shows that scientific discovery is held back when government officials harass scientists.

"We wanted to let the university know that if they want to fight this they'll have support from us," said Amato Evan, one of the signers from UVA's Environmental Sciences Department, where Mann was a professor from 1999 to 2005. "Plenty of people in my department who don't work on the physical science of climate are concerned. It feels like it's a warning shot across the bow of our department saying 'you better do what the Virginia attorney general says is legitimate science. ... I'm really grateful for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) for taking up this issue."

UCS organized the letter along with the American Association of University Professors.

*Update: AAAS, which publishes ScienceInsider, has released a statement (pdf) on the Mann probe.

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