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Judge restricts release of emails among climate scientists

November 2, 2011 | 12:57 pm

Mann_treering
A county Circuit judge in Virginia has sided with the University of Virginia's effort to restrict the release of personal emails from one of its former faculty members.

The decision late Wednesday would allow the university to alter an agreement it had reached with the American Tradition Institute, which was seeking communications between Michael Mann, a physicist and climate scientist, and other scientists from 1999 to 2005, when Mann was employed by the university.

The American Tradition Institute, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and Colorado, is a nonprofit policy research and education group that has close ties to energy interests that have opposed climate legislation, including the Koch Brothers.

Mann, now a professor at Penn State University, is best known for his contributions to the so-called hockey stick graph that has been at the center of warnings that Earth's temperature rise has been precipitous and historically unprecedented. It has been used as one of thousands of data analyses that have led the vast majority of climate scientists to conclude that man's emission of greenhouse gases is trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Mann was caught up in a controversy in 2009 related to stolen emails that global-warming skeptics alleged showed an attempt to squelch dissenting views and manipulate data to exaggerate the hockey-stick graph. Mann and others have subsequently been cleared by several high-level scientific panels in England and the U.S.

Those investigations have not satisfied conservative groups that cast doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change. They were seeking, through a public-records request, emails among Mann and other scientists. The emails requested by the group are identical to those identified in a subpoena from Virginia Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli that was rejected by a different judge last year.

Academics have viewed the subpoena and records request as having a potentially chilling effect on academic freedoms at public institutions such as the University of Virginia. But those seeking the information counter that the public has a right to know what goes on inside the universities its taxes fund.

Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Gaylord Finch also granted Mann standing in the records case.

The judge ordered the university and ATI to choose an independent third party by Dec. 20 to evaluate which correspondence should be disclosed and which should be protected.

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-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: Michael E. Mann, a Penn State University professor at the center of a dispute over the release of emails sent while he taught at the University of Virginia. Credit: Penn State University

 

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