Are academics some special subspecies of hu- mans who are be- yond suspicion and above the law? That’s the ques- tion being played out in a drama between Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the dead-end defenders of global warming’s poster junk scientist, Michael Mann.
Mr. Cuccinelli is under assault by the climate-alarmist brigades for launching an investigation into whether any fraud against taxpayers occurred with respect to Mr. Mann’s hiring by the University of Virginia and his receipt of government grants. Mr. Cuccinelli recently sent the university a civil investigative demand requesting e-mails and other documents pertaining to Mr. Mann.
Mr. Cuccinelli’s rationale is simple to understand: Mr. Mann’s claim to fame - the infamous “hockey stick” graph - is so bogus that one cannot help but wonder whether it is intentional fraud.
Developed in the late 1990s, while he was at the University of Massachusetts, Mr. Mann’s hockey-stick graph purports to show that average global temperature over the past millennium was stable until the 20th century, when it spiked up, presumably because of human activity. The hockey stick was latched onto by the alarmist community, incorporated into government and United Nations assessments of climate science and held out to the public (particularly by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth”) as proof that humans were destroying the planet.
But by the mid-2000s the hockey-stick graph was revealed for what it was - pure bunk.
Skeptics first became suspicious because the hockey stick failed to show two well-known periods of dramatic swings in global temperature - the so-called Medieval Optimum and the Little Ice Age. Mr. Mann’s indignant refusal to share his data and methods with skeptics only added fuel to the fire. Eventually, skeptics discovered that the hockey stick’s computer model would produce a hockey-stick graph regardless of what data was input. But it gets worse.
Mr. Mann apparently created the hockey stick by cherry-picking data he liked and deleting data he didn’t like. While the vast majority of the hockey stick is based on temperature data extrapolated from tree rings going back hundreds of years, the tip of the blade (representing the late 20th century) was temperature data taken from thermometers. Beyond the obvious apples-and-oranges problem, Mr. Mann appended the thermometer data to the hockey stick at a point at which the tree-ring data actually shows cooling. This cooling trend data was then deleted. This is what is referred to by the now-famous “Climategate” phrase “Mike’s Nature trick to … hide the decline.”
Mr. Mann’s defenders characterize this deletion as an elegant statistical technique. There is, however, nothing sophisticated, much less innocent, about it. Contrary to claims by Mr. Mann’s defenders, the hockey stick has never been vindicated by anyone. If nothing else, proof of its discredit lies in the fact that no one, not even the ethically challenged United Nations, relies on it anymore.
So did the taxpayer-funded University of Virginia hire Mr. Mann under the illusion that his hockey stick was an honest scientific endeavor? Did Mr. Mann receive taxpayer-funded grants based on what amounts to scientific misconduct? These are legitimate inquiries - but not to everyone.
Left-leaning academics, global-warming alarmists and the ACLU object to Mr. Cuccinelli’s probe. They cast aspersions such as “witch hunt,” “McCarthyism” and “abuse of office.” In their less hysterical moments, they claim Mr. Cuccinelli threatens academic freedom. This is all so much rot.
Some scientists have actually been known to commit scientific misconduct tantamount to fraud. A Tulane researcher was found guilty of misconduct by the federal Office of Scientific Integrity in the late 1990s for fabricating data about pesticides being dangerous hormonal system disrupters. Don’t forget the South Korean researcher who was indicted for claiming false advances in stem cell research. Only political correctness saved a University of Pittsburgh researcher from conviction during the 1990s of manipulating data reportedly linking lead-based paint with lower IQs.
Believe it or not, scientists are just like the rest of the population - a mixture of good and bad. Mr. Mann’s hockey stick is such bad science that it compels the question, “Why?” Would the University of Virginia have hired Mr. Mann and would government grants have been awarded to him had the truth about the hockey stick been known by university and state decision-makers at the time? Were they intentionally deceived?
As the Climategate scandal has revealed, the climate-alarmist mob is, at the very least, devious and unethical. It has conspired to silence its critics and dispense with the normal give-and-take of the scientific process - all the while trumpeting the junkiest of science in trying to frighten the public and politicians into keeping the grant money flowing.
Have some of the climate mob’s members acted criminally? No one knows at this point. But Mr. Mann certainly has provided Mr. Cuccinelli with “probable cause” to pursue the possibility. A thorough investigation by someone not in cahoots with the climate mob is the only way to answer legitimate questions related to the expenditure of taxpayer money.
Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery 2009).