Kenneth Cuccinelli II, elected as the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia in November 2009, has demanded from the University of Virginia (my university) the e-mails and other information of Dr. Michael Mann, who was an assistant professor of environmental sciences there from 1995 to 2005.

From the e-mails leaked from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the so-called Climategate affair, we know that Professor Phil Jones was at the center of a conspiracy to manipulate temperature data. His American analogue was Michael Mann. Even though Jones recommended deletion of all e-mails, it is possible that many e-mails will still be found on the UVA server and furnish the “smoking gun” that can tell us just how the temperature data had been manipulated.

The UEA e-mails tell us of attempts to “hide the decline” (of temperature) using “Mike [Mann]’s Nature trick.” It is important now to discover the truth, either from e-mail evidence or by direct testimony. Unfortunately, none of the investigations so far have delved into this matter, but instead have produced what amounts to a series of whitewashes.

The University of Virginia is fighting the demand for the data using outside lawyers and claiming “academic freedom” among other such excuses. I cannot comment on the legal implications of the AG’s investigation. It should be noted, however, that UVA was quite willing to deliver up the e-mails of Professor Pat Michaels when Greenpeace asked for them in December 2009. It makes the UVA protestations sound rather hypocritical.

We live in an Orwellian world where myth and propaganda have replaced science and reason, even at the highest levels of discourse. In May 2010, Science ran a letter signed by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences attacking Cuccinelli. The letter contained numerous spurious assertions as if they were scientific fact. Lacking expertise and ignorant of the actual data, the signers simply accepted a story that matched their ideological convictions.

Then, on May 13, Nature ran an editorial (“Science subpoenaed“) attacking Cuccinelli, and in the process labeled those who dared question Mann’s science as “climate-change deniers.” That term would seem to include all of us who recognize that for the past two million years, the climate has been changing, dominated by ice ages, interrupted only by brief warm periods; that for the past ten thousand years, the earth has been both warmer and colder than today; and that there was a Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and a Little Ice Age (LIA). Who indeed can deny that climate changes?

The Nature editorial refers to Michael Mann as “internationally respected.” I would use more neutral language, like “prominently mentioned in the UEA e-mails, aka Climategate.” The editorial states, correctly, that “no evidence was given of wrongdoing [by Mann].” But isn’t that the purpose of the AG’s investigation? Certainly, the references in the e-mails to “Mike’s Nature trick” in order to “hide the decline” might lead one to think that there has been some skullduggery.

The editorial then identifies Mann with the infamous hockey stick graph (published first in Nature, 1998), which did away with the Medieval Warm Period and also the Little Ice Age from which the global climate is just now recovering. It may have escaped notice that Mann has now discovered the existence of the MWP and LIA (PNAS 2008), which has bent the shaft of the hockey stick all out of shape. Well, who says that the age of miracles has passed?

Fortunately for climate alarmists, the upturned “blade” of the hockey stick is still there, showing rapidly rising temperatures over the past thirty years—thanks to the valiant efforts of Prof. Phil Jones. We are breathlessly waiting for expert scrutiny of his methods of selecting data from thousands of weather stations to arrive at a single number for “global temperature.” Perhaps Jones will reveal the algorithms he devised to “adjust and correct” the raw data. But unfortunately, he did not save the original temperature records; as the saying goes, “The dog ate them.”

The editorial then states that the UEA e-mails were “stolen.” Perhaps they were; but until one has evidence, one may be accusing an unknown whistle-blower who resented what was being done to the climate data and to science. I won’t even mention what the resulting climate scares are doing to the economies of nations and the living standards of their populations.

I was wondering just how long it would take the Nature editorial to suggest a parallel between climate skepticism and the tobacco lobby. Well done! It’s too bad that global warming cannot be shown to cause lung cancer—not yet, at any rate. But more research money may yet uncover such a connection. There’s still hope.

The Washington Post weighed in with an editorial on October 6, 2010 (“Cuccinelli seems determined to embarrass Virginia”). Among many misstatements of fact, it cites a 2006 inquiry from the National Academy of Sciences on reconstructing historical temperature data and then claims that Mann’s “basic conclusions appear sound.” But the NAS inquiry into Prof. Mann’s “hockey stick” did not support his basic conclusion—that the 20th century was the warmest in the past thousand years.

Beyond this, the “Climategate” e-mails released in November 2009 put Mann at the center of an international conspiracy to manipulate the temperature data that form the basis of worldwide political action (including by the U.S. Congress) to “combat climate change.” We also learned that the same group of scientists actively urged the deletion of any e-mails that might implicate them in this conspiracy to “hide the decline” of temperatures that were supposed to be rising. Unfortunately, the Post editorial ignores these relevant facts.

As if by pre-arrangement, on October 8, the Post carried an op-ed by Mann which attacked preemptively Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the potential chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who will likely launch an investigation of Climategate. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) may do the same if he takes over a Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. Mann asks, What could Issa, Sensenbrenner, and Cuccinelli possibly think they might uncover now, a year after the e-mails were published? He claims that he has been fully exonerated by several internal investigations of Penn State (his present employer), UEA, and the EPA and again appeals to the failed science of the IPCC (which, however, no longer gives any credence to his hockey stick result).

Rep Joe Barton (R-TX), in a letter to the Post (October 12) reminds that his public hearings in 2006 “made it clear that Mr. Mann’s global warming projections were rooted in fundamental errors of methodology that had been cemented in place as ‘consensus’ by a closed network of friends.”

In responding to Barton’s letter of October 12, the chairman of the National Academy panel Prof. Gerald North (Letter, October 17) then claims that “we have not found any evidence that his [Mann’s] results were incorrect or even out of line with other works published since his original papers.” North’s statement is factually incorrect: There are numerous papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, which show clearly that the 20th century was not the warmest in the past thousand years (as claimed by Mann). Medieval temperatures were substantially greater—and so were temperatures during the earlier Roman Warm Period. All of this is in addition to the valid criticism of Mann’s statistical methodology. Tellingly, Canadian Prof. Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (M&M) showed that even random data fed into the Mann algorithm would always yield a warmest 20th century.

Some final thoughts: Being charitable, I will assume that Mann made honest statistical and other errors in his 1998 and 1999 papers. But after these errors were published widely by M&M, Mann’s behavior has been unethical to say the least. He has not replied to the critiques, nor even referenced them. He has just ignored them and tried to muddle the situation. (The National Academy report did the same.)

Is Mann guilty of fraud? I don’t know; much depends on what Cuccinelli uncovers. But I am of the opinion that Mann should formally withdraw his flawed papers and no longer refer to them in his bibliography or in grant applications without at least a footnote. Formal withdrawal could create a storm, however, since the 2001 IPCC report built its case for man-made global warming on the validity of the hockey stick. There may be interesting times ahead.