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Judge Preserves Privacy of Climate Scientist's Emails 345

Posted by timothy
from the you-can't-see-my-exculpatory-email dept.
ananyo writes "Climate scientist Michael Mann reported Monday that he and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have prevailed in a court case against the conservative American Tradition Institute (ATI), which had sought access to emails he wrote while serving as a professor at the school from 1999-2005. Now at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Mann says the ruling supports the University of Virginia's argument than an exemption to the state's freedom-of-information law 'applies to faculty communications in furtherance of their work.' The Prince William County Circuit Court ruling came directly from the bench in and was not immediately available online. The Virgina Supreme Court tossed out a case against Mann in March. The state's conservative attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, had, among other things, demanded access to the climatologist's emails, arguing that Mann might have manipulated data and thus defrauded the government in applying for scientific grants."
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Judge Preserves Privacy of Climate Scientist's Emails

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  • "Might have" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:01AM (#41373315)

    > "The state's conservative attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, had, among other things, demanded access to the climatologist's emails, arguing that Mann might have manipulated data and thus defrauded the government in applying for scientific grants."

    Ken Cuccinelli *might* beat his wife. I demand access to his wife's medical records.

  • Not conservative (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:11AM (#41373387)

    The state's conservative attorney general,

    Not conservative. A conservative would want things to stay the same, to oppose human change for good or bad solely because its a human change, would want to conserve natural resources, be a "good steward of Gods creation" or whatever religious claim floats their boat of preserving the status quo.

    Yes I know "political conservative" means the exact opposite since the neo's kicked all the normal people like myself (uh, more or less) out, so all we have left is the Santorums (the politician, not the "frothy liquid") and Rmoneys. The bigger point is you know a society is completely F'd when its words become doublespeak. When I was a kid it was a running joke that any country name including "peoples" "democratic" or "republic" almost always was the opposite. Its a dark day in America, I'm sad to say.

  • "Their" work. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GigsVT (208848) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:26AM (#41373467) Journal

    If your work is paid for with government money, your work emails should be public. Simple as that.

  • Re:Public Record? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:27AM (#41373483)

    A teacher who is also a taxpayer-funded researcher performing research that guides public policy certainly is in the same legal classification as a public servant. And communications in that capacity should be public.

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:28AM (#41373487)

    Well Romney types were in before the neocons. The Rockefeller republicans have been around a while although Romney's foreign policy is all neo.

    But just vote libertarian. Some people see it as a throw away vote, but Perot's performance in the 90s actually got both sides talking economically and probably played a big part in getting the budget balanced towards the end of the 90s (unified budget, not actual). Unfortunately, it also made both parties come together and collude and make rules to disenfranchise the 3rd parties and their voters even more.

  • by squiggleslash (241428) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:29AM (#41373509) Homepage Journal

    email is email. It contains more than simply work related stuff, and rarely contains anything useful to someone trying to judge the quality of some work.

    If I had to publish all my email from work for the past 20 years simply because someone wanted to prove I was a terrible programmer, it would be massively humiliating, and wouldn't prove jack shit about my programming ability, which would be more easily done by demanding to look at the code I write.

    The FoIA request is about intimidating climate research scientists, not about trying to determine the truth behind the science. The science is already in the public domain. It's well described, people can repeat it, add to it, or theorize as to how it could be wrong and devise experiments to determine whether those theories hold.

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:30AM (#41373511) Homepage

    >

    What is that saying about outrageous claims?

    The saying is "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof." For a claim that the laws of physics are exactly the same for human generated carbon dioxide as for carbon dioxide measured in a laboratory, measurements used to understand the surface temperature of all of the planets with atmospheres in the solar system (as well as one moon), and supporting atmospheric science that has been known since the late 1800s, what kind of proof might you demand? Perhaps you'd want detailed numerical models to match with the back of the envelope calculations, and you'd want to ask nineteen different groups on four continents to make different computer models; you'd want temperature measurements taken from a variety of different methods-- say, ground, ocean, balloon, and satellite-- to all agree; you'd want satellite measurements of infrared; you'd want vertical temperature profiles...

    Well, ok. We've got all that. But it turns out that, if someone has a profit motive to deny the facts, or a political agenda funded by the people with a profit motive to deny the facts, no possible amount of data can change their mind.

    What's that other saying? Oh, yes: "It's hard to get a man to understand something when he is being paid to not understand. .... "

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:31AM (#41373525) Homepage

    It's the fundamental problem of a two-party political system; it pays to oppose eachother. And opposing eachother means pushing eachother ever further into extremist corners of any debate.

    For instance take "Obama-care". If you ask politicians it's either the highway to hell or the road to salvation. Few politicians will actually weigh the good and the bad and try to resolve any issues. It either has to stand exactly as it is or be reverted completely.

    Most democratic systems share power among a larger number of political parties, forcing them to work together and to maintain a working relationship for the long term.

  • by Bongo (13261) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:32AM (#41373535)

    There's a couple of poles:

    Conservative – Progressive : stick to what works –trust we can adapt to new stuff

    Left – Right : the system is rigged, so increase taxes and redistribute to make it fair –people are lazy, so reduce taxes to increase incentives

    Politically there's also some other poles.

    The "climate skeptics" don't fit either pole particularly because they're actually resisting "post modern science" where science and social values and social issues get all intermixed. Protesters hold up placards saying "we come armed only with peer reviewed literature" to protest against a new runway, but they don't hold up that placard when medical science says there's little evidence that GM crops are bad.

    Likewise an environmentalist told me, "it doesn't matter if global warming isn't caused by man made CO2, because by forcing a cut of CO2 you cut production and you cut consumption –– it is about reducing GREED"

    Social issues, morality, and ethics all wrapped up in "science".

    The science part is there to a degree, but the case gets overstated significantly for political reasons.

  • Re:"Might have" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:33AM (#41373545)

    The irony is that if Cuccinelli had prevailed, it's hard to see how the same reasoning could not be used for his state-funded office communications.

  • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:33AM (#41373551)

    I mostly agree with you, other than something you're overlooking.

    That being said, why would you NOT want to release emails/research?

    According to GOOG analytics my gmail account got over 2000 emails last month, times 18 months... You can't "just release everything" because some conversations have to remain private. HIPPA violations for students providing way too much detail about why they were out sick, etc. NDA info for unrelated topics. Closed source code license issues (so you're talking about a bug in non-free software and including code excerpts). Its a non-judicial punishment assigned by politican ... err, until a judge overturns it, which is exactly what just happened.

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:41AM (#41373613)

    Let me start out by saying that I don't have any dog in the global warming fight, whatsoever (don't own any stock/have no affiliation with big oil OR big green)

    I question the equivalence here. "Big green"? Big oil made 137 billion dollars in profits in 2011 and owns more politicians than you can shake a stick at. How many billions of dollars does "big green" make in a year and how many senators do they control?

    But I won't take it as far as the anti-human agenda of many of the fundie AGW supporters.

    Anti-human? You do realize the fossil fuel FUD about "Al Gore wants to TAX YOUR BREATHING!" is complete BS, right? Coal is the target of AGW supporters. Not humanity. You seem to be judging the movement by the extremists. That's always a foolish move: you wouldn't say that Anne Coulter represents America, would you?

    If anything, I say release all the emails, release all the data, be as open and transparent as possible. Funny how the people who scream about openness the most are the first to hide when the request comes their way.

    Okay, put your money where your mouth is. What is your personal e-mail address and password? Where are the e-mails from the fossil fuel industry? The issue here is not data, the issue here is e-mails. As in they were fishing for something to smear the guy with. The data is out there for legitimate criticisms to be made.

  • Re:"Their" work. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Required Snark (1702878) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:05AM (#41373813)
    Fuck you.

    The AG, Cuccinelli, is conspiring with extremest political groups to suppress scientific research. To say the work was "publicly funded", therefore research personal have no private communications, is bullshit. It was and is a gross political smear.

    Lets put the shoe on the other foot. I propose that Michael Mann sue the AG and the American Tradition Institute for slander. As a first step he should request all communications between the AG and ATI to see if they conspired to wreck his career. Remember, the AG's work is "paid for with government money", so all the AG correspondence should all be "public". How does that shoe feel now?

    If these records became public, Cuccinelli would clearly be found to be misusing his office. He invested significant resources in a purely political effort. This is misappropriation of public funds, along with a conspiracy to break the law with a non-governmental political organization. He clearly shared information with ATI that should have been not allowed outside his office. (This is exactly what Ken Starr did during the Clinton witch hunt. During the Watergate probe they planted insane smears in the press, none of which were true. Starr's office also broke confidentiality with the Republican operatives who were working the civil side of the conspiracy.)

    The AG deserves to be sent to jail. That will never happen. When conservatives break the law they always get away with it, because law and order only applies to minorities and Democrats. The last time a conservative insider got put away was Scooter Libby, and he was taking a bullet for Chaney's leaking Valery Plame's status as a CIA operative. Chaney put the lives of CIA assets at risk. I would not be surprised if people died from this. If it did happen, we'll never know. The coverup was successful.

    So like I said at the beginning: Fuck You.

  • Re:"Their" work. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:05AM (#41373815)

    So if Romney is elected, we get to see all his tax returns?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:13AM (#41373873)

    Let me start out by saying that I don't have any dog in the global warming fight, whatsoever (don't own any stock/have no affiliation with big oil OR big green). I think that, as a whole, people need to conserve resources and embrace new technologies to make the world a cleaner place. But I won't take it as far as the anti-human agenda of many of the fundie AGW supporters. .

    The purportedly "anti-human agenda" of the "fundie AGW supporters" is almost entirely a myth created by the deniers. In general, these are scientists working very hard to try to understand the atmosphere, who are being attacked by people who have no interest in understanding the research, only in discrediting it.

    That being said, why would you NOT want to release emails/research?

    Because releasing the email wouldn't be the end of it-- it's the beginning. It's their expressed intent to waste all of his time, so that he never does any actual work again. Every typo in the email will spur a query: "what did you mean by xx?" and if he doesn't answer immediately, a flurry of blog posts about withholding information and not answering questions. Every single statement of fact will spur another FOIA demand (note that the word "request" is a euphemism): "We demand that you give us all the information in your files you used to support statement Y, and also all of the information in your files that may support the opposite conclusion which you withheld from the public". And, for that matter, every statement of opinion will trigger a FOIA demand. There's no limit on number of FOIA requests-- they can file a dozen requests a week, and every single one must be answered.

    And if, by chance, you wrote about a preliminary analysis that differs in any way from the final analysis, or speculated about a result, or failed to draw a conclusion the very first time you saw some data-- oh, you're going to spend the rest of your life explaining that. A computer model that had an error that you found and fixed? We will use that to completely discredit you and everybody you know.

    "Why not release the email" you say?

    OK, you first. I want every e-mail you ever sent-- I want all your passwords, and root access to the e-mail servers-- and here's what I intend to do: I am going to destroy you and to discredit you personally and professionally. Failing that, I intend to destroy and discredit everybody you may have communicated with personally or professionally. Nothing will be considered private; if you ever accidentally mentioned anything about your personal life, consider it public knowledge. And if you expressed a less-than-flattering opinion of anybody, it will be out in public.

    And I don't care anything about facts, only appearances. Any offhand opinion you may have typed is fair game, any typos you've made. If you've ever typed the words "I don't understand"-- well, that will be headline news: "admits he doesn't understand the science!" If you've ever been wrong, well, that will also be headline news-- and I have a team of people to comb through them in exacting detail with the intent of picking out anything that might be useful.

    It just gives the conspiracy theorists more fuel for their fires!

    And you think "give people who have stated that they intend to destroy you personally and professionally by any means that they can" unlimited access to comb through your email on a fishing expedition won't give them more fuel? Are you so personally pure that you've never ever even once written anything in a private email that could be misinterpreted by people who intend to damage you and don't care about facts?

    Here's a suggestion for you. Have you actually read the "climategate" emails? Not just the selected excerpts picked out of context to discredit the scientists, but the whole file, from the beginning? Try it. (And if you can, not just the first 2000 emails released by t

  • by meglon (1001833) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:44AM (#41374191)
    Just another anti-science, anti-intellectual, conservative shithead abusing his position of power to push a totally fucked up ideological fantasy onto everyone else. Republicans complain about government wasting money, yet they're the worthless fucks who waste the most with stupid shit like this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:45AM (#41374197)

    He's another of these Bush Patriot Act appointees
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._Michael_Fisher

    Do you recall the outcry over the political motivated dismissal of Attorney Generals and the subsequent cover up?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dismissal_of_U.S._attorneys_controversy

    The Patriot Act changed the way Attorney generals are appointed. Bush sacked a bunch of Attorney Generals because they wouldn't do political prosecutions and put a lot of conservative stooges in their places. One of those political stooges was this Michael Fisher, another was the the U.S. attorney in Alabama.

    They went on to do a political prosecutions including prosecuting Dan Siegelman, the Democrat governor for Alabama, using a witness that claimed to have been at a meeting when a donation check was handed over.

    The witness said the donation was for passing legislation, and thus a bribe not a donation, and he claimed to have witnessed the discussion and the signing of the check. However the check was signed days later so the witness was lying. However it did get the Democrat out, and a Republican in his place.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2012/9/11/former_alabama_gov_don_siegelman_speaks

  • Lots of data [Re: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:51AM (#41374251) Homepage

    One thing you're missing is the condition of the data. Unfortunately, it's not very good, especially temperature data.

    And one thing you're missing is that there are multiple sources of data from independent methods of measurement, with data analysis being done by multiple independent groups around the globe. This is not simply one single data set that is ambiguous; there is everything from balloon measurements to satellite infrared, and even gravity measurements of the thickness of polar ice taken by satellites.

    Most notably, there is the Berkeley independent reanalysis of temperature data ("Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature"), which was done explicitly to try to address the claims of bias in the data: http://berkeleyearth.org/ [berkeleyearth.org] . This is the work of which climate skeptic Anthony Watts said--before the results were released-- "I will believe this study", and which, as it turns out, shows results that pretty much lie exactly on top of the graph produced from the NOAA data, the NASA data, and even the CRU data. (see the comparison here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15373071 [bbc.co.uk] )

    There are gaps, there are insturmentation issues, there are siting issues

    All of which are addressed.

    , and, the 800lb gorilla in the room, there's just the simple fact that climate changes happen in geologic time frames, and we literally don't have any direct measurements of that scale.

    And that is an "800lb gorilla" for what reason, exactly? The question is about the effect of human-generated carbon dioxide over time scales of decades-- questions about the temperature record over time scales of millions to billions of years ("geologic time frames") is of great scientific interest, but not really relevant to criticizing the record over time scales five to eight orders of magnitude shorter.

    So we must proxy, and normalize, and adjust, and model. Really, I don't think anyone can definitively prove anything one way or the other yet.

    Sorry, but this is what science does: take data, analyze it, and compare it to models. Science is remarkably good at this.

    Another thing science is remarkably good at is comparing two different models and determining which one works. The problem is, there isn't a credible model that doesn't show global warming. The deniers don't have any models. (Haven't you ever wondered how come the results from climate modelling are often critiqued, but the critics never show their own models? That's because they don't have any.) There have been many attempts to find a model with negative feedback loops that cancel out the greenhouse effect, but none of these have ever worked even at the top level.

    The "denier" claims aren't falsifiable, because there isn't actually any model to falsify. Their entire model consists of "you're wrong".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:53AM (#41374275)

    This proves that Mann and his hockey-stick are perfectly correct science, and that he has behaved perfectly properly

    No, that's what released emails would have shown. When your salary is from the public you have no expectation of privacy from the public. This was a FOI for work related mails, nothing else.

    If anything, the enormous amounts of money having been spent on keeping Mann's mails secret is suspicious.

    (Also, the judge expected this to be appealed. That's the motivation for the ruling)

  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:59AM (#41374345)

    The volume of the mercury in your thermometer is only a proxy for temperature too.

  • by tbannist (230135) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @11:06AM (#41374427)

    Isn't that kind of dumb? It's like there's a guy standing at the edge of an overflowing swimming pool with a running garden hose and he claims "you can't prove that it's *my* water spilling out of the pool, therefore I don't have to turn the hose off".

  • Re: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by P-niiice (1703362) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @11:10AM (#41374473)
    So we require time machines to be able to deal with climate change. Hm. Might as well give up. Call BP and give them the keys to the Arctic!
  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @11:23AM (#41374597)
    Well, I'm convinced climate change is a real threat that can't be solved by happy thoughts. Drugs and terrorism, on the other hand, are not serious problems in my book. Furthermore, I don't see anyone giving the government carte blanche to step on our civil rights to fight global warming. But I'm glad you claim to find humor in it.
  • Re:"Might have" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @11:42AM (#41374855)

    Are you fucking kidding me? you think it is OK for anyone to abuse the public power to prevent academics from doing their job?

    Also, well done for the Godwin point. Calling climate scientists nazis "just doing their job". Great.

    The way it works is that you, as part of the state's coercive apparatus has a duty to be a decent human being. Thus it was found at Nuremberg. Also known as "you don't get to get away scott-free from crimes committed in the name of the state".

    A university professor is basically only responsible for coercing student to give back their papers on time...

  • Re: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blueg3 (192743) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @12:07PM (#41375187)

    We can see that temperatures are cyclical, but on which side of the slope are we?

    It doesn't really matter, since the cyclical changes are, at their fastest rates, an order of magnitude slower than the recent changes described as "global warming".

  • Re: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya ... m minus math_god> on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @12:21PM (#41375377) Homepage Journal

    "Watts published an entire paper on siting problems for temperature recording stations."
    which were dealt with. And when you move what he considers problems the data still holds. SO that argument is dead. so shut up unless you have actual new data.
    Next:
    "geologic time scale"
    what you, and everyone else with argument from 1970 seem to fail to realize is that we are not talking about warming at a geological scale. We are talking about a much FASTER warming. This isn't thousands of years, its 100-200 years.

    Oh, and becasue you didn't see the memo* the change is ON TOP OF normal cycles. Not in liue of, on top of. SO we can see the normal cycle, and the see warming on top of it. When the cycle is 'cooling' we don't return to previous temperature. What happens is about increase slows, and sometime goes flat, but doesn't return to the previous cooler temperature.

    I used to believe in public discourse in scientific matter. Now I see all that does is cause people to spread lies and disinformation when the science is counter to there money making . Anti-vaxers, anti-fluoride, climate denialists,.. gah. SO any ignorant people sure they are correct in their ignorance. The n given a platform to speak there ignorance.

    I think that we should go back into ivory towers.. preferable ivory tower with guns mounted on them. Even better: an education system the teaches critical thinking and science. Barring that, towers with guns. And rest assured the guns design by science will be far superior then any one else's guns.

    *becasue that don't send memos up you ass

  • by MaXintosh (159753) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @12:42PM (#41375709)
    Your comment smacks heavily of "If he has nothing to hide, why is he fighting to hide things?" Here's an alternate explanation for why he's fighting too hard: The professor was personally offended by what he probably saw as a mob of science-denying jackals that were to sure to pick at his emails, find some quote, take it horribly out of context and trumpet it in the news as loudly as could be, front page headlines blaring. And then when a correction is published showing he did no wrong, that correction will be published on the 5th page of the middle section of the newspaper where none will ever see it.

    It's hard not to be personally insulted in such a case. Hell. I'm starting to feel more than a touch offended on his behalf. I know in such a case, even if there was nothing I had ever written that could be misconstrued, I would fight bitterly and with all my reserves to thwart such an attack on purely personal grounds. As someone on slashdot, I'm surprised you don't realize that sometimes people fight even losing battles purely on principle.
  • by psmears (629712) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @01:01PM (#41375947)

    Are you so personally pure that you've never ever even once written anything in a private email that could be misinterpreted by people who intend to damage you and don't care about facts?

    As Cardinal Richelieu said: "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I will find something in them to have him hanged."

  • Re:"Might have" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @01:17PM (#41376157)

    And what evidence do you currently have that Mann intentionally and currently lies and manipulates data? For that matter, what evidence do you have that he ever did? Unless you have some existing evidence (called "probable cause"), this looks like it's just a fishing expedition by a pompous blowhard politician stoking his base for a run at governor in a few years.

    If Mann intentionally did those things, and the DA found out and pressed charges and went to trial, then I guarantee you that he would be punished according to the laws that we currently have in place. But to say that "he won't be punished for it" requires that his guilt be determined in a court of law, and for that, you need some justifiable reason to get a judge to grant discovery. In this case so far, the judge has not seen any justification aside from partisan allegations from the DA's office, which are world their weight (eg: nothing). So, instead of parroting your opinion as absolute truth and congratulating yourself on how well you _know_ he is guilty but you _know_ he won't be punished, let the legal system do its work to root out and find guilt - that's what it's there for after all.

  • Re:"Might have" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:42PM (#41377487)

    Any correspondence, of anyone, can be quoted out of context. Targeting researchers working on climate change, demanding that they give you an easy source of mud for you to dig through, hoping you can score points in the press and with your political friends?

    This is intimidation, nothing less. Not to mention the fact that responding to these demands takes enormous amounts of time, which does indeed prevent the researcher from doing his job. This is exactly like those frivolous DMCA notices we love to hate on slashdot.

  • Re:"Might have" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:51PM (#41377609)

    Of course! Vigilantism as a way to ensure justice! how can I not see the brilliance of your scheme?

    If someone is accused a specific wrongdoing which falls under the law, you can get a warrant to obtain the communications. If not, well, tough shit, you don't get to annoy people just because you don't like them or their ideas.

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"

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