The Spectacle Blog

Hiding the Decline of Academic and Scientific Transparency

By on 8.27.11 | 2:34PM

That's what University of Virginia continues to do, as my colleague at American Tradition Institute Chris Horner explains today in Washington Examiner. Earlier this week UVA -- as required by a court order -- delivered records relating to Climategate "Hockey Stick" chart creator Michael Mann that ATI asked for in January under a Freedom of Information Act request. Except the records provided -- less than half of the 9,000 or so records that UVA says are responsive to our request -- were of minimal relevance to Mann's research.

UVA has said it will claim exemptions to protect records of a "proprietary nature," which is irrelevant here under Virginia's FOIA law because all the research Mann did has been published, and therefore public. Obviously missing from the fluffy document dump this week were the already-publicized Climategate emails between Mann, East Anglia pals, and other alarmists. As Chris explains:

ClimateGate emails sent or received by Mann's UVa email address include certain now-notorious, often nasty missives, many highly questionable from a legal or ethics perspective and most reflecting wagon-circling by alarmists discussing how to defeat substantive challenge and even requests for transparency involving an already published paper.

It is reasonable to surmise that these are among the 9,000 pages UVa finally identified as responsive to ATI. If so, each of them is being withheld on the remarkable claim that they are "Data, records or information of a proprietary nature produced or collected by or for faculty ... in the conduct of or as a result of study or research on medical, scientific, technical or scholarly issues." Really.

Excerpts of apparently scholarly research of commercial intent and value presumably include the ClimateGate gems "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!", and one gleefully noting the death of a skeptic who had dared correspond with them.

This is the sort of Top Secret "proprietary" emails UVa will risk fortune, reputation and sanction to keep from producing. A UVa official informed us on no less than three occasions that the school was, in effect, ignoring the law's mandate to interpret exemptions narrowly.

Mann told Science magazine this week that UVA wasn't providing anything to ATI other than "boilerplate:"

"U.Va has not turned over emails related to discussions of research, unpublished manuscripts, private discussions between scientists about science, etc.,--i.e., any of the materials that are exempt from release by state law," Mann wrote in an e-mail message. "U.Va has simply turned over the non-exempt emails, and many of these were turned over to ATI months ago."

Obviously Mann is not a lawyer, as there is no exemption in Virginia's FOIA for "private discussions between scientists about science" under taxpayer-funded research and institutions.

As we expected, we will have to wait another month until UVA shows the records that they claim are exempt to Horner and to our Law Center director David Schnare, under a protective order, and then they will hash out their dispute over the remaining documents in front of a judge, who will make the final call as to their public release. As UVA conspirator Michael Halpern of Union of Concerned Scientists told the Washington Post, "The real test will be the second phase."

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