Right to knowledge infringed

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September 7, 2010

12:52 AM

Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli, has a history of being a very controversial political figure. He has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the newest federal health care bill and challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of fuel efficiency in cars and trucks. Most recently, Cuccinelli filed a lawsuit against Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist who worked at the University of Virginia until 2005. The lawsuit alleged that Mann committed fraud by applying for federal grant money to conduct research on climate change. Last week a judge set Cuccinelli’s subpoena aside, stating that he had the right to investigate possible fraud in university grants, but that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud. Another problem with the subpoena was that four out of the five grants Cuccinelli wished to investigate were federal grants, over which he does not have jurisdiction. Cuccinelli is a global warming skeptic. Several panels have investigated Mann’s data and have found no fraud of any kind; however, climate-change skeptics believe these panels are as corrupt and fraudulent as Mann himself. This controversey has the ability to change the type of research done in universities in Virginia.

Cuccinelli’s lawsuit has done damage already; faculty members working in any of our public universities now have to think twice about conducting politically controversial research. This will also keep professors with significant credentials from pursuing jobs at Virginia’s great public universities. Academic freedom is cited often in defense of questionable scholarly behaviors, but this case strikes at the heart of why academic freedom is necessary. Academic scholars should be able to follow evidence and write about controversial issues without fearing political retaliation.

Not only does the lawsuit threaten to discourage possible professors from working at public universities, it also wastes taxpayers money. This is ironic because the Cuccinelli’s lawsuit is grounded in the accusation that Mann committed fraud. If Cuccinelli appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is what will most likely happen, the case could eventually cost Virginia taxpayers between $250,000 and $500,000. With Virginia still recovering from the recession is it wise for the state to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lawsuit that will most likely not result in any meaningful results?

Cucinelli’s lawsuit is based purely on political views and ambitions. It is clearly meant to intimidate academics at Virginia’s public universities. These types of witch-hunts are harmful to public universities and to the state of Virginia. Suing based on political motivations costs taxpayers money, the use of which is exactly what Republicans want to reduce. Controversial research is also often the most ground-breaking research and can help countless people with discoveries in health care and engineering. There is a long history of investigations and inquisitions of scientists whose research does not sit well with the political elite. Cuccinelli should let this issue fade away to save taxpayers money — and to avoid scaring away potential professors at our public universities.

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