Mann pursues legal action

Former University professor hires attorneys to prevent institute from acquiring personal documents

Former University Environmental Sciences Prof. Michael Mann began legal procedures last Friday to intervene on the attempt of the American Tradition Institute to acquire documents of his research on global warming.

The move comes a week after the University submitted nearly 4,000 pages of Mann's documents to ATI, which requested the information through the Freedom of Information Act. The University has withheld more than 5,000 pages of Mann's documents and could release some of them to ATI in two weeks, according to ATI.

The University does not comment on pending litigation but will continue assessing which documents and correspondence are legally exempt through FOIA and providing all responsive, non-exempt records, University spokesperson Carol Wood said in an email.

Mann, who now teaches at Pennsylvania State University, is challenging a protective order which requires the University to disclose information relating to Mann's research to ATI, a conservative think tank. The only people who would then be able to access the research would be ATI and the presiding judge, according to a press release by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The controversy about Mann's research has been a source of public scrutiny for more than a year. Virginia Attorney General and University alumnus Ken Cuccinelli filed subpoenas demanding the University relinquish Mann's research in April 2010.

The University challenged Cuccinelli's rights to the research in court and won on the grounds that Mann's documents are not the kind the public is legally entitled to. Cucinelli has since appealed that decision in the Supreme Court of Virginia.

ATI has requested the email correspondence and research documents of 39 scientists from the University through FOIA, said David Schnare, director of the Environmental Law Center at ATI. These documents collectively contain information about five research grants.

ATI is specifically interested in the reports detailing these scientists' findings because of concerns about accuracy.

"We want to go in and see what assumptions were used and whether those assumptions make sense to ourselves and to others in the subject area," Schnare said.

Numerous independent organizations have already cleared Mann's name of any wrongdoing regarding climate change research. The most recent investigation was conducted by the U.S. National Science Foundation Office of the Inspector General, concluding there was "no research misconduct" and closing the case Aug. 15.

Schnare thinks the legal dispute should solely be handled between the University and ATI.

"We don't have a dispute with Mr. Mann - he's just one of 39 people from whom we wanted emails," he said.

ATI also argued there is no legal basis to Mann's attempt to block the request for his research.

"Mr. Mann doesn't own these emails," Schnare said. "There is no expectation of privacy when using the university email."

Mann does not agree with Schnare's perception of the situation.

"I clearly have the right to make sure that my interests are represented in any matters involving the release of my private emails," Mann said in an email. "Apparently Mr. [Chris] Horner [director of litigation at ATI] wishes that were somehow not the case - which is really a statement about him, and his ethics and integrity, more than anything else."

The union believes Mann's research should not be disclosed to ATI to ensure scientific integrity.

"Dr. Mann is protecting scientists' ability to communicate with one another without fear of harassment," said Michael Halpern, program manager for the union's Scientific Integrity Program. "ATI should not be given special privileges. It's inappropriate for any outside group to have access to emails about student grades, research development and other privileged information."

ATI believes Mann's legal intervention is less motivated by a desire for scientific integrity and more by his need to prevent public humiliation.

"Mr. Mann's problem is he's afraid he's going to be embarrassed," Schnare said. "Embarrassment is something he should have thought about when he wrote his emails in the first place."

ATI has already contacted University attorneys in an attempt to resolve the issue.

"We'll sort this out one way or another," Schnare said.

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