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Earth The Courts Science

VA Supreme Court: Michael Mann Needn't Turn Over All His Email 348

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-did-you-have-for-lunch-when-you-wrote-those-papers dept.
RoccamOccam sends news that the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Michael Mann, a climate scientist notable for his work on the "hockey stick" graph, does not have to turn over the entirety of his papers and emails under Freedom of Information laws. Roughly 1,000 documents were turned over in response to the request, but another 12,000 remain, which lawyers for the University of Virginia say are "of a proprietary nature," and thus entitled to an exemption. The VA Supreme Court ruled (PDF), "the higher education research exemption's desired effect is to avoid competitive harm not limited to financial matters," and said the application of "proprietary" was correct in this case. Mann said he hopes the ruling "can serve as a precedent in other states confronting this same assault on public universities and their faculty."
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VA Supreme Court: Michael Mann Needn't Turn Over All His Email

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  • by 0p7imu5_P2im3 (973979) on Friday April 18, 2014 @02:19PM (#46789989) Journal
    If the public pays for it, the public should receive it in its entirety.
    • by Yew2 (1560829)
      whoa! the public pays tuition in Virginia! Im so there...
      • by shaitand (626655)
        Public schools in virginia receive public funding, public grants, and staff performing research get public funding for it. And yes, the public pays the tuition for most students at most universities in the form of student loans.
    • by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday April 18, 2014 @02:30PM (#46790119)

      This wasn't a request to release research. This was a request to release emails between colleagues.

      As was seen with the hacking into the East Anglia university mails, the objective of which is to find phrases to misrepresent.

      Scientists publish their completed research in scientific journals. There is no genuine reason for publishing emails that were exchanged whilst the research was still in progress. Only in-genuine and dishonest reasons.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)
        Legislators publish their completed regulations in the federal register. There is no genuine reason for publishing emails that were exchanged whilst the creation of regulations was still in progress. Only in-genuine and dishonest reasons.
        • There is no genuine reason for publishing emails that were exchanged whilst the creation of regulations was still in progress.

          Hmm, wouldn't you want to see an email by a Senator saying "Bloomberg really wants this, and he's promising all of us on the Committee $3 million for our campaign warchests if we make it so"?

          Or if you think Bloomberg walks on water, replace "Bloomberg with "Koch Bros" or whoever your favorite bogeyman is....

          • by Obfuscant (592200)
            Whoosh
          • Set a precedent of publishing emails between colleagues and the result is they just move any such incriminating conversations to other media, or to face to face meetings.

            You ruin the use of a valuable communications medium fishing for something that's unlikely to be there anyway.

            • by Obfuscant (592200)
              Set a precedent of publishing emails between legislators and the result is they just move any such incriminating conversations to other media, or to face to face meetings.

              You ruin the use of a valuable communications medium fishing for something that's unlikely to be there anyway. It's not very likely that anyone would offer a senate seat vacancy appointment to someone as a payback, so why bother looking?

              • Set a precedent of publishing emails between legislators and the result is they just move any such incriminating conversations to other media, or to face to face meetings.
                You ruin the use of a valuable communications medium fishing for something that's unlikely to be there anyway.

                Yes, I agree. Just as I did with your last attempt at sarcasm. It's a pointless waste of time rooting through the detritus of the preparation of a project. Even when it's politicians.

        • Indeed.

          Compare and contrast the achievement of today's congress over the last few months with the achievement of the disparate representatives that drafted the US Constitution in 4 months at the Philadelphia convention.

          The difference? With the lack of daily scrutiny from the news media and the resulting posturing from representatives, they could be more honest with each other about those things on which they stood firm, and those things on which they were negotiable.

          The US constitution stands on it's own me

          • The US constitution stands on it's own merits. The daily tos and fros of negotiating the thing over those 4 months are irrelevant.

            And yet, for decades after that original publishing of the US Constitution, those very tos and fros of negotiating were slowly trickled out, leading to some of the most foundational Supreme Court rulings which have preserved our country's freedoms.

            Dismissing the process for the results is like missing the trees for the forest. Just as in politics, in the scientific method, the ends do not always justify the means, and pretending otherwise can lead to atrocities like eugenics. Apologies for invoking Godwin's

      • The thought processes behind the research can often give insight to new data that arises later. Many of Einstein's theories would not be as well understood if not for his correspondence with other notable scientists of his day.
      • by Solandri (704621)

        Scientists publish their completed research in scientific journals. There is no genuine reason for publishing emails that were exchanged whilst the research was still in progress. Only in-genuine and dishonest reasons.

        "Police offers present their completed incident and arrest reports in court. There is no genuine reason for publicly releasing recordings of what the officers do whilst the incident and arrests were still in progress. Only in-genuine and dishonest reasons."

        Just saying. Seems to me if yo

        • "Police offers present their completed incident and arrest reports in court. There is no genuine reason for publicly releasing recordings of what the officers do whilst the incident and arrests were still in progress. Only in-genuine and dishonest reasons."

          And indeed there is no such reason, even for police officers. Certainly having video surveillance of police officers is a welcome step forward. But these never will and never should be published on the internet in their entirety. Suppose the police come and arrest you and your wife early one morning whilst you were still in bed and they then do a search of your house. For a crime you didn't commit. Clearly that shouldn't be published on the internet for all to see. It would only add the injury of public vie

          • That's a valid point, but it doesn't apply in the case of a university email address (as opposed to a personal email address), especially when the data can be significant to future discussion of the process used today. Historical correspondence between scientists is more often harolded for its benefits to the scientific community than for any fear of political backlash.
    • by whit3 (318913)

      If the public pays for it, the public should receive it in its entirety.

      But, this was 'freedom of information act' request, and that act refers only to
      the records of government civil agencies.

      The researcher had a teaching job, and acted as an independent
      contractor in pursuing a research topic.

      The researcher's phone calls, e-mails, piles of scratchings and musings,
      aren't the proper product of his funded research at all. Only the finished report,
      and/or any publishable papers (in peer-reviewed, edited journa

    • So do I have a right to access the university email records of good looking undergraduates at public universities?

  • by nimbius (983462) on Friday April 18, 2014 @02:39PM (#46790215) Homepage
    This is a case insisted upon by a conservative group and a delegate from the state of virginia. The idea is the same as the polar researcher Charles Monett who faced formal misconduct charges for his research into climate change.

    these are personal attacks of a political nature designed to destroy the career of a scientist attempting to validate or research climate change. If neoconservative corporate shills cant deny funding then they'll shit-coat your career and personal life as a reminder to shut the fuck up about climate change and focus more on Benghazi and anchor babies. If you're a scientist like me, crap like virginia just makes you want to dedicate your life to researching the subject more fervently.
    • by Nimey (114278)

      Yep. Mann was also investigated by former North Carolina AG and failed gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, basically for political reasons - Cooch wanted to punish Mann for daring to question Republican orthodoxy on AGW. The case was thrown out for lack of evidence.

  • Here's the definition of "proprietary" the VA Supreme Court upheld:

    "a right customarily associated with ownership, title, and possession. It is an interest or a right of one who exercises dominion over a thing or property, of one who manages and controls."

    That seems incredibly broad for a situation like this -- in fact, it's hard to imagine a whole lot of meaningful exceptions (likely the reason UVA ultimately produced the 7% of the emails they did was because those emails failed one of the other six factors of the exclusion test). But for better or for worse, the court essentially had to reach that result because there was a precedent on the books defining "proprietary" that broadly, and th

  • by Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) on Friday April 18, 2014 @03:22PM (#46790635)

    Does your daughter work an on-campus job? Does she ever use a university email account? Does she use university networks?

    These all are public resources, and as a creepy stalker, I demand to be allowed full access to the email and browsing history of all attractive undergraduate students. I want to know who their professors are, which websites they visit using university networks, and any other private information that I can find out.

    I demand full access! The government should not be able to hide the information from me. We don't want to be forced to go back to the dark days of rooting through trash and peeking through windows!

  • by gillbates (106458) on Friday April 18, 2014 @10:11PM (#46792967) Homepage Journal

    The biggest problem I have with this is not that Mann's science might be wrong, but that the methods being used to discredit the science are anything but scientific. We have entered a scary, new era in Western thought where conformity of thought is valued above all else, and anyone who dares advocate a position which could be considered controversial or offensive is railroaded into silence by whatever means necessary.

    The "Speak No Evil" crowd is destroying a great Western tradition of open and honest debate. These folks are committing offenses against truth itself, destroying civilization in the process.

    I was under the impression that the ClimateGate affair was old news and Mann had been discredited already; why would they bother pursuing this more than half a decade later? It seems their objective is not merely to win the debate, or merely suppress an unpopular opinion, but to prevent any debate, research, or independent inquiry from taking place from this point on.

    It's called making an example of someone. It's objective is to so thoroughly exasperate the target that their response becomes so extreme as to become unbelievable by the public at large. If they can't keep you from speaking, they can make others believe that either:

    1. You are so extreme in your position that your judgement cannot be trusted, or
    2. If anyone else dares to speak up that their life will be ruined by the onslaught of specious and frivolous inquiries, innuendos, lies, etc...

    Michael Mann's ordeal serves the interest of the fossil fuel companies regardless of the outcome of the case.

    It does not, however, serve the greater public interest. Even though I believe Mann to be mistaken, I'm quite certain that we the public cannot be adequately informed in an environment such as this.

  • by MrEdofCourse (2670081) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @01:38AM (#46793487) Homepage

    Can they order him to do a reboot of Miami Vice?

  • by EQ (28372) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @03:58AM (#46793737) Homepage Journal

    It wasn't the "critics" or the political commentator who brought this to court. It was Mann who sued them, opening the way for discovery subpoenas against him, not FOIA requests. This blocks the defendant from getting to a public employee's communications that may possibly be used to defend one's self against a suit by that employee. This could be a very bad precedent. And don't confuse this with the FOIA stuff, nor with critics/skeptics using it to harass Mann: Bottom line is that if Mann had not sued in order to silence a political columnist, none of this would ever have been necessary.

    That is what worries me more than anything else - if a public employee sues you in a matter of free speech (to silence you from criticizing him, via use of libel laws), this precedent gives that government employee a huge shield to hide behind and resist your attempts to discover information to defend yourself with against his lawsuit. This is a terrible precedent because it will provide for government coverups and denials of FOIA requests in the long run. Imagine this being used by a public employee you do not like politically, for a libel suit for your criticism of him - whether justifiable or not, it limits your ability to defend yourself. These folks are public employees, and their correspondence should as a general rule be available (excluding classified information, or personal privacy redacted info). A blanket limit on discovery when defending against a lawsuit from a public employee is a bad thing

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