One Small Step for Climate Scientists

In a small victory for global-warming advocates, the case against climate scientist Michael Mann has hit some rough ground. Mann, a climate scientist who has been fighting a battle against the American Traditions Institute (ATI) since January, received his first piece of good news in the case on November 1 when a Virginia judge ruled that Mann did, in fact, have standing to join the case over the release of his e-mails from his time at the University of Virginia (UVA). The judge also decided to reopen the consent decree between UVA and ATI concerning exempted e-mails.

Facing a Freedom of Information Act request, UVA maintained that there was material in Mann’s e-mails that should be safe from release under an academic-material exemption. Mann and UVA were concerned that the initial consent order allowed the contested material to be reviewed by ATI’S lawyers, Chris Horner and David Schnare—an arrangement that struck many as inappropriate.

As I wrote about in October, Mann’s struggle is part of a disturbing trend of conservative organizations attacking the communications of climate scientists. The importance of the protections on academic and research material is paramount, an opinion expressed by, among others, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Association of University Professors.

The fact that a fair decision was rendered is one bright spot in a case that seems to be fraught with impropriety on the side of the prosecution. Beyond the strange agreement that allowed ATI’s lawyers to see the exempted material, there are concerns that the American Traditions Institute has received financial support from the Koch foundation and is simply harassing Mann to further a science-denying agenda. During the November 1 hearing, UVA attorney Richard Kast also expressed concern that Schnare, who is relatively new to the case, misrepresented himself and his history as an employee with the Environmental Protection Agency. (Schnare denies he engaged in any misconduct.)

With any luck, this will be the first of many positive steps forward in the case. Energized by this decision, Mann is “hopeful” about returning to court on December 20, when a judge will review the protective order of the exempted documents.