Michael E. Mann (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The battle over global warming in Prince William County Circuit Court, focused on renowned climate scientist Michael E. Mann, was either an assault on science or a search for the truth, depending on whose briefs you were reading. But after reading all the briefs, a judge ruled Monday that Mann’s e-mail correspondence was exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and did not have to be provided to the American Tradition Institute, which was trying to delve into the discussions and data behind Mann’s conclusions that humans are causing the Earth to grow hotter.
The ruling is almost certain to be appealed, and retired Arlington Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan had told both sides he wanted the case properly briefed and argued so that the record would be in order for the Virginia Supreme Court. But then Sheridan ruled orally from the bench Monday, rather than issue a written opinion, and both sides were awaiting the hearing transcript before plotting their next step.
Mann issued a statement declaring, “A victory for science!” Now working at Penn State, Mann was doing climate research at U.Va. from 1999 to 2005 when he had voluminous correspondence with other climate researchers.
“This finding is a potentially important precedent,” Mann said, “as ATI and other industry-backed front groups continue to press their attacks on climate scientists through the abuse of public records and FOIA laws and the issuing of frivolous and vexatious demands for internal scholarly deliberations and personal correspondences.”
Sheridan ruled that Mann’s correspondence while a professor at U.Va. qualified as public records, but they were exempt from disclosure under one particular exclusion listed in the Freedom of Information law: “Data, records or information of a proprietary nature produced or collected by or for faculty or staff of public institutions of higher education...in the conduct of or as a result of study or research on medical, scientific, technical or scholarly issues...where such data, records or information has not been publicly released, published, copyrighted or patented.”
David Schnare, the former EPA lawyer now representing ATI, said that while research was in process, the creative process should be protected. But once the research is published, the public should be entitled to see the process and data behind it.
Sheridan ruled that the FOIA exemption “is critical to protect the academic process,” Schnare said. “We agree that it is but we believe the judge went too far and prevented all transparency. And we believe that’s improper.”