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Clearing the Air

University website details response to climate-change inquiries


For nearly 18 months, University officials have been responding to requests for information from individuals and groups in a climate-change controversy that has found its way to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Parties on both sides of the issue—those who contend climate change is caused by human activity as well as those skeptical of such claims—have sought emails and other information regarding two former UVA scientists, Patrick Michaels and Michael Mann.

In addition, further controversy has resulted from a number of published misstatements of fact about the University’s response, namely, that UVA hid the emails of Mann, whose research indicates that climate change is partially caused by human activity, and “handed over” the emails of Michaels, who is skeptical of human-influenced climate change. 

To clarify the chain of events, the University recently created a website,, providing a summary and details of more than 50 exchanges, most dealing with requests and responses under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

In March, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by Ken Cuccinelli, the Commonwealth’s attorney general, who in April 2010 issued Civil Investigation Demands (CIDs) to the University for information regarding Michael Mann. Now on the faculty at Penn State, Mann was a professor in the UVA environmental sciences department from 1999 to 2005. He was among several researchers whose names appeared on emails obtained illegally when a research computer was hacked at the University of East Anglia Hadley Climatic Research Unit in England. Climate-change skeptics allege the files show fraud in the research. Subsequent investigations at Penn State and East Anglia found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The University is challenging Cuccinelli’s CIDS on a number of grounds unrelated to access to documents to which the public is legally entitled, “including both a lack of articulated cause to believe that any fraud was committed and academic freedom.”