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Court To Hear Oral Arguments In Climate Change Fight

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Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world's leading climate scientists, received several government grants during his time at the University of Virginia.
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Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world's leading climate scientists, received several government grants during his time at the University of Virginia.

By Sabri Ben-Achour

A Virginia Circuit Court is hearing oral arguments today in the fight between Virginia's Attorney General and the University of Virginia over the records of a former professor.

Back in April, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli demanded documents from the University of Virginia. A lot of documents, basically anything hand written, taped, typed, emailed, recorded or even drawn that mentions Dr. Michael Mann.

Mann is one of the world's leading climate scientists, and received several government grants during his time at the university. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says "there may be problems in terms of whether the money was spent on what it was requested for that's where this is directed."

Cuccinelli declined to be interviewed for this story, but on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi show he explained that he's a skeptic of climate change and believes Mann committed fraud in using government grants for his research. The university refused to turn over any documents.

"It really undermines academic freedom at its core," says Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. It is one of four groups filing an amicus brief in support of the university.

"This really harkens back to the days when Galileo discovered that the sun is the center of the universe instead of the earth and he was persecuted," she says.

The Attorney General cites emails, stolen from a British university last year, to accuse Mann of misrepresenting data. Something Mann has been repeatedly cleared of in numerous investigations.

"The research on the question has been validated, the major findings, by the national academy of sciences, the inter-governmental on climate challenge, subsequent peer reviewed studies have all corroborated there was no fraud," comments Ekwurzel.

Today, the legal fight arrives in the courtroom. And it comes down to some legal specifics governing the attorney general's authority, but it also boils down to academic freedom.

"The first amendment protects academic freedom, the freedom to teach," says Rebecca Glenberg, head of legal affairs for the Virginia ACLU.

She also filed an amicus brief.

"Our argument is that when material like this is protected by the first amendment, the court needs to be very reluctant to allow government to issue demands that interfere with that freedom," she says.

She says the Supreme Court has specifically protected academics from this type of investigation. The attorney general insists he's acting within his authority.

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