University Turns Over Some of Climate Scientist's Documents

Months after a request from a Virginia politician and a conservative think tank, the University of Virginia (UVA) has turned over documents related to embattled scientist Michael Mann's research into the history of Earth's climate. But what the petitioners really want to see may still be at large.

The release yesterday came at the request of state Delegate Robert G. Marshall and the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a market-oriented environmental policy research group with offices in Washington, D.C., and Denver, Colorado. In January, ATI, Marshall, and two other Virginia residents filed a request under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for e-mail and other documents connected with Mann's research into paleoclimatology. In May, ATI and Marshall filed a suit accusing the university of dragging its heels. On 24 May, a judge for Virginia's 31st circuit court ordered the university to start turning over documents within 90 days.

Mann, a physicist and climatologist now at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, was an assistant professor in the environmental sciences department at UVA from 1999 to 2005. His studies of past climates have drawn fire from global-warming skeptics, who deny that human activity is changing Earth's climate.

In a press release this afternoon, ATI said it had received "a 4.3 megabyte disk that contains 3,827 pages" of data. Paul Chesser, ATI's executive director, said ATI staff members had not had a chance to review the contents. "We think we got a third" of the documents requested, Chesser said. Mann, who says the university is keeping him abreast of the documents it releases, says they consist of routine e-mail messages and similar "boilerplate."

More documents are expected to be released next month. Virginia law exempts more than 100 types of documents from FOIA requests, including personnel and health records, contract negotiations, and certain proprietary information. Under the terms of the May court order, the university has an extra 30 days to turn over documents it considers exempt from the FOIA request. Those documents will be turned over to ATI's lawyers, who will have 90 more days to review them and challenge exemptions.

"U.Va has not turned over emails related to discussions of research, unpublished manuscripts, private discussions between scientists about science, etc.,--i.e., any of the materials that are exempt from release by state law," Mann wrote in an e-mail message. "U.Va has simply turned over the non-exempt emails, and many of these were turned over to ATI months ago." The university did not respond to ScienceInsider's request for comment.

The release of the e-mail follows the release Monday of a report by the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation (NSF). It says Mann did not violate any codes of ethical research conduct in connection with the so-called Climategate e-mails, which unknown hackers copied from a server at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom in November 2009. The NSF investigation was the latest in a series of inquiries to find no evidence for allegations by critics, ATI among them, that Mann had falsified data or skewed calculations to exaggerate recent increases in global temperatures or humanity's role in causing them.

Asked what ATI plans to do with the documents, Chesser said that depends on what's in them. The institute may decide to post them on its Web site, he said. "We'll have to see what we've got first."

Marshall said he is looking forward to receiving a disk. "Unlike a lot of politicians, I actually read my mail," he says.