Climatologist Michael Mann inserts himself in Virginia's nationally watched election

Should scientists not only take part in politics, but take off the gloves to throw punches?

By Steven T. Corneliussen

'Today,' began Gail Collins in a recent New York Times column, 'let's talk about Virginia, host of the nation's most interesting off-year election.' Part of that 2013 national political focus involves climate scientist Michael Mann—coauthor of the famously controversial 'hockey stick' graph, outspoken critic of a Virginia gubernatorial candidate, and vocal supporter of an attorney general candidate.

Mann criticizes Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican Party's candidate for governor, partly for what Collins sarcastically calls Cuccinelli's two-year investigation of Mann 'for the crime of believing in global warming.' After election as attorney general in 2009, Cuccinelli went to court, aggressively but unsuccessfully, concerning climate research Mann had conducted a few years earlier at the University of Virginia.

And Mann endorses Mark Herring, one of two candidates seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for Virginia attorney general. As a state senator, Herring stood up for Mann and against Cuccinelli. In mid-May, Herring's campaign released a fundraising letter signed by Mann. On 4 June, the campaign released another, under the heading 'Michael Mann urges support for Mark Herring.'

That second letter begins, 'There are only seven days left to stop Cuccinelli and the most radical ticket ever.' It charges that Cuccinelli 'used taxpayer dollars to attack' Mann for his research and 'tried to censor the work of scientists who study climate change.' It predicts that the Republican candidate for attorney general, state senator Mark Obenshain, will 'take up the torch of this radical agenda.'

Mann's involvement in Virginia's much-watched 2013 election predates these letters. His February Huffington Post commentary 'Ken Cuccinelli's cloudy judgment' ended by expressing hope either that Cuccinelli and other climate-change deniers will 'begin to realize that climate change is already affecting our economy and our way of life' or that 'voters will have the good sense to prevent them from taking office.'

His 13 May Huffington Post commentary blamed 'politicians like...Cuccinelli' for inaction on clean energy and emissions reduction. Mann wrote:

Our climate change research offended Cuccinelli, thanks to his ideology-driven denial of, well, science. Therefore, he used his legal power as attorney general to orchestrate a witch-hunt meant to smear and discredit me, and by extension, my work.

Lacking any legitimate claim against me, Cuccinelli's court filing largely ignored actual climate science, but when it was mentioned, Cuccinelli relied on Internet conspiracy theories and disinformation from big oil and coal lobbyists.

The commentary ends by appealing to all who 'care about climate change' and 'about governing based on reason and fact.' Such citizens, Mann urges, should 'care about the Virginia attorney general's race and...about electing Mark Herring.'

As of early on 5 June, the Republicans' campaigns do not appear to have responded to or about Mann.


Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.


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Scitation: Climatologist Michael Mann inserts himself in Virginia's nationally watched election