Former University of Virginia professor and climatologist Michael Mann returned to Charlottesville on Monday alongside Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAfuliffe.
Although the pair spent their morning speaking with researchers and developers at one of the area’s local healthcare startups, it came as little surprise when the conversation ultimately turned to Mann’s long history with McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
In 2010, the freshmen attorney general launched a widely publicized investigation into Mann’s research at the university, alleging the academic had committed fraud when he applied for and received state-funded research grants to study climate change in the environment.
“The attorney general came after me,” Mann said inside HemoSonics’ downtown office Monday. “This is the same individual who attacked me, who attempted to use a civil subpoena to demand all of my personal emails based on the fact that he thinks that climate change is a hoax and therefore any scientist studying climate change, in his mind, is engaged somehow in a fraud.”
Today, Mann is the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. But during his tenure at UVa, Mann was the co-author of the “hockey stick” graph, an illustration correlating the global increase in temperature and growing fossil fuel consumption in the last century.
The case against Mann’s research eventually went to the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled that Cuccinelli had no authority to issue a civil investigative demand against UVa.
But victory for the university came at a price.
The fight cost UVa $570,000, which it paid out of private funds.
Moreover, the legal battle sent a disparaging message to the scientific and entrepreneurial communities, McAuliffe said Monday.
“When science doesn’t agree with what the attorney general wants, he went and sued them,” McAuliffe said. “That’s not a welcoming message.”
Such actions, he said, make it more difficult for businesses and universities in the commonwealth to recruit the world’s leading scientific innovators.
According to HemoSonics' president and founder, William Walker, his company has already been offered opportunities to relocate to eight locations in four different states and four different countries.
Walker said he doesn’t intend to leave anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean other entrepreneurs will stay.
“Scientists need the chance to work without political interference,” Walker said. “The scientific community needs to be safe from political attack.”
The next governor of the commonwealth needs to foster and create an ecosystem that supports creative freedom, Walker said.
“There’s a reason that 800 scientists around the state signed a petition denouncing Ken Cuccinelli’s attack against me and against the University of Virginia,” Mann added. “It’s a threat for the entire scientific community.”
And that’s the exact community the state of Virginia should be welcoming, McAuliffe said.
“We’ve got to take Virginia to the next level,” he said. “We’re going to have tremendous headwinds in Virginia: cuts in defense spending, sequestration. We need to make sure that we’re bringing in the new professors to get those 21st- century technologies to build the new businesses and help the universities.”
Spokespeople for Cuccinelli declined to respond directly to Mann or McAuliffe’s remarks Monday.
In a written statement released by spokeswoman Anna Nix, the Cuccinelli campaign’s response focused largely on McAuliffe and Mann’s position on Virginia’s coal industry.
“McAuliffe’s decision to invite Mann to campaign on his behalf is a clear indication that McAuliffe … will not protect Virginia’s coal industry and the tens of thousands of people who depend on it,” the statement read.
According to McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin, Cuccinelli’s response is typical deflection.
"Given that Ken Cuccinelli's partisan witch-hunt against science and innovation embarrassed Virginia and cost UVa more than half a million dollars, his only defense is to change the subject,” McAuliffe’s campaign said in a written state Monday afternoon.
Coal, the statement reads, will continue to play a significant role in Virginia’s “energy mix.”
"But we do need to encourage the development of renewable forms of energy,” the statement continues, “and those new technologies are exactly the type being developed by scientists like the one Ken Cuccinelli attacked.”
McAuliffe and Mann left Charlottesville on Monday morning for Blacksburg, where the pair toured Virginia Tech’s research and academic facilities later that day.