A University of Virginia researcher has gained two defenders in the Richmond state house.
Dr. Michael Mann, a former professor at the UVA who studied climate change, is being investigated by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The prosecutor's office suspects Mann of knowingly using "manipulated or deceitful data" in order to win public funding for his research projects.
State Sens. Chap Petereson of Fairfax County and Donald McEachin of Henrico are pushing forward legislation to limit the powers of the attorney general and curb his investigation.
Mann's research on climate change has been the subject of much scrutiny over the years. In 2001, one of his reports was presented before the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, indicating a sharp spike in the Earth's temperature in the latter half of the 20th century. The presentation drew some skepticism, but a 2006 investigation by the National Research Council found Mann's research methods to be sound.
Cuccinelli's investigation into Mann's work began in the spring of 2010. At the time, the attorney general was quoted in the Washington Post saying, "That subpoena is directed at the expenditure of dollars. Whether he does a good job, bad job or I don't like the outcome - and I think everybody already knows his position on some of this is one that I question. But that is not what that's about."
Cuccinelli has demanded copies of correspondence the climatologist sent while working at UVA. Mann has called the investigation a "witch hunt."
Peterson and McEachin are introducing a bill that would bar the attorney general from using the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act to open investigations into academic research.
The lawmakers were set to meet with Del. David Toscano of Charlottesville to drum up support for their proposal.
"This particular statute has been used to get at an issue that would be discussed more appropriately by scientists, not legislators or elected officials," Toscano told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "This bill would repeal the whole statute. I'm not sure it has to go that far, but that's what the bill seeks."