The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Coochie and the Witch Hunt

Of course, most readers will have heard of Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli's persecution, er intended prosecution, of Michael Mann who is accused of having actually once perpetrated willful acts of scientific research not only within the State of Virginia, but in fact with some modest contribution of state funds.


Remarkably, most of the soi-disant "lukewarmers" have criticized this nonsense in no uncertain terms. This is certainly a good thing. It is far from a peace treaty, but it is a good step toward an armistice. And as Itzhak Rabin said, "you don't sign a peace treaty with your friends."

At the very high risk of getting flamed by Marion Delgado, I will note that Tom Fuller, of all people, offerred some well-meaning advice on Monday.
Want some well meaning advice?

Write a letter today and get it into circulation for signatures. Get it delivered to Cuccinelli and a couple of Virginia newspapers tomorrow.

Follow it up. There is a US head of the state district attorneys. Get it to him/her. You guys have the in with Romm--get CAP to push Maddow and Olberman to get on this. How come Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias are not writing about this?

It's been days and you don't even have this on the agenda. You don't need a 'right wing echo chamber' to get your story out there.

Get on the case.
Some of my readers reacted with deep suspicion. If Fuller wants us to do this, if McIntyre and even "Jeff Id" are doing this, it must be a trap and we shouldn't do it.

To quote Steve McIntyre about a zillion times, "oh, please." What are we supposed to do, encourage Cuccinelli? The question is, after all, what we can do to discourage him.

Today Tom shows some slight impatience.
You guys border on the truly bizarre. You spend your day picking apart our motives (and getting it 100% wrong) and refuse to do one thing yourselves. It would be humorous if it weren't so pathetic. You spend your lives bitching about us and a real threat to your livelihood appears and you... do... nothing.
Well, there is a question of who "you guys" is. If we presume that it is "us members of mainstream science" I have to say I still have very little influence from what I can tell, and nobody's consulting me as to what to do. But I did discuss this a bit behind the scenes, and the point brought up here was echoed by a few. The national press, largely DC based, is already aware of Coochie, though he may be new to the rest of us, and already thinks him a buffoon. (In fact, the association of "climategate" with Coochie may contribute to finally bringing the press to its senses. This is ACORN, Kenyan birth certificate, death panel, fake moon landing stuff, guys, get it? Anyway I can hope, can't I?)

Further, the likelihood that this is more than grandstanding seems thin. This does mean that calling attention to this matter is not the right thing to do. For people taking a truly Moranoesque view of matters, any controversy about climate is a good thing. So there's a reluctance to stir the pot for fear of tickling a few more inattentive neurons along the "climate science/scandal" axis.

There's also the astonishing fact that the environmental press can't fight on two fronts at the same time. The interest in the media in environmental issues is so thin that by definition the number of major environment stories at any one time is capped at one. (Update: I should have completed the thought: That's why Coochie's timing, right under the Horizon disaster, is tactically lousy. So much the better.)

Then, there's the question of whose signatures on the letter would be effective. UCS has already issued a statement. Many of the more prominent science blogs have weighed in:

Discover -- The Intersection -- http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/05/04/cuccinelli-fishing-expedition-makes-the-washington-post/

Deltoid, Scienceblogs -- http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/05/the_republican_war_on_science.php

Discovery -- Bad Astronomy -- http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/05/04/deniers-abuse-power-to-attack-climate-scientists/

PZMyers, Scienceblogs -- http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/cuccinelli_is_using_the_law_to.php

RC is wise to avoid the ample temptations on this one.

I presume the actual scientific community at U Va and elsewhere in Virginia is weighing its options. I am sure this hurts recruitment, especially at the faculty level. As a Texan (with an insane school textbook policy statewide) I thoroughly sympathize.

I am not sure who Fuller thinks "us guys" is for these purposes, or what "we" should do.

If I could round up the actual US-based PhD level more or less consensus based climate bloggers not at RC, what, the eight of us (no way Nielsen is touching this) to sign something, what good would that do? I could easily round up a bunch of liberals, half of them Canadian, with a sound grasp of the basic science. Do you think that would have much effect on Coochie?

So, as usual, you seem a tad off base. Let's think about your closing. "You spend your lives bitching about us and a real threat to your livelihood appears and you... do... nothing." First, the threat to our livelihood seems awfully remote. If too many Coochies get in we'll have bigger problems than holding on to science gigs, but meanwhile this is just a sideshow.

Second "we", as the scientific community, are not a community that mobilizes around issues. Perhaps this will make you rethink what our community is.

"we" as the climate bloggers are not representative of the science community. The science community was until recently completely unaware of you guys. Recent events have changed "completely unaware" to "peripherally aware that some nasty bloggers had something to do with Phil's and Mike's problems". I am not, repeat not, bitching about you guys. You have as much right to your conspiracy theories as anyone else.

I am trying very hard to keep the focus of the "bitching" on the press which takes the innuendo seriously, and which deserves the bulk of the blame for the recent bizarre and tragic setbacks in science communication. (Well, I guess Tom is in both camps. OK then, I blame you as an inadequate science journalist with a bad sense of who the real experts are, not just as a run of the mill member of any of the thousand paranoid movements the country is plagued with.)

Anyway, in that light, since what I mostly want is for the press to ignore you (since they have no interest in your valid points but only in your overblown outrage and innuendo), there's a lot to be said for ignoring Cuccinelli. I guess U Va doesn't get to do that, but the rest of us do. If the press is willing to leave this as a local story, we should be too.

As for Mann, he must feel like Sam Gamgee returning to the Shire from Mount Doom to encounter a tinpot hobbit dictator, and somewhere in the mopping up process being accused by a stay-at-home hobbit of running away at the first sign of trouble. (The whole Lord of the Rings trilogy was just an immense shaggy dog story to set up for that line, you know.)

I expect what Mike is doing regarding Coochie, mostly, is laughing.


Image stolen from SteveAudio who stole it from Monty Python and dressed it up a bit.

7 comments:

Arthur said...

As usual, Tom Fuller either just doesn't know what he's talking about, or he's being trollish.

In my view, Cuccinelli's attack is self-defeating. It has already provoked considerable outrage from scientists. But suppose he actually does get hold of all of Mann's email, then what? As there is absolutely no conspiracy involved and the amount of money is trivial, it'll be what, a bunch of cherry-picked quotes that the usual deniers can trumpet, and yet more evidence for the rest of the world that these guys are crazed conspiracy-theorists with nothing behind their claims. Whitewater all over again, but Mann's not a powerful man like Pres. Clinton - if the most this witch-hunt turns up is an extra-marital affair or something it will humanize Mann and demonize his opponents.

Cuccinelli's move is lose-lose for him, the deniers, and the state of Virginia, win-win for the rest of the world.

Horatio Algeranon said...

Hoochie Coochie Man

S said...

I think you're right, MT, and I'll just add one thing: if those pandering to the same crowd as Cuccinelli oppose him, that's going to have way more effect than if the people he's attacking put effort into this. For all we know, Cuccinelli is attacking to provoke a response from his enemies and get attention.

You also say this: "I could easily round up a bunch of liberals, half of them Canadian" -- why do you think you appeal so much to Canadians? Because you spent a bit of time at Carleton? Anyway, I think your blogging is fantastic and I hope you take care of yourself. Thanks from British Columbia (formerly Alberta).

Tom said...

You are truly evil. How dare you? There is no level to which you will not sink.

First, you ensure that I will forever have to associate the true hero of the Lord of the Rings with Michael Mann, all without ever making even the slightest attempt to demonstrate that he has furry feet.

But much worse, you attempt to appropriate Monty Python iconography for partisan political purposes--and waste the attempt by failing to include the best line (Well, I got better...)

The naked face of evil.

Marion Delgado said...

Michael:

C.F. Generally the Discovery Institute rats who left the Kitzmiller v. Dover sinking ship - Dembski, etc. Not an ethical gesture. Not a peace treaty. Nothing of the sort.

Flamed, no, but I do sincerely maintain that as few mentions as possible of that vanity press hit-whoring abomination and its troll minions will benefit you as much as the rest of us. It's advice, not criticism :)

I am more concerned with McIntyre - I think his current stance is beyond hypocritical. If McIntyre was the AG of VA and wanted to be reelected, he'd go for the same voters and campaigners, the same way, same tactics, etc. But since he's not profiting from Cucinelli, why not score cheap, fake points?

Cucinelli really does need to undergo a recall trial. It's that simple. What is 10% of Virginia's electorate?

Marion Delgado said...

by the way, a very good post overall, Michael. And a great comment by Arthur.

That all said, Arthur, I thought much the same thing about McLeroy - yes, he's gone from Texas board of ed, but the culture for science education in Texas changed radically for the bad.

Martin said...

So according to the desmoggers, also junkman Milloy sides with the Cooch, like Siegfried F.

Those that ignored Tom Fuller had the right instincts. Just for laughs, if our side would work like Morano's, we would see headlines like

OH THE EMBARRASSMENT!!! DENIALISTS IN DISARRAY, AS SOME DENOUNCE, SOME DEFEND COOCH WITCH HUNT

Where's the popcorn ;-)