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Author Topic: University subpoenaed over research results.  (Read 1075 times)

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Offline DarklingAliceTopic starter

University subpoenaed over research results.
« on: May 13, 2010, 11:58:30 AM »
So, if you follow my threads you know that I am not a fan of Kenneth Cuccinelli. I think that he has made some very poor decisions. However, now he has made one that I perceive as dangerous. Especially because the precedent of this action could have ramifications outside of Virginia.

I cracked open the latest E-pub of Nature this morning and found this article: Science subpoenaed

Quote
On 23 April, Cuccinelli filed what amounts to a subpoena ordering the University of Virginia to hand over, by 26 July, all available documents, computer code and data relating to Mann's research on the five grants. He also demanded all correspondence, including e-mails — from 1999 to the present — between Mann, now at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and dozens of climate scientists worldwide, as well as some climate sceptics. The order stated that Cuccinelli was investigating Mann's possible violation of the 2002 Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act — although no evidence of wrongdoing was given to explain invoking the law, which is intended to prosecute individuals who make false claims in order to access government funds.
Quote
Cuccinelli has insisted that he is not “targeting scientific conclusions”. But even several climate sceptics who count themselves among Mann's fiercest critics have publicly condemned the attorney general's move. Thankfully, so have many academic bodies. One of them was the University of Virginia's faculty senate, which on 5 May declared that Cuccinelli's “action and the potential threat of legal prosecution of scientific endeavor that has satisfied peer-review standards send a chilling message to scientists engaged in basic research involving Earth's climate and indeed to scholars in any discipline.”

This is not okay. The idea that a state can enmesh researchers in legal goose chases and essentially punish a university for demonstrating a scientific truth that the state doesn't like is ludicrous. Science exists to probe phenomenological truths, not to blindly conform to the politics of the state. To attempt to limit the scope of scientific results to what you personal want to hear is a travesty. Further, even if the university complies with this absurd subpoena, what right and qualifications does Cuccinelli possess to analyze the data obtained? The only people with the expertise to analyze this data are scientists, not lawyers and politicians. This is why we have a peer-review process.

This thread is in Politics and Religion to discuss and debate the intersection of the state and science in a general sense. The example above is an example of such interaction and should not be taken as an invitation to debate climate change, if you would like to do that, please make another thread. If this thread gets bogged down in an argument over climate change I am going to lock it. Thank you.

Offline Trieste

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Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2010, 12:13:25 PM »
I'm not a lawyer and I don't pretend to be, but this appears to be on shaky legal ground as well. If he's requesting correspondence that predates the law, I don't know that it should be granted. After all, the standards of legal procedure prevent one from prosecuting a violation that predates the passage of a law - one cannot break a law that does not exist.

Furthermore, analyzing the scientist's behavior is acceptable; analyzing the scientist's science is not. I'm trying to think of a decent parallel to this for an example and the only things I'm coming up with are Kevorkian and Wakefield. I think I'll do my best to steer toward the less visceral of the two and go with Wakefield (also because I was just reading the article Alice linked yesterday so it's fresh in the brainmeats): his actual science, the link between MMR and bowel disorders, had to be debunked by scientists specifically. Before this was done, it would have been wrong to sue Wakefield for damaging the reputation of vaccine companies. Only AFTER it had been debunked by his peers - which it was - was it okay to pursue him legally. While scientific research CAN be profitable (if you're lucky enough to get paid for your research, which can be rare unless you find a fat sponsor) it's not often the kind of thing that wins you millions, so the personal profit link is tenuous, at best.

I would type more, but I'm pretty sure my brain just decided to roll over and go to sleep since I just finished a pretty grueling final. Will comment more later maybe.

Offline Jude

Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2010, 12:18:39 PM »
The only thing that could really be proven by pouring over all of his data is that his methodology or theories are incorrect, and when it comes to scientific research, that's okay.  Science offers the freedom of being wrong without the shame associated with it that other disciplines have.  The goal of research is to collect and analyze data, not prove a point, and I get the impression that the prosecutor doesn't understand that.

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2010, 01:30:08 PM »
I think he's trying to make point with his supporters. Still it's irksome to see that he's wasting money one what is clearly a witch hunt.

Offline Sure

Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2010, 03:37:45 PM »
Ex Post Facto doesn't apply to evidence, only crimes. If I murder someone, and murder only became illegal last year, but I've been planning it for five years, then evidence from three years ago (before the law was in effect) about me planning the murder can be used to prosecute me for murder. What cannot be done is that I cannot be charged or it used against me that I murdered someone ten years ago when the law was not in effect. (Note: I am not planning to murder anybody, obviously, nor have I ever done so)

As to examining the science, in this case it would be relevant, I think. He's accusing the guy of wasting money, so what his research is (what the money was supposedly spent on) is relevant to the charge.

I don't take much stock in the objections of the scientific establishment, either. Academia tends to defend academia against any outside force.

That being said, I would have to say this seems, to me, to be pushing an agenda and nothing more. If the prosecutor can present some kind of evidence that the man actually violated the law I would have no problem with this. According to the article, though, he hasn't.

The idea of subpoenaing university records or scientific documents doesn't really disturb me... and I'm not sure why it disturbs you. Frivolous subpoenas and lawsuits do disturb me, though.

Offline Trieste

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Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #5 on: May 13, 2010, 03:50:52 PM »
What counts as 'wasting money'? Would it be research into the creationist myth? Intelligent design? What about evolutionary research in Kansas? What about stem cell research? How about researching more efficient means of late-term abortions? How about research into the female prostate and the G-spot? Or female orgasm? What about research into how cats compel humans to feed them, or a cure for HIV that involves highly expensive (and unaffordable) gene therapy?

I'm not saying that researchers cannot waste money; I am saying that a lawyer is unprepared to interpret results from a standpoint of 'benefit to the greater community', which is part of any grant proposal. Regardless of what CSI might have the public believe, there is some science that just cannot be broken down for the layperson without the equivalent of months of work. There is a reason why doctorates in these things take an average of like 8-10 years.

Offline DarklingAliceTopic starter

Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #6 on: May 13, 2010, 04:02:32 PM »
I'm not saying that researchers cannot waste money; I am saying that a lawyer is unprepared to interpret results from a standpoint of 'benefit to the greater community', which is part of any grant proposal. Regardless of what CSI might have the public believe, there is some science that just cannot be broken down for the layperson without the equivalent of months of work. There is a reason why doctorates in these things take an average of like 8-10 years.

Once again Trieste has said it better than I could have.

As to examining the science, in this case it would be relevant, I think. He's accusing the guy of wasting money, so what his research is (what the money was supposedly spent on) is relevant to the charge.

This would be an issue if they were given grants to research the cognitive development of puppies and used to to research climate change. But the issue here is that they were given grants to research something and in the course of carrying out that research arrived at conclusions that differed from what this representative of the state believes that state money should support. He is basically trying to say that the state paid them to come to a different conclusion, which is not how science works.

I don't take much stock in the objections of the scientific establishment, either. Academia tends to defend academia against any outside force.

c.f. Trieste's comment. Also as any academic knows, your own worst enemies are in the system with you. The peer-review process is competitive and at times brutal. It is vastly superior to any lay analysis that the state can bring to bear.

That being said, I would have to say this seems, to me, to be pushing an agenda and nothing more. If the prosecutor can present some kind of evidence that the man actually violated the law I would have no problem with this. According to the article, though, he hasn't.

The idea of subpoenaing university records or scientific documents doesn't really disturb me... and I'm not sure why it disturbs you. Frivolous subpoenas and lawsuits do disturb me, though.

Which is exactly why this is a problem. This a frivolous subpoena to hassle the university, stir up a political stink, and make headlines. Nothing more. The University of Virginia and the scientists involved have much better things to be doing than being forced to stop work to send vast amounts of discovery to some attorney.

Offline Oniya

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Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2010, 04:07:26 PM »
This is the same deadglow that made a big deal about boobies on the Virginia State Seal.  I think he should read the state motto once in a while.

Offline Sure

Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2010, 04:49:43 PM »
Quote
What counts as 'wasting money'? Would it be research into the creationist myth? Intelligent design? What about evolutionary research in Kansas? What about stem cell research? How about researching more efficient means of late-term abortions? How about research into the female prostate and the G-spot? Or female orgasm? What about research into how cats compel humans to feed them, or a cure for HIV that involves highly expensive (and unaffordable) gene therapy?

Presumably the law which he is using (I believe it is mentioned in the article) has a definition of wasting money.

Quote
I'm not saying that researchers cannot waste money; I am saying that a lawyer is unprepared to interpret results from a standpoint of 'benefit to the greater community', which is part of any grant proposal. Regardless of what CSI might have the public believe, there is some science that just cannot be broken down for the layperson without the equivalent of months of work. There is a reason why doctorates in these things take an average of like 8-10 years.

So you are saying that laypersons (as much as I hate that term I'm adopting it's use) cannot understand it and therefore should count on the scientist to tell them whether his or her own research is beneficial? That seems to me a horrible system. Further, it seems to me you are objecting to the idea of the courts interpreting such things, and I disagree with that. Scientists should not get special exceptions from the rules. As to the ability to comprehend the research, the court system makes extensive use of experts.

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This would be an issue if they were given grants to research the cognitive development of puppies and used to to research climate change. But the issue here is that they were given grants to research something and in the course of carrying out that research arrived at conclusions that differed from what this representative of the state believes that state money should support. He is basically trying to say that the state paid them to come to a different conclusion, which is not how science works.

While I agree that he is doing this to press an agenda, I feel that you are exaggerating here. He is not claiming the state paid them to come to a different conclusion and they should follow the state slavishly. He is claiming that funds were misappropriated in the hopes that they will be pulled from something he doesn't like. Unless you have further evidence on the matter I have not seen, that is a dirty trick rather than the attempt to take control of science you make it out to be.

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c.f. Trieste's comment. Also as any academic knows, your own worst enemies are in the system with you. The peer-review process is competitive and at times brutal. It is vastly superior to any lay analysis that the state can bring to bear.

I disagree that the peer system is superior to any lay analysis and that the worst enemies are within the system. Furthermore, I feel this statement is acting as if I have no insight into the world of academia nor personal experience and need to be instructed on it. I will assume that it was not intended to be talking down to me.

If you wish to continue this topic, however, it is different from this thread's intent. I would be glad to continue it elsewhere or over PM.

Quote
Which is exactly why this is a problem. This a frivolous subpoena to hassle the university, stir up a political stink, and make headlines. Nothing more. The University of Virginia and the scientists involved have much better things to be doing than being forced to stop work to send vast amounts of discovery to some attorney.

And yet it seems like your problem is that the state attorney demanded it at all rather than the reasons he demanded it. I am not disagreeing this is frivolous or that the case should not have been brought, but you specifically said that the evidence cannot be interpreted by the courts and seem to think the courts should not get a look at it and have no right to demand it. I disagree with that. Vehemently.

Offline Trieste

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Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #9 on: May 13, 2010, 05:33:36 PM »
So you are saying that laypersons (as much as I hate that term I'm adopting it's use) cannot understand it and therefore should count on the scientist to tell them whether his or her own research is beneficial? That seems to me a horrible system. Further, it seems to me you are objecting to the idea of the courts interpreting such things, and I disagree with that. Scientists should not get special exceptions from the rules. As to the ability to comprehend the research, the court system makes extensive use of experts.

No, but when the law needs to understand something - have it explained to a jury, for example - they turn to the experts. But first, a small digression:

Instead of 'layperson', I can use whatever term you prefer, but to define it right away, I'm going to put forth that by 'layperson' or 'non-scientist', I mean a person who has had a very basic education in science. I'm defining it for my purposes as someone who has had only a high school or college (for non-science majors) education in the sciences. This is the amount of science your run-of-the-mill (or even State DA-level) lawyer has; most of the lawyers I know of have had an undergrad education in history or political science and then they have a law degree. All of these degrees specialize in being able to research massive amounts of information and collate it; sometimes, understanding of the larger picture does not come until all the facts are collated. In this last portion, lawyers and scientists work very much alike... the difference between the two is that lawyers (and historians, and political scientists) are usually trained to try to get a feel for the larger picture before they quite reach their conclusions, whereas scientists are rigorously trained against this. In theory. This is to elucidate my understanding.

Anyway, this is what I know of lawyers and legal personnel. Pulling back from that digression to my point, the lawyer is doing what he is trained to do, which is gather information (and, apparently, headlines). What he will not be able to do is understand the information he is gathering, and for that he will pull in an expert. The pool of experts in a field can seem extremely large, but when it comes down to it, the world of scientific specialists can get very, very small. This means that it's likely that the same professionals that will be pulled in by the legal professionals will probably be the same people who did the peer review of this research in the first place.

Regardless of how you feel about the field of academia, that somewhat makes this at best a serious waste of time. At worst, it's what Alice described: an attempt by this guy - who can be taken as a representative of the government, I think, with some safety in that assumption - to send a clear message to scientists: "You'll find what we pay you to find, or we're going to do our best to drag your name through the mud." That's not really fair to any professional.



I disagree that the peer system is superior to any lay analysis and that the worst enemies are within the system. Furthermore, I feel this statement is acting as if I have no insight into the world of academia nor personal experience and need to be instructed on it. I will assume that it was not intended to be talking down to me.

Hopefully the above doesn't come across as such; I don't know any of your experience with academia. I'm not asking your credentials or anything silly like that, I'm just pointing out that the safest way to explain is to explain as if you know nothing unless given information that indicates otherwise. ^^

Anyway, my personal view is that a non-scientist's analysis of the usefulness of the data is repetitive and inferior. Not because they are a non-scientist, because scientists start out as non-scientists, but because they do not have the education to make things make sense. Again, unless they trust the other experts - who are, again, probably the same peer reviewers - to explain it to them. It has more to do with background than intelligence. Unfortunately for those of us who have to deal with ditzy people in our laboratories.

Offline Sure

Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2010, 07:07:11 PM »
Quote
Anyway, this is what I know of lawyers and legal personnel. Pulling back from that digression to my point, the lawyer is doing what he is trained to do, which is gather information (and, apparently, headlines). What he will not be able to do is understand the information he is gathering, and for that he will pull in an expert. The pool of experts in a field can seem extremely large, but when it comes down to it, the world of scientific specialists can get very, very small. This means that it's likely that the same professionals that will be pulled in by the legal professionals will probably be the same people who did the peer review of this research in the first place.

If he can find a party that is both qualified and wasn't such a reviewer, however, then a fresh perspective is added. On top of that, since we are looking for comprehension and ability to explain rather than research, testing, etc, the pool widens. An astrophysicist who is an expert on Jupiter might only be peer reviewed by those who know a great deal about Jupiter but many astrophysicists should be able to understand her data. Even if they don't know Jupiter inside and out, that isn't necessary, as it's not research the person is being called onto. They are being asked to explain what is there rather than add to it in any way.

More to the point, even presuming what you say is true, the lawyer is meant to gather and use information. Even if she cannot interpret the data directly, she can use the explanation. If she has it explained to him, for example, that this research was on whether or not polar bear's cuteness effects global warming (to use a silly example), even if she cannot understand the specifics of how cuteness was measured (or how a cute-o-meter works), she can understand how that fits into the law. Whether, for example, that constitutes a legitimate use of taxpayer money as defined under the terms of the grant agreement (drafted by politicians which are cut from the same cloth as lawyers).

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Regardless of how you feel about the field of academia, that somewhat makes this at best a serious waste of time. At worst, it's what Alice described: an attempt by this guy - who can be taken as a representative of the government, I think, with
some safety in that assumption - to send a clear message to scientists: "You'll find what we pay you to find, or we're going to do our best to drag your name through the mud." That's not really fair to any professional.

While I agree this specific case is a massive waste of time, reviewing what funding is being used for by non-scientists or using it in court cases is something that is not, in my opinion, a serious waste of time. It is not wrong specifically because scientists or universities were indicted. It is not special, it is just another frivolous lawsuit with political implications.

The government is not monolithic. This man has no right to be the person who gives grant money. He did not pay them, by doing so you're dragging in the legislative branch which is, to my knowledge, uninvolved. So, it's more along the lines of "Find what I think is right or I'll slander you." The system should, if it works, smack him down and things will proceed as normal.

Quote
Anyway, my personal view is that a non-scientist's analysis of the usefulness of the data is repetitive and inferior. Not because they are a non-scientist, because scientists start out as non-scientists, but because they do not have the education to make things make sense. Again, unless they trust the other experts - who are, again, probably the same peer reviewers - to explain it to them. It has more to do with background than intelligence.

In a generalized sense, my view is that repetitiveness is not a bad thing or to be avoided. Indeed, the entire peer review process is based around repetitiveness in a way. As to inferiority, inferior or not if they find something valid, it was obviously useful, wasn't it? Besides, it's not as if it's at a cost to simply have it looked at.

And I would question how inferior it is. But in order to judge inferiority and superiority we have to determine just what the purpose of reviews and the like are.

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Unfortunately for those of us who have to deal with ditzy people in our laboratories.

Educated idiot... the higher up the education scale you go, the more you appreciate that term.

Offline alxnjsh

Re: University subpoenaed over research results.
« Reply #11 on: May 19, 2010, 07:34:35 PM »
I conduct research at a University and have used both public and private funds to collect and analyze data.

If you accept money from a source you have to abide by their rules for ownership of data. The State may very well own the data Dr. Mann collected. Often money from states (versus the federal government) requires that non-private information data collected reside in the public sector. For example, if I'm conducting intervention research on the effects of using a treatment on a number of health factors the private information collected on participants can be considered either confidential (not shared) or anonymous (unidentifiable) and as such not open to the public sector. However, Dr. Mann's research is in climatology and that data is often not protected and if the relationship with the State exists then the data may reside in the public domain.

It is the unfortunate catch in which academic researchers can find themselves. You have to do research and one of the most stable sources of income for research are governmental sources (typically federal). Do you get into bed with the devil to conduct your research knowing that you're taking public dollars and ownership may be in question?

For me...I use private dollars for research.