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Judge preserves privacy of climate scientist’s e-mails

Climate scientist Michael Mann reported Monday that he and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have prevailed in a court case against the conservative American Tradition Institute (ATI) in Washington DC, which had sought access to e-mails he wrote while serving as a professor at the school from 1999 to 2005.

Now at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Mann says that the ruling supports the University of Virginia’s argument than an exemption to the state’s freedom-of-information (FOIA) law “applies to faculty communications in furtherance of their work”. The Prince William County Circuit Court ruling came directly from the bench in and was not immediately available online.

“This finding is a potentially important precedent, as ATI and other industry-backed front groups continue to press their attacks on climate scientist through the abuse of public records and FOIA laws and the issuing of frivolous and vexatious demands for internal scholarly deliberations and personal correspondences,” Mann said in an announcement on his Facebook page.

The University of Virginia initially signed an agreement with the ATI that would have granted the ATI officials access to the e-mails, but at a contentious hearing in November 2011, university officials changed course and decided to fight. At the same hearing, Mann prevailed in his effort to formally join the lawsuit and defend himself alongside the university (see ‘Climate scientist wins his day in court’).

Science-advocacy groups have been actively tracking the case, and an organization called the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund is helping Mann to foot the legal bills. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, cautiously welcomed the news on its blog. Research institutions “should be prepared to respond to these sorts of attacks,” wrote Michael Halpern, UCS programme manager for scientific integrity, “as I suspect they will continue”.


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