Thursday, April 17, 2014

Academics at Public Universities Win Big Time

ATI vs. Rector was the case where the American Traditions Institute sued UVa to gain access to Michael Mann's Emails.  In a surprising (to Eli) and sensible decision, the Virginia Supreme Court came down with a major decision for academics at public universities

One of the issues in the case was whether UVa and by extension Michael Mann had a proprietary interest in the matters discussed in the Emails.  Given that the Virginia FOIA law specifically exempts proprietary materials and that ATI claimed that proprietary implied the possibility of profit, this would have opened the doors to further mischief.

The door just slammed, at least in VA (emphasis added)

We reject ATI's narrow construction of financial competitive advantage as a definition of "proprietary" because it is not consistent with the General Assembly's intent to protect public universities and colleges from being placed at a competitive disadvantage in relation to private universities and colleges. In the context of the higher education research exclusion, competitive disadvantage implicates not only financial injury, but also harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression. This broader notion of competitive disadvantage is the overarching principle guiding application of the exemption.
and they quoted from a brief filed by the UVa Vice Provost John Simon
If U.S. scientists at public institutions lose the ability to protect their communications with faculty at other institutions, their ability to collaborate will be gravely harmed. The result will be a loss of scientific and creative opportunities for faculty at institutions in states which have not established protections under state FOIAs for such communications. . . .
For faculty at public institutions such as the University of Virginia, compelled disclosure of their unpublished thoughts, data, and personal scholarly communications would mean a fundamental disruption of the norms and expectations which have enabled research to flourish at the great public institutions for over a century . . . .
Scientists at private institutions such as Duke, where I previously worked, that are not subject to state freedom of information statutes, will not feel that it is possible to continue collaborations with scientists at public institutions if doing [s]o means that every email or other written communication discussing data, preliminary results, drafts of papers, review of grant proposals, or other related activities is subject to public release under a state FOIA in contravention of scholarly norms and expectations of privacy and confidentiality. . . . Compelled disclosure [in this case] will also impair recruitment and retention of faculty . . . .
I can state unequivocally that recruitment of faculty to an institution like the University of Virginia will be deeply harmed if such faculty must fear that their unpublished communications with the scientific collaborators and scholarly colleagues are subject to involuntary public disclosure. We will also lose key faculty to recruitments from other institutions – such as Duke, if their continued work at University of Virginia will render their communications involuntarily public.
This is indeed a major decision which may stop much of the pursuit of climate scientists by industry, think tanks and denialists.  Eli thanks ATI for bringing this about.  Also thanks to UVa, the lawyers representing UVa, Michael Mann, who has taken a brave decision to fight his pursuers (Hi Steve) and Prof. Mann's lawyers.


Brian said...

This is really good news. Worth emphasizing it is only binding precedent in Virginia, but other states can consider it "persuasive" precedent.

California law has a "deliberative process" exemption from disclosure requirements that's pretty similar to this, but the precedent could help spell out what qualifies for the exemption.

exusian said...

The septics loose yet another legal battle.

Hand wringing and howling about abuse of state power and infringement of the public's right to know-sound and fury signifying, well, nothing really-to commence any moment now....

Anonymous said...

Great news. Let the conspiratorial ideation commence.


Rattus Norvegicus said...

Dolormin, your wish is my command:

"Sounds rigged, have to wonder how many judges, or family members, or political contributors, are alumni?

Something stinks…. And Lew-paper won’t make the smell go away."

From WUWT, fourth comment on the thread. It sure doesn't take them long.

Anonymous said...

The IPCC's repudiation of the Hockey Stick is enough for me.

Magma said...

Rattus Norvegicus wrote:

From WUWT, fourth comment on the thread. It sure doesn't take them long.

Why would it? Writing fact-based commentary is much slower than the other kind. Cast off your chains and run free.

Anonymous said...

Here's the reason we know that 'climate change' doesn't matter to humans:

People run this race.

And they run this race.

Both are stupid.

But then, people are stupid.

Mal Adapted said...

Anonymous troll at 17/4/14 2:01 PM:

Speak for yourself.

Brian said...

I used to run half marathons until I injured various leg parts, so maybe I'm evidence of stupidity.

Wish I could still run them. Maybe someday.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least you didn't have to fly to the North Pole to injure yourself.

Hospital marathons?