Monday, August 21, 2006

Not one of us 

I initially read about this article on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog. It seemed reasonable enough -- a faculty member at the University of Virginia holds the title of 'state climatologist' and gets a grant to do private research; Governor Tim Kaine's office asks the professor not to use that title on his private research. Quite reasonable in my view; the professor is speaking in a private capacity and should represent that fact to readers of his private research. Even given that it's a debate over global warming -- the professor, Patrick J. Michaels, has written a number of articles that are skeptical of global warming claims -- the university correctly says the professor has academic freedom to write those articles, but shouldn't represent that he speaks in any way for the state government.

But the problem is, there is no official state office of climatology, and while he was appointed 25 years ago by a governor, Michaels' office is run by UVa.
U.Va. spokeswoman Carol Wood provided this statement: "We are grateful to the secretary of the commonwealth for her letter about the state's relationship to the Office of the State Climatologist. As it has since 1978, the University will continue to operate the office as an institutional program in accord with the American Association of State Climatologists, the body that oversees state climatology offices nationwide."

The governor's office said Michaels could refer to himself as the "AASC-designated state climatologist."

You have to wonder why Governor Kaine's office is making such a fuss over this. Sure it provides funding to Michaels' office, but that would be true of any faculty member on campus. And any of them are able to speak as experts under their grant of academic freedom, as long as they are clear that they do not speak for the state or the university.

I have to wonder if the reason for Governor Kaine's letter is the content of Professor Michaels' research.