The lead letter in Science this week is signed by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences and begins: "We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular." They go on to explain that, yes, there are always uncertainties in any scientific enterprise, but at this point there's too much compelling evidence that humans are drastically warming the planet to wave away and dismiss. The letter then concludes with a plea:

We also call for an end to McCarthy- like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.

Here's Exhibit A in the witch hunt: Virginia's lunatic new attorney general, Ken Cucinelli, is demanding that the University of Virginia turn over a broad range of data and scientific documents associated with research grant requests from Michael Mann—the climatologist most famously associated with the various "hockey stick" temperature graphs. Cucinelli wants to see if Mann committed fraud against Virginia taxpayers, presumably by combing through the paper trail to see if Mann was working on research he knew to be wrong.

Now, unless Mann was outright fabricating data—and that's unlikely, given that his research has been picked over extensively by critics and no one has ever alleged anything of the sort—this sort of thing will be extremely difficult to determine. Certainly Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act is not a useful tool to assess the validity of scientific research. (There's already a process in place for doing that: the give and take of the scientific process, through peer-reviewed research.) Indeed, it's notable (and laudable) that even Mann's most prominent critics—like Steve McIntyre or Thomas Fuller—agree that Cucinelli is going way too far with this one.

(Flickr photo credit: KentonNgo)