A Few Things Ill Considered

GMUniversity investigating Wegman

It seems that substantial evidence compiled by John Mashey has helped lead to an investigation into Edward Wegman’s possible academic misconduct in the production of his very prominent report to Congress [PDF] on the Hockeystick.

See DesmogBlog for background, USA Today for the story, and Deep Climate for the details.


I will only add a couple of brief comments. Firstly, although the media buzz will be largely about the plagarism charges (and the apologists will focus there as well – copied doesn’t mean wrong), there is much more to John’s detailed evidence than this. Citations were not just missing but often contradicted the report’s content and there is clear indication that for Wegman this was a case of conclusion first, write the report after.

This makes it far from the independent scholarship it has been touted as, and goes a long way towards explaining why the NAS Hockeystick report had nearly opposite conclusions.

It is also very interesting to note how this scandal has developed compared to the investigations into Mann, Phil Jones and the CRU email hacking affair (aka Climategate). Both began as blog storms, but that is about the end of the similarity. In the case of CRU email issues we had immediate and tremendous outcries from mainstream media based on exageration and imagination, followed swiftly by government and intitutional investigations that turned up no wrong-doing and the widespread persistence of the original falsified claims. In this case we have detailed evidence of wrong doing followed by months of inaction and media silence finally leading to institutional investigation.

Let’s see where it goes from here, my money is on serious acedemic reprecussions for Wegman and grudgingly sparse media coverage that will disappear down the memory hole.

Comments

  1. #1 Jim Ramsey
    October 9, 2010

    For the so called skeptics, this is all about money.

    If they aren’t being payed well, then they are useful idiots doing the work for people who are being payed well.

    That’s another reason for the difference in coverage between this story and the CRU E-mail theft.

    Follow the money.

  2. #2 DaleP
    October 10, 2010

    Another item of contrast: Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli has renewed his subpoena (actually, it has a different formal name) for Michael Mann’s emails and letters at Univ of VA. It is only for the one contract from the state of VA, but oddly, it ignores his collaborators on that contract.

    So, will Cuccinelli ask for Wegman’s emails?

  3. #3 skip
    October 10, 2010

    Thanks for the links, Coby. I read only parts of it, although it was interesting and surprising for me, as someone who regarded the Wegman report as part of a legitimate scientific controversy and the hockey stick as only a peripheral aspect of the climate science debate. I’m glad Mashey did this, but there are a couple of problems, I think.

    First is the inevitable tension between Mashey’s attempt to be thorough and the potency of the argument to a popular
    readership. No one is going to read through every footnote and reference (I didn’t) unless they are part of the GMU inquiry team. What it needs is a version of the executive summary that gives a couple of key *examples* of plagiarism, mis-citation, evasion, and simple factual error. Without this it comes across initially as just an AGW-believer analog of the lazy denier arguments about the CRU emails: “Somewhere in this vast document is proof I’m right. Go see for yourself; I already know the truth.”

    Similarly, the reliance on abstract graphs gives it a forbidding nerdiness that might help sell the case to whatever detailed investigation the GMU researchers engage in but is going to be way over the head of your average fence-sitter–let alone your average denier.

    The hypothetical set of links between Wegman and neo-con think tanks (TT) and other anti-climate science sources was well intended and carefully qualified:

    Mere association is never evidence of guilt, but since the WR raises this issue, A.6 studies a few of Wegman‘s subnets, not just the coauthorship net. It simply shows the absurdity of someone with Wegman‘s large, strong, multi-decadal network attacking that of recent PhD Mann.

    There is a genuinely credible argument here, but I think few will care. I know I don’t; it wouldn’t surprise or scandalize me to learn that Spencer, Singer, and the rest had a hand in pushing this “non-partisan” testimony.

    Mashey’s speculations could easily come off as the same inane guilt-by-acquaintance logic that, for example, Chris Horner employed in his idiotic screed *Red Hot Lies*: “So-and-so, a climate change believer, is the third cousin twice removed of a girl of dubious reputation that Al Gore allegedly banged in the back of his dad’s Buick in 1963. Makes ya think, huh?”

    Another concern I have is that it sometimes employs the same polemical tone used by Jo Nova and Anthony Watts. To wit:

    Ideas are often packaged as anti-science Memes, repeated endlessly although long ago debunked. Many seem to attack (A or B) or (D) on credibility of climate science or the IPCC, but the real goal always seems the avoidance or at least delay of inconvenient action (E) (―mitigation) in favor of ―adaptation‖ alone, usually meaning that *someone else adapts, later or elsewhere*.[emphasis in original]

    The difference, of course, is Mashey documents his claims, but the tone is one of, “These pricks are full of shit, and I’m going to nail them good.” His righteous ire might be justified, but the truly dogmatic will detect the tone and instantly dismiss him.

    There was a funny footnote on pg 16 of the report about the whole statistical technique non-ssue that never threatened the fundamental findings of Mann’s 99 stick:

    Of people who are sure that MBH99 is a fraud due to decentered Principal Component Analysis (PCA), what fraction had even heard of PCA before?

    Bashey also rips the WR authors for their disingenuous declaration that it was time to “move on” from the hockey stick controversy when in fact they milked their status as its alleged debunkers for years.

    Arguing that the Wegman team is potentially subject to legal sanction for misleading congress is probably over the
    top. I mean, come on, everybody bullshits everybody in Washington, themselves most of all. My guess is that Wegman and his cronies and the possible network of forces behind them probably really thought they were right–or least as right as anybody else is.

    A couple of things to keep in mind on this. First, you have to remember that the political figures (mostly Republicans) and populace (a generally and scientifically illiterate subset of American ignoramuses who see climate science as a threat to driving two-ton vehicles) targeted by this sort of stupidity don’t understand or care about science, and just want an alleged “expert” tell them what they want to hear. One thing following the climate debate has taught me is that there is always someone willing to claim status of “scholar” who will tell you there’s nothing to worry about with climate change. The ignorant exponents of cultural and institutional inertia hearken to these voices as much to convince themselves as the greater public. They don’t consciously want to hurt the environment or deliberately “lie”; they want to think of themselves as the good guys in an epoch struggle against socialism, eco-fascism, and so forth.

    Second, you have to remember how climate change deniers see *us*–we who accept the conclusions of the available science and want to act on it: They convince themselves that *we* cherry pick, cover up, obfuscate, and lie, so they think they are just playing the adversary’s own game. They are self-deceived, not criminally liable.

    I also fear there is a Sysiphean futility in all this, because your average climate denier will see vindication regardless of what GMU rules. If they fail to censure Wegman at al, it will be regarded as proof that the hockey stick really is “broken”, etc. If not, it will only confirm in the denialists’ minds the pervasiveness of an institutionally ratified climate fraud.

    The greatest success conceivable would not be federal charges against Wegman, but for him to just come out and *admit* he scotched it. I want a blow against anti-science dogma, not vengeance.

  4. #4 Marco
    October 10, 2010

    Skip: Mashey’s network analysis is genuinely useful, because Wegman tried to picture the paleoclimate community as an “old boys network”, where peer review meant little. It is of interest that a) a social network expert dismisses Wegman’s conclusion (right method, wrong conclusion); b) Wegman used his own very tight network to write and review the report.

    More importantly, however, is that there are also outside forces at play: Elsevier is investigating the plagiarism claim, one that extends even further than Wegman (Donald Rapp is blowing a hissy fit). Moreover, I think it won’t matter whether GMU takes action or whether Wegman admits he did a bad job. In the former case some deniers will refer to the “institutional conspiracy”, but so will they in the latter. They’ll just claim Wegman was forced to say he botched it. Ten years of discussing with the anti-science crowd on all kinds of topics has taught me that some really are able to spin everything such that they are right.

  5. #5 John Mashey
    October 10, 2010

    Skip: your comments are well-taken, but a few notes might help:

    This effort requires:
    1) A document with massive near-academic documentations, given the serious consequences. That HAD to exist, in as unified framework, given the myriad connections.

    As I said in it, no one would read the whole thing. But I am seeing blog threads where someone says “he didn’t address X”, and someone else pops up saying “yes he did, see pp.???.” so some people are reading chunks of it. the nature of the Appendices is to be an encyclopedia.

    2) Multiple “front-ends” that explain what’s going on at different levels to different audiences. Blogs are doing that, Dan Vergano is doing that. Even if I *could* write like that, I don’t have the access to the channel, so the idea was to have something that some key journalists could mine.

    Executive Summaries are really, really hard, and I iterated several times with various mixes of readers tussling over how much intro material was needed vs charging right in.

    3) As for the 18USC1001 issues, I ran those by a very savvy Washington-connected lawyer back ~Feb, when there was much less evidence. He explicitly said “not a fantasy.” Whether one can ever get such to happen is unclear,but talk to lawyers first before dismissing it.

  6. #6 Jack Savage
    October 11, 2010

    Seems a awful lot of work has gone into trying to point out “academic misconduct” in a report that was dismissed by everyone (so I have been told) and scarcely reported on when it originally came out. I thought we had all “moved on ” from the Hockey Stick anyway?
    One has to ask, Mr.Mashey, whether you have not got anything better to do? What is your motivation here?

  7. #7 adelady
    October 11, 2010

    Unfortunately Jack it wasn’t dismissed by everyone. A lot of people use it for various purposes.

    As far as John’s work and effort goes, I see it as part of a growing determination to put in a lot of hard yards to deal with disinformation. John Abraham, Barry Bickmore and friends dealing with another presentation in the same place spring immediately to mind.

    There’s been a history on the part of the science community thinking that the science would speak for itself. More and more are coming to the view that it probably could, but only if it weren’t being shouted down by contrarian voices. Muting those voices is a task now being undertaken by Mashey and many others. More power to them.

  8. #8 Marco
    October 11, 2010

    Jack, the Wegman report is frequently cited in Cucchinelli’s CID as ‘evidence’.

    Mashey’s motivation is clear: the Wegman report is filled with so much prima facie shoddy scholarship, of which plagiarism is but one of many, that an objective investigation is needed to establish the origin of this shoddy scholarship.

  9. #9 Chris S.
    October 11, 2010

    If you read the Wegman report, since it is not explained in their own words, how can you tell how much they really understand? Answer: you can’t. This is crucially important, for this report was being touted as an statistical expert’s “review”.

    And, as Marco points out is being cited by Cuccinelli for his “witch hunt” and is frequently touted in certain sectors of the blogosphere.

    One could equally ask why there is so much time and energy spent on the more than a decade old and out of date MBH ’98 & ’99 papers (superceded by many more recent papers finding “hockey sticks” in paleoclimate reconstructions). Though the motivation for that is quite clear.

    (Note the first paragraph above is completely plagarised from a comment on Rabbett Run… Only now it isn’t as I’ve cited the source)

  10. #10 coby
    October 11, 2010

    Not wanting to pile on Jack, but I think it is pretty clear the the Hockeystick is nowhere near forgotten. This has been the focus of constant attacks on climate science and scientists, the Cuccinelli affair being the current one.

  11. #11 skip
    October 11, 2010

    And as Mashey points out in his report, Wegman is still being cited as an authority demonstrating the oft-repeated memes (Mashey’s choice of wording) that (a) climate science is statistically illiterate, and (b) that the ’99 hockey stick was debunked by the NRC. (See Mcshane and Wyner, 10.)

    The denialsphere has by no means “moved on” from this, and in fact I wonder if when Wegman et al claimed thats what they wanted to do (“move on”) in 06 its precisely because they feared the outcome of detailed scrutiny of their work.

    We’ll see.

  12. #12 Vernon
    October 11, 2010

    Just a couple of points. First, North and the panel agreed with Wegman’s findings. Second, as has been pointed out in more than one blog, the Wegman report was done at the request of congress which pretty much means any rules you want to apply don’t. Please do nottake my word for it, do what I did when I heard it and go to the Constitution and see for your self.

  13. #13 mandas
    October 11, 2010

    Vernon

    So what you are saying is that you can lie or say any old crap in a report to Congress, because the ‘rules don’t apply?’ Is that a fair summary? Maybe that’s why the report has come under the criticism that it has – because it is just a political document not a scientific one.

  14. #14 skip
    October 12, 2010

    Vernon:

    Which of the Wegman “findings” did the North panel “agree with”?

    (Hint: Read their executive summary–not McIntyre]

  15. #15 Vernon
    October 12, 2010

    mandas,

    Please, how about not throwing up a strawman like that.

    Skip,

    (Hint: read North’s transcript from his testimony to congress.)

  16. #16 skip
    October 12, 2010

    You don’t understand what a straw man is, do you, Vernon? You should the join the GWT35 thread and have a ball with me and ronnie.

    Vernon, come on. You know I’m not going to read that whole 800+ page sumbitch. I know you certainly haven’t.

    However, if you use “North” as a search term and see what he says in response to the various questions of the committee members, a few notables stand out:

    MR. WHITFIELD . . . Now,Dr. North, do you agree with Dr. Wegman’s centering analysis or not?
    DR. NORTH. I do. I think that he is right about that. However, you know, we have to be careful here and not throw the baby out with the water.
    MR. WHITFIELD. Right.
    DR. NORTH. Because there have been other analyses, papers published after the Mann papers in which people just took a simple average. Dr. Crowley wrote a paper just a short time after that in which he didn’t use the principal component analysis at all. He got essentially the same answer . . .

    MR. WAXMAN. Dr. North, I would like to begin with you. Do you agree with the statement of these premiere institutions that there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring and that it is likely that most of the warming can be attributed to
    human activities?

    DR. NORTH. Yes, I do. [which is exactly what the NASreport says] . . .

    MR. WAXMAN. Finally, if we were to sweep away the Mann studies and forget that they existed, would that in any way erode the validity of any of the studies [showing anthropogenic global warming] I just mentioned?
    DR. NORTH. I do not think it would. . . . .

    MR. WAXMAN. Would there still be a scientific consensus that global warming is happening, it is being caused by humans and that some people think it is time to act now?
    DR. NORTH. Yes, I think there would be.

    MS. SCHAKOWSKY. . . . if it never were, if the [Mann} study simply–the hockey stick, the original and there was a revised in 2003-2004, right, my understanding is, which I guess you disagree, Dr. Wegman, acknowledged some of the mistakes and made some changes but if it never did, would most scientists essentially arrive at the same conclusion as we are seeing, that we are engaged–that this is a time of global warming attributable in large part to human activity?
    DR. NORTH. Yes, I think that is true.

    Which brings up the whole issue of what does this subsequent part means (You know, Vernon–one tidbit you read because it was quoted by McIntyre?):

    CHAIRMAN BARTON. I understand that. It looks like my time is expired, so I want to ask one more question. Dr. North, do you dispute the conclusions or the methodology of Dr. Wegman’s report?
    DR. NORTH. No, we don’t. We don’t disagree with their criticism. In fact, pretty much the same thing is said in our report. But again, just because the claims are made, doesn’t mean they are false.
    CHAIRMAN BARTON. I understand that you can have the right conclusion and that it not be–
    DR. NORTH. It happens all the time in science.

    McIntyre cites this as if it were proof that the NAS report was schizophrenic: they agreed with our specific criticisms of Mannian parlor tricks within the body of the report, while at the same time, reporting that there were other proofs that late 20th century climate was paranormal.

    What McIntyre tries to call a “Mannian parlor trick” was Mann’s specific use of principle component analysis that *did not threaten the fundamental findings of MBH 99* and which –read very carefully Vernon–have no bearing on the larger scientific basis for anthropogenic global warming.

    And I love the strategy of avoidance, Vernon. Its the AGW denier’s version of the Gish Gallop; I call it the Denier Dump: “Somewhere in these thousand pages is proof that I’m right. You go find it.”

  17. #17 pough
    October 13, 2010

    Great discussion here from everyone.

    Not everyone, spamcakes.

  18. #18 vernon
    February 21, 2011

    Skip,

    I did not see what more there was to discuss. You conceded that Dr. North agreed with Dr. Wegman:

    “DR. NORTH. No, we don’t. We don’t disagree with their criticism. In fact, pretty much the same thing is said in our report. But again, just because the claims are made, doesn’t mean they are false.”

    Wegman says Mann et al was wrong. North agrees, but says Mann has the desired answer so he does not care if the means to arrive at the answer was wrong. You are happy with this. What more is there to discuss?

  19. #19 skip
    February 21, 2011

    This is why you have avoided responding to me for months, Vernon. You are hiding behind your own verbal vagaries of what Mann was “wrong” about and what North “agrees” with.

    You know you are doing it, but sadly my friend so do I.

    For the record (not that you will be any more educated on the matter because you have been told this before), North only agreed with the criticism of the substantively insignificant issue of the statistics used, *not* the conclusions of the Mann paper *or* the numerous other scholarly sources which *confirmed* its conclusions.

    You already know this and it reflects shabbily on you that you’re still trying to dodge it.

    North *never* says Mann has the desired answer so he does not care if the means to arrive at the answer was wrong. You are parroting McIntyre’s block-headed mantra on this and I am calling you on it.

  20. #20 Vernon
    February 21, 2011

    Skip,

    That qualifies as the most stupid thing I have heard in a while. Lets see if I fully understand you. Mann reached a conclusion based on statistics, but because the answer is one that you agree with, the “substantively insignificant issue of the statistics used” does not matter. In that case why bother with statistics, just say anything and not worry about the “substantively insignificant issue” of the methods used to reach the conclusion, after all, it only matters that the conclusion is one you agree with, not what can be proven.

    This is why I did not bother with this anymore. If it conforms to your belief, then the fact that the methodology is wrong does not matter and long is the answer is right.

  21. #21 skip
    February 21, 2011

    You’re dodging.

    I never said methodology was irrelevant. It is you who are torturing North’s testimony to conform to what you believe. I said methodology does *not* threaten the conclusions . . . .nor does the supporting science . . . nor does North’s testimony . . .

    You know bloody well what I mean about “substantively significant”–that it did *not* threaten the findings. North never said what you claim.

    Not even a nice try on the high horse of “not bothering”. You’ve been running and weaving on this for months. You’re using vague wording to add to the misinformation pollution you lifted from McIntyre regarding the hockey stick.

    You will never be honest about this and I accept that but I’m making damn sure your lie is exposed.

  22. #22 Vernon
    February 21, 2011

    Skip,

    The conclusions are based on the statistics, which Wegman said were flawed and North agreed to. If the basis for the conclusions are wrong, then there is no proof in Mann’s work that support his conclusions. MANN’s paper was flawed and proved nothing. That any other future work may or may not have the same conclusions does not matter. Mann’s work on it’s face is flawed and cannot be used to prove anything.

    Here is an example you may understand. When you did math problems in school and the teacher said to show your work. If you listed the right answer, but did not show your work, or if your work was wrong, then you did not get the question right. Mann’s work was wrong, using his methodology, and there was no way to know if he was correct or not in his paper.

  23. #23 Vernon
    February 21, 2011

    Skip,

    Why is it that you cannot have a discussion without calling me a liar? I do not bother calling you names, regardless how badly your arguments are, yet you and many on this site claim cannot deal with most discussions without resorting to baseless name calling.

    These are the facts that I see:
    1. Mann attempted to use statistics
    2. Mann misused statistics per Wegman
    3. North agrees with Wegman that Mann misused statistics
    4. North says it does not matter because even though Mann was wrong, the answer was right

    This is what I believe, please point out where I have lied?

  24. #24 skip
    February 21, 2011

    Because you’re worming around the word “conclusions”, and there were many more to the Wegman report than the misuse of statistics (the field of climatology is generally incompetent with statistics, that the “hockey stick” inference relies on the Mann report and is not robust, that the overall theory of AGW is threatened by this finding).

    Its a deceit that you and other deniers use around this report, and to the extent you are party to it, yes, are indeed lying.

    Let me ask *you* a question: To what extent is the Wegman report a threat to the overall theory of AGW?

  25. #25 Tom Curtis
    February 21, 2011

    Vernon, here are the facts as they actually stand:

    0) Mann gathered data from publicly available sources;

    1) Mann used statistics to analyze the data;

    2) The statistics used by Mann can create artifactual results as per Wegman; but

    a) The conditions for the artifactual results were not present in Mann’s data;

    b) The signal Mann extracted from the data was much stronger than any artifactual signal that could be extracted; and

    c) No statistical method that does not produce stronger artifactual results and/or does not rely on excluding large parts of the data fails to reproduce the signal Mann extracted; and

    d) Even using minimalist statistical techniques recovers the same signal from that data; Therefore

    3) The signal recovered by Mann was a genuine paleoclimatological signal, even though the paper contained minor statistical flaws.

    4) This has been confirmed by the recovery of the same signal from a large number of different statistical techniques and data sets without the minor statistical flaws in Mann’s original paper; Because of this,

    a) North agrees with Wegman that there were minor statistical flaws in MBH; but

    b) North refuses to reject the overwhelming body of evidence supporting MBH’s original results based on an inconsequential error.

  26. #26 mandas
    February 21, 2011

    Vernon

    I hate to step between the discussion you are having with skip there, but I have to ask about this comment you made to skip at post #23:

    “…Why is it that you cannot have a discussion without calling me a liar? I do not bother calling you names, regardless how badly your arguments are, yet you and many on this site claim cannot deal with most discussions without resorting to baseless name calling….”

    Because… well… at post #20 you said this:

    “….Skip…. That qualifies as the most stupid thing I have heard in a while….”

    So please, if you are going to criticise someone for name calling etc, you should probably wait more than 3 posts from your own name calling before you do so. It’s not a good look.

  27. #27 mandas
    February 21, 2011

    Vernon

    And not just 3 posts – it was 27 minutes between your ‘most stupd thing I have heard’ comment, and then complaining that someone called you names.

    Really?

  28. #29 skip
    May 21, 2011

    Now that Wegman was pegged for plagiarism and his journal article yanked, there needs to be some bit of acknowledgment for the outstanding work of John Mashey. When I first read his analysis of Wegman’s work I wondered if it would go anywhere, but he has shown what happens when you combine intellectual honesty with a talented mind and persistence.

    Well done, John. This is mountains of egg on the denialsphere face.

  29. #30 Wow
    June 7, 2011

    More linkspam above (#30)