Wegman scandal: the first retraction

Dan Vergano reports that Social networks of author-coauthor relationships by Said, Wegman, Sharabati and Rigsby has been retracted by Computational Statistics and Data Analysis.

Deep Climate has more details, but I want to highlight one particular thing:

"Neither Dr. Wegman nor Dr. Said has ever engaged in plagiarism," says their attorney, Milton Johns, by e-mail. In a March 16 e-mail to the journal, Wegman blamed a student who "had basically copied and pasted" from others' work into the 2006 congressional report, and said the text was lifted without acknowledgment and used in the journal study. "We would never knowingly publish plagiarized material" wrote Wegman, a former CSDA journal editor.

Even if Wegman believed that the text in the Wegman report was original work, he's still guilty of knowing plagiarism for lifting the text from the report into the paper without acknowledgement.

More like this

[May 26th: Pulled to the top to update with the Nature editorial which, as well as noting the paper being pulled, also notes the mysteriously dilatory George Mason University investigation. June 3rd: And pulled again, since Science have a piece on the actual retraction, and again note the GMU lack…
Dan Vergano in USA Today reports: Officials at George Mason University confirmed Thursday that they are investigating plagiarism and misconduct charges made against a noted climate science critic. "I'm very well aware of the report, but I have been asked by the university not to comment until all…
Dan Vergano, USA Today reports: The plagiarism experts queried by USA TODAY disagree [with Wegman's denial] after viewing the Wegman report: • "Actually fairly shocking," says Cornell physicist Paul Ginsparg by e-mail. "My own preliminary appraisal would be 'guilty as charged.' " •"If I was a…
Retraction Watch have an article up about the Wegman plagiarism stuff (also covered by Eli). GMU aren't making the full report public, though, doubtless to protect the guilty (which I think largely means the shoddiness of the report). There is an oddity in what they have released: As sanction,…

Yeah, let's throw a student under the bus instead! When you thought they couldn't sink any lower...

By Harald Korneliussen (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

Weatherman Watts has already started whining.

Who is this "student"? Did Wegman ever acknowledge this student's part in authoring the Wegman report? If not, then was Wegman falsely claiming credit for work which he didn't personally do?

-- frank

Firstly, kudos to DC and John Mashey whose diligent work appears at last to begetting the credit it deserves.

Aside from the tacit acknowledgement that Said et al did indeed contain at least some cut-and-paste work, what I can't get my head around is Wegman's blatant attempt to buck-pass and dump the blame on "a student". This is never a good look when the $hit hits the fan, and worse still when the report was trumpeted so loudly and made such grand claims for itself and its authors.

On top of that, Wegman appears to be admitting that neither he nor Said ever bothered to proof-read the stuff this "student" had done for them, which is bad enough on its own let alone in a paper whose central theme is the alleged "lax reviewing" in paleoclimatology. "Hoist with his own petard" as the Bard has it.

PS Tim, a minor nitpick - "Sharabati1" *[oops - fixed]*?

> Weatherman Watts has already started whining.

I guess that could be abbreviated to a WWWaaaaaah!

WWWaaaaaah-ing gives him the chance to deflect attention from his own paper confirming warming in the US.

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

If the student wasn't listed as an author, doesn't that let the student off the hook, leaving Wegman et al swinging in the breeze?

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

Typically, Watts makes a big deal out of Deep Climate's anonymity but turns his blind eye to the use of an anonymous author by Wegman. Personally, I donât care that bloggers use pseudonyms, but supposedly academic papers should not rely on anonymous and uncredited authors.

By lord_sidcup (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

If the student isn't mentioned then the authors are responsible for the students input. I agree with Lotharsson@6.

Some, not I, might say that having a grad student write a paper for you ( wink, wink, nudge, nudge) then publishing it as your own work in order to collect the grant money is fraud.

WWTCD? What Will The Cooch Do?

By John McManus (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

Of course Deep Climate's anonymity is the real issue here.

Anyone have a link to the retraction? The above link to the paper has no notice of retraction on it. Or has it not formally gone through yet?

Bijan, the retraction is not formally posted yet.

Of course, everyone knows that Deep Climate is Bruce Wayne.

Not that it matters a whit to the whole issue of the behaviour of Wegman et al. Either Wegman and Said repeatedly plagiarised, and they are trying to blame it all on an anonymous student in order to skirt responsibility, or they had really did have said anonymous student prepare a Congressional report for them (amongst many other things - busy student...), and then permitted plagiarism to remain after proofing it, as well as not giving the student due acknowledgement for involvement.

Rock, meet hard place.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

It strikes me that Wegman et al could have their anonymous "student" ghost-author another paper on the social networking and academic behaviour of GMU academics.

To do so they could plagiarise Deep Climate and John Mashey...

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

There is more from Dan Vergano:

[Retracted climate critics' study panned by expert](http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2011/05/retrac…)

Network analysis expert Kathleen Carley describes the Wegman, Said, Anonymous paper "as more of an opinion piece" that should have failed first review. What is more, there is more than a suspicion that the paper did indeed bypass external review.

By lord_sidcup (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

1) The student Denise Reeves was Ack'd in the Wegman Report, although for unspecified work. She's the one at MITRE.

2) The paper has been scheduled for retraction, but it is not out yet. Why it has taken a while wil become clear soon.

3) Kathleen Carley is not the first expert to pan this piece. Recall that Australian expert Garry Robins was quoted in SSWR, p.151. There is however, a delicious irony in Carley being quoted like this, which will become clear fairly soon.

But do go back and reread SSWR, pp.148-151 on the CSDA article. The 6-day review was a tipoff.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

they'll probably use this as an argument that peer review is corrupted

I have Part 2 up.
http://deepclimate.org/2011/05/16/retraction-of-said-wegman-et-al-2008-…
==========================
Early climate contrarian reactions to the retraction of Said, Wegman et al 2008 have grasped at straws, holding that this does not affect the findings of the paper and the earlier Wegman report alleging inadequate peer review in climate science.

Now USA Todayâs Dan Vergano, who broke the retraction story, addresses exactly that contention in a follow up piece. Social network analysis expert Kathleen Carley of Carnegie Mellon calls Said et al âmore of an opinion pieceâ that would have required âmajor revisionâ to render it fit for publication in an SNA journal.

And it gets worse. Computational Statistics and Data Analysis chief editor Stanley Azen âpersonally reviewedâ the paper and sent Wegman an acceptance notice within days of submission. Meanwhile, Virginia Techâs Skip Garner enumerates the potential consequences of the research misconduct finding, including the possible need to investigate âethical issues such as conflict-of-interest, haste vs. scientific rigor and biasâ.

"The student Denise Reeves was Ack'd in the Wegman Report, although for unspecified work. She's the one at MITRE."

Wegman just threw her security clearance and thus her job under the bus

Wegman is the corresponding author. So what goes in the paper is very much his responsibility. Passing the buck to an identified student is disgraceful, pathetic, unprofessional and cowardly.

"Wegman blamed a student...."

on the other hand the Acknowledgements state rather robustly that "the content is solely the responsibility of the authors" (see below).

P.S. I suspect the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Army Research Office aren't going to be to thrilled at the misuse of their funding....

Acknowledgments
The work of Dr. Yasmin Said was supported in part by the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism under grant 1 F32 AA015876-01A1. The work of Dr. Edward Wegman was supported in part by the Army Research Office under contract W911NF-04-1-0447. The work of Dr. Said and Dr. Wegman was also supported in part by the Army Research Laboratory under contract W911NF-07-1-0059. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or the National Institutes of Health.

Eli, don't be silly. You don't lose a security clearance for plagiarism; you're much more likely to lose one for being original.

The thing is, it doesn't matter, any more than all the reports exonerating the East Anglia folks ... the reality-denying mentality operates on propaganda, not fact, logic, and evidence. One anti-GW paper, even retracted, has more convincing power than 10,000 peer-reviewed papers providing evidence of GW -- especially an anti-GW paper that sows suspicion about the integrity of scientists and their methods.

Bad week for the bad guys: first Watts is hoist on his own petard, and now this.

If we were all in the pub, I'd buy us all a round. As it is I'll lift a couple to John Mashey and Deep Climate. Good on ya', boys.

ianam:

What you say is true but on the other hand, odds are good that Wegman will never publish in this journal again (he was editor, once), he'll be investigated by the feds who funded the plagiarized paper and very likely chastised in a professionally harmful way, and may yet be disciplined by his University.

So it may give cause for pause by idelogically-driven people who are attempted to lie about science ... they're under the microscope, now.

If Dhogaza's analysis is correct, then this is a watershed moment for climate change denialism in the USA.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

re: 25
Ahhh, you might to study this a bit more, as per #22.
This one is *actionable*, unlike almost any other debunk we've seen. Actually, it has numerous actionable derivatives.

1) Having an article retracted is bad, if it is for academic misconduct. Google: plagiarism fraud and see if there are hits

2) It can lose people their jobs in academe.

3) It can get worse. Do people have any idea what happens if the Office of Research Integrity rules someone has been naughty?
By odd chance, one of my bookmarks is ORI Case Summaries. Google: FFP falsification fabrication plagiarism
the trio of Very Bad Things.
Most of these are the two FFs, but there's some Plagiarism now and then. The most typical penalty is debarment for 3 years. What does that mean? It means $0 research funding from *any* Federal government agency, not jut the health folks.

4) But there's more. There were 3 government agencies thanked for funding. How many of those normally fund low-grade SNA to attack climate scientists? Could there be misuse of Federal funds?

5) Then one must ask why, in the Wegman Report, work was (correctly) acknowledged to John Rigsby, shown affiliated with NSWC (Naval Surface Weapons Center). As far as I know (and I've spoken there), this is not an obvious part of its mission. The same work, used in the Said, et al(2008), has him affiliated with GMU. [In fact, he's been @ NSWC, part-time with GMU, just fine.]

However, Wegman can't have it both ways: he can't claim Rigsby as NSWC to bulk up the credentials of the team, if Rigsby was really doing GMU-affiliated work. it might not have looked good to thank 2 GMU students, since the Wegman Report was supposed to be expert work. Anyway, I think the NSWC affiliation was a mistake, as was the claim that he couldn't release code because some of it was from current/ex-students @ NSWC. At some point, questions may get asked of them.

6) Just to be clear: The Wegman Report is one thing, and Said(2008) something else, but a lot of the latter is a subset of, or derived from the former with minimal change. SNA is one of the two key memes of the former, whereas the latter seems an attempt to peer-reviewize the SNA part of the former.

7) But let me summarize: one can joust with sockpuppets, or more usefully, debunk bad papers that otherwise would get repeated even more. But a very, very few mistakes have legal and economic consequences, and those are worth chasing hard. After all, this sequence might eventually get to felony charges (18USC1001, 18USC371, 18USC4), i.e., misleading Congress is a felony, conspiracy to commit felony is a felony, and misprision of a felony has penalties also.

Now, I am no lawyer ... but I have talked to experienced Washington lawyers who explicitly said this wasn't fantasy, from what they knew (and we know much more now), although it wouldn't be easy.

Oh, and if any of the relevant problems get to felony level, destroying evidence is a problem, too, and there is this issue of files that suddenly disappear....

8) BUT, while the various students have screwed up, from my academic days, I'd say there was truly awful supervision by Wegman. PhD Students can be really vulnerable.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 16 May 2011 #permalink

I think what John Mashey @30 and chris @21 & @22 makes sense: Wegman bears ultimate responsibility as senior author and as supposed supervisor of the research of others for this report. I applaud John and DC for their efforts and think that they are worthy because they shine a much-needed light onto the unsavory practices of some deniers.

Yes to all the above comments. But you know how the deniers work, at some point they start denying that the Wegman report was ever of any importance.

It will be a cascade of throwing-to-the-wolves, we've seen Wegman try that with the graduate student, then that will happen to Wegman.

I bet in six months to a year the Wegman Report will never have existed in the denialspehere with Winston Smith earning plenty of overtime.

Couple of other points:

(i) It's always a bit of a shock to discover the extent to which other's moral compass's are totally at odds with one's own. Wegman doesn't think he's done anything wrong, and it seems he's a serial offender. From such a jaundiced view it's perhaps not surprising that he projects the notion of malpractice onto pukka scientists. Perhaps he really does think everyone else is like him.

(ii) Some of the individuals that defend him clearly share his outlook. I've noticed people complaining that although the stuff is plagiarised it doesn't matter because "the results are correct". But there aren't any results in Wegman and Said's plagiarised paper. There are some block charts that illustrate how some publishing relationships between various types of author/coauthors might be represented. And then there is some conjecture. No "results".

(iii) Like all universities GMU has an Honor Code with guidance about what plagiarism is [*] (and presumably has some fairly standard penalties that range from downgrading the mark for an assessment or awarding zero, to witholding credits for a course unit, all the way to witholding a degree result or expulsion).

If I were a present or past GMU student who has been strongly penalized for plagiarism offences, I would be keeping an interested eye on the manner that GMU deals with this case. If GMU comes to the consideration that Dr. Wegman's actions aren't worthy of significant penalty, then I might consider it worth consulting a lawyer to have my own case reassessed...

[*]e.g. http://www.gmu.edu/resources/facstaff/part-time/plagiarism.html

If I were a present or past GMU student who has been strongly penalized for plagiarism offences, I would be keeping an interested eye on the manner that GMU deals with this case. If GMU comes to the consideration that Dr. Wegman's actions aren't worthy of significant penalty, then I might consider it worth consulting a lawyer to have my own case reassessed...

Chris, this is an interesting notion.

I'm wondering if there are statistics for student academic misbehaviour at GMU. I'd be curious to know the numbers and the severities of misbehaviour, because if GMU is lenient with Wegman's group then there could be a good-sized class action of students claiming that their own (perceived) excessive punishments for "lesser" breeches have led to lost earnings, humilation and other mental anguish, loss of reputation...

This could cost GMU hugely in terms of legal defense, potential compensation, and inevitable (further) loss of its own reputation.

The administration needs to be very principled in their response.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink

People were asking questions about Reeves, so Vergano updated this to add more information. That should answer some questions.

Also, see editorial in USA Today:

"Coincidentally, USA TODAY's Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia.

Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the "birthers, ..."

By John Mashey (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink

From Vergano's update, kindly linked by John:

Adding that she has met with a George Mason University misconduct committee, Reeves concluded, "My academic integrity is not being questioned."

There's an implication here that presumably has Wegman squirming on the hot seat ...

@John Mashey

re: 25 Ahhh, you might to study this a bit more, as per #22. This one is actionable, unlike almost any other debunk we've seen. Actually, it has numerous actionable derivatives.

Whoosh! I never said otherwise ... but Wegman is just one individual, and there are hordes of other deniers, and most of their behavior is not actionable.

@dhogaza

So it may give cause for pause by idelogically-driven people who are attempted to lie about science ... they're under the microscope, now.

You're living in a fantasy world.

@Vince whirlwind

If Dhogaza's analysis is correct, then this is a watershed moment for climate change denialism in the USA.<./blockquote>

Waterloo!

If only it were so ...

@Jeremy C

Yes to all the above comments. But you know how the deniers work, at some point they start denying that the Wegman report was ever of any importance.

It will be a cascade of throwing-to-the-wolves, we've seen Wegman try that with the graduate student, then that will happen to Wegman.

I bet in six months to a year the Wegman Report will never have existed in the denialspehere with Winston Smith earning plenty of overtime.

Someone who gets it. (Actually, I think you all get it, but you allow yourselves to be deluded by your desire for a better reality.)

/per/ Vergano:

Azen says he must have overseen an earlier, more extensive review of the paper involving outside reviewers. But he says he has no records of this earlier review, because his records were destroyed in an office move. "I would never have done just a personal review," he says.

(end quotes)

'The dog ate my office...'?

By Zibethicus (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink

Somebody dropped the office mail server during the move? :)

...his records were destroyed in an office move.

'The dog ate my office...'?

Zibethicus FTW!

The alternative is that he spilled sugared coffee on his office during the move, and then cockroaches came at night and ate it all up...

So, if Azen is referring to hard copy being destroyed, did he not have an electronic back-up? If he is referring to an electronic copy, are there no other people to whom the external reviews were distributed? And even if not, wouldn't the external reviewers to which Azen refers simply come out and provide evidence of their reviews? Or where their offices destroyed too? What of the usual professional practice of the receiver backing up to separate drives as well as to having access a campus mainframe? And did he delete the original emails containing the attached reviews?

Isn't telling porkies in such investigations another Naughty Thing To Do?

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink

> And even if not, wouldn't the external reviewers to which Azen refers simply come out and provide evidence of their reviews?

The dog that did not bark.

Sounds like this one's worth digging deeper on too.

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink

Computational Statistics and Data Analysis uses online submission. This "office move" rubbish is no less hollow than the "student did it" excuse.

The student (Denise Reeves) did collect the original text, although unclear whether she knew how it was to be used. Recall that she was really working a MITRE, not full-time at GMU. They did Ack her in WR; I could never figure out what she did or if she really did much, because I know of other cases where people have been surprised by Wegman Acks.

BUT, if Wegman thought it was original work, and he gave it to Sharabati, who put it in SAid, et al(2008), his dissertation, and then Rezazad did too, all without any Ack, that is ...bad.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink

Re 42: "The Dog That Did Not Bark"...because it was busy eating its master's paperwork during an office move, LOL.

Good ref BTW.

By Donald Oats (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink

@ John Mashey

if Wegman thought it was original work, and he gave it to Sharabati, who put it in SAid, et al(2008), his dissertation, and then Rezazad did too, all without any Ack, that is ...bad

No matter which way you slice it, Wegman, Sharabati and Said end up smelling of manure. Given its Honor Code (and its specific rules on plagiarism) it will be interesting to see what GMU does and says, though I suspect a lot of duck-shoving will result if Adelaide Uni and Ian Plimer are anything to go by.

ianam is at least partly right - the rejectionist/ denier crowd are either burying this (Watts) in the hope it goes away (The Climate Scientist of The Year herself remains schtum on this, which seems a bit anomalous given the speed and volume of blog posts she writes) or, like Fuller over at Keith Kloor's, pretending that the plagiarism charges are trivial and "do not affect the results" of Wegman Report, Said et al etc. IOW beat the "Hockey Stick is Dead" drum as hard as you can in an attempt to distract and obfuscate and prestidigitate. Again.

> ...pretending that the plagiarism charges are trivial and "do not affect the results" of Wegman Report, Said et al etc...

He's right so far...

...said results being PR that sways the uninformed. But that may change.

As John Mashey noted, according to Deep Climate, this is now a self-refuting paper (on the question of peer review corruption and prevention).

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink

Let me try one more time.
Ianam doesn't seem to understand the difference between the blogosphere and the real world, in which there are sometimes real penalties for misconduct.

For example, in Canada, Tim Ball has held forth for a long time, often producing material at Canada Free Press. one can debunk him as much as you like, irrelevant.
See Presentation, specifically p.38 on libel.
Roger McConchie "wrote the book" in Canada on libel, I've met him. CFP ran away. On Weaver+McConchie vs Ball, I know who I bet on.

The blogosphere can be terrifically useful for gathering info, and some people leave tracks they may regret at some time ... but the penalties are in the real world.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 18 May 2011 #permalink

Ianam doesn't seem to understand the difference between the blogosphere and the real world, in which there are sometimes real penalties for misconduct.

Again you respond to a strawman, even after I pointed it out. I never denied that these people will be penalized for misconduct; sheesh. But that's not the point ... the point is what effect this will have on the dialog in the broad, and on policy. Do you actually think that this will "give cause for pause by idelogically-driven people who are attempted to lie about science"? That "this is a watershed moment for climate change denialism"? If so, you are living in a psychological and sociological fantasy world.

said results being PR that sways the uninformed. But that may change.

Not until human psychology changes. Did you notice what effect the East Anglia exoneration by numerous panels had on public opinion? In fact the propagation of claims that "the emails" show that climate change is a big hoax has continued to increase totally in disregard to those findings.

Mark Twain said that a lie goes halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on. This is a sociological reality that we need to understand if we are to have any chance to change public perception and see a real "watershed moment for climate change denialism".

BTW, I do not mean to denigrate the work done by John Mashey et. al. ... not at all ... it is an entirely admirable and good thing, and we need more of it ... much more, in fact, which is the point. There will not be a "watershed moment for climate change denialism" until Fox News and The Australian are running banner headlines announcing the reality and threat of AGW ... and even then denialism will live on, but will finally be marginalized.

ianam:
I think you have me and Vince Whirlwind intermingled, I said nothing about watersheds. I really don't care about folks like WUWT fanboyz. I care about people in Congress and similar places. I'm told that the Fall's Wegman mess deterred some show-trials the Republicans were thinking of.
In some sense, too bad.

"The thing is, it doesn't matter, any more than all the reports exonerating the East Anglia folks "

a) Exoneration of a manufactured brouhaha, had exactly zero penalties for anybody who manufactured it...

b) The Wegman mess is the first part of an interconnected web of *actionable* issues.

They are *not* the same kind of thing. The equivalent of the first would have been to find the hacker(s) and put them in jail.

Back to real work.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 19 May 2011 #permalink

I think you have me and Vince Whirlwind intermingled, I said nothing about watersheds.

You are a very confused person ... I was not quoting you and I gave no indication that I thought I was.

They are not the same kind of thing.

I find your strawmen fascinating. I never said that they are the same kind of thing. I never said that the similarity was in whether they were or were not actionable. That was not my point ... which I stated clearly enough, but you keep addressing something else.

Back to real work.

Like I said, your work is a good and admirable thing and we need a lot more of it.

> I'm told that the Fall's Wegman mess deterred some show-trials the Republicans were thinking of.

John Mashey, can you give us more information on this? It may help boost the morale of any present or would-be politicians who would like to air the truth in the halls of government.

* * *

ianam:

Speaking for myself, I do care about having real, enforcable climate legislation, and I don't care that much about whether some group of flying monkeys gathering at a denialist blog believe in it or not.

Also, read David Roberts about "post-truth politics":

http://climateprogress.org/2011/04/29/grist-post-truth-politics/

-- frank

7 lord_sidcup -- "Typically, Watts makes a big deal out of Deep Climate's anonymity but turns his blind eye to the use of an anonymous author by Wegman."

There's better. Who is Steven Goddard? I once posed this question at WUWT and Tony closed comments very swiftly. There are some out there wondering if Goddard is really Bob Ferguson of SPPI (the one paid $243,000 in 2008-2009 by Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide).