08 October 2010

Virginia is for Climate Wars

The blogosphere flexes its muscles as USA Today reports that George Mason University has opened an investigation of Edward Wegman, a professor of statistics, who authored the so-called "Wegman report" (here in PDF) on the so-called Hockey Stick.

The investigation was motivated by a blog-based investigation (here in PDF), and apparently a request from Ray Bradley, a collaborator with Michael Mann.  The case raises some interesting (non)parallels with Mann's.  I wonder if Cuccinelli will be requesting Wegman's emails?  Maybe if Democrats hold the House or Senate an investigation will be opened?

To be clear on my views, this issue is a matter of alleged academic misconduct, not global or national climate policy.  If the professor plagiarized, he should be fired.  My views on climate policy will not change either way.


eric144 said...


Before the mud wrestling starts in earnest, we should remind ourselves that possibly the biggest obstacle to the multi trillion dollar Gore / Enron carbon trading based Kyoto Protocol was the inconvenient presence of the medieval warm period that had appeared in a IPCC previous report.

Along comes highly partisan Michael Mann and pals with a piece of research that made it disappear. The research turned out to be substantially wrong. It may of course be a complete coincidence.

Raven said...

The text was not copied verbatim. The main points were reproduced with different phrasing. I don't see how it could be called plagiarism.

That said, what are the academic guidelines when you are only summarizing current knowledge and not trying to introduce new ideas? Citations are required but beyond that as long as the text is not a direct copy restating ideas and concepts should be fine.

Note that the book *was* properly cited by Wegman.

John M said...

Well, it looks like the climate science "mainstream" has finally opted for the nuclear option.

When this nonsense first hit the blogosphere, I recall doing some random googling with some exact phrases from the IPCC report. Let's just say that some climate scientists and advocacy groups better be careful what they wish for.

But anyway, all Wegman has to do is make sure he continues a good record of publication and funding success. After all, those appear to be primary criteria for getting "exonerated" of wrong-doing, at least in certain pockets of academe.


bigcitylib said...

Raven, huge junks are verbatim. Also,beyond the plagiarism issue, there are crazy references in the report's bibliography to people like Tom Valentine, who has written about psychic surgery and "machines that consume no fuel" in addition to AGW.

This stuff was presented to Congress. It wasn't supposed to be a BS job.

zinfan94 said...

Raven, They copied the text, but changed some of the wording to make it seem like the opposite conclusion was reached.

Furthermore, it is clear that a staffer in Congressman Barton's office orchestrated the entire Wegman Report; in essence the Wegman report was "doctored up" to meet the political needs of a Republican congressman (and his supporters and financial backers). The next shoe to drop for Wegman is a congressional investigation looking into lying to Congress. This story isn't over by a long shot, unless George Mason and the Republicans can squelch it.

heyworth said...

In addition to the points made by Raven, the Wegman report was commissioned by Congress. It's not clear that the same rules would apply as to a paper published in a journal.

Peter D. Tillman said...

Before you spend much time on the blogger's accusations, have a look at his "executive summary":

The Wegman Report is a “key prop of climate anti-science.” Wegman’s “real missions were: #1 claim the “hockey stick” broken and #2 discredit climate science as a whole.”

An odd piece of work. Hard to believe anyone is taking him seriously.

Lewis said...

zinfan94, bigcitylib etc etc,
You really think that undermining Wegmans reputation or making ridiculous innuendos about his report might resurrect the 'hockey stick' or have any affect on Mann or any matter of substance at all? Any more than Cuccinelli's stupid grandstanding? That Ray Bradley has done this is even more disgusting - that a baffoon of an AG would do this I can understand, if despise, but a fellow academic, that's pretty low!

Lewis said...

PS Always like your illustrations, Roger!

bigcitylib said...

Lewis, there are whole pages in the Wegman Report that seem to have lifted directly from other works. Quite a bit more than innuendo, I'm afraid. And, among other things, this kind of copy and paste job calls into question Wegman's knowledge of his material. If he understood what he was talking about, he surely could have written it up in the traditional manner. There are also accusations that Wegman changed passages to alter the meaning of the text he copied and pasted. How can we assume that there is any truth to the altered passage (assuming this was done--I haven't looked that closely at this particular aspect.)

One thing I have checked however is the Tom Valentine reference. In attacking Mr. Mann on one of the most important scientific questions of the day, Wegman and his team referenced some guy that moonlights writing about people that do surgery WITH THEIR MIND. When you go into a restaurant and you see one roach, you can safely assume there are many more. I would hope sceptic types use this as an occasion to visit the report again and try and determine whether or not they were played for suckers.

bernie said...

Interesting, first at WUWT and now here. The frequent AGWers show up to astroturf the discussion. Without doubt the charges against the Wegman Report need to be examined but let us not be naive about the politics that were likely behind the Wegman Report and are now driving this effort to discredit the same report. Perhaps what we need is another inquiry into the appropriateness of the statistical procedures and the quality and sampling of the paleo proxies - with a more open selection of the members of the scientific panel - given that none of the five previous panels actually looked at the science.

Paul Biggs said...

I must be missing something. What's all the excitement about?

Lord Oxburgh and Muir Russell are available if any whitewash is required.

Lewis said...

bigcitylib, I don't care if Wegman copied the whole of the Talmud into his report - Of what importance is it? It's just an ad homin by other means. If you have a problem with the substance of his report, that is another matter. It may well be, if we wished to rake up very ancient history, that Wegman report was a bit of a scratch - among his other academic duties? How many other 'reports' to congress could we drag up and challenge? I must admit, I found it slightly intolerable that Roger sits on the fence here but, quite rightly, condemns Cuccinelli! He hasn't followed the bogus history of this bogus charge!

Lewis said...

'There are also accusations that Wegman changed passages to alter the meaning of the text he copied and pasted.' Incredible! You are joking, of course? Listen I don't want to make this a thread where a very respected academic is insulted, again and again, so I'll just ask - was he not right, in substance, or was it not?

Lewis said...

O dear, how many times does it take to teach people to think - I mean isn't it extraordinarily that people are so desperate to find a weakness in Wegman that one reference, out of many more, keeps being dragged up. This is so 2005 and yet the obsession is in fact resurrected again and again in a debate that is stale, by definition. This 'politicization' just destroys any chance to move forward. Please stop it!

Paul Biggs said...

Bishop Hill sums thing up nicely:

Has it struck anyone else as amusing that Nature is straight into the groove of reporting the Copygate story (as I'm told we must call the allegations against Wegman)? I mean, they didn't think the original Wegman report was worth mentioning.

Just saying...


* Wegman et al are guilty of plagiarism; short-centred principal components analysis is biased and can produce hockey sticks from red noise
* Wegman et al are not guilty of plagiarism; short-centred principal components analysis is biased and can produce hockey sticks from red noise.

Is this right? Nobody is suggesting that the principal findings of the Wegman report - on the incorrect centring used by Mann - are incorrect, are they? They were, after all confirmed by the NAS panel and apparently also by David Hand during the Oxburgh panel's (brief) deliberations.

So I guess we are looking at quite an interesting investigation about how the norms of academic citation apply in expert reports (no doubt Donna LaF will be checking the IPCC reports over very thoroughly in coming days), but not much else.

Lewis said...

Indeed, academic 'plagiarism' is rife and we can all start looking at our own bellies as regard that? But this is puerly political and, therefore, it disgusts me and I think it should disgust Roger, too. But apparently not!

jgdes said...

It's all a bit odd because the Wegman report was totally ignored by the 'team'. So how does it become suddenly important after even Mann has thrown his own study under the bus?

It's even more odd that peope like Von Storch and Zorita are telling us that the entire paleo community now think that MBH98 was abject nonsense and that the community is more and more supporting the idea of a MWP - including Mann btw.

Anyway, I recall from the Dan Brown "Da Vinci" case that plagiarism of a non-fiction reference work (which you actually told the world was your reference work) is a virtual impossibility. In fact you should ideally be quoting verbatim from a reference. I've not read much from John Masheys screeds, except to note that he flirts very close to libel, but I presume Wegman could not have been claiming credit for paleo textbook stuff so there isn't any case to answer here whatsoever - most especially as Wegman was correct. Just another day in post-normal science. I miss normality.

David said...

Roger -
"If the professor plagiarized, he should be fired."
There are forms of censure short of dismissal. I would hope that the severity of punishment would fit the severity of the crime. There can be extenuating circumstances, e.g., was lack of citation a single instance which could be inadvertent or was there a pattern; did there appear to be an intent to deceive or to enhance one's academic standing; material gain; etc. No? (Not speaking necessarily of Wegman, but in general.)

Malcolm said...

Tricks are okay. Gray literature is just fine. Outright nonsense in UN reports is nothing to worry about. Whitewash reviews to be expected.

Quote, "If the professor plagiarized, he should be fired."

Hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy!

EliRabett said...

Wegman's Emails on his GMU account can be FOIed, you just have to be a citizen of VA.

Frontiers of Faith and Science said...

AGW apologists are attacking Wegman because they failed in their attack on McIntyre.
Dredging up Wegman, years after the AGW community pretended it did not exist, does not seem likely to end well for those attacking Wegman.
And does the AGW promotion community really want to have each and every thing they have written scrutinized for cut-n-paste passages?
This is a tactic that will likely result in the AGW community being hoist on its own petard, in a big way.
But the odd idea that an AG is not entitled to review work done with his state's tax payer money is not really a defensible idea.
Face it: The science/academic complex is not a separate world, no matter how much academics and scientists tell each other it is. We the tax payers ultimately get to know what is happening with our money and academics in denial on this are only succeeding in annoying more and more people.
A smart UVA would turn over the data as matter of principal and as a strategy to prevent far worse from happening in reaction to their blatant stonewall.

Anne said...


"...politics that were likely behind the Wegman Report and are now driving this effort to discredit the same report..."

If there is any merit to the claims, the report in fact has discredited itself. If not, I expect the investigation to conclude that.

It all boils down to a matter of trust in the GMU that they will handle this with integrity.

Anne said...


"that a [irrelevant name calling] of an AG would do this I can understand, if despise, but a fellow academic, that's pretty low!"

Would you say the same if a musician had plagiarized someone else's song? "That a [irrelevant name calling] of an XYZ would do this I can understand, if despise, but a fellow musician, that's pretty low!"

The academic world is not all 'pals' and 'collegues' and 'fellows'. It is actually a very competetive. Read this: http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=886. It's a long read, but you wil learn a lot about the real world.

Lewis said...

Anne, I will not read your reference, only because I do not want to know how disgusting people can be. I think my position has become stronger over the last couple of days and, therefore, two questions: How does Bradely get of his high horse and initiate this nonsense - it disgusts me? And, second, why didn't RP Jnr see this for what it was, immediately? We can be so much more constructive, in the real world, than in those dizzy affections of blog world.

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