Three of four misconduct allegations against Michael Mann found to be without merit (updated)

Update: I’ve added a few more examples of spin and accusations of bias against PSU as well as some good reporting examples that were not posted as of last night.

After the CRU emails were released in November, 2009, there was widespread accusations of misconduct against most of the scientists mentioned in the emails. Today, the Penn State University (PSU) inquiry committee investigating accusations made against Dr. Michael Mann publicly released its findings. The committee found that, with respect to the most serious three accusations out of four, “there exists no credible evidence” that Mann had committed research misconduct. The inquiry committee empaneled an investigation committee to look into the last accusation – that Mann had “seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community” – because they could make a determination about this and because

Only with such a review will the academic community and other interested parties likely feel that Penn State has discharged its responsibility on this matter.

According to the report, neither the inquiry committee nor the University received any formal allegations of research misconduct before or during the inquiry, so the committee generated four allegations after “[reducing] to allegation form the many different accusations that were received from parties outside of the University.” The accusations were reduced down to the following four:

  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to suppress or falsify data?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data, related to AR4, as suggested by Phil Jones?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any misuse of privileged or confidential information available to [him] in [his] capacity as an academic scholar?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities?

After reviewing all the CRU emails that Mann sent, received, or even discussed Mann’s work, and after the inquiry committee researched other relevant information from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), science journal articles, OP-ED columns, and even internet blogs, the committee interviewed Mann. Several days after that interview, the committee also interviewed Dr. Gerald North, the lead author of the NAS paper that exonerated Mann’s research and the so-called hockey stick temperature graph in 2006, as well as the former editor of Mann’s Science Magazine associated science article. And the outcome of all the research and interviews was that there was no substance to the first three allegations above.

The inquiry committee specifically pointed out that the “trick” email that has drawn a lot of attention used the word “trick”

to describe a mathematical insight that solves the problem. For example, see in a classic text on quantum mechanics by David Parks: “The foregoing explanation of the velocity paradox involves no new assumptions; the basic trick, the representation of a modulated wave as the superposition of two (or more) unmodulated ones, has already been used to explain interference phenomena…”

This is a point that has been made repeatedly ever since the CRU emails were released last November.

The fourth and final allegation will be reviewed by an investigation committee because the inquiry committee wanted a group of professors (the inquiry committee was composed of administrators) to determine if Mann’s private emails cast doubt on his professionalism and because of the risks to PSU’s public reputation. In addition, the administrators didn’t feel that they could judge what qualified as “accepted practice” for Mann and his field of climatology when accepted practice can vary from one scientific discipline to another.

Overall, however, the PSU inquiry committee found that the three allegations of research misconduct were all without merit and that they were unqualified to determine whether the final allegation had merit or not.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the news of Mann’s exoneration on three of the four accusations has been met with spin from partisan media, accusations of bias, and even claims of conspiracy.

While there’s been a number of media sites that spun this story in a fashion that focused exclusively on the investigation while downplaying the fact that the three most serious allegations were all found to be without merit, this Washington Examiner piece went a bit too far with their spin. They wrote that PSU officials were investigating “at least one charge of professional misconduct.” Given that the inquiry report found exactly one potential problem, the “at least one” is unjustified and represents blatant spin.

Update: World Net Daily commits as great a sin of spin as the Washington Examiner does, claiming that “[e]ven colleagues want ‘warming’ scientist investigated” and “[a] panel of fellow faculty members at Penn State University has recommended further investigation….” Make that University administrators, not fellow faculty. There’s also no mention of the fact that Mann was exonerated on three of four allegations, an attempt to show that Mann is out of step with mainstream scientists by comparing him to the thoroughly debunked OISM Petition Project, and pointing to the biased and flawed work of Icecap’s Joe D’Aleo.

Paul Chesser at the American Spectator blog has forgone the spin and flat-out accused the University of bias. Chesser says that the PSU committee’s reference to the CRU emails as “stolen” casts doubt on the committee’s objectivity, that the administrators can’t be objective given the fact that Mann’s reputation reflects on theirs, and he accuses PSU of committing a “whitewash.” Tobacco and Big Oil shill Steve Milloy also accused PSU of bias in a press release that accuses the committee of not being thorough and essentially calls them liars with respect to whether or not Mann deleted emails under an FOI request from the UK. And here’s another example, from Pajamas Media, where the common “whitewash” and “greywash” memes of Milloy and American Spectator are again repeated.

Update: More accusations of supposed “whitewash” by Green Hell, and Andrew Bolt (with grand conspiracy claims in the comments).

But the posts get really interesting at blogs like Michelle Malkin’s and Big Government, where the commentators claim outright that this is an example of a leftist/socialist/statist plot, or that PSU is beholden to the money that Mann has brought into the university, or that Mann is guilty of fraud and deserves to be imprisoned. James Delingpole at the Telegraph is perhaps the most extreme, claiming that “Michael Mann is as innocent as OJ” and repeating false claims about Mann’s work on the pre-industrial temperature record.

And, given the history between Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit and Mann, as well as the climate disruption denial stoked by both McIntyre and Anthony Watts of Wattsupwiththat, it’s not surprising that both blogs illustrate spin, bias, and paranoid conspiracies.

Thankfully, Mann has his defenders as well, among them Kevin Grandia of DeSmogBlog and the Huffington Post, Pete Altman at the NRDC Switchboard blog, climatologist and science blogger Eli Rabett, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, to name just a few.

And there are a number of other observers of this investigation who view it as a partial exoneration because they take the PSU inquiry committee at their word barring proof of misconduct by the committee itself. In fact, most of the traditional media falls into this category, such as James Broder of the NYTimes, The Canadian Press, The Seattle Times, even Ars Technica.

Update: Some more examples of good reporting on the PSU finding include The LA Times, the Catallaxy Files blog, and The Great Beyond blog at Nature.

This story isn’t over. Mann said as much in his statement:

Three of the four allegations have been dismissed completely. Even though no evidence to substantiate the fourth allegation was found, the University administrators thought it best to convene a separate committee of distinguished scientists to resolve any remaining questions about academic procedures.

This particular chapter in the Climategate saga won’t be closed until after the five faculty investigation committee completes their investigation into the last allegation sometime in the next 120 days. And if the response of the denialosphere to this partial exoneration is any indication, the Mann saga won’t be over even then. What will probably happen with respect to Mann is what has happened repeatedly with respect to climate disruption science over the last decade or more – self-described skeptics and climate disruption deniers will claim that this time it’s the end of climate disruption.

No, this time.

No, this time….

Disclosure: I attended PSU for my BSEE back in the 1990s.

Thanks to Kevin Grandia of DeSmogBlog for posting this over at HuffPo, where I initially came across it.

20 replies »

  1. It’s interesting to read comments like some you note above that prove beyond any doubt whatsoever that people don’t understand just how seriously research 1 universities take these kinds of challenges.

  2. No kidding. When I was a student at Penn State, it was in the top 10, maybe even the top 5, universities for atmospheric sciences in the country. That they would have permitted any researcher to sully that reputation with research misconduct is so far beyond possible that I’m having a hard time coming up with sufficiently impressive adjectives to describe the nigh impossibility of it. There’s literally no way that I could imagine Penn State allowing that to happen. There’s no way I can imagine any research university allowing that to happen.

    It would be like MIT standing behind a professor who was found to have stolen a design from a researcher from Cal Tech. If it got out – and it’s going to eventually – it would ruin the premier technology university in the country. They’d never do it. The thought wouldn’t even form in their brilliant minds.

  3. The more America goes Devo and abandons centuries of empirical thought in favor of mindless emotional manipulation, the more I wish I had the means to not be here when the roof falls in.

  4. Here’s a few choice comments from the James Delingpole at the Telegraph.

    “It is clearly time to put Mr Mann to trail by ordeal. Only then will we get an acceptable answer.
    Either that or give me 30 minutes and a red hot poker to point out the errors of his ways.”

    “There are so many of them involved in this scam that it is like asking an SS general to investigate Himmler.”

    “I would recommend that no one send their kids to Penn State University it is clearly a mickey mouse run operation. If you do go expect to see Goofy everyday.”

    Recently I’ve been commenting on Green Hell Blog and debating someone on another forum. I want to see more scientists, or at least intelligent and educated people, unraveling the arguments the skeptics are putting out. Start going to their forums and laying down solid information about why this is not a global conspiracy. These people appear to be isolating themselves from the facts and becoming more angry than ever. We need to realize that they see their survival and freedom threatened as much as those who believe global warming is real do, and the result will be catastrophic if we don’t interpret the signs now and act on them.

  5. I would suggest that you read all the e-mails and the form an opinion. I know nothing about Penn State University but i have read all of the e-mails and feel competent to give my opinion with regard to this investigation.
    In my opinion. there is absolutely irrefutable evidence against the so called hockey team in the e-mails,that thse collaborators conspired to withold freedom of information requests. They are convicted ouy of their own mouths. Michael Mann produced the now discreditted hockey stick graph which demonstrates the lenngth he is prepared to go to in order to further the AGW agenda. READ THE E-MAILS/

  6. Peter – if you check out my post titled Climategate? Not likely….”, you’ll find that the FOI issue is the one issue that I think is truly serious.

    As for the “hockey stick,” there has been so much data since then that verified it’s overall conclusions that it’s not been discredited, but rather reinforced. Check out this paper for starters:

    “Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia” M E Mann, Z Zhang, M K Hughes, R S Bradley, S K Miller, S Rutherford, and F Ni; PNAS September 9, 2008 vol. 105 no. 36 13252-13257 doi: 10.1073/pnas.0805721105

    In it, Mann used the best statistics available, LOTS more proxy samples and types of samples, and even verified the conclusions with and without tree rings (anticipating that some would reject the paper’s conclusions if tree rings were included).

    Let’s also look at recent discoveries from publicly available documents that Wegman’s scholarship has been called into question and that, far from being independent, his review was set up by and his testimony was coached by Rep. Joe Barton’s staff.

    Also, look at the IPCC AR4 WG1 (the part of the IPCC report that has not been attacked recently, because the science contained within is just shy of unassailable), Figures 6.4 (hockey stick graphs of GHGs), 6.10 (temperatures), 6.13, and 6.14. Here’s the link to Chapter 6.

  7. You’ve got a bit of spin up there yourself! You wrote:

    > They wrote that PSU officials were investigating “at least one charge of professional misconduct.” Given that the inquiry report found exactly one potential problem, the “at least one” is unjustified and represents blatant spin.

    Nonsense. That they are investigating “at least one charge” is a perfectly reasonable reading of the facts at hand. The committee came up with four possible *framings* – under which to describe collections of misdeeds in which Mann might be accused of having engaged in and they decided it was worth investigating one of these four *classes* of bad behavior under consideration.

    The thing they’re now investigating is whether Mann was involved in “any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices”. Note, that’s “actions”, plural. Meaning: one action, or more than one action. If there were ten distinct charges of the form: “Mann did X, Mann did Y, Mann did Z…” all of those distinct charges are covered by the phrase “Mann engage(d) in…actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices” If there was only one specific charge (“Mann did X”), the same phrase would cover that too. Hence, they are considering “at least one charge of professional misconduct”. Justified.

    So the Washington Examiner wins this one; you lose on a technicality. 🙂

  8. The good news for Mann is that they decided there wasn’t sufficient evidence to examine the one *highly specific* charge that was easiest for outside parties to understand. We know Phil Jones asked Mann (among others) to delete emails in order to hide some potentially inconvenient or embarrassing information in anticipation of legal requests for that info. Had Mann complied with the request it might not have been *illegal* under US law (since the intent was to evade *British* law) but it still would have been pretty damaging to the university’s reputation. So they dealt with that one up front. They asked Mann to produce his email from that time period, demonstrating he *hadn’t* deleted them; Mann produced some emails from the time period in question and the committee declared itself satisfied. So the charge that was most obvious and scary was dealt with up front.

    The bad news for Mann is that the remaining charge is a vague kitchen sink that could encompass just about anything anybody comes up with in the next few weeks. “Did you delete emails regarding X at time T?” is something with a clear and straightforward answer, but “Did you seriously deviate from accepted practices in the academic community” is a subjective question. It leaves a lot of ground open depending on how one chooses to define what “accepted practices” are.

    More good news for Mann, though, is that the last time he faced a challenge of this sort – the NAS report – he came out smelling like a rose. NAS found his work was wrong in every *specific* way M&M had charged but still decided his conclusions were “plausible” because other work in the field (that had used many of the same flawed data sets and many of the same flawed methodologies) had reached the similar conclusions. That provides a model for how this investigation is likely to turn out.

  9. I also have a BS from Dear Old State, but unlike y’all I have no problem believing the case against Mann in particular and against climate scientists in general. Isn’t the 100 days up about now?