Mann's critics not appeased by NSF investigation, extend unfounded "whitewash" accusations to NSF itself

Third in a series.

When the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) cleared Michael Mann of multiple “Climategate”-related allegations made against him, Mann’s critics cried foul. Since a National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General (OIG) report cleared Mann of research misconduct and concluded that PSU had adequately investigated Mann itself, however, many of those critics have been publicly silent about how their attacks were misplaced. In other cases, critics have instead directed new criticisms at the NSF instead of accepting Mann’s innocence or retracting their misplaced condemnations of PSU’s investigation.

In an “exclusive” for Fox News back in April, 2010, Ed Barnes wrote that the illegally published CRU emails “cast fresh doubt on Mann’s methodology and integrity” and that the PSU inquiry which exonerated Mann of those doubts was criticized for failing to inquire. In discussing the anticipated OIG review, however, Barnes wrote that an OIG investigation would “be the first time that climate studies here will be scrutinized by an independent government organization with the skill and tools to investigate effectively.” He also pointed out that the Inspector General was “skeptical,” implying that the IG herself was a human-driven climate disruption “skeptic.” Since the OIG’s investigation found both Mann’s and Penn States’ integrity intact, however, neither Ed Barnes nor Fox News has published a similar, high-profile “exclusive” detailing how Mann had been cleared of all the allegations against him – again. Nor have Fox or Barnes mentioned that the results come from the very organization that they’d considered “independent” and equipped to “investigate [Mann] effectively.” Instead, Fox News relied on an Associated Press wire article that was only 119 words long, compared to the nearly 900 words of Barnes’ original, and Barnes himself has been quiet on the issue.

Another of Mann’s critics is Anthony Watts, editor of the climate disruption denial-friendly website wattsupwiththat.com. Watts called into question the timing of the OIG closeout memo, writing “Clearly there’s some PR game playing going on” and that the timing is “suspicious.” Watts’ complaint is that the NSF published the closeout memo on August 15, a week before the University of Virginia (UofV) released several thousand of Mann’s emails to a conservative organization that is convinced Mann is guilty of misconduct despite all the evidence to the contrary. Watts’ complaint implies collusion between the OIG and the UofV, but Watts did not respond to a request to provide evidence in support his implication.

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy for the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, wrote of the original PSU investigation that “it was designed to be a whitewash” because PSU did not interview Mann’s critics. The lack of interviewing Mann’s critics was the only criticism of the PSU investigation with which the OIG agreed. After the OIG conducted those interviews, it nonetheless found that Mann did not falsify or fabricate any data or that “his actions amounted to research misconduct.” Given that the OIG did interview Mann’s critics and yet came to an identical conclusion as the PSU investigation did, Ebell was asked by S&R if his opinion of the PSU investigation had changed. Ebell did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Other critics have expanded their accusations of “whitewash” to include the NSF. Joe D’Aleo of Icecap.us wrote on his blog that

both Mann and the NSF are both corrupt. What else would you expect. Another worthless whitewash. [from Google cached version on 8/23/11, 7:49:09 GMT]

D’Aleo apparently thought better of calling the NSF “corrupt” and updated his comment – without acknowledging the update – to say

The NSF is a disgrace. Recall the story two years ago about the NSF accused of watching porn in their offices. I suppose that is why Mann’s climate porn doesn’t phase them. What else would you expect. Another worthless whitewash from another agency that should be defunded. [as of 8/28/2011, 21:42:26 GMT]

For the quote in full context, click on the image

Following the release of PSU’s initial inquiry report on February 3, 2010, Steve Milloy of Junkscience.com published a press release that called the inquiry report “a primer for a whitewash.” After PSU completed the investigation on July 1, 2010, Milloy published an op-ed in The Daily Caller where he called the PSU investigation a “charade” and accused the investigators of following “the finest traditions of a kangaroo court.” While Milloy did not respond to repeated requests for comment, he wrote a brief blog post claiming that the NSF was now guilty of “whitewashing Penn State’s original whitewash” – after S&R requested his comments.

Richard Lindzen, MIT professor and the only one of Mann’s critics who was interviewed during the PSU investigation, criticized the process at the time. He was quoted by Milloy as saying “They also basically ignored what I said. I suppose they interviewed me in order to say that they had interviewed someone who was skeptical of warming alarm.” S&R contacted Lindzen for his thoughts on the results of the OIG investigation. He responded via email that the OIG report concluded that there were “meaningful questions about Mann’s work and questionable behavior” and that the OIG report “leaves open the issue of misconduct.” Lindzen went on call the OIG report “more of a gray wash than a white wash.” When pressed for specific examples of questionable behavior, Lindzen was either unable or unwilling to produce any examples. The closest that the OIG closeout memo gets is saying that “there are several concerns raised about the quality of the statistical analysis techniques that were used in [Mann’s] research” and that there is no “direct evidence of research misconduct” according to the Research Misconduct Regulation.

According to the NSF, “research misconduct means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing or performing research funded by NSF, reviewing research proposals submitted to NSF, or in reporting research results funded by NSF.” The OIG reviewed Mann’s work even though much of it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NSF (the research was performed before Mann was a Principal Investigator in late 2001 or 2002). Furthermore, the OIG’s definition of falsification (what Mann was accused of) includes “manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.” Mann has been specifically accused of changing or omitting data and of manipulating processes by his critics, including Lindzen. The OIG concluded that there is no specific evidence of Mann doing any of these things, exonerating Mann far more completely than Lindzen is willing to grant given his “gray wash” statement.

One of Mann’s more frequent critics is blogger Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit. S&R asked him a number of questions relating to the OIG report shortly after it was published, but McIntyre didn’t respond directly. Instead, he published a post at Climate Audit where he wrote answered a number of S&R’s questions indirectly. McIntyre charges that Eugene Wahl, a paleoclimatologist with the University of Arizona, “altered the IPCC assessment…, trivializing our criticisms and supporting Mann’s position.” This charge was disproved by the Independent Climate Change Email Review conducted by Muir Russell (reported on at S&R here) and the IPCC’s own internal guidelines permitted such contact between IPCC authors and non-IPCC associated experts, points McIntyre neglects to mention.

McIntyre proceeds to level two unsubstantiated accusations at PSU and the OIG, first claiming that PSU redefined their own inquiry to clear Mann and then claiming that the OIG redefined PSU’s inquiry even further. McIntyre points out that the PSU Allegation #2 is phrased slightly different than the OIG’s paraphrased version. However, he fails to mention that the OIG paraphrased all of the allegations, as shown below:

  1. Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to suppress or falsify data?
  2. Did you 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?
  3. Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any misuse of privileged or confidential information available to you in your capacity as an academic scholar?
  4. Did you 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?

(source: PSU Final Investigation Report


  1. Falsifying research data
  2. Concealing, deleting, or otherwise destroying emails, information or data
  3. Misusing privileged information
  4. Seriously deviating from accepted practices for proposing, conducting or reporting research and other scholarly activities

(source: OIG Closeout Memorandum)

McIntyre’s redefinition allegation collapses when it is considered in the larger context. He also fails to mention that the OIG chose to conduct a full investigation regarding Allegation #1. The OIG could have done the sam with regard to Allegation #2 had they not been satisfied, as they wrote, that PSU “adequately addressed its second Allegation.”

McIntyre wrote that he was interviewed by the OIG but he complained that he saw “no evidence of my input in the report” and that he “might as well not have been interviewed as the report makes no mention of the issues that we discussed at our meeting.” What the OIG report does say, however, is that their interviews turned up “no specific evidence that [Mann] falsified or fabricated any data and no evidence that his actions amounted to research misconduct.” Contrary to McIntyre’s complaint, the OIG’s closeout memo makes it clear that they considered his input, but then concluded that his input was not compelling. Put another way, McIntyre’s input was solicited, but after considering his input, the OIG rejected his claims.

These many examples illustrate a pattern common among climate disruption deniers and so-called “skeptics” – make multiple unfounded allegations against climate scientists and institutions involved in funding, conducting, publishing, or reporting climate science and then ignore all evidence to the contrary when the allegations are shown to be erroneous or outright lies. In many cases, as with Milloy and D’Aleo, every investigation that illustrates that climate science is well understood and that climate scientists are honest merely expands the black helicopter/UN/New World Order/watermelon conspiracy to yet another organization or scientist. For some, it’s easier to claim that everyone else is part of an international conspiracy to sap and impurify all of their precious bodily fluids than it is to accept that human activities are the dominant driver of global climate disruption.

The OIG report is only five pages long, and so there is a massive amount of investigative detail that’s not available. Until and unless the OIG makes public their entire process and case file, it will be difficult to know exactly how in-depth their investigation really was – who they interviewed, what public documents did they review, etc. But based on the descriptions of what the OIG did and the details of the regulations that guided their investigation, the complaints of both PSU’s and Michael Mann’s critics both in the past and at present appear unfounded. As reported by S&R and others, the original investigations by PSU were not whitewashes, and based on what is known about the OIG review, it wasn’t either. Unless some new and compelling evidence to the contrary becomes public, anyone who claims that Mann is dishonest or that Penn State’s investigation of Mann was a whitewash places himself outside accepted scientific standards of behavior – the very thing that Mann’s critics accuse him of doing.

5 replies »

  1. Your arguments are not convincing me that the entire process isn’t skewed in favour of those receiving massive govt funding to keep the charade going. In time, the truth will settle out and will reveal that the science, while sound in concept, was overstated w.r.t. the feedback mechanisms due to increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Big money is now on the side of the theory so it will take time to alter the inertia this has created. This is unfortunate, because the environment is important and must be well managed. But making CO2 the villain has clouded the issue. Soot in the atmosphere is something we have to get developing countries control. Low NOx emissions is another. And biofuel? How does that add up as an environmentally sound solution. Burn more wood? Really? And ethanol? Take food agri and replace it with fuel agri? The whole argument is so messed up right now. A balanced and sustainable approach is needed. Instead we have CO2 as the devil and must be halted. Yet the science, and the empirical data does not support this. Only the theory supports this.

    • Dr. K – S&R looked at the amount of money involved in climate research and found that is dwarfed, by over 1000x, by the amount of money invested in high-CO2 emitting industries who have a vested financial interest in keeping the CO2 freely (both without restriction and without cost) flowing into the atmosphere.

      While I agree with you that climate disruption has taken the limelight from many classical clean air environmental issues, that’s not on-topic for this discussion. Neither is the science of climate feedbacks and forcings from CO2. For those discussions, I recommend you visit the excellent website Skeptical Science, where they have threads devoted specifically to addressing whatever empirical evidence you have. I’ve discussed the science here at S&R as well, but you’d need to find the right post to post them in.

      Personally, I hope you’re right and the scientists are wrong. I know from my discussions with climate scientists that they wish they were wrong. But to date, the best available science shows that climate disruption is happening and that it’s mostly being driven by human activities.

  2. Dr. K:

    The “doing it for money argument” is false. Scientists cannot get rich from public funding. I blogged about this:

    http://profmandia.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/ (Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part I)

    http://profmandia.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/ (Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part II)

    ExxonMobil turns $2 Billion per month PROFIT so how come they do not have a slew of scientists on their payroll publishing scientific studies? Given your argument they should be lining up out the door and around the corner.

    The pattern of warming matches that expected by GHG increases and there are no worthy alternative hypotheses that can match that pattern while simultaneously masking the known warming that is caused by a massive influx of heat-trapping gases.

  3. I too am always tickled by this idea that somehow the money involved in in all scientific research let alone just that percentage attached to climate science in particular could ever even approach the massively calcified and monied interests that have a stake in the enormous and varied industries that produce C02 emissions.

    It’s not like there’s scientists on Fox News every third night with their skepticism of the Bohr Model of Atoms — climate science ruffles a lot of feathers on a medium number of people with a lot of money. The amount of money behind these climate scientists is dwarfed by orders of magnitude in this case.

  4. Looking at the OIG report, it appears they did investigate allegation #2 themselves. However, their investigation is different from what they should be investigating. The allegation is did Mann delete e-mails? OIG Report then says we looked at the e-mails and found no evidence of misconduct. The allegation was not did Mann delete e-mails that show evidence of misconduct? For example, another OIG did look into this and concluded that Wahl did delete e-mails, and the original e-mail requested Mann to get Wahl to delete all e-mails WRT AR4, with subject line FOI.