Christopher Horner is demonstrably wrong

On October 24, Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) wrote a guest post at Wattsupwiththat.com commenting on the recently announced defamation lawsuit by Michael Mann against the CEI, The National Review, and two of the organizations’ authors.

Among Horner’s many questionable claims was one that is undeniably wrong. Specifically, Horner incorrectly claims that an investigation conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the National Science Foundation was not independent of prior Pennsylvania State University investigations. The investigations were into whether or not Michael Mann was guilty of academic misconduct and both investigations found that he was innocent of the charges made by his many critics.

Horner specifically wrote the following at Wattsupwiththat:

The National Science Foundation purported to inquire, as well, but worked from what PSU provided it. So much for that.

This is demonstrably false, as anyone who has read the NSF Closeout Memorandum knows. While the OIG began their investigation with the information provided by Penn State, the OIG had the authority to probe beyond that information if they felt additional investigation was warranted. The OIG felt that, with respect to three of the four allegations against Mann, the Penn State investigation had been sufficiently thorough. However, the OIG felt that Penn State did not examine the first allegation – falsifying research data – in enough detail and so the OIG conducted its own independent investigation:

In particular, we were concerned that the University did not interview any of the experts critical of the Subject’s research to determine if they had any information that might support the allegation. Therefore, we initiated our own investigation under the NSF Research Misconduct Regulation. Pursuant to that regulation, we did not limit our review to an allegation of data falsification. Rather, we examined the evidence in relation to the definition of research misconduct under the NSF Research Misconduct Regulation. (emphasis added)

Furthermore, while this independent investigation did review the information provided by Penn State, it went beyond that:

As a part of our investigation, we again fully reviewed all the reports and documentation the University provided to us, as well as a substantial amount of publicly available documentation concerning both the Subject’s research and parallel research conducted by his collaborators and other scientists in that particular field of research.

As part of our investigation, we attempted to determine if data fabrication or falsification may have occurred and interviewed the subject, critics, and disciplinary experts in coming to our conclusions. (emphasis added)

As a result of this independent investigation, the OIG found that “There is no specific evidence that the Subject falsified or fabricated any data and no evidence that his actions amounted to research misconduct. (emphasis added)”

Steve McIntyre, one of Mann’s critics, admitted at Climate Audit that he had been interviewed by the OIG. Since the original Penn State inquiry and investigation did not interview McIntyre, McIntyre’s own comments provide independent confirmation that the OIG’s investigation went beyond the information provided to the OIG by Penn State.

S&R conducted a thorough investigation of Chris Horner’s public statements, reading through every Mann-related editorial written by and citation of Horner since the publication of the OIG closeout memo in August 2011. While S&R found examples of Horner making the same erroneous claim he made at Wattsupwiththat, we found no examples conclusive demonstrating that Horner had actually read the results of the OIG investigation.

If Horner has read the results, then he must be aware that his claim is false. If Horner hasn’t read the results, then he is spreading false rumors. Regardless of which option is the correct one, there is no doubt that Horner’s claim is wrong, and as a result he must correct his written record a soon as possible.

7 replies »

  1. Nice job. Why do these people continue to believe that other people aren’t going to check up on what they say. Are they really that removed from reality?

    Rhetorical question.

  2. So the CEI employs a lawyer who is either lazy and doesn’t do thorough background checks into his allegations, or is too incompetent to understand the meaning of plain text. The other possibility of course is that Horner is just a common-or-garden liar.

  3. Hi Brian, You are correct that Horner is wrong on this small point, and I hope he corrects his earlier statement.

    As to the “exoneration” of Mann by the OIC, I’m pretty sure you read the report. They say “Much of the current debate focuses on the viability of the statistical procedures he eniployed, the statistics used to confirm the accuracy of the results, and the degree to which one specific set of data impacts the statistical results. These concerns are all appropriate for scientific debate and to assist the research community in directing future research efforts to improve understanding in this field of research. Such scientific debate is ongoing but does not, in itself, constitute evidence of research misconduct”.

    Did Mann create a file labelled “Censored” which contained data of certain tree ring measurements? Was this data left out of the calculations for the graph in the paper? If the data had been included, would the results have been statistically robust? I recommend you check for yourself, but I don’t see how anyone unbiased can avoid the answers – yes, yes and no.

    Was that scientific misconduct? Well, it doesn’t seem to be by current academic standards. Was it misleading and reprehensible? Absolutely.

    For anyone interested in more details of the poor science of Mann, I recommend the 2011, vol. 5, No. 1 issue of The Annals of Applied Statistics which reviews (in a series of papers) Mann’s 2008 paper and concludes the Mann model is not superior to random series generated independently of temperature.

    All scientists make mistakes. That’s not the point. The point is that good practice requires mistakes be acknowledged and corrected in future. Mann has never corrected these many mistakes. I don’t think any objective reviewer who has looked at the data will have confidence in any of his conclusions.

  4. Looks like the distractosphere is fully in play and the G&T-a-like groupies are still insisting that crunching numbers that aren’t understood makes one a scientist. How many strings can be pulled from a spider’s web anyway?

    • I did some poking around, Geoff, and what you referenced was the widely criticized McShane and Wyner paper. The issue of Annals of Applied Science was mostly full of papers that took it to task for a large number of flaws. They claimed to have used the same data as Mann et al 2008, but didn’t (and didn’t explain why they rejected Mann et al’s criteria as “ad hoc”). From what I’ve read they used too many principal components, likely resulting in over-fitting. Their new Lasso method also didn’t work better than existing methods.

      As for the “censored” data, it’s not at all unusual for scientists (or engineers, my own field) to throw out data that’s known to be bad for some reason or another. I did it just the other day when I realized that I’d screwed up the settings on an ohmmeter and needed to retake some resistance measurements. I identified the data with the word “bad” appended to the file name and moved it to a “bad data” directory. I kept the data on the off chance it could prove useful down the line, but I didn’t want anyone to assume it was the good data I had to retake in the lab.

      I don’t know why Mann censored that data, but I’m unwilling to simply assume that he did so in order to manufacture a graph. I do similar things all the time in my day job, and so does every other engineer or scientist I’ve ever worked with (and I’ve worked with hundreds of engineers and scientists over the years). It’s standard operating procedure. Given your use of the phrase “misleading and reprehensible,” however, I’d guess that you disagree.

      Out of curiosity, what’s your background, Geoff?