The Wegman Controversy (VERY briefly)
The original Wegman irony
Innocent until proven “Alarmist”
The Wegman Controversy (VERY briefly)
In 2006 statistician Edward Wegman headed a small committee at the request members of the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee to review the work of climatologists with reference to the “Hockey stick” temperature reconstruction. At issue was whether the last few decades represent an unprecedented global temperature increase in the last millennium or so.
- the methodology that had been used did not justify the conclusions (not that the “Hockey Stick” was wrong necessarily, just that they felt you couldn’t tell one way or another given the statistical analysis that had been used);
- that the alleged problems with the research were probably due to the work being done with in a relatively small social network (approx 50 people) within a highly specialized field.
The report has long since been irrelevant except as just another Denier myth because:
- Using the more robust statistical methods that the Committee was recommending did not change the results;
- The “Hockey Stick” remains essentially the same (and here) using a variety of techniques and data sets, including ones that exclude data that were considered problematical.
The Denialosphere clings to the belief that it somehow discredited any temperature reconstruction that has that ‘hockey stick’ shape. The Deniers cannot seem to grasp that:
- Wegman never claimed the reconstruction was wrong, just that at that time, using those methods on that data, it was not possible to say that it was right;
- Different methods showed the reconstruction was correct;
- We no longer use the reconstruction that the Wegman report examined regardless, and haven’t for years since we now have much more data and more robust analysis techniques*.
*Note to Deniers ... we also no longer rely on Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium to know that the Earth orbits the Sun, so the fact that it contains errors is not proof that Copernicus was wrong and that the Sun actually revolves around the Earth. Just thought you should know.
So the Wegman report has been scientifically irrelevant pretty much since it was first released, but it remains politically relevant thanks to the Denier inability (or refusal) to understand the above points.
Then last winter the blog Deep Climate began posting evidence that the Wegman Report had been Highly Politicized – and Fatally Flawed. This was quickly followed by evidence that the Wegman Committee had plagarized significant sections of the report (Deep Climate again).
More evidence was shared through the spring and summer leading up to the release of an exhaustive examination by John Mashey; John Mashey on Strange Scholarship in the Wegman Report, excerpt:
“Of 91 pages, 35 are mostly plagiarized text, but often injected with errors, bias and changes of meaning. Its Bibliography is mostly padding, 50% of the references uncited in the text. Many references are irrelevant or dubious.”
More akin to a failing grade Sophomore paper than a work allegedly produced by academics. In response to these revelations George Mason University began an inquiry which has now become an investigation of Wegman for professional misconduct. USA Today went so far as to ask some plagarism experts (actual journalism … wow!) who said:
• “Actually fairly shocking,” says Cornell physicist Paul Ginsparg by e-mail. “My own preliminary appraisal would be ‘guilty as charged.’ “
•”If I was a peer reviewer of this report and I was to observe the paragraphs they have taken, then I would be obligated to report them,” says Garner of Virginia Tech, who heads a copying detection effort. “There are a lot of things in the report that rise to the level of inappropriate.”
•”The plagiarism is fairly obvious when you compare things side-by-side,” says Ohio State’s Robert Coleman, who chairs OSU’s misconduct committee.
This has all been much reported and discussed on climate blogs (a sampling):
- Wegman exposed: Experts find “shocking” plagiarism in 2006 climate report requested by Joe Barton (R-TX);
- Hockey Stick Basher Wegman Under Investigation;
- Adventures in social network analysis
- Pop quiz on responses to Wegman plagiarism accusations
- Wegman plagiarised, but there is worse
- A Dummy’s Guide to Strange Scholarship in the Wegman Report
The plagarism evidence is all laid out in the Deep Climate posts & the Mashey report (lots of links below); make of it what you will, but it does seem pretty damning. As for the charges of the Wegman Committee being a political hatchet job, I have only a couple of things to add to Maskey’s detailed analysis:
The Committee’s mandate was actually unacceptably vague for reviewing a scientific work, ie “whether or not the criticisms of Mann et al. are valid and if so, what are the implications.” Which criticisms? by who? about what? The Wegman Committee had considerable leeway to interpret it’s task, and hence how to frame it’s answer.
So what did they do? In her Experiences with Congressional Tertimony Said states that “The fundamental question was “Were the Canadians [ie McIntyre and McKitrick] correct in the critique of the Hockey Team?” “critique of the Hockey Team”? NOT of Mann et al‘s paper, or the Hockey Stick, or the science, but of the team?
This might be understandable as a slip of the tongue, but it is the text as it appears in her presentation to a colloquium in 2007. Whatever may be said elsewhere, Said at least understood their ‘target’ as the researchers, not the research.
This impression is borne out by the questions that were sent to Mann and the other researchers on behalf of the Wegman Committee.
It is not until the 5th question that there is anything at all relevant to the Man et al study.
Instead they were asked about their entire research history, all funding sources, etc.
It was clearly a fishing expedition for anything and everything that could be (mis)interpreted and/or twisted to discredit the scientists.
Finally, while the Committee was not asked to comment on the results & interpretation of Mann et al per se, the broad latitude of the mandate included “and if so, what are the implications?”” This meant it would have been possible and appropriate to do so.
Even if not in the report itself, had the Wegman Committee been at all interested in scientific truth they would have found some other venue to note that the alleged problems with Mann et al did not affect Mann et al‘s conclusions in the slightest.
They did not do so. In fact they went out of their way to sustain the illusion that they had somehow undermined the whole temperature reconstruction when in fact they had done no such thing. Clearly their real agenda was to attempt to discredit real science through ad hominem attacks (social analysis) and misleading reporting.
The original Wegman irony
Has no one else enjoyed the irony of the conclusions of the Wegman Report and just how the Wegman Committee was set up in the first place? I have been meaning to blog on this for a couple of years now, and may as well inject it into the current kerfuffle.
One of the reports initial conclusions/”hypothesis” was that research done and reviewed within relatively small social networks (researchers who knew one another personally, worked and published together, etc)(43 people in the case of Mann and his immediate research community, out of 75 most published authors) was simply not robust (ie reliable).
The Wegman report:
- Wegman himself was recruited by US Rep Joe Barton (old boy network);
- Wegman personally recruited two others, one of his own students (Yasmin H. Said) and someone else that he had co-authored papers with (David Scott);
- Much of the information used by the committee came through Peter Spencer;
- As a substitute for peer review he had half a dozen friends look the report over.
As many others have noted, the “Social Network” that produced the report was far smaller than that which had produced the “Hockey Stick”. Further, there were none of the checks and balances of independent editorial oversight and formal peer review which Mann’s work had been subject to.
That being the case, then according to the Wegman Committee, we cannot and never could take the Wegman Report seriously! On the other hand, if Wegman is wrong about social networks, then there is no problem with the work of Mann and the other climate researchers.
Most likely Wegman is partially right:
- Work done in a formal structured setting involving many dozens of people and subject to clear checks and balances (such as Mann’s work was) is reliable;
- Work done ad hoc within a tiny clique and not subject to any formal oversight (such as the Wegman’s Report was) is almost certainly unreliable.
The evidence seems to support this (maybe Said could co-author a paper about it with Wegman?).
Indeed the Wegman report itself states:
“Recommendation 1. Especially when massive amounts of public monies and human lives are at stake, academic work should have a more intense level of scrutiny and review.“
So where was the “intense level of scrutiny and review” of the Wegman report itself? after all, since it was part of the climate change policy process it clearly qualified as influencing “massive amounts of public monies and human lives.” The double standard, and the apparent blindness to it are breathtaking.
Innocent until proven “Alarmist”
We all remember well how when the CRU emails were first released last year the Deniers counseled sober caution and withholding judgment until a proper inquiry had been held (if you missed some of that mature, thoughtful discourse just watch the first minute of this video) ie the pants peeing screams of the lynch mob were deafening. So how is the Denialosphere responding to the revelations about Wegman? with complete consistency of course.
Consistent for the Denialosphere that is, ie hypocritical double standards. As of this writing John O’Sullivan’s “Global Warming Zealots Contrive Story to Smear Innocent Academic” gets 7500+ hits in the Denialosphere, undoubtedly more by the time you read this.
Important: Let’s not make their mistake. By all means form your own opinion and discuss it as appropriate, but let us as a community agree that we should wait until the proper authorities have had a chance to review all of the evidence before we pass judgment. Wegman is no less deserving of a fair hearing than Phil Jones or any one else.
In the same vein we should look at how the other side is covering the issue and how they see the issue. Who knows, maybe there is something we missed?
How the Denier’s know Wegman is innocent!:
So on what basis is O’Sullivan and the Denialosphere so certain of Wegman’s innocence? Here are the key points according to O’Sullivan:
“Under law, Bradley has no case against Wegman and these latest allegations are ineptly contrived. As we shall see below, the claims cannot be backed up by bona fide copyright lawyers for good reason. But under the ‘fair use’ doctrine  and rules that apply to reports commissioned by Congress Wegman’s conduct is faultless. His report correctly cites Bradley 35 times and in the reference section under, “BIBLIOGRAPHY Academic Papers and Books”, Bradley again appears 13 times.  As the law stands Wegman is bulletproof and there’s no plagiarism or copyright infringement here.” 
 “Fair use” still requires acknowledgment of the original work.
 Irrelevant; did Wegman correctly acknowledge the original work in all cases when he should have? This is analogous to claiming someone must be innocent of shoplifting because there were 35 occasions when they actually did pay for what they took.
 No doubt Wegman is also innocent of many other things that no one is charging him with or accusing him of, such as international arms smuggling, shoplifting and parking in a handicap zone. Wegman is under investigation by George Mason University for professional misconduct, not copyright violation etc. O’Sullivan’s argument is a straw man logic error and completely irrelevant.
“Skeptics have countered the claims by saying they know the real reason for the last-ditch strategy: to distract public attention away from the faked science.“
- That in no way responds to the points raised;
- It’s obviously false since no one has been able to show that any of the science has been faked, much less enough to cause any rational doubt about climate change;
- even if it were true it would still be irrelevant (see 1).
Actually it is not a counter at all, it is a red herring logic error, but then logical arguments have never been the Denier strong point.
If all of that is not silly enough, O’Sullivan goes on with:
” … evidence shows that Bradley implicates himself; he appears to have something to hide in leaked correspondence … the following damning email they received from Bradley:
“… That’s the long & short of it. I have told the University that I am prepared to drop this matter if Wegman makes a request to have his report withdrawn from the Congressional Record. No response on that.”
That was one of many attempts to stymie independent investigators. … With so many “friends in high places” Bradley and Mann have been able to evade justice for years – but is time running out?“
So offering Wegman an honourable out is “one of many attempts to stymie independent investigators.”? How exactly? Wegman would be more than free to clean up his work and publish the result. Bradley’s offer would stymie nothing and potentially save Wegman’s career if the allegations turn out to be true.
Probably too late now regardless. Once the GMU initial inquiry found grounds for an investigation I doubt simply withdrawing the original complaint would be reason for stopping it.
Over at Climate Fraudit they have the same kind of irrelevant defence of Wegman, viz Wegman cited Bradley some times so that should count for all, the plagarised sections don’t affect the conclusions so they don’t count, McIntyre synonymizes referring readers to a text for more detail with giving credit to those works for material used (totally different things), accuses Bradley of plagarizing (irrelevant to whether Wegman did or not)(see DeSmog for more), and so on.
Frankly I stopped reading it because it was just too silly. It is quite telling that McIntyre seems to think any of the above is acceptable or makes sense.
I hope that for Wegman’s sake that his response to this is actually relevant and coherent (apparently not /hat tip to the bunny), because Wegman’s career and reputation are over if his response in any way resembles the drivel O’Sullivan & McIntyre expect us to swallow.
Dec 2009 – Cozy Network of
Lobbying Firms Think Tanks
- Contrarian scholarship: Revisiting the Wegman report
- Wegman (and Rapp) on tree rings: A divergence problem (part 1)
- Wegman and Rapp on proxies: A divergence problem (part 2)
- Donald Rapp: More divergence problems
Feb 2010 – Deep Climate Breaks the plagarism story:
- Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 1: In the beginning
- Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 2: The story behind the Barton-Whitfield investigation and the Wegman Panel
Apr – Sept 2010 – More plagarism, Mashey weighs in
- Wegman and Said on social networks: More dubious scholarship
- Wegman Report update, part 1: More dubious scholarship in full colour
- Wegman report update, part 2: GMU dissertation review
- John Mashey on Strange Scholarship in the Wegman Report
Oct – Dec 2010 – more and more revelations
- David Ritson speaks out
- The Wegman report sees red (noise)
- Replication and due diligence, Wegman style
- Wegman et al miscellany
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.