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Wegman scandal rocks cornerstone of climate denial

By Joe Romm on May 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm

"Wegman scandal rocks cornerstone of climate denial"


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USA Today: Evidence of plagiarism and complaints about the peer-review process have led a statistics journal to retract a federally funded study that condemned scientific support for global warming

Hockey Stick small

Climate science is a solid edifice built around the work of thousands of scientists, vast amounts of data, and countless peer-reviewed publications.  As the National Academy of Sciences report put it, “Although the scientific process is always open to new ideas and results, the fundamental causes and consequences of climate change have been established by many years of scientific research, are supported by many different lines of evidence, and have stood firm in the face of careful examination, repeated testing, and the rigorous evaluation of alternative theories and explanation.”

Climate denial is a house of cards, built around the sleight of hand of a few disinformers, deniers, and pseudo-scientists — who keep repeating the same falsehoods no matter how many times they have been debunked.  One of the most important, yet flimsiest, cards holding up the house is the attack on the so-called Hockey Stick research — multiple, independent lines of data and analysis that demonstrate recent global warming is unprecedented in magnitude and speed and cause (see “Two more independent studies back the Hockey Stick and below).  Indeed, as WAG notes, within a few decades, nobody is going to be talking about hockey sticks, they will be talking about right angles or hockey skates (see chart above).

A cornerstone of the disinformer’s ultimately self-destructive attack on climate science is a 2006 report, commissioned by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and led by George Mason University statistician Edward Wegman, who is now himself under investigation by GMU (see Experts find “shocking” plagiarism in 2006 climate report).  You can find all the details you could want about the shoddy analysis of the report at Deep Climate “” including his “methodical demolishing of any hint of statistics” in the report, as John Mashey puts it in the comments.

As USA Today reported in November:

An influential 2006 congressional report that raised questions about the validity of global warming research was partly based on material copied from textbooks, Wikipedia and the writings of one of the scientists criticized in the report, plagiarism experts say.

Review of the 91-page report by three experts contacted by USA TODAY found repeated instances of passages lifted word for word and what appear to be thinly disguised paraphrases.

Now USA Today has a devastating print piece on a journal article by Wegman, “Climate study gets pulled after charges of plagiarism“:

Evidence of plagiarism and complaints about the peer-review process have led a statistics journal to retract a federally funded study that condemned scientific support for global warming.

The study, which appeared in 2008 in the journal Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, was headed by statistician Edward Wegman of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Its analysis was an outgrowth of a controversial congressional report that Wegman headed in 2006. The “Wegman Report” suggested climate scientists colluded in their studies and questioned whether global warming was real. The report has since become a touchstone among climate change naysayers….

Computer scientist Ted Kirkpatrick of Canada’s Simon Fraser University, filed a complaint with the journal after reading the climate science website Deep Climate, which first noted plagiarism in the Wegman Report in 2009. “There is something beyond ironic about a study of the conduct of science having ethics problems,” Kirkpatrick says.

USA Today reporter Dan Vergano has even more must-read material in his online piece, “Retracted climate critics’ study panned by expert“:

Plagiarism and peer review concerns aside, some readers are asking whether a soon-to-be-retracted study by climate critics was any good. So, we asked an expert.

This is a very important addition to the story because, as you may know, the deniers and disinformers have attempted to wave off the attacks on Wegman saying plagiarism doesn’t prove inaccuracy.  Vergano dismantles that nonsensical argument — an argument the deniers would never have used for one of their own scurrilous attacks on climate scientists:

We asked network analysis expert Kathleen Carley of Carnegie Mellon to take a look at whether the CSDA study, a “bibliometric” critique of publishing links between climate scientists, was any good in the first place. “I see this paper as more of an opinion piece,” Carley says, by email.  Carley is a well-established expert in network analysis. She even taught the one-week course that one of Wegman’s students took before 2006, making the student the “most knowledgeable” person about such analyses on Wegman’s team, according to a note that Wegman sent to CSDA in March.

In the CSDA study, the researchers compared the normal “entrepreneurial” style of collaboration between top scientists against papers written as collaborations among students of one “mentor” professor. “The authors speculate that the entrepreneurial style leads to peer review abuse. No data is provided to support this argument,” Carley says, by email.

Carley goes on to say, “Compared to many journal articles in the network area the description of the data is quite poor. That is the way the data was collected, the total number of papers, the time span, the method used for selecting articles and so on is not well described.”

Vergano also points out to quote “expert Skip Garner of Virginia Tech” that, oh by the way, plagiarism ain’t a trivial offense and is often indicative of other problems:

The retraction of an article is a serious and impactful action, for it confirms that a complete analysis by the editors confirmed inappropriate ‘re-use’ of material, and in this case issues with the review process that was in place at the time. Only authoritative individuals and bodies such as editorial boards or ethics committees can make the determination that re-use of material without proper citation is ‘plagiarism’ following an accusation, for due process must take place, for this can impact careers and entire lines of research.

Another important, often missed part of a retraction is adequately communicating that a paper has been retracted to all that may consider using it. In other words, it is important that the notice of retraction be propagated back to the literature databases and search engines so that future users know not to use the material. Retracting on a web site is only the first step in that process, for future users may not discover the retraction unless the retraction is obvious and closely associated with every instance of the original publication. And one final note, the finding of ‘plagiarism’ may also be an indicator of other possible questionable ethical issues such as conflict-of-interest, haste vs. scientific rigor and bias, which may need to be investigated.

Climate science weathered the phony Climategate attacks, indeed was repeatedly vindicated by independent investigations, because it is built around an ever-growing body of evidence, ever-strengthening analyses, and countless top scientists.  Climate denial can’t withstand the mildest scrutiny.  You might say, climate denial isn’t weatherproof — and the weather is getting a lot more extreme.

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23 Responses to Wegman scandal rocks cornerstone of climate denial

  1. M says:

    Careful when using the McShane & Wyner hockeystick, since it is _not_ the central estimate of the paleoclimate community. While I understand your reasoning (eg, even the climate skeptic temperature record looks like a hockeystick!), maybe it would be better to use the NRC 2006 spaghetti graph or a similar such graphic?


    [JR: I'm still hoping someone will talk all the recent Hockey sticks and merge them.]

  2. Mimikatz says:

    Interesting to note that the Koch Brothers fund many think tanks and projects at George Mason U even thoughnit is a public institution. What hand did they have in this hack job? Kudos to USA Today.

  3. I’m looking for “Wegmangate” to show up on Fox News. So far, nothing.

  4. Heraclitus says:

    Is it possible to have a cornerstone of something so fluid as climate disinformation? This will probably just be water off a duck’s back to the vast majority of those in denial, many of whom will deny ever having put any weight on Wegman’s work – it’s the ‘facts’, which haven’t changed, that matter.

    Just possibly though there will be a few out there whose doubts will be niggling a bit more after this.

    Congratulations to Deep Climate whose exhaustive research must have contributed significantly to this.

  5. Climate denial is a house of cards, built around the sleight of hand of a few disinformers, deniers, and pseudo-scientists — who keep repeating the same falsehoods no matter how many times they have been debunked.

    Well said, Joe! Let us keep bringing up Wegmangate with more frequency and vigour that the inactivists harp on the ‘Climategate’ non-scandal. Stress, again and again, that it is climate ‘skepticism’ that’s nothing but a house of cards, supported only by a system of illusions and magic tricks. Talk about Wegmangate in every article, at every venue, at every moment, where we discuss the basis of climate action.

    And, tie Wegmangate directly to Cuccinelli’s bogus attack on Michael Mann.

    [JR: I'm still hoping someone will talk all the recent Hockey sticks and merge them.]

    Um, there’s always this, and similar-looking diagrams? I suspect the folks at RealClimate might be able to refer to the relevant people, i.e. those who do surveys of hockey sticks in the literature.


  6. John McManus says:

    Following Frank: phony paper, federal funding, Virginia. WWCD? What would Cuccinelli do

  7. Joan Savage says:

    The situation of the Said et al 2008 paper is a hoot. It was published without proof of peer review itself and yet its abstract says, “We conjecture that certain styles of co-authorship lead to the possibility of group-think, reduced creativity, and the possibility of less rigorous reviewing processes.” That seems like an adequate description of their own problems.

    I’m almost as distracted by the time sequence as by 2008 paper.

    The 2008 paper is obviously more recent than the 2006 Wegman report to congress. I guess it is not too surprising that Congress didn’t notice that the 2006 report had unproven methodology. (Who looks at footnotes and references? The term “social network” does not occur in the 2006 references.) However, publishing an attempt at methodology two years after submitting a report that relied on it? And bypassing peer review on the way? Wow, that’s audacious of those particular statisticians’ own group-think.

  8. _Flin_ says:

    Plagiarism by copying from Wikipedia for a journal article.

    That is about as embarrasing as coming to your senses at 8 a.m. in the morning, sitting butt naked on a garbage can on Main Street. Wearing a chicken hat.

  9. MapleLeaf says:


    “JR: I’m still hoping someone will talk all the recent Hockey sticks and merge them”

    SkS have done this, does not include M&W though.


    [JR: Nice. I'll get someone at CAP add the warming projection for 2100 to it. I wouldn't include M&W.]

  10. M says:

    I kind of like Zeke’s version at http://rankexploits.com/musings/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Proxy-Reconstruction-Comparison-Uncertainty6.png because it includes both Mann ’08 versions and the uncertainty shading, though I’d personally leave out Loehle if I were making such a figure for my own use,


  11. toby says:

    When is Cuccinelli suing to read Wegman’s e-mails? Oh, yeah, he downloaded them to his laptop and they got deleted.

    Funny, that.

  12. John Mashey says:

    For more context, people may want to review SSWR pp.148-151, especially where SNA expert Garry Robins whacks Said, et al(2008) for similar reasons. Also, see p.149 for the graph that shows how truly weird the 6-day acceptance was.

    See Strange Inquiries at GMU for the history of GMU in this, and some truly amazing quotes from Wegman, including on his Facebook page. As of this writing, GMU has yet to give Ray Bradley even the simple inquiry report that says this is worth investigating.

    The Cuccinelli CID relies heavily on the Wegman Report, and if you look on the page labeled 18, you’ll see discussion of peer review, which of course works as follows:

    The Wegman Report had
    a) Plagiarized material (SSWR W.2.3, pp.118-128, the material Deep Climate found)
    b) Low-quality SNA analysis that never would have passed peer review, and none of the “reviewers” were SNA experts. (SSWR W.5, pp.143-159)
    c) Some more SNA analysis in testimony to Stupak, pp.146-147).

    The Said, et al(2008) CSDA article had a subset of a), and some of the material from b) and c), albeit claiming to eliminate the researchers’ names, which people could find in 5 minutes.

    Plagiarism is one form of academic fraud, and these chunks of WR have the same problems as Said, et al(2008).

    Plausible allegation: the CID is based, in part, on fraud.
    Of course, one might ask if Cuccinelli and Wesley Russell got help on this material, it not being what lawyers normally study. Are there any folks in VA or DC who might do that? Inquiring minds want to know.

  13. MapleLeaf says:

    M @10,

    Agreed about excluding Loehle.

  14. Mike Roddy says:

    John Mashey,

    Thanks for being the lead bulldog here. If the deniers can get all of that mileage over “Climategate”, which turned out to be a big nothing, there should be consequences for everyone who touted the Wegman Report. The authors and sponsors have already been fully disgraced.

  15. Solar Jim says:

    The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is a right wing stink tank (which gives intellectual cover for maintenance of corrupt status quo).

    Watch out for the stink to go national, such as might occur with highly referenced “climate polling” they do with others, such as Yale University. Note: the history of oil described in the book The Prize, begins with Yale.

    Not that existing financial investment paradigms need to be protected or anything. Investment bankers are well oiled. Public liabilities are their private profits, and we are all addicts. Burn, baby, burn and enjoy our climate change subsidies (aka corporate tax breaks which The Speaker of the House refuses to breach).

  16. “JR: I’m still hoping someone will take all the recent Hockey sticks and merge them”

    I’d also suggest Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future (Chapman & Davis 2010) which is reviewed at (and has a .gif of the graph) at Skeptical Science. It doesn’t extend back as far for some of the series, but there are some other reasons to use it… including the the fact that the projections to 2100 are done…

  17. John Mason says:

    If one takes the graph at the top of the page, cuts out the area inside the labelled axes, flips it 180 degrees vertically before pasting it back into the same area and then removes all existing annotations, replacing them with “COOLING” in large blue letters, does that make it a “Kochystick”?

    Sorry. I’ll get my coat!

    Cheers – John

  18. Hegbad says:

    Peter Sinclair says:
    I’m looking for “Wegmangate” to show up on Fox News. So far, nothing.

    You mean something like:

    “Experts find passages in various climate scientist works that bear striking similarities to the Wegman report: plagiarism by climate scientists not ruled out.”

  19. John McManus:

    Following Frank: phony paper, federal funding, Virginia. WWCD? What would Cuccinelli do

    More importantly, what will “we” do? Will “we” take advantage of this scandal, or will “we” just sit around and wait for a miracle to happen and then whine a lot when the whole thing blows over?


  20. My response to global warming inactivist Jeff Id:

    if proper attribution of a quote was such a problem, why isn’t an amended document citation the solution?

    Jeff, your ‘argument’ is like saying that burglary shouldn’t be a punishable crime because the burglar simply needs to return the stolen — um, borrowed — goods, and all will be well.

    There’s every bit of evidence that this wasn’t just a case of carelessness. Said and Wegman didn’t just quote their sources, they had to change a few words here and there. It’s pretty clear they were trying to pass off their doctored copypasta as their own work. You’re not supposed to do this. Period.

    And Wegman’s response to the retraction smacks of even further moral bankruptcy. Wegman said that the plagiarism was done by an unnamed “student”. But nowhere was this “student” credited [in the paper], even though this “student” had apparently written 1/7 of the paper!

    What’s your excuse for this? ‘Oops, Wegman merely forgot to include his name, he just needs to add it in’? If that’s your excuse, then your moral compass is similar to that of the burglar above.


  21. John Mashey says:

    Re: student = Denise Reese
    Vergano just updated hsi earlier psot with more info, an hour or so ago.

  22. Richard Brenne says:

    John Mason (#17) – Your comment reminds me that I love Wales so much I read Moby Dick three times. I once performed in an old English Music Hall of sketch comedy, you know, with the guys who sew hundreds of buttons onto their coats, that kind of thing. This is the tradition my heroes Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel (roommates when Chaplin signed his movie contract here in Portland, Oregon) came from. By the way, I always enjoy your comments, even this one. And a study came out I believe in Science (or maybe Nature) that found that the pun isn’t the lowest form of humor after all, it’s one of above plastic dog-do and two above Donald Trump’s hair.

  23. John Mashey now says that

    I’m told that the Fall’s Wegman mess deterred some show-trials the Republicans were thinking of.

    but gives no further details. Joe or Stephen, do you happen to know anything on this front?

    – frank