Wegman scandal rocks cornerstone of climate denial

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

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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