Three of four misconduct allegations against Michael Mann found to be without merit (updated)

Posted on February 3, 2010


Update: I’ve added a few more examples of spin and accusations of bias against PSU as well as some good reporting examples that were not posted as of last night.

After the CRU emails were released in November, 2009, there was widespread accusations of misconduct against most of the scientists mentioned in the emails. Today, the Penn State University (PSU) inquiry committee investigating accusations made against Dr. Michael Mann publicly released its findings. The committee found that, with respect to the most serious three accusations out of four, “there exists no credible evidence” that Mann had committed research misconduct. The inquiry committee empaneled an investigation committee to look into the last accusation – that Mann had “seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community” – because they could make a determination about this and because

Only with such a review will the academic community and other interested parties likely feel that Penn State has discharged its responsibility on this matter.

According to the report, neither the inquiry committee nor the University received any formal allegations of research misconduct before or during the inquiry, so the committee generated four allegations after “[reducing] to allegation form the many different accusations that were received from parties outside of the University.” The accusations were reduced down to the following four:

  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to suppress or falsify data?
  • Did [Mann] 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?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any misuse of privileged or confidential information available to [him] in [his] capacity as an academic scholar?
  • Did [Mann] 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?

After reviewing all the CRU emails that Mann sent, received, or even discussed Mann’s work, and after the inquiry committee researched other relevant information from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), science journal articles, OP-ED columns, and even internet blogs, the committee interviewed Mann. Several days after that interview, the committee also interviewed Dr. Gerald North, the lead author of the NAS paper that exonerated Mann’s research and the so-called hockey stick temperature graph in 2006, as well as the former editor of Mann’s Science Magazine associated science article. And the outcome of all the research and interviews was that there was no substance to the first three allegations above.

The inquiry committee specifically pointed out that the “trick” email that has drawn a lot of attention used the word “trick”

to describe a mathematical insight that solves the problem. For example, see in a classic text on quantum mechanics by David Parks: “The foregoing explanation of the velocity paradox involves no new assumptions; the basic trick, the representation of a modulated wave as the superposition of two (or more) unmodulated ones, has already been used to explain interference phenomena…”

This is a point that has been made repeatedly ever since the CRU emails were released last November.

The fourth and final allegation will be reviewed by an investigation committee because the inquiry committee wanted a group of professors (the inquiry committee was composed of administrators) to determine if Mann’s private emails cast doubt on his professionalism and because of the risks to PSU’s public reputation. In addition, the administrators didn’t feel that they could judge what qualified as “accepted practice” for Mann and his field of climatology when accepted practice can vary from one scientific discipline to another.

Overall, however, the PSU inquiry committee found that the three allegations of research misconduct were all without merit and that they were unqualified to determine whether the final allegation had merit or not.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the news of Mann’s exoneration on three of the four accusations has been met with spin from partisan media, accusations of bias, and even claims of conspiracy.

While there’s been a number of media sites that spun this story in a fashion that focused exclusively on the investigation while downplaying the fact that the three most serious allegations were all found to be without merit, this Washington Examiner piece went a bit too far with their spin. They wrote that PSU officials were investigating “at least one charge of professional misconduct.” Given that the inquiry report found exactly one potential problem, the “at least one” is unjustified and represents blatant spin.

Update: World Net Daily commits as great a sin of spin as the Washington Examiner does, claiming that “[e]ven colleagues want ‘warming’ scientist investigated” and “[a] panel of fellow faculty members at Penn State University has recommended further investigation….” Make that University administrators, not fellow faculty. There’s also no mention of the fact that Mann was exonerated on three of four allegations, an attempt to show that Mann is out of step with mainstream scientists by comparing him to the thoroughly debunked OISM Petition Project, and pointing to the biased and flawed work of Icecap’s Joe D’Aleo.

Paul Chesser at the American Spectator blog has forgone the spin and flat-out accused the University of bias. Chesser says that the PSU committee’s reference to the CRU emails as “stolen” casts doubt on the committee’s objectivity, that the administrators can’t be objective given the fact that Mann’s reputation reflects on theirs, and he accuses PSU of committing a “whitewash.” Tobacco and Big Oil shill Steve Milloy also accused PSU of bias in a press release that accuses the committee of not being thorough and essentially calls them liars with respect to whether or not Mann deleted emails under an FOI request from the UK. And here’s another example, from Pajamas Media, where the common “whitewash” and “greywash” memes of Milloy and American Spectator are again repeated.

Update: More accusations of supposed “whitewash” by Green Hell, and Andrew Bolt (with grand conspiracy claims in the comments).

But the posts get really interesting at blogs like Michelle Malkin’s and Big Government, where the commentators claim outright that this is an example of a leftist/socialist/statist plot, or that PSU is beholden to the money that Mann has brought into the university, or that Mann is guilty of fraud and deserves to be imprisoned. James Delingpole at the Telegraph is perhaps the most extreme, claiming that “Michael Mann is as innocent as OJ” and repeating false claims about Mann’s work on the pre-industrial temperature record.

And, given the history between Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit and Mann, as well as the climate disruption denial stoked by both McIntyre and Anthony Watts of Wattsupwiththat, it’s not surprising that both blogs illustrate spin, bias, and paranoid conspiracies.

Thankfully, Mann has his defenders as well, among them Kevin Grandia of DeSmogBlog and the Huffington Post, Pete Altman at the NRDC Switchboard blog, climatologist and science blogger Eli Rabett, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, to name just a few.

And there are a number of other observers of this investigation who view it as a partial exoneration because they take the PSU inquiry committee at their word barring proof of misconduct by the committee itself. In fact, most of the traditional media falls into this category, such as James Broder of the NYTimes, The Canadian Press, The Seattle Times, even Ars Technica.

Update: Some more examples of good reporting on the PSU finding include The LA Times, the Catallaxy Files blog, and The Great Beyond blog at Nature.

This story isn’t over. Mann said as much in his statement:

Three of the four allegations have been dismissed completely. Even though no evidence to substantiate the fourth allegation was found, the University administrators thought it best to convene a separate committee of distinguished scientists to resolve any remaining questions about academic procedures.

This particular chapter in the Climategate saga won’t be closed until after the five faculty investigation committee completes their investigation into the last allegation sometime in the next 120 days. And if the response of the denialosphere to this partial exoneration is any indication, the Mann saga won’t be over even then. What will probably happen with respect to Mann is what has happened repeatedly with respect to climate disruption science over the last decade or more – self-described skeptics and climate disruption deniers will claim that this time it’s the end of climate disruption.

No, this time.

No, this time….

Disclosure: I attended PSU for my BSEE back in the 1990s.

Thanks to Kevin Grandia of DeSmogBlog for posting this over at HuffPo, where I initially came across it.

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