Monday, November 29, 2010

Experts claim 2006 climate report plagiarized

A pivotal 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.

A report by George Mason University statistician Edward Wegman (right)
criticized earlier research led by scientist Michael Mann that said global temperatures were highest in the last century than the previous 1,000 years.

But according to plagiarism experts, 'significant' sections of the 91-page report were lifted from 'textbooks, Wikipedia and the writings of one of the scientists criticized in the report'.

The Wegman report called into question Michael Mann's so-called 'hockey stick' graph which suggested a rapid rise in recent global temperatures.

The study was lauded as 'independent, impartial, expert' work and helped shape the
US's policy on climate change but its credibility has now been called into question.

The allegations come as some in Congress call for more investigations of climate scientists like the one that produced the Wegman report.
"It kind of undermines the credibility of your work criticizing others' integrity when you don't conform to the basic rules of scholarship," Virginia Tech plagiarism expert Skip Garner said.

"The report was integral to congressional hearings about climate
scientists," says Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. "And it preceded a lot of conspiratorial thinking polluting the public debate today about climate scientists."

But in March, climate scientist Raymond Bradley (right) of the University of
Massachusetts asked GMU, based in Fairfax, Va., to investigate "clear plagiarism" of one of his textbooks.

Bradley says he learned of the copying on the Deep Climate website and through a year-long analysis of the Wegman report made by retired computer scientist John Mashey of Portola Valley, Calif. Mashey's analysis concludes that 35 of the report's 91 pages "are mostly plagiarized text, but often injected with errors, bias and changes of meaning." Copying others' text or ideas without crediting them violates universities' standards, according to Liz Wager of the London-based Committee on Publication Ethics.

Allegations under review

"The matter is under investigation," says GMU spokesman Dan Walsch
by e-mail. In a phone interview, Wegman said he could not comment at the university's request. In an earlier e-mail Wegman sent to Joseph Kunc of the University of Southern California, however, he called the plagiarism charges "wild conclusions that have nothing to do with reality."

The plagiarism experts queried by USA TODAY disagree after viewing the Wegman report:
  • "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.
As an example, one section of the Wegman report reads: 'The average width of a tree ring is a function of many variables including the tree species, tree age, stored carbohydrates in the tree, nutrients in the soil, and climatic factors.'

A book by Prof Bradley, meanwhile, states: 'The mean width of a ring in any one tree is a function of many variables, including the tree species, tree age, availability of stored food within the tree and of important nutrients in the soil, and a whole complex of climatic factors.'
The report was requested in 2005 by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas (left), then the
head of the House energy committee. Barton cited the report in an October letter to The Washington Post when he wrote that Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann's work was "rooted in fundamental errors of methodology that had been cemented in place as 'consensus' by a closed network of friends."

The Wegman report criticized 1998 and 1999 reports led by Michael
Mann (Bradley was a co-author) that calculated global temperatures over the last millennium. It also contained an analysis of Mann's co-authors that appears partly cribbed from Wikipedia, Garner says.

Lisa Miller, a spokeswoman for Barton, reiterated the congressman's support of the Wegman report on Monday, saying it "found significant statistical issues" with climate studies.

A 2006 report by the National Research Council (NRC), which examines scientific disputes under a congressional charter, largely
validated Mann, Bradley and the other climate scientists, according to Texas A&M's Gerald North, the panel's head. The NRC report found that Wegman report-style criticisms of the type of statistics used in 1998 and 1999 papers were reasonable but beside the point, as many subsequent studies had reproduced their finding that the 20th century was likely the warmest one in centuries.

In a 2007 presentation at the university, report co-author Yasmin Said of GMU said that a Barton committee staffer, Peter Spencer, provided the background material for the report. "Although Dr. Said's presentation seemed to imply that we were being coached by the
Republicans by being given only their selected materials to look at, this was not true," Wegman said in response to a USA TODAY freedom-of-information act request.

In an updated response that he authorized on Monday, Wegman said, "In fact, when we had our initial interview with Peter Spencer, he made it very clear that the Committee wanted our opinion as statisticians as to the correctness of the mathematics used to develop the Hockey Stick (the 1999 and 1998 papers), and he explicitly told us that they wanted the truth as we saw it."

Wegman added, "I will say that there is a lot of speculation and
conspiracy theory in John Mashey's analysis which is simply not true... These attacks are unprecendented in my 42 years as an academic and scholar. We are not the bad guys and we have never intended that our Congressional testimony was intended to take intellectual credit for any aspect of paleoclimate reconstruction science or for any original research aspect of social network analysis."

Information not forthcoming

The Wegman report called for improved "sharing of research materials, data and results" from scientists. But in response to a request for
materials related to the report, GMU said it "does not have access to the information." Separately in that response, Wegman said his "email was downloaded to my notebook computer and was erased from the GMU mail server," and he would not disclose any report communications or materials because the "work was done off-site," aside from one meeting with Spencer.
"It's nothing personal. I don't want these guys fired or anything," Bradley says. "They should just retract or withdraw the report as you would any scientific publication that has these sort of problems."
USA Today,
"Experts claim 2006 climate report plagiarized", by Dan Vergano, accessed November 25, 2010
DailyMail, "Influential climate change report 'was copied from Wikipedia'" , accessed November 25, 2010

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