Mann Overboard

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Executive Summary: Pennsylvania State University announced on February 3rd that it will begin an investigation into Professor Michael Mann’s research conduct, and whether he has “engage[d] in, or participate[ed] in, directly or indirectly, any actions that deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities.” The inquiry committee also decided that there was “no credible evidence” for three types of research misconduct, listed in the full report.

Accuracy in Academia has identified several concerns regarding the inquiry committee’s report and Penn State’s ongoing conflicts of interest in conducting Professor Mann’s investigation:

  • Penn State has millions of dollars in ongoing grants for which Prof. Mann is either a principal investigator or co-investigator;
  • The University’s messaging displays a distinct bias in favor of Professor Mann; the latter issued a statement which called the committee’s report a “vindication” the day it was released;
  • The inquiry committee report states that Professor Mann “explained” that he had not falsified data or suppressed critics, among other accusations, but does not provide the public with transcripts of his testimony or other relevant research documents.

Special Report

Obstacles in the Mann Investigation

Penn State has begun the next stage of investigation into climate researcher Michael Mann’s behavior, upgrading the proceedings from a committee “inquiry” about allegations of misconduct into a full investigation of his conduct by a panel of five tenured faculty members. The University is, however, dropping questions about whether Prof. Mann engaged in “misconduct” and focusing instead on whether Prof. Mann engaged in academically appropriate “conduct.”

University “Policy RA-10 speaks not just of research misconduct but also of research conduct and is explicit regarding the responsibility that we have as scientists to maintain the public trust,” the inquiry committee report states (formatting original).

The Penn State inquiry committee concluded that there was “no credible evidence” to support the following three (of four) questions:

1)      “Did [Mr. Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to suppress or falsify data?”

2)      “Did [Mr. 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?”

3)      “Did [Mr. Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any misuse of privileged or confidential information available to you in your capacity as an academic scholar?”

With regards to the second question, the committee reports that Professor Mann did not destroy emails relevant to a British freedom of information request, as University of East Anglia Professor Phil Jones had requested of Prof. Mann in one leaked “ClimateGateemail. Prof. Jones has stepped down from his position as Director of UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) pending an investigation by Sir Muir Russell.

In the reply email to Jones—who had requested that Prof. Mann “delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4” and contact “Gene” for him—the latter writes, “… I’ll contact Gene about this ASAP. His new email is: …,” according to the ClimateGate Document Database.

The email in question does not make it clear to which of Prof. Jones’ requests Professor Mann is responding.

The Penn State inquiry committee report states that “On January 18, 2010, Dr. Mann provided a zip-archive of these emails and an explanation of their content. In addition, Dr. Mann provided a ten page supplemental written response to the matters discussed during his interview.” The inquiry committee did not provide detailed information about Prof. Mann’s testimony, nor the “ten page supplemental” response, although the released report does note that “Dr. Michael E. Mann has consented to the public release of this report” (formatting original).

After the investigation begins, the investigatory committee will have 120 days to determine whether Professor Mann “deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities,” according to the report and University policy RA-10.

However, several parts of the comittee’s initial inquiry lend themselves to the conclusion that the Penn State investigation will likely remain toothless.

1.) Penn State has unresolved and significant financial conflicts of interest at both the inquiry and investigation stages.

Penn State has received millions of dollars in grants related to Professor Mann’s research. As Professor Mann’s publicly-available curriculum vitae states, he is

  • currently a co-investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of approximately $1.9 million, which runs through 2013;
  • the principal investigator on a NSF grant of approximately $540,000, which runs through 2012; and
  • a co-investigator on a Department of Energy (DOE) grant of $330,000 which runs through 2011.

All told, Prof. Mann’s “Funded Proposals” section of his CV demonstrates indicates that he has connections to approximately $6 million in funding since 1996. According to his CV, Prof. Mann joined Penn State in 2005; over $4 million of the aforementioned funds to which Prof. Mann is connected were granted after he began working for Penn State.

Given this significant financial interest, it is unclear how Penn State officials can embark upon an unbiased, impartial investigation of Prof. Mann’s research (mis)conduct.

2) Messaging from Penn State at the beginning of the inquiry is nearly identical to the results of the inquiry; they cite reports favorable to Prof. Mann’s research to the exclusion of critical reports.

Penn State has repeatedly pointed to a 2006 National Academy of Sciences report, “Surface Temperature Reconstruction for the Last 2,000 Years,” as demonstrating that Mann and his fellow researchers’ research has held up to “in depth investigation” of his research regarding the hockey-stick climate graph.

“Professor Michael Mann is a highly regarded member of the Penn State faculty conducting research on climate change,” states the November Penn State release (pdf), continuing,

“… In November 2005, Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) requested that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) convene a panel of independent experts to investigate Professor Mann’s seminal 1999 reconstruction of the global surface temperature over the past 1,000 years. The resulting 2006 report of the NAS panel ( concluded that Mann’s results were sound and has been subsequently supported by an array of evidence that includes additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions. …”

Similarly, the February 3 committee inquiry report uses both the same evidence and conclusion as the earlier statement:

“In 2006, similar questions were asked about Dr. Mann and these questions motivated the National Academy of Sciences to undertake an in depth investigation of his research. The committee that wrote the report on surface temperature reconstructions found that Dr. Mann’s science did fall well within the bounds of accepted practice. What has changed since that time is that private emails have come to our attention, and that of the public at large, that give us a glimpse into the behind the scenes workings of Dr. Mann and many of his colleagues in the conduct of their science” (emphasis added).

The inquiry committee also maintains that it is “only considering Dr. Mann’s conduct” and not the science of global warming.

The NAS publication, “Surface Temperature Reconstruction for the Last 2,000 Years,” takes a much more moderated approach toward Mann et. al’s science than the committee implies. “As part of their statistical methods, Mann et al. used a type of principal component analysis that tends to bias the shape of the reconstructions,” states the 2006 report, which finds that “In practice, this method, though not recommended, does not appear to unduly influence reconstructions of hemispheric mean temperature…”

Later, the NAS publication upholds Mann et. al’s basic conclusion “that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years,” but it does provide varying levels of confidence for the researchers’ other conclusions. It states,

“Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium. The substantial uncertainties currently present in the quantitative assessment of large-scale surface temperature changes prior to about A.D. 1600 lower our confidence in this conclusion compared to the high level of confidence we place in the Little Ice Age cooling and 20th century warming. Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium” because the uncertainties inherent in temperature reconstructions for individual years and decades are larger than those for longer time periods, and because not all of the available proxies record temperature information on such short timescales. However, the methods in use are evolving…” (emphasis added).

So this Ph.D. has a hard time predicting the recorded past.

Others, such as George Mason University Professor Edward Wegman, have been far more critical of Prof. Mann’s research.

“Overall, our committee believes that Mann’s assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade of the millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium cannot be supported by his analysis,” concludes the 2006 Wegman report (pdf), co-authored by Wegman, David W. Scott of Rice University and Yasmin H. Said from Johns Hopkins. According to the House Committee website, Dr. Mann, Dr. Wegman and Mr. Stephen McIntyre, who has been strongly critical of Dr. Mann’s research, were called to testify as well as University of Alabama in Huntsville Professor John R. Christy, NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone and Pew Center on Global Climate Change senior research fellow Dr. Jay Gulledge. (Their testimonies can be viewed at the hyperlinks attached to each name).

Wegman et. al argue in their 2006 report that, “In our further exploration of the social network of authorships in temperature reconstruction, we found that at least 43 authors have direct ties to Dr. Mann by virtue of coauthored papers with him. Our findings from this analysis suggest that authors in the area of paleoclimate studies are closely connected and thus ‘independent studies’ may not be as independent as they might appear on the surface.” The number of climatologists with professional connections to or deriving their research from Prof. Mann’s scholarship has likely increased since 2006.

3) Full records of the inquiry, including Prof. Mann’s testimony and the committee’s research documentation, were not made available to the public.

On February 3, McIntyre argued on Climate Audit that Penn State did not appear to have followed its own procedures with regard to the Mann inquiry, as outlined in policy RA-10. “The Inquiry Report says that their interview with Mann was recorded and transcribed. Despite the RA-10 requirement that the written report include a “copy of all interview transcripts’, [sic] the Inquiry Report did not contain a transcript of the interview with Mann,” he writes.

Actually, the RA-10 policy states that “A written report shall be prepared that states what evidence was reviewed, a copy of all interview transcripts and/or summaries, and includes the conclusions of the inquiry” (emphasis added). The inquiry committee writes that Professor Mann’s testimony was transcribed, but they only made public summaries of these proceeding.

“On January 22, 2010, the inquiry committee and Dr. Brune met again to review the evidence, including but not limited to Dr. Mann’s answers to the committee’s questions, both in the interview and in his subsequent submissions,” states one paragraph from the report. “All were impressed by Dr. Mann’s composure and his forthright responses to all of the queries that were asked of him” (emphasis added). However, Prof. Mann’s responses aren’t actually outlined in the public report. Readers therefore must take confidence that the conclusions of the inquiry committee, which included and/or consulted faculty from Prof. Mann’s own college, are sound.

Documents which the inquiry committee says were compiled but did not release to the public include:

  • a transcript of Professor Mann’s testimony,
  • Professor Mann’s “ten page supplemental written response to the matters discussed during his interview,”
  • the contents of Mann’s zip-drive of emails discussing “the fourth IPCC report (‘AR4’),”
  • which publicly-available information (blogs, news articles, etc.) the inquiry committee surveyed, and
  • transcripts of the testimony provided by Texas A&M professor Dr. Gerald North, “the first author of the NAS’ 2006 report on Dr. Mann’s research on paleoclimatology,” and Stanford’s Dr. Donald Kennedy, former editor of Science Magazine, which were made on behalf of Professor Mann. “Both were very supportive of Dr. Mann and of the credibility of his science,” states the report.

4) The inquiry committee report’s wording shows partiality toward Prof. Mann.

The phraseology adopted by the committee in their report implies that they are far from impartial toward the inquiry—and investigation’s—outcome. For example, Prof. Mann didn’t “demonstrate” why the accusations are wrong, he “explained” (emphasis added) that “he had never falsified any data,” nor “manipulated data to serve a given predetermined outcome,” and “never used inappropriate influence in reviewing papers” by critical scientists, etc, according to the report. Upon what objective criteria were these determinations made?

The evidence provided, according to the report, was 377 ClimateGate emails, Prof. Mann’s zip drive of emails, and “journal articles, OP-ED columns, newspaper and magazine articles, the [NAS report] … and various blogs on the internet” as well as, mentioned above, favorable testimony from other professors. Which “journal articles, OP-ED columns, newspaper and magazine articles…and various blogs on the internet” the inquiry surveyed are not specified; this makes it difficult for the public to ascertain how comprehensive or impartial the committee’s research was.

In sum,” the report concludes, “the overriding sentiment of this committee, which is composed of University administrators, is that allegation #4 revolves around the question of accepted faculty conduct surrounding scientific discourse and thus merits a review by a committee of faculty scientists. Only with such a review will the academic community and other interested parties likely feel that Penn State has discharged it responsibility on this matter.(bolding in original, italics added).

Since the release of the report Prof. Mann has issued a statement saying that he felt “vindicated” by the committee’s findings.

“Three of the four allegations have been dismissed completely,” Prof. Mann stated on his website on February 3. “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 is very much the vindication I expected since I am confident I have done nothing wrong,” he writes.

Conservatives have expressed ongoing skepticism of Penn State’s impartiality and have called for an independent review of Professor Michael Mann’s conduct.

On January 12, the Pennsylvania-based conservative Commonwealth Foundation called for an independent investigation of Prof. Mann, and, more recently, condemned the inquiry committee’s report as a “whitewash.”

“Penn State has such a vested interest in keeping the big research dollars that are flowing in as a result of the global climate change research they’re doing now. It’s hard to imagine how Penn State can truly take an independent look at the situation,” Stephen Bloom*, a Cumberland County attorney and Penn State graduate told a local news station in January. (Bloom appeared in the excerpted broadcast to have been speaking at the same location as the January 12th Commonwealth Foundation press conference).

The Daily Collegian Online, an independent Penn State student publication, reported on February 1st that the campus Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) “will host a demonstration” on February 12 “in front of the HUB to protest what the group feels is a violation of academic integrity…”

“The 9-12 Project of Central PA, a conservative group, will join the demonstration,” writes Colleen Boyle for The Daily Collegian.

Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), a long-time critic of climate-change science, also called for an independent investigation of Professor Mann, reports John M. Broder for the New York Times on February 3. “Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, a skeptic of climate change called for an independent investigation,” Broder writes. “We need to reassure the American people that their tax dollars are supporting objective scientific research rather than political agendas,” he quotes the Senator.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.

*Full Disclosure: Bloom, Esq. is currently an adjunct instructor at my alma mater, Messiah College, according to his website; I have not met him.