Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, August 25, 2011 8:16 pm

Remember how climatologist Michael Mann was fabricating climate-change research?

Not so much, it turns out:

An investigation by the National Science Foundation has found no evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct by Penn State climate-change researcher Michael Mann.

Mann, Penn State professor of meteorology, was the target of accusations from climate-change skeptics after thousands of e-mails exchanged between climate-change researchers were hacked from the University of East Anglia and made public.

Critics pointed to the e-mails as evidence that Mann and other scientists had hidden and manipulated data to bolster the argument for global warming.

The university was swamped with e-mails and calls criticizing Mann. Although no formal allegations were made, the university formed a panel of five faculty members to investigate the Mann’s conduct.

The panel found no evidence of research misconduct in three of the four areas it examined, including falsifying data and misusing confidential information.  But it concluded that further investigation was needed into whether Mann did anything not in keeping with accepted practices for proposing, conducting or reporting research.

University Vice President for Research Henry C. Foley said the Office of Inspector General then reviewed both the allegations of research misconduct against Mann and the university’s inquiry.

“We appreciate the Inspector General’s careful assessment of the facts involved in this case,” Foley said in a news release issued Tuesday by Penn State. “The report clearly exonerates Professor Mann from any professional improprieties in his research, and adds credibility to the university’s own process of inquiry, which the OIG findings essentially upheld.”

A closeout memorandum by the Inspector General’s office on the case states that “as part of our investigation, we again fully reviewed all the reports and documentation the University provided to us, as well as a substantial amount of publically available documentation concerning both (Mann’s) research and parallel research conducted by his collaborators and other scientists in that particular field of research.”

The review notes “the research in question was originally completed over 10 years ago. Although the subject’s data is still available and still the focus of significant critical examination, no direct evidence has been presented that indicates the subject fabricated the raw data he used for his research or falsified his results.”.

I’m quite sure this will shut all the denialists up.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010 12:44 pm

Dear Washington Post: Just die already

Dinesh D’Souza recently published a book suggesting that President Obama is full of anger that he inherited from his anticolonialist Kenyan father. Or something like that. And Forbes magazine published a D’Souza cover story harping on the same theme.

You have to be seriously screwed up to attract criticism from the right-wing noise machine. D’Souza is seriously screwed up. Even the race-baiting, vote-suppressing Right couldn’t stomach this. Card-carrying member David Frum wrote, “When last was there such a brazen outburst of race-baiting in the service of partisan politics at the national level? George Wallace took more care to sound race-neutral.”

So you would think that any reputable news organization wouldn’t touch this crap with a 10-foot pole. And you’d be right. But The Washington Post isn’t, and for quite some time hasn’t been, a reputable news organization. A couple of days ago it published an op-ed from D’Souza rehashing some of these same themes. Even outgoing Post media critic Howard Kurtz, who never has a harsh word to say about his soon-to-be-ex-employer, found this decision inexplicable.

Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt was asked why he ran the piece. He said, “I approved publication of this Op-Ed. D’Souza’s theory has sparked a great deal of commentary, from potential presidential candidates as well as from commentators on our own pages.”

Memo to Hiatt: Lots of things spark a great deal of commentary, among them Klan marches, allegations that the president is not a U.S. citizen, and arguments in favor of creationism. But “sparking a great deal of commentary” is not, by itself, grounds for giving a wacko a forum on the op-ed page of what is supposed to be one of the country’s greatest newspapers. And the fact that I even have to explain this to you proves you are unqualified for the job you hold. And, no, publishing Michael Mann’s excellent piece calling out politicians on their hostility to the inconvenient truths yielded by disinterested scientific research doesn’t get you off the hook.

Friday, July 2, 2010 6:04 am

Cleared

Michael Mann, the former UVa climatologist now at Penn State, has been cleared unanimously by a second Penn State committee of scientific misconduct.

This has not stopped Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli from pursuing a witch hunt, ostensibly to investigate grant fraud (though no state grant money was at issue in Mann’s work).

Sure, there’s a tendency among climate-change skeptics to believe that any internal university probe would be nothing more than a whitewash, and I have a certain sympathy for that viewpoint (except when it comes from groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute that are funded by carbon interests). But from Day One in Mann’s case, there has never been any there there.

Thursday, June 3, 2010 8:19 pm

Yeah, there’s fraud, all right …

… but, despite what Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli might think, former University of Virginia climate-change researcher Michael Mann ain’t the one who’s committing it:

Whatever the judicial doctrine of academic freedom may mean, at its heart it must protect those exercising core First Amendment rights—like researching, writing, speaking, and teaching. If government officials are allowed to dictate how the faculty exercises those rights, they are surely impinging on free speech. Indeed, the government impinges most directly on free speech by threatening to prosecute faculty for academic work that is wrong, shoddy, incomplete, mistaken, or fraudulent.

And this is precisely what Cuccinelli has asserted. He says he issued the subpoena because he wants to explore allegations that Michael Mann falsified data in his scholarship. Despite the fact that multiple academic inquiries into Mann’s research have vindicated him, it’s important to understand what the attorney general seeks to do here: Cuccinelli is not alleging fiscal fraud—he isn’t saying Mann used state funds to buy a Mercedes or finance trips to Aruba. Instead, Cuccinelli is investigating the scientific scholarship to make sure it meets his standard of academic integrity.

Using the threat of criminal or civil sanction to pursue “academic fraud” is the paradigm First Amendment case. Academic fraud is essentially what the authorities charged Galileo with—when he dared question the conventional religious wisdom that the sun revolved around the earth. It is what prosecutors alleged when they threatened academics during the Red Scare. And it is exactly what Cuccinelli is alleging here. The UVA subpoena violates both the individual rights of academics engaged in the exercise of speech rights on matters of public concern and the autonomy rights of the university to act independently from the government, as Frankfurter described in Sweezy.

“Academic fraud” is too easily used to suppress ideas that the authorities do not want to hear—in one case, the earth revolves around the sun; in another case, the earth is warming. It may be that what academics say is wrong, it may be that their methodologies are faulty, it may even be that they are twisting the evidence or making stuff up. But the government, through its prosecutors, cannot say anything about that.

I would add that not only is there zero evidence that Mann has committed academic fraud, we have multiple, independent reviews of his work that have found it sound. Pat Robertson protege Ken Cuccinelli is in this for the politics, pure and simple. Sadly, the only remedy for this kind of official misconduct is political as well.

Saturday, May 1, 2010 11:03 pm

“Say goodbye to science in Virginia.”

Virginia’s attorney general, Pat Robertson acolyte Ken Cuccinelli (and although I call him Robertson’s acolyte, I should clarify that I have no evidence suggesting Robertson ever sexually molested Cuccinelli), has gone fishin‘:

Now, it appears, [Cuccinelli] may be preparing a legal assault on an embattled proponent of global warming theory who used to teach at the University of Virginia, Michael Mann.

In papers sent to UVA April 23, Cuccinelli’s office commands the university to produce a sweeping swath of documents relating to Mann’s receipt of nearly half a million dollars in state grant-funded climate research conducted while Mann— now director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State— was at UVA between 1999 and 2005.

If Cuccinelli succeeds in finding a smoking gun like the purloined emails that led to the international scandal dubbed Climategate, Cuccinelli could seek the return of all the research money, legal fees, and trebled damages.

“Since it’s public money, there’s enough controversy to look in to the possible manipulation of data,” says Dr. Charles Battig, president of the nonprofit Piedmont Chapter Virginia Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment, a group that doubts the underpinnings of climate change theory.

Mann is one of the lead authors of the controversial “hockey stick graph,” which contends that global temperatures have experienced a sudden and unprecedented upward spike (like the shape of a hockey stick).

Translation: Cuccinelli’s going to try to create a whole new East Anglia brouhaha in Charlottesville, and never mind that the East Anglia scientists were cleared of all accusations of wrongdoing. Prediction: He’ll find something that he doesn’t understand, claim that it is a Bad Thing, and laugh up his sleeve as the scientifically illiterate media go along with him.

Even if my prediction is wrong, and even granting that a state AG has a right and even a duty to ensure that state funds are not misused, given the lack of probable cause to believe anyone has done anything wrong*, this strikes me as political harassment, pure and simple.

*”Somebody said some guys at a different university in a completely different country did something wrong (but they really didn’t)” does not constitute probable cause. Just sayin’.

UPDATE: What Cuccinelli is up to when he’s not on fishing expeditions:

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli apparently isn’t fond of wardrobe malfunctions, even when Virginia’s state seal is involved.

The seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus, or virtue, wearing a blue tunic draped over one shoulder, her left breast exposed. But on the new lapel pins Cuccinelli recently handed out to his staff, Virtus’ bosom is covered by an armored breastplate.

When the new design came up at a staff meeting, workers in attendance said Cuccinelli joked that it converts a risqué image into a PG one.

The joke might be on him, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

“When you ask to be ridiculed, it usually happens. And it will happen here, nationally,” he said. “This is classical art, for goodness’ sake.”

Apparently just being a screwup at his job wasn’t generating enough persecuted-Christian hormones to warm the cockles of Cuccinelli’s Robertsonian heart, so now he’s pulling an Ashcroft and draping the government’s iconography. Yo, Ken, from one Christian to another, stop making us look bad, bro.

Previously.

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