Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mashey on Wegman 

Edward Wegman is a professor at George Mason University. In 2006,at the request of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (both Republicans), he led a small team of statisticians in examining the claims, made by Michael Mann and others, to have reconstructed past temperatures based on various proxy indicators, and to have therefore shown that present temperatures in the planet's Northern hemisphere were "unprecedented" over the past 1,000 or so years. Wegman's report criticized these claims quite harshly and, though Mann's arguments have been largely sustained by mainstream scientists, The Wegman Report has nevertheless been embraced by denialists and members of the Republican Party in the U.S. Congress.

John Mashey is an American computer scientist, best known as the creator of the "Mashey Shell". He has also done some fascinating research on, for example, the demographics of the AGW denialist movement, which I have written about here and here. However, his latest project, appearing on the Deep Climate website, is more important by several orders of magnitude.

Because, in essence, Mashey is accusing the writers of The Wegman Report (whether these were Wegman himself or others on his team) of plagiarism, among a host of other forms of academic mis-conduct:

Of 91 pages, 35 are mostly plagiarized text, but often injected with errors, bias and changes of meaning. Its Bibliography is mostly padding, 50% of the references uncited in the text. Many references are irrelevant or dubious. The team relied heavily on a long-obsolete sketch and very likely on various uncredited sources. Much of the work was done by Said (then less than 1 year post-PhD) and by students several years pre-PhD. The (distinguished) 2nd author Scott wrote only a 3-page standard mathematical Appendix. Some commenters were surprised to be later named as serious “reviewers.

In his recommendations, Mashey suggests:

George Mason University ought to investigate many problems, as should several other universities and journals, the US Office of Research Integrity and perhaps the American Statistical Association (ethics issues). At least 4 agencies may have possible fund mis-uses to consider. Some authors or publishers might pursue copyright issues. Congress and the DoJ should investigate the manufacture of the Wegman Report. Possible felonies are covered by the US Code, 18.U.S.C §1001 (misleading Congress), §371 (conspiracy), §4 (misprision), which might involve many more people. The report lists about 30 issues, not all for Wegman Report itself, but including derivations and related activities.

I should emphasize once again that this is serious stuff. For one thing, the accusations leave Mr. Mashey and the folks at DC open to a possible lawsuit. However, the instances of plagiarism, padding, and "dubious" citations are so thoroughly documented (here)that I think their case has been pretty much demonstrated. To give just one example, the Wegman Report bibliography references:

Valentine, Tom (1987) "Magnetics may hold key to ozone layer problems," Magnets, 2(1) 18-26.

It turns out that Mr. Valentine has no relevant scientific background. Furthermore, he has also written about engines that consume no fuel, psychic surgery, and other like topics in addition to the ozone hole. Remember again that The Wegman Report was presented to the U.S. congress as a piece of reputable science.

In any case, Mashey's research is also serious stuff because of its timing. The U.S. Republicans may walk away from November's mid-term elections with control of the House, Senate, or perhaps both chambers, and they have already promised to launch witch-hunts against climate scientists. It would be useful to have Mr. Wegman, should he be on the witness list in one of these show trials, confronted with some of the irregularities in his own research.

For more information, Joe Romm has a good account here.


John Mashey said...

Minor nit: I distinguish between:

1) The Wegman Report
which certainly contains massive plagiarism, and worse with clear errors and distortions introduced.

2) Wegman himself.

It is of course, unknown exactly who did the plagiarism, although:

a) Wegman certainly signed off on the Report.

b) I presented a lot of evidence that argue towards Said as the most likely person to have actually done the original plagiarism, and that Wegman sometimes didn't even seem very familiar with the WR's own Summaries, much less the underlying articles.

c) My opinion is that it is very unlikely that Wegman himself did it.

3) But in some sense that is worse... as can be seen in section 2.7, Page tally.

35 pages of plagiarism, including all of the basic review of literature.

7 pages of awful blbiliography.

5 pages of Literature Review, mostly consolidating the Summaries of Important Papers.

That's already 47 pages, more than half of the 91, not even counting the 11 that are just acknowledged copies of something else, or the 8 pages of Social Social Network Analysis (much of the work doen by Rigsby, but maybe some written by Said). Now, it's possible that some of the SNA plagiarism was done by Rigsby or Sharabati...

but it doesn't matter: more than half of the Wegman Report was almost certainly put together by someone <1 year post PhD, with no obvious relevant expertise, whose lack shows, and maybe with help from some grad students ... presented as the work of "eminent statisticians."

bigcitylib said...

Alright, I'll fiddle with text to make that clear.

Gerrard787 said...

The hit job on Wegman is coming from a known AGW zealot so pardon the rest of us if we don't nod our heads on cue.

Seriously BCL, credibility wise, Mashey is about as credible as the kooks over at deSmog.

I'll stick with Wegman.

John Cross said...

Paul S: you are entitled to your opinion of Mr. Mashey (I have been following his posts for a couple of years and he seems to make a lot of sense to me). However you did nothing to show anything wrong with his research. What specifically is wrong with his analysis?


Gerrard787 said...

John C., I've followed numerous AGW zealots for years. One thing they tend to have in common is their excessive use of character assassination. Mashey appears little different in my opinion.

Raising any concerns invariably leads to the person being labelled a denier or a stooge on the payroll of industry. For the record, Wegman performed his work pro bono and I consider his review of aspects of the science to be more credible then anything done by John Mashey.

In a country where the Greens can not even win a single seat and in a world where Copenhagen went down in flames and Cancun promises to be no different, people are taking a sober, hard-headed second look at the science of AGW.

Call them deniers if you like but you will have to get used to the heightened scrutiny.

bigcitylib said...

So of course this alleviates any need for Paul to read the actual documents linked to.

Jerome Bastien said...

So of course this alleviates any need for Paul to read the actual documents linked to.

The only documents worth reading in regards to AGW is the scientific literature which allegedly makes the case for AGW. Not whether someone in some camp did something stupid. Im sure there are tons of people who did stupid things on both sides of the argument.

Once you do that, you realize that all the models, and all the predictions are based on more than just the greenhouse effect, but on the feedbacks. The warming effect from a doubling of CO2 is about 1.2 degrees C and this is not really controversial even between alarmists and skeptics.

The feedbacks are hypothesized to be strong and positive, which when you put that in the model (surprise surprise), you get massive warming. Problem is there is no evidence that the feedbacks are strong and positive. More likely they are slightly negative.

The rest is just a sideshow for those who cant actually deal with actual science.

Lars said...

The rest is just a sideshow for those who cant actually deal with actual science.

What's your scientific background, Jerome? Degree? Institution? Where are you working now, and in what field?

In other words, what qualifications do you have for making any sort of limiting judgement whatsoever on scientific matters?

Holly Stick said...

John Cross, Paul S is a denialist commenter who has no scientific credentials and who shows up here and a few other places making stupid claims such as the Arctic ice is growing, etc. He's small beer. My theory is that he is or was an employee of Stelmach's propaganda department.

Gerrard787 said...

Holly illustrates nicely how AGW adherence and mindless ad homs go hand in hand.

Martin Vermeer said...

Paul S, the nice thing about this 'hit job' is that you can all check it out for yourself... plagiarism, once found, is a very unambiguous thing. You don't even need to understand the science! Just read and compare.

Seriously Paul, I'll stick with English reading comprehension.