Wegman Report’s “abysmal scholarship” revealed

by Gareth on September 30, 2010

A detailed investigation into the genesis of the 2006 Wegman Report — much beloved of climate sceptics because it was critical of the “hockey stick” paleoclimate reconstructions of Michael Mann (et al) — has shown it to be deeply flawed, stuffed with poorly-executed plagiarism, and very far from the “independent, impartial, expert” effort it was presented as to Congress. The new 250 page study, Strange scholarship in the Wegman Report (exec summary, full report) by John Mashey (with considerable assistance from Canadian blogger Deep Climate) finds that:

  • a third of the Wegman Report was plagiarised from other sources, without attribution
  • half of the references in the bibliography are not cited in the main text, and one reference is to “a fringe technology publication by a writer of pseudoscience”
  • a graph of central England temperatures from the first IPCC report was distorted and misrepresented
  • the supposedly impartial Wegman team were fed papers and references by a member of Republican Congressman Joe Barton’s staff
  • Wegman’s social network analysis of the authorship of “hockey team” papers was poor, and did not support the claims made of problems with peer-review in the field

Mashey points out that Wegman “claimed two missions: to evaluate statistical issues of the “hockey stick” temperature graph, and to assess potential peer review issues in climate science”. Instead, its real purpose was to:

#1 claim the hockey stick broken and #2 discredit climate science as a whole. All this was a facade for a PR campaign well-honed by Washington, DC “thinktanks” and allies, under way for years.

If you’ve ever attempted to follow the “hockey stick” controversy, Mashey’s study is an incredibly thorough and detailed dissection of the extent to which the whole effort has been underpinned by the usual suspects — the network of well-funded think tanks and their political allies. His conclusion is telling:

I think this was a well-organized effort, involving many people, to mislead the American public and Congress. The former happens often, but the latter can be a felony, as is conspiracy to do it, and not telling about it. [...] The Wegman Report misleads by avoidance of good scholarship, good science and even good statistics.

More on the Wegman scandal at Deep Climate, Not Spaghetti, and Scott Mandia’s Global Warming: Man or Myth?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Bloom September 30, 2010 at 7:30 am

That’s *Congressman* Barton, not Senator.

Gareth September 30, 2010 at 8:47 am

Thanks. Corrected. In my defence, it was late…

John D September 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm

and in contrast Mann’s work is good scholarship?

Gareth September 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Nice attempt to deflect attention. Let’s put this way, MBH98, the first “hockey stick” paper was a genuinely groundbreaking paper, that has inspired much good work. The Wegman Report was a shonky, politically inspired beat-up. Wegman promised that it would be published in the peer-reviewed literature. It never has been, and Mashey’s report nicely demonstrates why.

Doug September 30, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Yes it is was as a first attempt in a new area of study. The number of citations the first article recieved in other journals is indicative of its importance.

The use of proxies to assess pre instrumental historic climates is a developing and worthy area of study.

Kim September 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Gareth,

Speaking of the well-honed PR campaign to discredit real climate science I’d be interested if you or Bryan have reviewed any of the three books reviewed in this article. The first one looks specially good as it was written by a couple of PR guys who are obviously disturbed at how the argument is being framed in the media.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-alexander/exposed-global-warming-de_b_733733.html

Gareth September 30, 2010 at 3:20 pm

All three… ;-) Check under the book reviews at the top of the page.

Hank Roberts September 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

It’s improved over time. Old work isn’t up to today’s standards. Science improves.
Good pointer here: http://tamino.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/vindication/#comment-44628:

“Ljungqvist entered the fray at WUWT. He was replied to shortly with potted political histories of Mann et al 1999, and he replied&#8230″

tomfarmer September 30, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Kim & Gareth,

For what it is worth none of those titles were featured in the slide show talk Wegman gave the assemblage to his : 20 Questions for Statisticians a while back.

I’d suppose the reasons for this were to spice his audience with adequate emotional ‘balance’ on the one hand, whilst attain publisher sponsorship on the other.

John Mashey October 1, 2010 at 5:15 am

tomfarmer:

1) Well, to be fair, when Wegman gave his talk, none of those 3 books had yet been published.

2) Of course, those slides were cherry-picked out-of-context from Mike Mann’s rather different sequence.

3) That talk was so out of place in an ASA/NCAR workshop that I speculate it was created more for general use to non-expert audiences. From his later abstract, he seemed pleased to irritate climate scientists.

4) As for you idea on publisher sponsorship, that may be a thought.
Check the strange book that didn’t happen in A.3, supposed to have been published December 2007.

tomfarmer October 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm

John Mashey,

Re: (1) For the sake of ‘fair’ I’ll stand corrected by you. Fair being such a hard act to follow.

(2) Thanks for that. I can so easily believe it.

(3) Non-expert..? Fair bet I’d say. One way of getting away with things. Seems a common trait among the demonstrably less able, biased or ill-trained.

(4) Yes, given time I’ll do the check.

Congrats and thanks for both your commitment and diligent work.

John D September 30, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I take it you have read the comments about Steve McIntyre in the New Statesman?

http://www.newstatesman.com/global-issues/2010/09/climate-mcintyre-keeper

Whatever the “truth”, it seems clear where public opinion is heading.

Gareth September 30, 2010 at 8:33 pm

The laws of physics are not decided by public opinion.

Thomas September 30, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Money can buy elections and everything else, especially public opinion in countries like the USA, but as Garth put it bluntly, nature cares only about its own laws.
And while the public opinion in the USA has gone south (what do you expect from a people who my majority think that the theory of Evolution is wrong and the Earth is young) the Chinese are building the alternative energy technology of the future. Watch this space!

Richard T October 1, 2010 at 11:32 am

Having a quick glance at Mashey’s exec summary raises serious questions about academic mis-conduct and ourtight dishonesty by the Wegman report authors. Seem also that the statistics department at the George Mason University is a bit mickey-mouse with those students getting all those awards.

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