The saga of statistician turned climate science critic Edward Wegman and his protege Yasmin Said has taken yet another strange turn. The pair’s tenure as editors-in-chief at the Wiley journal they founded three years ago quietly came to an unceremonious end recently, while release of the hard-cover encyclopedia based on the journal also appears to have been delayed. Not only that, but it now seems that Yasmin Said’s stint as research assistant professor at George Mason University ended at the same time.
I had thought the saga of climate science critic Edward Wegman and the various allegations of misconduct in his recent work could not possibly get any more bizarre, especially in the wake of manifestly contradictory findings in two recently concluded investigations at George Mason University.
But in a shocking new development, it turns out that two problematic overview articles by Wegman and his protege and congressional report co-author Yasmin Said in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Computational Statistics (WIREs CS), have been completely revised. Those revisions saw the removal or rewriting of massive swathes of copy-and-paste scholarship, as well as correction of many errors identified by myself and others. In each case, the comprehensive revisions came “at the request of the Editors-in-Chief and the Publisher”, following complaints to Wiley alleging wholesale plagiarism. But Wegman and Said also happen to be two of the three chief editors of WIREs CompStat, thus raising compelling concerns of conflict of interest, to say the least.
In fact, it is very clear that Wiley’s own process for handling misconduct cases was egregiously abused in favour of a face-saving “redo” manoeuvre. And this latest episode raises disturbing new questions about the role of the third WIREs CS editor-in-chief (and “hockey stick” congressional report co-author) David Scott, and indeed Wiley management itself, in enabling the serial misconduct of Wegman and Said.
[Updates, Feb. 23-24: I have added extensive discussion "below the fold", starting with the section entitled GMU Process. The summary has been updated with additional links to side-by-side comparisons to enable readers to make their own judgments.]
Dan Vergano of USA Today reports on an “all faculty” announcement from George Mason University concerning the outcome of two faculty committee investigations of plagiarism charges against GMU statistics professor Edward Wegman.
One investigation concerned a 20o8 article by Wegman protege Yasmin Said, Wegman himself and two others in Computational Statistics & Data Analysis (CSDA). The committee upheld CSDAs previous plagiarism finding; as “team leader”, Wegman was found to bear responsibility and has been asked to retract the article and apologize to CSDA’s editor. GMU has also issued an official letter of reprimand confirming that finding of research misconduct.
A separate GMU committee investigated the 2006 congressional report commonly known as the Wegman Report, a critique of the Mann-Bradley-Hughes “hockey stick” reconstruction. That investigation held that “no scientific misconduct was involved”, only “extensive paraphrasing of another work” that was “referenced repeatedly”. [That finding holds that there was no plagiarism in Wegman Report background material derived from Raymond Bradley's Paleoclimatolgy; readers may judge side-by-side comparisons of the passages on tree-rings and ice core and coral proxies for themselves]. However, in a bizarre twist, it appears that the committee did not even consider side-by-side comparison of the Wegman Report’s long and unreferenced background section on social network analysis, part of which was reused in the later CSDA article and gave rise to the plagiarism finding in the other GMU case!
Today I present an analysis of a 2009 article by Yasmin Said and Edward Wegman of George Mason University. “Roadmap for Optimization” was published in the inaugural edition of WIREs Comp Stats, one of a new family of Wiley publications conceived as a “serial encyclopedia”. Wegman and Said, along with David Scott of Rice University, are also editors of the journal; the three are best known as co-authors of the 2006 “hockey stick” report to Congress, commissioned by Rep. Joe Barton.
As the title implies, the article was meant to provide a broad overview of mathematical optimization and set the stage for subsequent articles detailing various optimization techniques. However my analysis, entitled Suboptimal Scholarship: Antecedents of Said and Wegman 2009, demonstrates the highly problematic scholarship of the “Roadmap” article.
- No fewer than 15 likely online antecedent sources, all unattributed, have been identified, including 13 articles from Wikipedia and two others from Prof. Tom Ferguson and Wolfram MathWorld.
- Numerous errors have been identified, apparently arising from mistranscription, faulty rewording, or omission of key information.
- The scanty list of references appears to have been “carried along” from the unattributed antecedents; thus, these references may well constitute false citations.
First, I’ll present an abridged version of Suboptimal Scholarship summary as an overview of the analysis. Then I’ll take a look at a few examples showing the derivation of “Roadmap” from its antecedents, including some remarkable errors introduced in the process. And finally I’ll place this latest embarrassment in the context of the pattern of dubious scholarship evidenced by Wegman and Said over the last several years.
I examine the opening chapter by Edward Wegman and Jeffrey Solka in the 2005 Handbook of Statistics: Data Mining and Data Visualization (C Rao, E Wegman and J Solka, editors). Sections 3 (The Computer Science Roots of Data mining ), 5 (Databases), 6.2 ( Clustering) and 6.3 (Artificial Neural Networks) appear to be largely derived from unattributed antecedents; these include online tutorials and presentations on data mining, SQL and artificial neural networks, as well as Brian Everitt’s classic Cluster Analysis. All the identified passages, tables and figures were adapted from “copy-paste” material in earlier course lectures by Wegman. The introduction to Chapter 13 (on genetic algorithms) by Yasmin Said also appears to contain lightly edited material from unattributed sources, including an online FAQ on evolutionary computing and a John Holland Scientific American piece. Several errors introduced by editing and rearrangement of the material are identified, demonstrating the authors’ lack of familiarity with these particular subject areas. This extends a pattern of problematic scholarship previously noted in the work of Wegman and Said.
Early climate contrarian reactions to the retraction of Said, Wegman et al 2008 have grasped at straws, holding that this does not affect the findings of the paper and the earlier Wegman report alleging inadequate peer review in climate science.
Now USA Today’s Dan Vergano, who broke the the retraction story, addresses exactly that contention in a follow up piece. Social network analysis expert Kathleen Carley of Carnegie Mellon calls Said et al “more of an opinion piece” that would have required “major revision” to render it fit for publication in an SNA journal.
And it gets worse. Computational Statistics and Data Analysis chief editor Stanley Azen “personally reviewed” the paper and sent Wegman an acceptance notice within days of submission. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s Skip Garner enumerates the potential consequences of the research misconduct finding, including the possible need to investigate “ethical issues such as conflict-of-interest, haste vs. scientific rigor and bias”.
It’s been a long time coming, but there has now been an official finding in at least one of the complaints concerning the dubious scholarship of GMU professors Edward Wegman and Yasmin Said. According to Dan Vergano of USA Today, the journal Computational Statistics and Data Analysis (CSDA) has officially confirmed that Said, Wegman et al 2008, a follow up to the infamous Wegman et al report to Congress, will finally be retracted following complaints of plagiarism and inadequate peer review.