[Updated Feb. 8: (editing and extension of summary and document list update)]
Perhaps the most disturbing episode in the “hockey stick” controversy was the investigation of climate scientists by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee under Republican representatives Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield, and a subsequent report for that same committee by an “independent” panel led by George Mason University statistics professor Edward Wegman. In light of various renewed “skeptic” allegations of scientific misconduct against Michael Mann and Phil Jones, and my recent revelation of possible plagiarism and other questionable scholarship in the Wegman report, a complete review of the events of 2005-2006 would seem to be in order.
In short, the Energy and Commerce Committee refused the offer of a proper scientific review from the National Academy of Sciences in favour of an investigative process that was ad hoc, biased and unscientific. And the report resulting from that process is tainted with highly questionable scholarship.
I can now fill in important gaps in the timelines of the initial investigation and the Wegman panel. But more importantly my review has led to some startling conclusions:
- Not only was the original Barton-Whitfield investigation (in the form of intimidating letters) inspired by the allegations of “climate science auditor” Steve McIntyre, but the defining impetus seems to have been a little known Cooler Heads Coalition-Marshall Institute sponsored presentation by McIntyre and sidekick economist Ross McKitrick in Washington barely a month beforehand.
- Energy and Commerce Committee Republican staffer Peter Spencer played a key but hitherto undisclosed role in the investigation and the subsequent Wegman panel report, and apparently acted as the main source and gatekeeper of climate science information for the panel.
- Steve McIntyre was in communication with the Wegman panel, at least concerning technical questions around replication of his work. The full extent of McIntyre’s communications or meetings with Spencer or other staffers, as well as Wegman panelists, is still unknown. However, the record shows there were at least two intriguing opportunities for face-to-face meetings in Washington during the Wegman panel’s mandate.
All this, along with new information about the circumstances of the Wegman panel’s formation and mandate, raises serious doubts about the supposed independence of the Wegman panel.
In my last post, I laid out some inconvenient facts about McIntyre’s fellow travellers on his way to taking his place in the pantheon of climate skeptics. As noted there, McIntyre (and McKitrick) had achieved some measure of fame with their lionization by the Wall Street Journal in early 2005. In the received wisdom about the subsequent Barton-Whitfield investigation, Antonio Regalado’s front page article is seen as its prime impetus.
However, although the WSJ undoubtedly raised awareness of McIntyre’s work, there are compelling reasons to consider that explanation incomplete. The letters are considerably more detailed and raise additional issues from those discussed in the WSJ article. Did something happen in the four-month gap between the time the article appeared in February 2005 and the issuance of the Barton-Whitfield letters in late June 2005?
M&M go to Washington – again
A careful search of McIntyre’s blog ClimateAudit provided at least part of the answer to both concerns, as seen in this brief post from May 7, 2005:
Ross McKitrick and I will be making two presentations in Washington on May 11 sponsored by Cooler Heads Coalition/George Marshall Institute: 12.20 at the National Press Club and 3 pm somewhere on Capitol Hill.
This was to be the duo’s second trip for the Washington think tanks; the first had taken place in November 2003, as discussed in M&M, part 1.
The afternoon Capitol Hill meeting remains somewhat mysterious, but M&M’s presentation and the Press Club discussion transcript are both available. Once again, Jeff Keuter of the Marshall Institute and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute were on hand with an effusive welcome; Ebell noted that McKitrick had appeared more often for such presentations than anyone else.
In his portion of the Press Club discussion, McIntyre laid out his complaints concerning access to Mann’s data and computer code, as previously aired in Antonio Regalado’s Wall Street Journal article.
But he also had some new issues to raise. Presaging Wegman’s later “social network” analysis, McIntyre expanded his comments to the whole “hockey team” and laid out a list of studies he claimed could not be considered “independent” because of overlapping authorship (p. 17). (He also boasted that he thought taking on the team was an “even match”).
McIntyre went on to complain that the IPCC had failed to do “due diligence” in “checking” the data or constituent studies and claimed that the National Science Foundation, funder of much of Mann’s work, had failed to enforce disclosure rules that, in McIntyre’s opinion, compelled Mann to release his computer code.
McIntyre also presented some dubious technical analysis, purporting to show various techniques of “cherrypicking” among paleoclimatologists, and even spliced the UAH satellite temperature data onto the Moberg reconstruction to show that recent temperatures were not much warmer than the medieval warm period and that recent trends were modest (remember this was early 2005, before application of important corrections later that year).
As for the genesis of his interest in the “hockey stick”, McIntyre compared it to a mining promotion. This echoed his invocation of the Bre-X scandal in the WSJ article. But then he went even further.
There is no magic bullet for it, but it is astonishing to me how little due diligence there is in this, compared to the due diligence in a prospectus or any kind of public offering of stock, even by cruddy little mining companies. Peer reviewers merely give advice to the editor as to whether a paper should be published.
This betrays an utter lack of comprehension of how science actually works. But McIntyre was not done – he even invoked the Enron scandal and described his “epiphany” of a simlar lack of due diligence in climate science.
Epiphany indeed. It so happened that the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee had investigated one aspect of the Enron scandal in 2002. But the Enron comparison was perhaps unnecessary, as that same Subcommittee had looked at climate issues once before, as we shall see.
In any event, with McIntyre’s analysis in hand and with the impetus of the May 2005 roundtable, committee chair “Smokey” Joe Barton and subcommittee chair Ed Whitfield swung into action. They tapped staffer Peter Spencer to help organize an investigation of “hockey stick” authors Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes, and to serve as committee contact.
Spencer, a staffer attached to the Republican cohort of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was an obvious choice. Under previous chairman Billy Tauzin, he had been instrumental in organizing an Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing on the use of climate models in the U.S. National Assessment in 2002. That session heard from a “balanced” panel of five scientists that included climate science critics Patrick Michaels and Roger Pielke, Sr. (Spencer has kept up his interest in climate science; he accepted a trip to the 2009 Heartland Institute International Conference on Climate Change in New York, with Barton’s approval).
The Barton investigation began with a set of detailed letters of inquiry sent to the three authors, Mann, Bradley and Hughes, that focused not only on data and computer code, but details of funding and past research associations. The letter sent to Mann asked for details on all research and funding thereof. A couple of specific requests invoked Regalado’s Wall Street Journal article and the Energy and Environment article, but in line with McIntyre’s more recent concerns, Mann was also asked to elucidate his IPCC role.
Each letter to the scientists started out identically:
Questions have been raised, according to a February 14, 2005 article in The Wall Street Journal, about the significance of methodological flaws and data errors in your studies of the historical record of temperatures and climate change.
Here’s how McIntyre announced the letters on his website:
Several people have drawn attention to letters from the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee to Mann, Bradley, Hughes, the director of the U.S. National Science Foundation and the chairman of the IPCC, which were posted up at the Committee website on Friday here.
The letters refer to the Wall Street Journal [this would presumably be the article of Feb. 14, 2005, in which Mann said that he would not be “intimidated” into releasing his algorithm, rather than the recent editorial], as well as to our articles.
The only hint that McIntyre has ever given of any contact with Barton’s committee staff was in Paul Thacker’s analysis of the WSJ article, published in Environmental Science and Technology.
McIntyre says that after he was profiled in the Wall Street Journal, he received a phone call from the congressional staff of Rep. Barton. ”They wanted to know if I had spoken to the Wall Street Journal and if the article was true,” McIntyre tells ES&T.
Even here, McIntyre appeared to be suggesting that his only role was the confirmation of the WSJ article contents. But McIntyre has never mentioned the May 11 sessions, a notable departure from his usual practice of breathlessly blogging about every trip in glorious detail. Indeed, everyone involved appears to have gone to great pains to cover up the full story behind the Barton investigation, and the role of McKitrick and McIntyre’s sponsors, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Marshall Institute.
Everyone, that is, except CEI head Myron Ebell, who openly boasted at the time to the BBC:
Myron Ebell, of the Competitiveness Enterprise Institute and a prominent global warming sceptic, told BBC News: “We’ve always wanted to get the science on trial,” and “we would like to figure out a way to get this into a court of law,” adding “this could work.”
That same article quotes shocked reaction from scientists. Raymond Bradley, thought the letters were meant to “undermine confidence in the IPCC,” while paleoclimatologist Thomas Crowley discerned a “more general intent to intimidate climate researchers.”
On July 15, 2005, National Academy of Sciences president Ralph Ciccerone sent Barton a letter that noted scientists’ concerns along with a better way forward:
A Congressional investigation, based on the authority of the House Commerce Committee is probably not the best way to resolve a scientific issue, and a focus on individual scientists can be intimidating.
If the House Commerce Committee would like to have additional information regarding the state of scientific knowledge in the area of research being conducted by Drs. Mann, Hughes, and Bradley, the National Academy of Sciences would be willing to create an independent expert panel (according to our standard rigorous study process) to assess the state of scientific knowledge in this area, or perhaps one of the professional scientific societies could take on this task for you.
But, as Thacker noted, there was no interest from Barton:
Attempting to resolve the issue, The National Research Council [operational arm of the joint National Academies] has even offered to perform an independent review of the controversy for Barton. Bill Colglazier, the council’s executive director, declares, ”It was a sincere good-faith offer, but [the congressman] didn’t seem too positive on this”.
At the same time, Representative Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee, issued an opening salvo in what was to become a running war between the two committees. He expressed his “strenuous objections” to Barton’s “misguided and illegitimate investigation,” and stated that Barton’s unprecedented approach raised “the specter of politicians opening investigations against any scientist who reaches a conclusion that makes the political elite uncomfortable.”
Nevertheless, Mann and the others all furnished formal detailed replies to Barton (you can read them, along with other reaction from scientists, at the RealClimate post “Scientists respond to Barton”).
And then, on the surface at least, things became very quiet and were not to heat up until 2006, with its duel of competing reports and hearings. The Science Committee hearings (and National Academy of Sciences report) would come in March 2006, while Barton shot back with a report by a panel led by Edward Wegman and his own set of hearings in July 2006.
An “independent” panel
When I first started re-examining the Wegman report, I was struck by the paucity of information about its mandate, formation and operation. The report itself seemed to describe a highly informal process, to put it mildly.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce along with Chairman of the Subcommittee of Oversight and Investigations have been interested in discovering whether or not the criticisms of Mann et al. are valid and if so, what are the implications. To this end, Committee staff asked for advice as to the validity of the complaints of McIntyre and McKitrick [MM] and related implications. Dr. Wegman formed an ad hoc Committee (Drs. Edward J. Wegman – George Mason University, David W. Scott – Rice University, and Yasmin H. Said – The Johns Hopkins University). The Committee was organized with our own initiative as a pro bono committee. [p. 2]
Although there appeared to be no official information beyond this, I wondered if the reference to Barton’s staff might hold a clue to missing details. I had discovered Peter Spencer’s involvement by noticing his name as the contact in the Barton-Whitfield letters; now, I decided to see if there might be evidence of his involvement in the Wegman panel. And that’s how I found a hitherto unnoticed 2007 symposium presentation by Wegman co-panelist (and protege) Yasmin Said, which was considerably more forthcoming. Said gave crucial – and in my opinion, shocking – details about the inception and process of the Wegman panel. [The presentation has since been removed from the GMU website, but it is available here.]
Here’s Said on the background of the Wegman panel:
Dr. Edward Wegman was approached by Dr. Jerry Coffey on 1 September 2005 concerning possible testimony in Congress about a statistical issue associated with paleoclimate reconstruction.
– This approach was based on independent recommendations from Dr. Fritz Scheuren, ASA 100th President and from the National Academy of Science where Dr. Wegman chaired CATS.
It turns out that go-between Coffey is a statistical expert who worked in government for most of his career. Wegman and Coffey have likely known each other a long time; they are both active members of the Washington branch of the American Statistical Society.
But Coffey is also a dyed-in-the-wool “Tea Party” Republican and gun nut, as his page at the Republican Party Virginia Network makes clear. A recent comment for the Virginia Republican Defenders of the Second Amendment group reads:
The place for ammunition shoppers to be Saturday was the Gun Show at the Showplace in Richmond. Everybody had ammunition and there were even some bargains.
Said left unexplained the supposed “recommendations” and their context. Were these recommendations made in the specific context of a study on paleoclimatology? Did Coffey ask for these recommendations or did someone else?
Also unexplained was the necessity of a preliminary approach to Wegman by a third party. But Coffey’s qualifications for the job are evident in comments at PersonalLiberty.com, with his reference to the “Gore global warming boondoggle” and his recommendations of climate science reading material:
My favorite short read on global warming is Lawrence Solomon’s “The Deniers.” I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Ed Wegman since I had a ringside seat when Ed’s analysis got started. Others [sic] books you might enjoy are the last couple by Patrick Michaels; Fred Singer and Dennis Avery on the 1500 year cycle; and [Roy] Spencer’s latest.
Said goes on:
After the initial contact, Dr. Wegman received materials and a visit from Congressional Staffer Peter Spencer.
Peter Spencer explained that the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations was interested in understanding whether the criticism of the paleoclimate temperature reconstruction
published by Dr. Michael Mann and his associates was meritorious.
• This curve was used in the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to reinforce concerns about global warming.
• There had been some criticism of the statistical methodology, but this was not being taken seriously within the climate change community.
– Because of the public policy implications, the House Committee wanted an independent expert opinion.
• Dr. Wegman was asked if he would be willing to take on this task and would he form a small team to look into the issue.
• He agreed and recruited Dr. David W. Scott and me as well as one other participant, who later dropped out.
• We were warned that we should be prepared for criticism and that we should have thick skins.
• Peter Spencer began sending us a daunting amount of material for us to review over the next 9 months. [Emphasis added]
So there you have it. This supposedly “independent” panel began with a sounding out by a rabid Republican partisan and convinced climate “skeptic”. And Wegman agreed to a process that not only excluded climate scientists, but also involved Peter Spencer as a key conduit and gatekeeper providing climate science documentation and commentary. And all this was done by a House committee that had refused to even acknowledge the offer of a proper scientific review from the National Academy of Sciences.
Nevertheless, Said insisted that the approach of the panel was one of an “honest broker” (where have I heard that one before?) and that it had an “unbiased perspective.” She admitted that none of her team had “any real expertise in paleoclimate reconstruction, but were arguably pretty good statisticians.” As if that could repair the lack of domain knowledge, so painfully obvious in the panel’s report.
Said also opined that the panelists saw themselves as “referees” in the “hockey game,” which she characterized as a “debate” going on in “weblogs.” Well, certainly one side of the debate was; the other (scientific) side was also producing more and more corroborating and refining evidence with each passing year. But maybe Spencer was not passing that along.
Perhaps the most unintentionally humorous statement (among many others) was this:
[Mann’s] main adversaries were Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, both Canadian citizens, who were usually unkindly referred to as the “Canadians.”
Gee, thanks for that. I didn’t know my nationality considered a term of opprobrium in Washington, DC.
The conduct of the Wegman panel also casts doubt on their independence and impartiality.
We have been to Michael Mann’s University of Virginia website and downloaded the materials there. Unfortunately, we did not find adequate material to reproduce the MBH98 materials.
We have been able to reproduce the results of McIntyre and McKitrick (2005b). While at first the McIntyre code was specific to the file structure of his computer, with his assistance we were able to run the code on our own machines and reproduce and extend some of his results.
By all accounts, Wegman did not even bother to contact Mann, and yet worked directly with McIntyre in order to “reproduce” his results.
Hail, hail the gang’s all here
The extent of McIntyre’s communication with the Wegman panel, or indeed with Peter Spencer and other Republican staffers, is not known (although it should certainly be ascertained). However, it is worth noting that on at least two occasions all of the principals were together at events in the Washington area.
The U.S. Climate Change Program workshop in November 2005 was one such meeting. The list of participants includes both McIntyre and staffer Spencer. George Mason University was well represented; Wegman and Said were only two of several professors from that institution. Another George Mason-connected personage was none other than climate skeptic and Science & Environment Policy Project head Fred Singer, who was Distinguished Research Professor at George Mason’s Institute for Humane Studies from 1994 on. (Indeed, the Institute is only one of 40 libertarian research centres and affiliates hosted at George Mason).
Also present were two staffers from the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology, Christopher King and James Paul. Perhaps, then, this is the occasion where word of the Wegman panel first got out. Be that as it may, in that same month Science Committee chair Sherwood Boehlert requested that the National Academy of Science review the matter. This led to the comprehensive National Academy of Sciences report Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years by a distinguished panel led by Gerald North.
That led to competing sets of hearings in 2006 – and another “hail-hail-the-gang’s-all-here” moment in Washington at the Science Committee hearings. That was reported by a ClimateAudit fan in a post that is the only one ever to mention Peter Spencer.
First of all, having followed the global warming controversy for the last five years, I was thrilled to meet many of the heavyweight skeptics: Fred Singer, Myron Ebell, Willie Soon, John Christy, Steve and Ross. I also enjoyed chatting with various staffers from the hill (Peter Spencer – House Energy & Commerce Committee …)
The subsequent House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings in July 2006 provided another round in the political debate. As related in the Government Accountability Project report Redacting the Science of ClimateChange [p. 62, See full 1.5 MB PDF]:
According to Lauren Morello of the Environment and Energy Daily, the hearing was scheduled for a time when the committee knew that Mann could not attend. [Environment and Energy Daily (July 20, 2006)]
All these various indications of a biased process and the apparent role of Peter Spencer, entirely support Sherwood Boehlert’s characterization of the Barton investigation as “misguided and illegitimate.” And this new information may go some way towards resolving some of the enduring mysteries about the whole affair.
For one thing, new light is cast on a key Wegman et al section on tree-ring proxies I discussed in Wegman and Rapp on Tree-Rings: A Divergence Problem, part 1. There I showed that the section was largely derived, without attribution, from “hockey stick” co-author Raymond Bradley’s paleoclimatology text book, but with significant errors and distortions interspersed in the text (see also this side-by-side comparison of the two texts).
Ascertaining the exact process whereby this occurred may require close questioning of the responsible author, along with careful examination of earlier drafts. But it is also clear that all documentation supplied by Spencer, whether or not included the Wegman bibliography, should be identified and then carefully checked and reviewed. It may well be that one of these contains a previously undiscovered main intermediate antecedent for the section in question.
And to come full circle, one of the entries in Wegman’s bibliography turns out to be none other than McIntyre and McKitrick’s May 2005 presentation. Although McIntyre is not cited, it is reasonable to infer that McIntyre’s discussion of co-authorship in climate science may have inspired Wegman’s social network analysis. (A bizarre footnote: for some reason, Wegman’s bibliographic entry lists the incorrect date of September 7, not May 11).
In coming months, I’ll examine in detail various aspects of the Wegman Report, its antecedents (whether attributed or not), and update other developments.
Meanwhile, there is now ample evidence to suggest that the so-called climate science “auditors” and “investigators,” along with their hidden sponsors, should themselves be thoroughly investigated. And high time too.
[Updated Feb. 8: (editing and extension of summary and document list update)]
Ad Hoc Committee Report on the ‘Hockey Stick’ Global Climate Reconstruction, Edward J. Wegman, David W. Scott and Yasmin H. Said. [PDF]
Experiences with Congressional Testimony: Statistics and The Hockey Stick, Yasmin Said, September, 2007. [PDF]
Wegman-Bradley Tree Ring Comparison [PDF]