Wegman et al miscellany

By Deep Climate

John Mashey has suggested a new thread for general talk about various aspects of the Wegman Report, and I’m happy to oblige. Of course, the immediately preceding Replication and Due Diligence, Wegman Style will remain open for discussion of Wegman et al’s, ahem,  statistical analysis. But other Wegman Report discussion should happen here for now, pending further posts (and there are a few in the pipeline).

To get us started, here are excerpts from some interesting comments that came in over the last few days, comments which clearly show that the emerging expert assessments of plagiarism in the Wegman Report are showing just the tip of the iceberg (sounds like a good title for a future post).

First here are Andy S and dhogaza on Barton staffer’s Peter Spencer’s role in the Wegman Report and the supposed independence of the panel.

Andy S | December 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Whether Peter Spencer sent them x or y papers seems rather moot. What astounds me is why a team of scientists asked to review research findings should be provided reading materials by a political staffer in the first place and why that group of scientists felt obliged to use that list as the basis for their inquiry, as if this were a high school research project with a prescribed reading list.

Oh, it’s even worse, because they were asked to provide an *independent review*. Basing one’s review on reading materials provided by a political staffer you’re supposed to be independent of rather misses the point of independence …

If Spencer is the high school teacher, one might well ask who the private tutors may have been.

We also had andrewt’s discovery of two paragraphs from a 1995 GMU PhD dissertation, showing up (decidely out of context) in a 1996 article on statistics software by Wegman and several of his proteges. David Grossman’s dissertation Integrated Structured Data and Text: A Relational Approach is here, while the  technical report Statistical Software, Siftware and Astronomy by Wegman et al can be found here, with an unformatted version here.

And to top it off, the same two paragraphs, plus seven more from Wegman et al, can be found almost verbatim as section 1.4.2 in Wegman student Faleh Al-Shameri’s 2006 PhD dissertation. That dissertation is embedded in their joint patent application for “Automated generation of Metadata” (for use in a data and text mining context) . If you’re keeping score, that’s the fourth Wegman student PhD dissertation to emerge with clear evidence of improper scholarship. (By the way, here’s a handy way to keep track of Wegman’s “descendents”).

Finally, in case you want to catch up on, or react to, mainstream coverage of the affair, here are links to USA Today coverage by science reporter Dan Vergano:

Sad but true, it’s taken almost one year for this story to start to emerge from the blogosphere.


60 responses to “Wegman et al miscellany

  1. Deep-

    You’ve got the USA Today posts dated as May and not November, but thank you and John again for the continual venture into the morass that is Wegman.

    [DC: Oops, wishful thinking I guess. Thanks – fixed now! And you’re very welcome.]

  2. If you google phrases from Al-Shameri’s thesis (via the joint patent application) you can find example after example of plagiarism – the source seems to mostly get cited nearby – but the use is is far from acceptable and there is a lot of it.

    I’m afraid Al-Shameri needs to be asked to a major rewrite or have his degree retracted.

    For example the following paragraph taken almost verbatim from a 1996 paper by Chen et al.

    Click to access chen_tkde96.pdf

    There are many other terms that appear in articles and documents carrying a similar or slightly different meaning, such as knowledge mining, knowledge extraction, data archaeology, data dredging, and data analysis. By knowledge discovery in databases (KDD), interesting knowledge, regularities, or high-level information can be extracted from the relevant sets of data and be investigated from different angles, and large databases thereby serve as rich and reliable sources for knowledge generation and verification. Mining information and knowledge from large databases has been recognized by many researchers as a key research topic in database systems and machine learning and by many industrial companies as an important area with an opportunity for major revenues. The discovered knowledge can be applied to information management, query processing, decision making, process control, and many other applications. Researchers in many different fields, including database systems, knowledge-base systems, artificial intelligence, machine learning, knowledge acquisition, statistics, spatial databases, and data visualization, have shown great interest in data mining. Furthermore, several emerging applications in information providing services, such as on-line services and the World Wide Web, also call for various data mining techniques to better understand user behavior, to meliorate the service provided, and to increase the business opportunities.

  3. Does anyone have more information about this Spencer guy?

  4. andrewt

    Here are the emails of the appropriate officials at GMU to notify about this additional instance of a plagiarized doctoral dissertation. They can simply add it to the existing, presumably ongoing investigations.

    pbecker@gmu.edu (Dean of the Graduate School)
    rstough@gmu.edu ( Roger Stough: the VP for Research)

    • As a little googling found at least 1000 words of Al-Shameri’s thesis are apparently not written by Al-Shameri and there is a likelihood more would be found by systematic examination, I e-mailed Becker&Stough as Sam suggested. Its unfortunate and I hope the original content in the thesis is such that Al-Shameri is only asked to rewrite the relevant chapter(s).

      I also mentioned in the e-mail that part of this text had apparently been published first by Grossman.

      I’m not sure what to infer from a PhD thesis including a 700 word almost verbatim excerpt from a paper on which his supervisor is the lead author.
      But if they are not already, GMU should be systematically examining papers&theses.

  5. You can find more on Peter Spencer and his role in the Barton investigation and the Wegman panel in my post from last February, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 2: The story behind the Barton-Whitfield investigation and the Wegman Panel.

    Here’s some of Spencer’s background:

    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).

    Spencer continues assiduously pursue his rigorous climate science training and earlier this year “attended educational sessions on the science and economics” of climate change at, you guessed it, the 2010 Heartland conference in Chicago (with Heartland’s secret financial backers picking up the tab, naturally).

    The bottom line:

    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.

    Yasmin Said’s September 2007 presentation on the Wegman report, which I discovered almost a year ago and which is the basis for some of the most eye-opening disclosures about the Wegman panel process, was removed from the GMU website last August. But not before I saved a copy of it.

  6. PolyisTCOandbanned

    I don’t think there is any gotcha in a Republican staffer meeting with Wegman (I mean we know Barton was a Republican who sponsored the study) or Spencer his aid. Or having met McI. Or giving some get started reading.

    The issue is that Wegman did not do a thougtful evaluation of the problem, to even understand the Mann and McI work. People have done way too much accepting others assurances of astract mathematical debates. That’s the problem I have with 99% of the people following blogs (and of the way the blogs are so drumbeating).

    Now, unfortunately, you have MnW following Wegman. Remember that Jolliffe, not a fan of Mike’s paper, said that it would take weeks, code, and access to the principles to ask questions to really opine on the stats dispute(s),

    • No. The “issue” is not someone being wrong about the science – that happens all the time. The real problem is that the attacks on Mann have very little to do with science, but many people pretend otherwise.

      The reason why Spencer is important is that he may be the direct link between the shills and Wegman.

  7. Yes, the two key behind-the-scenes documents in this whole mess are:
    1) May 11, 2005 talk and the extra information added later, which wraps transcripts around the slides.

    2) Yasmin’s talk, probably DC’s best find. Read the original copy of DC’s above, then the annotated copy in SSWR A.11. When DC mentioned this, I copied and WebCited it, then started checking it every week, just for fun.

    3) As noted in SSWR A.11.1, sometime between August 16 and 23, files disappeared:
    – this file
    – Said’s dissertation
    – Wegman’s C.V.

    Well, files do get lost now and then. , but mention of Said’s talk was *edited out* of the GMU seminar record for Fall 2007. That happened Aug 20.
    Then (H/T Dercho64):

    (Saturday) Wegman wrote on his Facebook wall, open to anyone there:

    “Edward J. Wegman Want to know a bad week? All in the same week. 1) accused of plagiarism, felony, anti-science, misleading Congress because of your climate science testimony, 2) have a rule made up, which only applied to you, that blocks you from mentoring graduate students, 3) have a friend tell you he was not happy with you because you were awarded a patent.
    August 21 at 4:17pm”

    Of course, this could all be coincidence, but perhaps not. 🙂
    I would guess that in the near future, more information will become available about other events that week.

    Meanwhile, Wegman keeps saying “speculation” and “conspiracy theories” but has yet to make any substantial comment I can find.
    See for example USA Today roundup, but make sure you read my added comments. Wegman claims Said’s talk is mistaken, but his words are ambiguous and he has yet to offer credible alternative explanations for any of the large number of specific issues.

    • However, to be more than fair (since M&M and Wegman wouldn’t likely be so generous), I wouldn’t regard Wegman’s silence as incriminating in itself. The facts as they stand are sufficient to indict him, in my book. He’s said that GMU has told him not to comment on matters under investigation, which is SOP for this type of thing, of course.

  8. Well, there is
    I have no problem with this. I’ve been an officer of a company both pre- and post- IPO, used to talk to press and even financial analysts. Sometimes that is the only answer.

    But that is not what Wegman has done, but 2) and 3):

    2)Said is wrong, and it’s all conspiracy theories and speculation, and otherwise no comment. See USA Today.

    3) Send email that Donald Rapp quotes:
    at WUWT, saying:
    “By the way, this is what Wegman had to say in a recent email: “It is my opinion that Dr. Rapp has not plagiarized anything and I hold him harmless” and claims that these are “wild conclusions that have nothing to do with reality”.”

    Wegman has done 2) and 3), but otherwise NO COMMENT.

    Do you recognize a standard PR technique?
    NO COMMENT to any question of substance, while sending comments to allies, and providing vague quotes, so they get printed, because that’s all that exists. 🙂 It is fairly effective, for a while.

  9. Here are all of Wegman comments as reported in USA Today:

    The author of a report critical of climate scientists defended himself against plagiarism charges Tuesday, and denied he was pressured by Republicans to tilt the report.

    Offered the chance to further respond to plagiarism allegations, reported Monday in USA TODAY, George Mason University statistician Edward Wegman said in an e-mail that “these attacks are unprecedented in my 42 years as an academic and scholar.”

    “I will say that there is a lot of speculation and conspiracy theory in John Mashey’s analysis which is simply not true,” Wegman said.

    “We are not the bad guys. … We have never intended that our Congressional testimony was intended to take intellectual credit” for other scholars’ work.

    Wegman said he and his report co-authors felt “some pressure” from a House committee to complete the report “faster than we might like.” But he denied that there was any attempt to tilt the influential climate report politically.

    He said the committee “wanted our opinion as to the correctness of the mathematics” used in two climate studies.

    “They wanted the truth as we saw it,” Wegman said.

    So he certainly has decided *not* to remain silent.

    But I don’t think that Wegman expected his private comments to Donald Rapp would get plastered all over the blogosphere, so I don’t see that as part of a “PR technique”.

    • ” ‘They wanted the truth as we saw it,’ Wegman said.”

      I’m sure this has been remarked before, but for those who need a translation, “They wanted the truth as only [Wegman et al.] could torture and twist it.” The most common refrain of the 21st century so far, I’m saddened to say.

  10. “But I don’t think that Wegman expected his private comments to Donald Rapp would get plastered all over the blogosphere, so I don’t see that as part of a “PR technique”.”

    Sure it is, but I probably should have written more:

    1) Wegman emails comments, unlikely to address any real questions.

    2) Rapp excerpts a few phrases and posts them. I don’t think Wegman’s comments were limited to those phrases.

    3) Despite Bernard J’s valiant efforts to get Rapp to answer a substantial question or two, that doesn’t really happen.

    So, while it seems unlikely that Wegman expected Rapp to do this:
    a) Sending info to someone he doesn’t even know while he’s supposed to be quiet is the same technique.
    b) and then Rapp does the same thing.

  11. Apologies if this is disjointed, but my head is spinning…

    Is there a connection between Wegman and Rapp? Why is Rapp defending Wegman and vice-versa? In December 2009 we have DC’s heavily modified post about plagiarism in Rapp’s book/ghostwriting in Wegman (an assertion now dropped), and after the Wegman bomb dropped on 26 Sep 2010 we got Rapp’s entertaining responses about braying donkeys and Satan. The quote from Rapp at WUWT reads:

    “By the way, this is what Wegman had to say in a recent email: “It is my opinion that Dr. Rapp has not plagiarized anything and I hold him harmless” and claims that these are “wild conclusions that have nothing to do with reality”.

    [DC: It’s true that originally I thought that Rapp had been involved as a “ghostwriter”. However, I very quickly realized my error and corrected myself within 36 hours. I also at the same time identified the Bradley antecedent (an interesting story in itself), as well as copied passages from Wikipedia and Wasserman and Faust in the Section 2.3 on social networks. The post as it stands now was written in the early morning of December 19, while the original was posted the evening of the 17th. ]

    So there is no direct connection between Wegman and Rapp, although they do share a common disregard for the norms of scholarship, and Rapp’s work relied heavily on Wegman (sometimes attributed, sometimes not). And the passages taken from Wegman were some of the ones themselves taken from Bradley.

    Also note that Rapp’s versions of Wegman’s tree ring passage removed the lone reference to Bradley at the end (on calibration) Even more egregiously, Rapp’s block quote from Willie Soon (covering exactly the same material from Bradley as Wegman) had all references to Bradley removed. As far as I’m concerned, that in itself is a smoking gun for the alleged plagiarism. See:


    Rapp’s post at WUWT shows up on 9 Oct 2010. From the USA today story on 22 November, we learn that this quote was from an email sent from Wegman to Joseph Kunc:

    “In an earlier e-mail Wegman sent to Joseph Kunc of the University of Southern California, however, he called the plagiarism charges “wild conclusions that have nothing to do with reality.”

    Joseph Kunc (Professor of Astronautics, Aerospace Engineering, Physics and Astronomy at USC) and Donald Rapp work in the same field. But Kunc was Willie Soon’s PhD advisor at USC. Up until 2003, Soon worked for the Marshall Institute, which was the backdrop for McIntyre and McKitricks 2005 talk which appears to be a template for Wegman.

    Somebody help me: Why/is Wegman emailing Kunc (and when)? Does Kunc share the email with Rapp? Is there some sort of Wegman-Kunc-Soon-Marshall Institute-M&M-Barton-Spencer-Wegman&Said connection (they should have done a SNA on themselves!)? When will Dan Vergano publish more???

    [DC: According to Rapp, the impetus was complaint received by USC, where Rapp had a largely honourary adjunct position. (Apparently, according to Rapp, Rapp’s publisher also received a complaint, but that appears to have happened later). Of course, the irregularities I discovered are based on much more than copying unattributed material from Wegman. Indeed, Rapp himself has acknowledged that perhaps he “inadvertantly” neglected to block quote 10-20 passages, if I recall correctly.

    There is something to some of the other connections you mention, but certainly no direct previous connection between Rapp and Wegman. John Mashey did a lot of research on Kunc and others, which no doubt he will remind of us soon. ]

  12. John,

    What is the connection between Wegman and Rapp? Is it only because both have been alleged on this blog to have plagiarized? There isn’t any scientific connection that I can see. Did Wegman know a complaint had been filed with USC against Rapp?

    Of the two, Rapp is far more entertaining. Maybe he will post here. This blog is too scholarly; it’s dry. We need something entertaining. 😉

  13. Dear Deep and John:

    I’m almost finished with a long piece for Alternet, which includes a section about Wegman. I had quoted him saying this:

    “The warming signal is mixed, and cannot be proven to be anthropogenic”.

    My fact checking editor cannot find the source of the quote, and neither can I, since it’s been months since I dug it up on the Net during my first draft. Can you either help me find it or dig up an alternate quote that expresses something similar?

    The new piece will be much better than last year’s, which was reprinted on 40 internet magazines. This year’s is more subdued and effective, but still funny. We all need that these days.

  14. Joe:
    You area asking good questions.
    In the near future, some comprehensive answers may appear.

    Mike: I don’t remember that exact quote.
    If you check the SSWR Index for Themes -B and -C, you can find places where that was ignored or contradicted, and that may help you fidn it.
    The closest is the correlation -vs causation bit, search SSWR for causation and that will get you back to the WR and testimony, I htink.

  15. “Kunc was Willie Soon’s PhD advisor at USC. ”


    Then Rapp makes himself an instant climate expert by plagiarizing a statistician named Wegman. Wegman “holds Rapp harmless”, of course. Why would Wegman complain that his plagiarized, fabricated pseudo-science was spreading?

    Wegman’s support of Rapp merely supports the charge that both are trying to disparage and demean climate science.

    And the formerly respectable George Marshall Institute? It looks more evil with each new revelation.

  16. DC and JM: I look forward to these “comprehensive answers”…

  17. Mark:
    Yes, I found that last year in studying this silly petition to the American Physical Society, which actually was an exercise in social networks discovery, by odd coincidence. This was a rare petition that appeared in successive waves of findable people, which really helped in figuring the connections.

    There was a cluster of signers at USC SRC (astronautics):
    see pp.31, starting at “University of Southern California Aerospace(3), which briefly describes Rapp, Gruntman, and Kunc, each of whom have longer bios later in that report. If you check the chart on p.26, you will see that group at upper left. It is a messy net, but the (B) code shows all 3 were early signers, hence likely well plugged in. All three were OSIM signers. as noted, Rapp was promoted as one of their reasons to seek Federal and California funds for an astronautics-led effort in essence to do climate science right. Of course, there was likely a connection with GMI’s Jastrow in the 1990s.

    I was working on chasing all this more, when DC’s discovery of the Wegman->Rapp connection and then Bradley->Wegman diverted me 🙂
    (However, there is zero evidence of any contact between Rapp and Wegman until September 2010 and circumstantial evidence otherwise.)

    Joe: soon.

  18. If you read Rapp’s book, it cites almost everything EXCEPT the stuff that came from the WR. Indeed, it appears to be a cut and paste job that has way too many quotes, EXCEPT the stuff that came from the WR.

    OK what is the simplest explanation for that.

  19. If Donald Rapp blockquoted everything he should have, there would have been almost nothing left of the running commentary. In Rapp’s Assessing Climate Change section 1.2, I found three passages that were clearly copied from sources, and edited to change wording slightly and to remove underlying references.

    In two of these, there was a bizarre mixture of block quotes with interspersed running commentary copied from the same source:
    – A very long passage is based on a web page entitled “A quick background to the last ice age” from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (dated 1997), and credited to Adams(2002).
    – A paragraph at p. 9 of the 2003 Energy and Environment article, Reconstructing Climatic and Environmental Changes of the Past 1000 Years: A Reappraisal by Soon, Baliunas – and three other co-authors missed by Rapp, namely Craig Idso, Sherwood Idso, and David Legates.

    There was also a passage from Jones et al that was lifted nearly verbatim and distorted slightly, but not blockquoted (it was attributed, however).

    Especially in the first case, there is no indication that the unattributed passage after the blockquote comes from the same source. And I’m not even sure the citation to Adams (2002) is correct (but I didn’t chase it down).

    So I’m not sure there is special pattern with the Wegman Report. I will say Rapp sure likes it a lot and used it over and over again.

    (See: https://deepclimate.org/2010/01/07/donald-rapp-more-divergence-problems/ )

  20. Sam: entertainment?
    I remind you of Rapp’s full comments, which DC (politely as suiting Canada) edited a bit into this comment last December. The 2-pager is worth a quick look for those who have not seen it, with text like:

    “The Internet provides a platform for all manner of donkeys to bray at will, hiding behind the cloak of anonymity provided by their use of pseudonyms. One particular egregious example is deepclimate.org, a weblog that specializes in moronic commentaries about climate change. The names and backgrounds of the followers and participants in deepclimate.org are unknown, and it seems likely that they may be mainly janitors, trash collectors and hash slingers, based on the idiotic comments that they send in. They subscribe to a belief system like a religion, and like all religious zealots, strike out at anyone with differing views. ”

    DC’s selection from that of:

    “But the donkeys on deepclimate.org are the Taliban of climate change – and just as dangerous.”

    is hard to beat. But, the whole 2-pager is worth perusal.

    • Those excerpts from Rapp’s rant are some of the milder comments he’s made about DC and climate scientists, in general. I’m not sure if it’s the same diatribe that John Mashey linked to, since Rapp seems to frequently edit and recycle his postings about DC at spaceclimate.net, but one version of Rapp’s commentary contained unprintable invective, as well as repetition of the word/sphrases, “braying donkeys,” “religious zealots,” “Taliban,” “morons,” and “janitors, trash collectors and hash slingers” (apparently one of his favorites), as catalogued by MarkB. For someone who claims to be “open-minded” on the subject of climate change, Mr. Rapp represents himself as being quite unhinged. It’s also interesting to note how much he repeats himself. I guess on first read, one might think it’s entertaining, but it’s pretty embarrassing stuff to read. He might hold the record for most ludicrous whoppers per column inch of text.

  21. Here’s the link again to MarkB ‘s catalog of Rapp’s strange word choices.

  22. Deep Climate … makes the Christian Science Monitor, article on plagiarism in the headlines.

    Wegman Report was #2 of 4, ahead of Bush book and next Harry Potter thing, but behind French author who copied Wikipedia but knew that wasn’t plagiarism.

  23. George W. Bush has plagiarized?

    What, his dad’s life?

  24. John Mashey:
    You tried but I failed. A Greenfries post lifted the scales from my eyes. Said stated their job was to credit [critique] the hockey team, meaning all of them.
    I now get your point about the necessity of the network ( fellow traveller) analysis section.

    A suspicious person might think Wegman was chosen because he had the network stuff near at hand .

    [DC: I’ve made a slight, but necessary correction. 🙂 ]

    • Said also mentioned that some (presumably including some reviewers) objected to this analysis. But Wegman et al included it anyway. By the way, the inspiration for the social network analysis is clearly McIntyre’s “analyses” of authorship and overlapping proxies in the infamous May 11 presentation for the George Marshall Institute.

      For clarity, Greenfyre points out this statement of Said’s (from her presentation on the Wegman panel that I discovered almost a year ago, and that has now been carefully removed from the GMU server):

      “The fundamental question was “Were the Canadians [ie McIntyre and McKitrick] correct in the critique of the Hockey Team?” “critique of the Hockey Team”?

      Indeed, that says it all.


  25. Seems rather odd, in a plagiarism complaint, that the sole condition for dropping said complaint, is striking the Wegman Report from the Congressional Record. It seems implausible that neither the plaintiff or Mann brought this up at the time of publication of this highly visible report of which they are the subject. The non-conformist are already running with this as professional blackmail to alter the Congressional Record. I want to remain open but I have questions like why this investigation is taking so long given wordage on this page? I still haven’t looked into the relevance of the 6 or so Bradley citations in the bibliography. And when is someone going to explain that graph behind Bradley on his Umass page. Anyone has access to the official Vostok records and knows you can’t paste air concentrations on to ice core records and call it “Greenhouse Gas Record From the Vostok Ice Cores”?

    • Certainly the obvious lack of expertise in paleoclimatology and social network analysis were raised at the time. And so were the egregious flaws at the heart of Wegman et al’s analysis, including the exclusion of all relevant peer-reviewed science directly bearing on the M&M critique, and the Wegman panel’s complete misunderstanding of key elements of the M&M methodology.

      The 6 or so citations are a gross exaggeration. Five of these refer to two tables presented before the relevant passages. The final citation is an exhortation to “see Bradley” for further details on calibration only. The intervening passages were not attributed, and indeed it would be impossible to do so, since in some cases sentences clearly derived from Bradley’s wording have had other elements added from other sources.

      Finally, the kerfuffle about the graph is yet another tempest in a teapot. Does Anthony Watts really not understand the difference between direct measurement (in this case of CO2 content in an air sample) and estimation of temperature from proxies?

    • Does Anthony Watts really not understand…

      The answer is ‘no’.

  26. And when is someone going to explain that graph behind Bradley on his Umass page. Anyone has access to the official Vostok records and knows you can’t paste air concentrations on to ice core records and call it “Greenhouse Gas Record From the Vostok Ice Cores”?

    Did one of Mr. Watts’ parrots escape?

  27. I have to go out, but I am amused to find jcrane’s exact words in the “concanchg” comment at Christian Science Monitor.

    • JM, your careful reply to “jcrane/concanchg” at CSM seems to have silenced his comment, much as William Holder beat a hasty retreat on exposure of his repetitive (plagiarized?) postings. Come to think of it, there seems to be a lot of silence about Wegman’s plagiarism from the denialist camp these days. It appears they feel the best strategy is lying in wait (pun acknowledged) for the time being.

      I’m curious about who these sock puppets are that have so much time to seek out articles in venues such as Christian Science Monitor, Psychology Today, and various “green business” or “green consumer” blogs in which to post their obviously cut-and-paste comments, where they can assume a significant percentage (not necessarily a majority) of the average audience would not be knowledgeable enough to easily distinguish between science and anti-science arguments. (No disrespect to CSM readers intended, but the concepts are often confusing to the proportion of readers with limited science backgrounds or even those who should know better, and those who haven’t devoted some time and effort beyond reading the occasional article and online comments, QED the authors and readers at Climate Audit and WUWT.) To none of DC’s regular readers’ surprise, there appears to be a deliberate strategy of contamination at play, whereby these sock puppets post their remarks wherever they feel they can insert doubt about AGW in the minds of those who are undecided or uncertain about the issues. Call it jury tampering, if you will. Another example of such calculated and theatrical gestures is Mr. Holder’s dramatic and wounded exit from Replication and Due Diligence, after he failed to draw DC into a pointless argument about a common denialist meme.

  28. Well, meanwhile, people may learn about George Mason University’s handling of the plagiarism complaints.

    • GMU’s “unquiry and unvestigation” comes at a very unconvenient time for GMU alum Cuccinelli’s political witch hunt against Mann and UVA scientists. I wonder if any pressure is being applied by the Unttorney General to this case. I also wonder if the response by GMU spokesperson Stough to Bradley’s latest inquiry, i.e., no comment–this is a personnel matter, suggests GMU is quietly negotiating with Wegman to leave GMU and start a new career with one of the many [other] Koch-funded think tanks.

      In light of GMU’s upcoming accreditation review by SACS, another item could be added to the list of interesting unanswered questions at the end of Section 4, “How will this process be viewed by ORI, funding, and accreditation agencies?”

    • Not entirely fair to compare the handling by Rice and GMU. Apparently, Wegman accepted all responsibility for the plagiarised sections. That makes it an easy case for Rice: there IS no case for them.

      GMU has a trickier issue: there IS a case…

    • Also, Rice has a much lighter inquiry process than many universities; for example, no committee is involved and the responsible administrator can act unilaterally to close the complaint or recommend investigation.

      I think PSU is an interesting comparison. In Mann’s case, they were much more transparent, and resolved both phases in reasonable time. And despite the lack of evidence or even the existence of a coherent formal complaint in that case, they even investigated the catchall discipline-specific “standards” violations. That was perhaps bending over backwards to be thorough, as no one had actually made those particular accusations.

      I’ve been delayed in my post on John’s report, but I hope to have it out soon.

    • A couple of interesting and relevant policies of the SACS are worth reading: Integrity and Accuracy in Institutional Representation and Principles of Accreditation.

      From Section 1 of Principles of Accreditation,

      “…evidence of withholding information, providing inaccurate information to the public, failing to provide timely and accurate information to the Commission, or failing to conduct a candid self-assessment of compliance with the Principles of Accreditation and to submit this assessment to the Commission, and other similar practices will be seen as the lack of a full commitment to integrity.”

      Perhaps this only applies to the candidate institutions’ dealings with SACS, but it appears to have a broader meaning that GMU doesn’t appear to be upholding with respect to their inquiry into Wegman’s alleged misconduct.

  29. Marco:
    I thought I noted the differences between Rice and GMU. Rice is lighter weight, but when the complaint arrived, all they knew was that Scott was the 2nd author, and the default sssumption for such a report, in which sections are not labeled with authors, is that authors have likely reviewed most of the report.

    It took GMU 5 months to have the first inquiry meeting.

    So why is that not a fair comparison. Neither of them knew what they would find. One started their lightweight inquiry within days, the other took 5 months. That comparison at least started with the same complaint, and the comparison is not on the length of duration of inquiry, but on the huge difference in getting started. One would expect GMU to take longer to start, but not 5 months.

    I mentioned Penn State briefly, and when I update thus (and there is a real zinger coming), I may add more. I’ll have to go back and look at what can I can write based in public information.

  30. There is such a large amoutn of material now about the Wegman debacle that this question may already have been asked several times, but as I have not seen anything on the matter, and as it has been bothering me for a while, I’ll ask here…

    How is it that so many of Wegman’s students have participated in inappropriate behaviour in their writing – vidēre licet the numerous examples of plagiarism? Is this something that has been explicitly or implicitly encouraged at the supervisor level, or is there simply a culture of such behaviour permeating the student corpus? If the latter, how did it originate in the first place, and how is it that it wasn’t caught at the supervisory level and dealt with?

    I find it remarkable that there should be such a consistent thread of such behaviour in a group of postgrads. My own postgrad colleagues and I would have been mortified to at the thought of being caught with even a single paragraph of unattributed material in our papers/theses: Wegman’s group seems to have collectively – and cheerfully – made a habit of it.

    How on earth could this happen?

    • Perhaps another question that should be addressed is whether this behaviour is particular to the supervisor in question or endemic from the departmental all the way up to the whole university level.

      Comments from intra- and extra-departmental GMU staff (anonymous, if necessary) might be enlightening.

    • At first I thought that the reason why Wegman report copied so much was because they wanted to convince everybody that they really understand what they are writing about (as they obviously didn’t), but now when the copying can be seen all over the place I think that Wegman simply does not understand what plagiarism is, and that his habit of appropriating “unoriginal” text rubbed off on some of his students.

    • Rocco,

      Some of Wegman’s statements sound as if he still doesn’t understand what plagiarism is, but these defenses aren’t at all credible. It’s as though he was arrested for speeding 60 mph down a crowded sidewalk, and then claiming he didn’t know that driving on the sidewalk was illegal. He’s a professor and he should know what generally accepted standards of academic integrity are. You’d think he’d be a little bit more careful, given that he was writing a paper that impugned the integrity of other researchers.

    • Taylor B : I agree. For example, using Wegman’s concept of plagiarism, one could publish a review paper consisting of nothing but copied text and then brush off complaints by saying that it was not intended to contain anything original anyway. It’s just silly.

  31. tedkirkpatrick

    I think a lot is explained by the list of Wegman’s Ph.D. students on p. 73 of John Mashey’s report. In the ten years 2000-2009, Wegman graduated 17 (!) doctoral students. All this on top of an active career participating at high levels of several professional associations, organizing conferences, and so forth. I don’t think anyone could provide detailed supervision of nearly two dissertations per year.

    I’d say the GMU administration has some culpability. Typically, when university admins identify one of their faculty as high-profile, they give the faculty member some extra support. For example, they make it easier for that member to get space (a key resource at universities), and provide high-level support for grant applications, such as having a university VP or even the president write a letter of support for the grant. But this aid comes with a great cost: The faculty member is expected to sustain copious production of papers, patents, grants, and students. The quality of the professor’s work can suffer. They’re simply spread too thin.

    I don’t have specific evidence of this happening at GMU but given that this dynamic is near-universal at universities, I expect it to be happening in this case. By all means relentlessly critique the outcomes and the process but show some sympathy for Ed Wegman, too. He’s responsible for his choices of course but it’s easy for people outside universities to miss the strong social pressures universities exert towards this sort of outcome. I’d love to see this mess cause university admins around the world to recalibrate their expectations for their own golden girls and boys. We’d have happier researchers and better research.

    • Tedkirkpatrick.

      I certainly take your point about the pressures on academics to acheive maximum output, but if this is the reason for the Wegman group’s bad academic behaviour, it casts Wegman as a poor researcher/supervisor, and his students as being inadequately trained and/or principled.

      I can think of several “golden boys” in my current and previous disciplines of ecology and immunology who have, or had in the past, prodigious outputs, and outputs that were not acheived for the sake of a few cut corners. Anyone familiar with their work can easily recognise the originality, the reference to the work of others, and the competence with which papers were constructed. These people have the same pressures as Wegman might (and in ecology I would dare say that they have much more!), and they have never found it necessary to cheat using plagiarism.

      A few years ago when I was taking the lab courses for a lot of different biology subjects I used to spend the first hour of the first classes reading the students the riot act. I pointed out that when reporting on their own experimentation, not only is there no shame in appropriately referencing others’ work, it actually indicates to the reader that the author has read widely, and synthesised critically in the context of their own work. If no original work is involved (as in an essay, say), there is again no shame in referencing others: in this case they are reviewing a subject, and a good review is copiously referenced, to reflect the breadth of the area. A good review is characterised by how well the body of understanding has been summarised (by explicit referencing), and how this material is synthesised into a coherent whole.

      Appropriate referencing does not detract from an author’s work, and does much to enhance it. Even when the author is a first-year student with little understanding of the discipline there is no benefit in plagiarising – the effort to find the material with which do so in order to pass it as one’s own is the same as is required to locate it in order to acknowledge the work in the context of similar material. There is more shame in being caught trying to pass intellectual property as one’s own rather than in simply demonstrating that one has read and understood it, and placed it in the context of one’s own efforts. All that one has to do in the second case is to add the reference to the biobliography, which is not an onerous task!

      And in the student context most lecturers and supervisors are familiar with the relevant literature anyway, and can spot plagiarism at a hundred paces.

      Most students are relieved to hear such explanations when it is put to them in this way, because they recognise that clear and explicit demonstration of synthesised knowledge trumps the requirement for reams of ‘originality’. Once this is understood, my students usually became very effective attributors.

      Plagiarism does not benefit an undergraduate student. Undetected plagiarism may benefit a PhD candidate (slightly) or an academic if they are unable to deliver any originality of their own, but detection is ever more likely with increasing use of plagiarism software, and discovery of plagiarism is disproportionately negative compared with any imagined benefit. Plagiarism at this level is akin to fraud. And any sort of plagiarism is poor scholarship – heck, it’s not even scholarship, when all is said and done.

      The only time that I have had any sympathy for a student plagiarising an idea was, ironically, the instance that I spent the most time trying to confirm. A student had made a comment, in an essay on microbiology, about taking a ‘pill’ in a container of yoghurt, when discussing probiotics and recombinant technology. I’d read a similar comment almost word-for-word in New Scientist during the previous year, and I pulled him up on it. He was mortified to discover that his idea was not original, and claimed that he hadn’t intended to explicitly appropriate the concept as his own and that it had just seemed a catchy thing to say. I spent hours trying to find the comment online, and in going through back-issues, but I could not find it, and during the course of the exercise I realised that the student was probably telling the truth. The original article was catchy but colloquial and brief, and the comment in question was very much like an ear-worm – even though I could not locate it, I could remember where I was sitting an what I was eating for lunch when I read it. However, it was only seeing it in the context of a student essay that made me recall that I’d seen it before.

      This incident demonstrates that there is a degree to which ideas might slip under the radar of consciousness and reappear in one’s own work, and especially in the work of people new to a field. A bit of poking around in such cases will clarify such instances, and in my case the student went on to become one of my best, and one of great integrity. Wegman’s group’s behaviour though does not qualify as such benign slipping-up – the copying is precise, and it is explicit, and it is extensive both in magnitude and in distribution through the group. And worse, in some cases it has been adulterated to mean something other than was originally intended, but without any primary evidence to support the new ‘interpretation’.

      It absolutely flummoxes me that plagiarism to this extent can exist in an academic group, pressure or no pressure. Until Deep Climate and John Mashey came along, Wegman’s professional colleagues in the field must have been asleep at the wheel…

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      Yes, the pressure to perform can lead to professors spreading themselves too thin, or going for the set metrics of achievement, rather than achievement itself. I see this a lot around me. They should be the same thing, but rarely are.

      That being said, dishonesty is a choice. And when a fellow scientist makes that choice, it makes me a lot more angry than when, e.g., a politician or a businessman does so. I mean, that is expected, but when a scientist constructs an elaborate lie like this — knowingly, with intent to deceive the public! — he betrays the public trust in science. I say, throw the book at him.

      It’s like a cop killer being punished more severely — and rightly so — than an “ordinary” murderer: it’s not because a cop’s life is worth more than that of a non-cop; it’s because attacking cops is an assault on law enforcement itself.

      The perception of fairness would seem to demand that Wegman, if found guilty, would be punished at least as severely as denialists have been insisting Michael Mann should be punished, for completely imaginary crimes. Well, perhaps short of drawing and quartering.

  32. The perception of fairness would seem to demand that Wegman, if found guilty, would be punished at least as severely as denialists have been insisting Michael Mann should be punished, for completely imaginary crimes. Well, perhaps short of drawing and quartering.

    If Michael Mann were as incapable of feeling shame/embarrassment as his detractors are, he could turn this thing around and become a multimillionaire almost overnight. All he would have to do is “come out” and claim that he has “seen the light” regarding the supposed “errors” in his research.

    If he were to go on the talk-show circuit and do the “Prodigal Son” shtick, he could tap into some serious “Koch Brothers” money. Wingnut-welfare think-tanks would be falling all over themselves to offer him cushy sinecure positions, and Faux News would be dangling big bucks in front of him to work for them as a “consulting scientist”. Who knows? He just might find himself hosting his very own “hate-radio” program.

    So Dr. Mann — if you were only willing to stoop to the level of your detractors, the sky would be the limit for you financially. No NSF grant hassles, no obnoxious anonymous reviewers to deal with — just bask in the glory of the American wingnut community while they throw money at you.

  33. An addendum, a large amount text from Al-Shameri’s 2006 PhD can be found in a 2009 conference paper Automated Generation of Metadata for Studying and Teaching about Africa from an Africancentric Perspective: Opportunities, Barriers and Signs of Hope by Abdul Karim Bangura a Howard U. prof. It seem to make up almost all of pages 3-19 – much is almost verbatim and even section headings are the same. I noticed the link on google previously and assumed it was a ugrad paper. I doubt anyone will ever read the paper – but given the amount of common material I decided I to inform Howard U.

    Notably text has travelled Grossman 1995 -> Wegman et al 1997 -> Al-Shameri 2006 -> Bangura 2009 which must be a record.

  34. Yep there are ~250 words in Banura 2009 indirectly from Grossman’s 95 thesis including Grossman’s description of the key hypothesis he is addressing in his Phd: Grossman writes:

    “Both DBMS and IR systems provide some functionality to maintain data that is not intuitive to their approach. DBMS allow users to store unstructured data in Binary Large Objects (BLOB) and IR systems allow users to enter structured data in zoned fields. However, DBMS offer only a limited query language for values that occur in BLOB attributes. Similarly, IR systems lack robust functionality for zoned fields. Additionally, IR systems traditionally lack efficient parallel algorithms. An inverted index may be modeled as a relation. This treats IR as an application of a DBMS. Using this approach, it is possible to implement a variety of IR functionality and achieve good run-time performance. Users can issue complex queries including both structured data and text. A request to find articles containing vehicle and sales published in journals with over 5,000,000 subscribers requires a search of unstructured data to find the keywords vehicle and sales, and structured data to locate circulation data.

    Our key hypothesis is that the use of a relational DBMS to model an inverted index will: Allow users to query both structured data and text via standard SQL. In this fashion, users may use any relational DBMS that supports standard SQL. Allow implementation of traditional IR functionality such as Boolean retrieval, proximity searches, and relevance ranking. Take advantage of current parallel DBMS implementations so that acceptable run-time performance can be obtained by increasing the number of processors applied to the problem.”

    Bangura 2009 has:

    “Both DBMS and IR systems provide some functionality to maintain data that is not intuitive to their approach. DBMS allow users to store unstructured data in Binary Large Objects (BLOB) and IR systems allow users to enter structured data in zoned fields. However, DBMS offer only a limited query language for values that occur in BLOB attributes. Similarly, IR systems lack robust functionality for zoned fields. Additionally, IR systems traditionally lack efficient parallel algorithms. An inverted index may be modeled as a relation. This treats IR as an application of a DBMS. Using this approach, it is possible to implement a variety of IR functionality and achieve good run-time performance. Users can issue complex queries including both structured data and text. A request to find articles containing vehicle and sales published in journals with over 5,000,000 subscribers requires a search of unstructured data to find the keywords vehicle and sales, and structured data to locate circulation data.

    Our key hypothesis is that the use of a relational DBMS to model an inverted index will: Allow users to query both structured data and text via standard SQL. In this fashion, users may use any relational DBMS that supports standard SQL. Allow implementation of traditional IR functionality such as Boolean retrieval, proximity searches, and relevance ranking. Take advantage of current parallel DBMS implementations so that acceptable run-time performance can be obtained by increasing the number of processors applied to the problem.”

  35. TrueSceptic

    Just how much of this has been going on, and for how long? Before the ubiquity of internet access it was probably much harder for anyone to spot “striking similarities” but now … ?

  36. andrewt, why did you not share with your friends what you discovered about the more than 11-year working relationship between Alshameri and Bangura, the projects on which they have worked jointly and their new million-dollar metadata and other ongoing research initiatives, why they do not pedantically add the other person’s name on a conference paper when that person says it is not necessary?

    [DC: I suppose you are objecting to this].

    • Buster I know nothing of any relationship between Al-shameri or Bangura. As the material has been previously published by Wegman et al in 1997 and part also by Grossman in 1995 Al-shameri couldn’t consent, and even he was in a position to consent I’m not sure Howard University would consider it acceptable.

      Googling to refresh my memory for this piece I discover the ~20 pages from Baguara 2009 has been published yet again in the book “African Mathematics: From Bones to Computers” by Mamokgethi Setati & Abdul Karim Bangura. Counting Wegman & Al-shameri’s patent application this seems to be the 6th publication of David Grossman’s paragraphs on databases.

      I notice also Setati & Bangura are big Wikipedia fans for example Wikipedia’s article on Tessellation appears to (almost verbatim) make up from mid page112 to page 116 of their book and Wikipedia’s article on combinatorics also seems to contribute several pages to the book and there looked to be more that might have come from Wikipedia I don’t have time to check. Sadly despite being such big Wikipedia fans Setati & Bangura have forgotten to mention Wikpedia anywhere in their book.

      To give you the flavour S&B have:

      “Tessellations of n-dimensional hyperbolic space. An example is Escher’s Circle Limit III that depicts a tessellation of the hyperbolic plane using the Poincaré disk model with congruent fish-like shapes. The hyperbolic plane permits a tessellation with regular p-gons meeting in q’s when [formula] Circle Limit III may be depicted as a tiling of octagons meeting in threes, with all sides replaced with jagged lines and each octagon then cut into four fish.”

      and Wiki has:

      “Tessellations of n-dimensional hyperbolic space. For example, M. C. Escher’s Circle Limit III depicts a tessellation of the hyperbolic plane (using the Poincaré disk model) with congruent fish-like shapes. The hyperbolic plane admits a tessellation with regular p-gons meeting in q’s whenever [formula] Circle Limit III may be understood as a tiling of octagons meeting in threes, with all sides replaced with jagged lines and each octagon then cut into four fish.”

  37. Please note that I am not co-author of the book African Mathematics: From Bones to Computers. I only contributed the last chapter.

    • My apologies to Mamokgethi Setati if she contributed only the last chapter, the material from Wikipedia, Grossman and Wegman et al appears in earlier chapters. The last chapter appears to be original and follow normal academic standards.