By Deep Climate
A year ago, I first identified scholarship issues in the 2006 Wegman report, the contrarian touchstone commissioned by Republican congressman Joe Barton as part of his concerted campaign to discredit the “hockey stick” temperature reconstruction and the scientists behind it, especially Michael Mann. (The report was produced by lead author George Mason University statistics professor Edward Wegman, along with co-authors Rice University professor David Scott and Wegman protégé Yasmin Said, although Scott seems to have had little to do with it). Eventually, I demonstrated apparent plagiarism in 10 pages of background sections in the report, as well as in an obscure (but federally funded) follow-up article by Said, Wegman and two other Wegman acolytes. At the time, it seemed a matter of interest only in the blogosphere, while the mainstream media ignored the issue in favour of the bogus “climategate” scandal.
But it turned out that my work had come to the attention of at least one important player in this drama – paleoclimatologist and “hockey stick” co-author Raymond Bradley. Back in March, Bradley quietly filed an initial complaint with GMU alleging plagiarism by Wegman et al of Bradley’s own work, attaching some of my initial analysis. Two months later, Bradley updated GMU with my further evidence of more “widespread” plagiarism, including wholesale copying of passages from two social network text books and Wikipedia, in both the Wegman report itself, and the follow-up 2008 article by Said et al. Bradley also took special care to point out the discovery of federal funding for the latter, which made the apparent breaches of misconduct policy all the more serious.
None of this was known until the ever patient Bradley went public, notably in recent statements in online and print articles by USA Today science reporter Dan Vergano. Now, a comprehensive report by John Mashey, based on the complete communication between Bradley and GMU research vice president Roger Stough, along with an analysis of GMU’s academic misconduct policy, shows exactly why Bradley finally came forward. Strange Investigations at George Mason University [PDF 2.6 Mb ], presents a shocking picture of foot-dragging and lack of transparency at GMU. Despite the copious evidence presented by Bradley, no substantive action ensued until the belated August convening of the inquiry committee. That committee was supposed to have reported within 60 days of its ostensible nomination in April, and had only to consider the limited question of whether the allegations were substantive enough to warrant a full-blown investigation. Yet even the committee’s belated start only came after the intervention of Elsevier environmental sciences publisher John Fedor. Even worse, GMU’s Stough failed to provide promised progress reports, and the inquiry committee missed Stough’s stated September 30 deadline for delivery of its report. And Stough’s last substantive response in October to Bradley vaguely referred to needing “a few weeks more” to wrap up the inquiry phase, while since then he has stonewalled all further requests for updates.
So more than nine long months after Bradley’s initial complaint, GMU has yet to clearly reach the end of its initial inquiry, a phase that should have been pursued rigorously and resolved easily within GMU’s own timelines. That is especially so given the compelling evidence and the impetus of the serious issue of federal funding, which normally requires resolution of a misconduct inquiry within 60 days as a matter of law. All of this calls into serious question GMU’s misconduct policy and process, and indeed the university’s very commitment to fundamental principles of academic integrity.
A good place to start is John Mashey’s helpful timeline chart, which compares GMU’s stated process and nominal deadlines to the actual progress made in the case.
Mashey also gives the following timeline for the first few steps of the GMU process, assuming receipt of the allegations by GMU on March 15 and execution of following steps within the stated time lines.
|Date||Total days||Int. days||Stage/milestone|
|03/15/10||0||0||A. Allegation received.|
|03/29/10||14||14||B. Dean or Institute Director determines if inquiry warranted|
|04/12/10||28||14||C. If so, Provost appoints committee, followed by possible challenges.|
|–||–||D. First meeting of inquiry committee|
|06/11/10||88||60||E. Inq. Com. completes report and makes recommendation. Investigate? (Y/N)|
|06/25/10||102||14||F. Dean/Director reviews and makes final determination. Investigate? (Y/N)|
The rest of the process can take up to 10 months or more, including the full investigation itself (120 days) and possible appeal to the university president (100 days).
The allegations and initial reactions
The story really starts with my first piece on the Wegman report just over a year ago, which noted unmistakable copying of unattributed antecedent sources in background sections on tree ring proxies (taken from Bradley’s text book Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary) and on social networks (identifying Wikipedia, as well as and Wasserman and Faust as obvious sources). I noted that the copying – and subtle distortion – of the Bradley passages was particularly troubling. And, presaging subsequent revelations concerning the Wegman panel process and its inspiration from a key George Marshall Institute presentation, I observed the close co-operation of “hockey stick” critics Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick with the PR disinformation campaign run by Tom Harris at APCO Worldwide, among others. (Of course, I also identified several unattributed passages from Wegman et al in a text book by physicist turned climate change gadfly Donald Rapp, who has provided endless entertainment ever since. But I digress.)
My immediately following (and more detailed) analyses of Wegman et al’s sections on tree rings, as well as ice cores and coral proxies (also largely copied from Bradley’s text book) eventually came to Bradley’s attention, apparently via Richard Littlemore at Desmogblog. Soon after, Bradley began a long convoluted series of communications with George Mason Umiversity, all of which can be seen in Mashey’s Appendix A2, starting at page 19 of SIGMU. Bradley’s first complaint on March 5 included my initial side-by-side tree ring comparison (cited by Littlemore), along with Bradley’s own highlighted version of Wegman et al’s ice core section. (My most recent side-by-side comparisons for tree-rings, and for ice cores and corals feature more detailed highlighting and comparison).
As well, Bradley sent his complaint to Rice University (David Scott’s home institution); apparently the letter took ten days to reach Rice preseident David Leebron, one day longer than Rice took to resolve the matter! In a reply to Bradley dated March 24, Rice vice president James Coleman stated their inquiry had exonerated Scott, as there was “persuasive evidence” that Wegman himself had taken “full responsibility for preparing the allegedly plagiarized text” and that Scott had played no role in that section of the report. Coleman also promised full co-operation with GMU’s research misconduct proceeding, if any.
GMU itself did not reply until April 8; even at that early date problems were already apparent. For starters, April 8 was already well beyond any reasonable time to determine if an initial inquiry were warranted, yet research vice-president Roger Stough implied that even that limited determination had not been made, referring to an as yet incomplete “initial stage”.
Stough also stated that he was forwarded the complaint by university president Merton, as he was the “senior official responsible for processing complaints of this type”. But this too was not in accordance with GMU’s misconduct policy, which states:
Allegations received by a person other than the respondent’s Dean or Institute Director should be promptly referred to the Dean or Director.
The reason for this is quite simple; it is the respondent’s dean, not the research vice-president, who is responsible for making the initial determination that an inquiry is warranted. Since Wegman is on the faculty of the Department of Computational and Data Sciences, College of Science Dean Vikas Chandhoke should have immediately been forwarded the complaint.
Not only that, but Stough flatly states that Bradley should expect no update until the whole process has run its course. Yet the GMU policy clearly states that it is up to the Committee of Inquiry to recommend “whether the complainant should be notified of the results of the inquiry”. And since Bradley himself was one of the aggrieved parties, it’s hard to imagine a more compelling situation where a complainant should be updated of progress. So all in all, this was a very unpromising start by GMU.
And there the matter lay, until I completed my analysis of the Wegman et al background section on social networks, a section used by Wegman et al as a launching pad for accusations of supposed inadequate peer review among an intellectually incestuous social network. In addition to the Wasserman and Faust text book and the Wikipedia article I had identified in the very beginning, I also found material copied from another text book, by de Nooy et al. In fact, almost the entire five pages of this section could be traced to these three antecedents, most of it verbatim, without any attribution whatsoever.
Even worse, some of the same copied material also found its way into the introduction of a 2008 follow up paper on co-authorship styles by Said, Wegman and two other Wegman proteges, Walid Sharabhati and John Rigsby. (Rigsby had also been credited with contribution to the Wegman report, while Sharabati had produced an extensive analysis of Wegman’s own co-authorship network that was used in Wegman’s response to supplementary questions by Rep. Bart Stupak and then recycled in Said et al). Social Networks of Author–Coauthor Relationships had sailed through a cursory six-day peer review at Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, where Wegman was (and remains) a longtime advisory board member, and Said had been editor. The authors also acknowledged funding from the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Said) and the Army Research Office (Wegman). The NIAAA is under the umbrella of the National Institute of Health, thus bringing this paper under the ultimate oversight of the federal Office of Research Integrity.
The post, entitled Wegman and Said on social networks: More dubious scholarship, ran on April 22 and featured detailed side-by-side comparisons (since updated for both Wegman et al Section 2.3 and for Said et al 2008 introduction). The large swathes of copied material and minimal desultory editing was, if anything, even more obviously problematic than the Bradley based sections.
On May 13, Bradley updated GMU with this new “further evidence” of plagiarism, pointing directly to my “extensive analysis”. He went on to note the obvious implications of the federal funding of Said et al 2008:
The reported plagiarism also points to a number of federal grants that may be implicated in this matter, which raises a whole set of additional oversight concerns of which you should be aware.
This time, the response from GMU was stunned silence. So on July 13, now more than four months after the original complaint, and two months after the updated complaint, Bradley tried again.
GMU finally rouses itself – with a little nudge
On July 28, Stough finally gave Bradley the first substantive update on the matter:
The committee was formed April 2010. Its work was slowed with the checkerboard absence of the faculty members constituting the inquiry committee from campus. I expect the committee to complete their work by the end of September 2010.
Apparently frustrated by the slow response and incessant delays accompanied by weak excuses, Bradley copied Elsevier science publisher John Fedor on his next inquiry in mid-August:
Dear Dr Stough,
Please feel free to discuss this matter with John Fedor of Elsevier or any member of the Elsevier Legal Department.
Stough replied tersely:
John, yes we plan to have a report on this matter by end of September. Roger
Fedor thanked Stough for promising to deliver a report (which is already an improvement on Stough’s previous refusal to update Bradley until the very end of the process). But he was far from satisfied:
Thank you for confirming that a report will be submitted to Elsevier by the end of September. However, I will need updates prior to September 30 indicating that progress is being made with regard to a response directly from Edward Wegman regarding this issue. This is extremely important and I will continue to follow up with you until I have evidence that you and your team are looking into this matter. The unattributed use of Ray Bradley’s content is obvious, and I will continue to reach out to you until we have an indication that you are taking this matter as seriously as Elsevier.
Finally, Stough grudgingly gave out some details, leaving the distinct impression that scrutiny from Elsevier was engendering hasty improvisation:
Our process involves initially a review by the Dean of the College of Science, the home of Dr. Wegman. The Dean’s review resulted in a call for an inquiry. Following that a committe was formed but it was not possible to get the very highly qualified team of three on the committee together even for an initial formative meeting due to end of semester congestion and the fact that at least one of the members was away from campus at all times until the end of this week. The initial meeting of the Inquiry meeting is being scheduled for early next week at which time the Committee will go to work on this matter. The committee has been asked to prepare a report on the inquiry with recommendations before the end of September and sooner if at all possible. So we are moving with dispatch at this point. Roger
Four days following this exchange, Edward Wegman placed the following note on his Facebook page (as noted much later by Deep Climate reader Derecho64):
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.
As Mashey points out, this turn of events raises a host of questions in retrospect (SIGMU, p. 12). For one thing, the GMU process states that the respondent (Wegman, in this case) is to be notified of the formation and composition of the committee, and even has the right to appeal for removal of members. Yet Wegman appears to have been surprised to learn that the committee was about to meet. Among Mashey’s questions are:
- Did GMU actually form an inquiry committee in April?
- If so, was Wegman notified according to procedure?
- If so, did he take it seriously at that time? Why did August events seem to be a surprise?
- If not informed, why not? That would seem a rules violation
- If not in April, was the committee really formed in August in response to Bradley or Elsevier?
- When did Wegman first learn about the complaints to GMU?
Another pertinent question is why a committee that was supposed to report within 60 days would include a member who happened to be unavailable for a full four months. That fact alone should raise questions about GMU’s good faith and transparency in this matter.
GMU hunkers down
But things were to go from bad to worse. There was no further update from GMU, and the September 30 deadline passed in the continuing silence. Meanwhile USA Today reporter Dan Vergano had started following up on John Mashey’s comprehensive treatment of the Wegman Report. This presented Bradley with the opportunity to break his silence on the matter – seven long months after his original complaint. And yet, GMU remained unrepentant, signalling that there was no end in sight in an email on October 11:
Dear Dr. Bradley, our process has taken a bit longer than expected. So it will be a while yet (a few weeks I would guess) before we have completed the review of your plagerism allegation. Thanks, Roger
Although the actual final email exchange is unavailable, Mashey reported that the latest exchange on December 6 was even more discouraging:
Bradley asked again, reply from Stough said he can not comment as it was a personnel matter.
Thus, more than nine months after Bradley’s initial formal complaint, it is still not known whether GMU has managed to complete its inquiry, or whether there will be a formal investigation. What is clear, however, is that every step of the way GMU has not respected its own procedures and timelines, leading to unconscionable delay and obfuscation.
Even worse, it appears that GMU has flagrantly disregarded its obligations with respect to possible misconduct in federally funded work. The Office of Research Integrity’s Sample Policy and Procedures for Responding to Allegations of Research Misconduct lays out a sample policy with a very pertinent purpose:
This sample policy and procedures complies with the PHS Policies on Research Misconduct (42 CFR Part 93) that became effective June 16, 2005.
Over and over, we can see that GMU’s process falls short of the established practices recommended or mandated by the ORI.
For example, contrast GMU’s stonewalling of Bradley, with this recommended policy on complainant’s evidence:
The complainant is responsible for making allegations in good faith, maintaining confidentiality, and cooperating with the inquiry and investigation. As a matter of good practice, the complainant should be interviewed at the inquiry stage and given the transcript or recording of the interview for correction. … [Option: As a matter of policy or on the basis of case-by-case determinations, the institution may provide to the complainant for comment: (1) relevant portions of the inquiry report (within a timeframe that permits the inquiry to be completed within 60 days of its initiation); …
Now check out the ORI’s expectation of the inquiry time of completion:
G. Time for Completion
The inquiry, including preparation of the final inquiry report and the decision of the DO [Deciding Official] on whether an investigation is warranted, must be completed within 60 calendar days of initiation of the inquiry, unless the RIO [Research Integrity Officer] determines that circumstances clearly warrant a longer period. If the RIO approves an extension, the inquiry record must include documentation of the reasons for exceeding the 60-day period.
In contrast to the vague, “best efforts” approach in GMU’s policy, the ORI obligates the institution to respect this deadline as a matter of course, or show cause as to why it can’t be met. The dubious “checkerboard” availability excuse obviously would fall short.
GMU’s shameful foot–dragging and secrecy is in marked contrast to the expeditious, transparent process at other universities. Like, say, Penn State University, which dealt forthrightly with the spurious accusations against Michael Mann, even though that case was pressed by a mysteriously funded smear campaign notable for its complete lack of evidence, or for that matter any coherent complaint.
Is it any wonder that Raymond Bradley lost patience and went public? And yet despite the increased scrutiny, GMU seems in no hurry to finally do the right thing. Indeed, the entire episode calls into question GMU’s commitment to integrity (although that’s hardly a surprise given GMU’s roots as an adjunct to various think tanks). And don’t forget about the growing plagiarism scandal concerning Wegman’s recent PhD students and their dissertations, with three clear cases already (oops, make that four).
And who knows what else is lurking in the scholarship of Yasmin Said, as in, say, this opening to her chapter on genetic algorithms in a text book edited by (who else?) Edward Wegman and two others. (Rest assured we’ll be returning to that one, all right).
Perhaps, then, the obvious next step should be considered – a formal complaint to the Office of Research Integrity. And not against Wegman and Said, but against George Mason University itself. In fact, it is high time to recognize the obvious: GMU is simply not up to administering their own misconduct policy. Isn’t it time to hand the job over to an organization that can?