Early climate contrarian reactions to the retraction of Said, Wegman et al 2008 have grasped at straws, holding that this does not affect the findings of the paper and the earlier Wegman report alleging inadequate peer review in climate science.
Now USA Today’s Dan Vergano, who broke the the retraction story, addresses exactly that contention in a follow up piece. Social network analysis expert Kathleen Carley of Carnegie Mellon calls Said et al “more of an opinion piece” that would have required “major revision” to render it fit for publication in an SNA journal.
And it gets worse. Computational Statistics and Data Analysis chief editor Stanley Azen “personally reviewed” the paper and sent Wegman an acceptance notice within days of submission. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s Skip Garner enumerates the potential consequences of the research misconduct finding, including the possible need to investigate “ethical issues such as conflict-of-interest, haste vs. scientific rigor and bias”.
Vergano’s devastating piece quotes liberally from his email interview with Carley, which focused on Said et al’s methodology in examining the relative merits of the “entrepreneurial” and “mentor” styles of co-authorship [updated 2011/05/16]:
The authors speculate that the entrepreneurial style leads to peer review abuse. No data is provided to support this argument. … [Emphasis added]
Q: Would you have recommended publication of this paper if you were asked to review it for regular publication — not as an opinion piece — in a standard peer-reviewed network analysis journal?
A: No – I would have given it a major revision needed.
Q: (How would you assess the data in this study?)
[A:] Data: Compared to many journal articles in the network area the description of the data is quite poor. That is the way the data was collected, the total number of papers, the time span, the method used for selecting articles and so on is not well described.
By the way, it seems there is a connection of Carley to the Wegman team.
[Carley] even taught the one-week course that one of Wegman’s students took before 2006, making the student the “most knowledgeable” person about such analyses on Wegman’s team, according to a note that Wegman sent to CSDA in March.
So this appears to be the unnamed student expert who provided SNA background material used in Said et al and on whom Wegman is clumsily attempting to shift responsibility. On top of everything else, that speaks volumes about the actual credited authors’ supposed expertise. And it does cast a new light on Yasmin Said’s stated areas of expertise back in July 2007 when the paper was submitted and she was still associate editor at the CSDA journal.
Y.H. Said …. Rockville, MD, USA
Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Public Health, Statistical Modeling and Graphics, Adaptive Design, Social Network Theory, Data Mining, Time Series Analysis, Computer Intrusion Detection, Climatology, Metadata [Emphasis added]
[Update, May 17: Vergano’s follow up now has new information on the previously unnamed student who provided the SNA background section for the Wegman report. It’s Denise Reeves of Mitre, whose contribution to the report had been acknowledged without specifying her role.
“I was Dr. Wegman’s graduate student when I provided him with the overview of social network analysis, at his request. My draft overview was later incorporated by Dr. Wegman and his coauthors into the 2006 report. I was not an author of the report.
“The format of the 2006 report involved a limited amount of citations. The social network material that I provided to Dr. Wegman followed the format of the report.”(emphasis hers)
Adding that she has met with a George Mason University misconduct committee, Reeves concluded, “My academic integrity is not being questioned.”
Indeed it’s telling that the Wegman panel found it acceptable that such a large swathe of background material – five pages – required no citations at all. It should also be noted that the section was considerably reduced when used in the Said et al co-author Walid Sharabati’s thesis and the soon-to-be retracted Said et al 2008. And there is really no wiggle room here; if Said et al authors really thought Reeves had produced a totally original exposition of SNA off the top of her head, as far-fetched as that may seem, then she should have received specific acknowledgment in the later work. Instead they put in one desultory citation to Marc Granovetter for one specific statement on the power of “weak ties”. ]
And most ironically for a paper purporting to assess the relationship between co-authorship “style” and peer review quality, it is still unclear that any substantive peer review occurred.
Five days after Wegman’s email submitting the paper, chief editor (and longtime friend) Stanley Azen wrote back:
I personally reviewed your very interesting (and unique) manuscript. I think the paper is very interesting, and I could not identify any errors. So, I am pleased to inform you and your colleagues that your paper “Social Networks of Author-Coauthor Relationships” has been accepted for publication in Computational Statistics and Data Analysis.
That email was provided to Vergano by Wegman in response to an FOIA last year. Vergano continues with Azen’s comments:
Azen says he must have overseen an earlier, more extensive review of the paper involving outside reviewers. But he says he has no records of this earlier review, because his records were destroyed in an office move. “I would never have done just a personal review,” he says.
So Azen appears to claim that reviews “must have” been requested and done in the previous week, given the official date of submission, yet he has no electronic records of those reviews and the presumed hard copies have been destroyed.
We’ll give the last word to Virginia Tech’s Skip Garner, who was one of three experts who had earlier confirmed likely plagiarism in the Wegman report and Said et al.
The retraction of an article is a serious and impactful action, for it confirms that a complete analysis by the editors confirmed inappropriate ‘re-use’ of material, and in this case issues with the review process that was in place at the time.
….[I]t is important that the notice of retraction be propagated back to the literature databases and search engines so that future users know not to use the material. Retracting on a web site is only the first step in that process …
And one final note, the finding of ‘plagiarism’ may also be an indicator of other possible questionable ethical issues such as conflict-of-interest, haste vs. scientific rigor and bias, which may need to be investigated.