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Climate Scientist investigated (again!), vindicated (again!)

Michael Mann, by AAUP. Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University) gave the keynote address at the AAUP's Friday luncheon. Mann spoke of his experiences in being targeted by climate-change deniers

Michael Mann, by AAUP. Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University) gave the keynote address at the AAUP's Friday luncheon. Mann spoke of his experiences in being targeted by climate-change deniers

One of the world’s leading climate scientists, Michael Mann of Penn State, has been vindicated by the National Science Foundation. Almost no one noticed.

Mann is the author of the famous “hockey stick” graph showing rising global temperatures. The graph, based on research conducted in 1999, was included in the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (here). It is significant because it resulted from the first “multi-proxy” effort to reconstruct Northern Hemisphere temperature over the past thousand years. The “proxies” used included ice cores, tree rings, lake sediment cores, etc.

His results provoked interest and followup by scientists, some of which was fairly exacting. Some claimed that the data was incomplete or the statistical methods were wrong. That’s to be expected; scientists examine one another’s work as a matter of routine.

More significantly, the graph put Mann on a collision course with the emerging climate change denial industry (see also here, here, here and so on). A series of charges and accusations ensued.

Starting in 2006 and continuing to the present, all the investigations have turned up the same results. The climate scientists, including Mann, have been vindicated each time.

The accusations at issue in the current investigation arose from the “Climategate” scandal of late 2009; a trove of emails from climate scientists was put onto the web and attacked as proof that climate science is a fraud. As a result, Mann and numerous other scientists were investigated for scientific misconduct.

The NSF’s recent report followed up an investigation of Mann by Penn State. The university investigated charges against Mann for:
1. Falsifying research data
2. Concealing, deleting or otherwise destroying emails, information or data
3. Misusing privileged information
4. Seriously deviating from accepted practices for proposing, conducting or reporting research and other scholarly activities.

The university concluded there was no basis for the first three allegations. The NSF challenged the university to back up this conclusion by documenting its inquiry process, including how inquiry committee members were selected, what evidence they used, how they verified statements, etc. After investigating all the allegations de novo, the NSF decided the university had not adequately addressed the issue of falsification. In particular, it had not interviewed experts who were critical of Mann’s work. The NSF’s own investigation was not limited to the subject of falsification, but looked at the entire record for signs of research misconduct. It found that Mann had not concealed or falsified data, destroyed emails, misused privileged information or deviated from accepted practices. The NSF report is here.

In other words, Mann got the fine-tooth-comb treatment. And he was cleared, not just partly, but completely. After a series of investigations this exhaustive, on a subject this important, one would expect some news about it.

In fact, there has been only a trickle of interest. The climate-change blogosphere has noted it (DeSmogBlog, ClimateProgress, BadAstronomy). James Fallows noted it at the Atlantic, and Fox News managed a couple of dozen words. The other major media have relegated the issue to blog posts here and there.

More remarkably, there has been a deafening, thunderous silence from the climate-denialist crowd (Globalwarming, which has bragged of reducing the “hockey stick” to “splinters” and “sawdust”, has ignored the report. Likewise Wattsup, Heartland, Air Vent, Climate Audit). I could only find a snarky little post at Climate Depot, which tries to minimize the NSF conclusion. It cites a post by antigreen describing a “whitewash”. The author grumbles that the investigations by Penn State and by the NSF were “limited”.

It doesn’t conclude there is “nothing wrong” with Mann’s conclusions, all it concludes is there is no basis to conclude he did anything improper (WITH NSF FUNDING).

Would it be too much to ask of these people to say “gee, maybe we were wrong”. They claim to be interested in facts, in science, and some of them even have scientific degrees. They presumably understand what intellectual honesty is. As John Belushi used to say, “but NOOOOOO…” All we get is sour grapes, griping that Mann was only cleared of doing something improper with NSF funding. Well, perhaps that’s because that’s what Mann was charged with. I suppose they should have investigated whether Mann was bank robber or space alien. THEN they would have come up with something…

More seriously, if Mann had been condemned, I imagine there would have been a lot more attention. According to the “heads I win, tails you lose” standards applied to climate science, it is simply not news when an accused scientists is upheld. Accusations: that’s news. Vindications: *yawn*. This skews the record and gives the deniers most of the headspace. So, in spite of all the facts, we can hear from presidential candidates that scientists have “manipulated” climate change data, and everyone just nods.

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