Climate Denier Darling Wegman Outed for Academic Fraud

Posted on June 5, 2011


Let’s start with where it all began.

You may recall Representative Joe Barton.  He was the congressman from Texas who last year, in the midst of the monumental Gulf of Mexico oil spill, called on President Obama to apologize to BP.  The President—oh horrors!—had asked the company to set money aside to compensate innocent citizens hurt by the corporation’s little mega-disaster, and British Petroleum, according to Joe Barton, shouldn’t have to put up with such bullying.

Like just about any politician from Texas, Barton was and is loyal to oil interests, as that incident made clear.  On behalf of the same oil and energy lobby, Barton has put effort into the parallel enterprise of fueling climate change denial.

In 2006, Barton took aim at Michael Mann et al’s iconic “hockey stick” graph, a diagram which sends your usual run of climate change denier into a mouth-frothing frenzy.  The congressman began by commissioning a report by handpicked “experts”—chosen apparently for their willingness to criticize the graph, and none of whom had any familiarity with climate science.

Barton had the opportunity to go to actual experts in the highly prestigious National Research Council but preferred to do his own recruiting.  As a propagandist, he had a good reason to do this.  Real scientists tend to merely confirm Michael Mann’s excellent work—they have in fact done so again and again—and confirmation was the opposite of what Barton wanted.

The academic the congressman settled on to do the “study” was statistician Edward Wegman of George Mason University.  Working closely with advisors from Joe Barton’s office—using already discredited analysis from professional climate change deniers Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick—Edward Wegman, along with a group of mostly his own students and former students, produced what became known as the “Wegman Report.”

The report alleged two things:  1) that statistical flaws in Michael Mann’s analysis in producing the “hockey stick” graph were responsible for the characteristic hockey-stick shape; and 2) that an elite cabal of climate scientists were all just reviewing each other’s papers resulting in insufficient peer review safeguards in the discipline.  Neither of these charges was substantiated in the paper, which almost immediately came under attack for shoddy work.  Later on it was discovered that much of the report was merely plagiarized—where it did not actively misrepresent the material it was dealing with.

A long and detailed discussion by Dr. John R. Mashey and the DeepClimate website, “Strange Scholarship in the Wegman Report,” pointed out that in the “Wegman Report”,

Of 91 pages, 35 are mostly plagiarized, but injected with biases, errors or changed meanings that often weaken or invert original results.  Some might thus also be called fabrication.

The original “Wegman Report” was bad enough to have on anyone’s academic resume, but then Dr. Wegman decided to continue with a paper in the journal Computational Data and Statistics Analysis purporting to use a technique called network analysis to once more mount an attack on peer review in the climate change community.  Ironically, Wegman’s paper was itself not properly peer-reviewed, being accepted after six days where the usual process of academic peer review usually takes something like 200 days.  The journal editor, a crony of Wegman who fast-tracked Wegman’s paper, was not himself an expert in the paper’s subject matter.

Just recently Computational Data and Statistics Analysis, the journal which published Wegman’s paper, in the kind of move which usually signals the unravelling of an academic career, is retracting the paper for plagiarism.  Plagiarism is regarded as one of the worst brands of academic misconduct, and charges of plagiarism are almost always fatal to someone’s credibility in the academic world.  It is regarded as so serious an academic breach that it can result in tenured professors—purposely difficult to oust—actually losing their jobs.

In this case, Wegman’s plagiarism was obvious from the start.  The plagiarism in the withdrawn article was no more than the identical cut-and-paste plagiarism which Wegman’s team was guilty of in the earlier “Wegman Report” to Congress.

With Edward Wegman’s most iconic climate work found riddled with shoddy scholarship, marred with egregious academic misconduct, another climate denier idol is discredited.

Nothing much new there, unfortunately.


See Journal Retracts Disputed Network Analysis Paper on Climate – Science Insider

Wegman Paper Retracted for Plagiarism – DeSmogBlog

Replication and due diligence, Wegman style – DeepClimate

Wegman scandal rocks cornerstone of climate denial – ThinkProgress

Retracted climate critics’ study panned by expert – USA Today