Penn State Exonerates Michael Mann

Published August 3, 2010

Pennsylvania State University recently released a report summarizing its final “investigation” into whether one of its employees had committed scientific misconduct. The report exonerated Penn State professor and prominent global warming alarmist Michael Mann of all charges, although he did receive a tap on the wrist—for sharing unpublished manuscripts with third parties without first getting the authors’ permission!

Whitewash Was Expected
The result was hardly unexpected. Most experts who question climate disaster claims had assumed Penn State would produce a whitewash. PSU stood to lose significantly in reputation and dollars if it found Mann had cheated on research and engaged in other conduct unbecoming of a university professor.

What was surprising is the reason it gave for its “not guilty” finding.

Mann could not possibly be guilty, the report averred, because his “level of success in proposing research and obtaining funding” was possible only because he had “met or exceeded the highest standards of his profession.” His research was consistently “judged to be outstanding by his peers,” the report claimed.

Mann’s innocence was further proven, said Penn State, by the awards and recognition he has received. For example, his “hockey stick” temperature graph for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change played a significant role in the IPCC receiving the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Had his “conduct been outside the range of accepted practices, it would have been impossible for him to receive so many awards and recognitions,” the report argued.

Circular Reasoning
Such circular reasoning would earn an “F” in introductory college reasoning courses. It is eerily similar to the view taken by starry-eyed investors and SEC officials before they realized Bernie had Madoff with billions in client money, as they were deceived by his accolades and awards.

Mann and many of his “peers” were implicated in the Climategate scandals, obstruction of legitimate FOIA requests via deletion of emails, manipulation of global warming temperature data and research, and the politicized funding system that kept them and their institutions awash in government/taxpayer dollars. They conferred awards and recognition on each other, excluded skeptical scientists from “peer reviews” of one another’s papers, and conspired to blackball editors who published professional papers by climate experts whose work challenged the Mann-made global warming disaster thesis.

Academic Cheaters Prospered
It is these “accepted practices” and “highest standards of the profession” that are being protected here. It is for this reason that the “investigation” was conducted solely by Penn State, which permitted no contradictory evidence, no adverse witnesses, and no cross-examination of Mann or anyone else knowledgeable about his research, funding, and alleged misconduct.

One could accurately (and sadly) say there is nothing new under the sun in this matter. A 1988 NOVA program on PBS investigated the causes and extent of cheating in academia. “Do Scientists Cheat?” interviewed several scientists who discussed how easy and tempting it was to lie and falsify research. Although peer review “is a wonderful process for throwing out garbage, I can’t see that [it] can detect fraud, except in a few lucky chances,” observed JAMA senior Editor Bruce Dan.

The show focused on two high-profile cases—John Darcy and Robert A. Slutsky, convicted perpetrators of scientific misconduct. Both researchers were well-funded, had numerous publications, won prestigious awards, and were on the fast track to academic stardom. Both were brought down when other scientists suspected fraud in their work. Investigators concluded most of their papers were either questionable or demonstrably fraudulent. Many of their coauthors were implicated and their reputations tarnished.

Pressure to Cheat, Cover Up
Ironically, one of the NOVA interviewees was Professor Rustum Roy, head of the Materials Research Lab at—Penn State University. He said cheating often occurs because researchers are under intense pressure to publish, win awards, and raise more money each year just to keep their labs going, employ research assistants, and provide their academic institutions with 40-50 percent of each grant for “overhead.”

Thus, those who have big research fiefdoms, are prolific publishers, and win many awards have the most to gain by misconduct. They are also most likely to get away with it, partly because of their reputation and partly because academia has too many incentives to look the other way and avoid taking actions that could bring disrepute on the university and cut off the financial gravy train.

Science Suffers
This translates into a high degree of moral apathy toward scientific misconduct, the PBS program argued. This, of course, undermines the integrity of science and the ethics of its practitioners.

In fact, universities that conduct investigations of their own scientists are like the “fox actively investigating the chicken coop. The university gets first crack at the data and witnesses, and gets to frame the issues…. There is a natural tendency to limit the damage,” the NOVA program noted.

Bogus science is used to justify energy and environmental policies, laws, treaties, court decisions and subsidies that will enrich some, bankrupt others, control our lives, and send millions of jobs overseas. Meanwhile, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s investigation into academic fraud is heatedly denounced by the very academics and institutions that refuse to conduct honest investigations of their own.

And you thought Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, and Jonathon Swift had good material to work with!

Paul Driessen ([email protected]) is senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). A longer version of this article initially appeared at Reprinted with permission.