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« JG-C in the Times | Main | A comment from Roger Harrabin »

A Climategate parallel

Glenn Reynolds makes some interesting comparisons between the slow burn story of Climategate and the Bellesiles scandal, an earlier tale of academic misconduct and political mudslinging.

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Reader Comments (23)

Most interesting. I think the key phrase from Joyce Malcolm's excellent summary is this:

If anything can be learned from this extraordinary episode ... , it is the importance of maintaining rigorous intellectual standards even when they work against one's political preferences.

Feb 16, 2010 at 8:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobin Guenier

I suspect that Phil Jones has more latent integrity than Michael Mann and it is taking a toll,

I'm not sure that he should be the fish that will be fried. ....Lady in Red

Feb 16, 2010 at 8:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterLady in Red

It is a very interesting parallel, not least because the critics of Bellesiles were a not very savory crew. The inaptly named Reason Magazine after all is Ayn Rand and Objectivism, very very weird stuff. The National Rifle Association had its own axe to grind. But this did not affect the fact that academic fraud had been committed, and the history was quite different from what Bellesiles had alleged it to be.

In the same way, you repeatedly read furious denunciations of the parentage and funding of anyone who is skeptical about the supposedly righteous belief of catastrophic human caused global warming. And it may be true that some of those, Mark Morano and the Mail, for instance, who are making the strongest arguments that the whole thing is more or less fraudulent, are not people whose political opinions one would take very seriously.

But none of this makes much difference to the science, and faking the science in even the best of causes is in the end counter productive.

My great fear about AGW has always been that when the AGW case blew up, having been shown to be a mixture of wishful thinking, bad statistics, and sheer intellectual dishonesty, it would take the environmental movement with it. This would be a disaster. If people take the discrediting of AGW to politically imply getting soft on pollution, wild area protection and so on, we will really have lost hugely. Rather as if the Bellesiles fraud should have set back the cause of gun control, which the country all too obviously is in desperate need of.

Lets hope the damage can be confined. But the longer and more furious the denials from the green movement are, the less likely this will be as an outcome.

Feb 16, 2010 at 8:18 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel

Michel is worried about the collapse of AGW 'taking the environmental movement with it'.

If that means that the various eco-fascists associated with AGW find that their platforms in the MSM and governements are no longer so scrutiny-free, or that their doomsday screeching gets the howls of laughter and contempt it deserves, then bring it on!

Which is not, of course, a reason to throw out the bay with the bathwater. Using natural resources wisely should be everybody's repsonibility....but that does not imply not using them at all. Especially when there are 9 billion human mouths to feed now.. and rising.

Environmentalism in its most authoritarian form has been used to justofy some terrible ploicy mistakes.. the banning of DDT and the renewed spread of malaria being a recent and tragic one. Belief in the environmental religion shoudl not be allowed to override the welfare of humanity now.

Feb 16, 2010 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Policy mistakes based on poor or non-existent scientific evidence have happened many times.

Poor scientific or even fraudulent data and research has been widely accepted by the scientific community in many cases, especially when it seems consistent with other data or widely held theories/opinions.

Of course, "many" in the above is relative. Science gets things right more often than not, and problems **eventually** get spotted - but in some cases it can be years before problems are **eventually** spotted. The shocking thing however is that very often the problems should have been apparent from an early stage - and in many cases, critics or skeptics were pointing at problems from an early stage - but they were ignored for long periods, or even attacked for daring to be critical (e.g. Leonor Michaelis for criticising Abderhalden).

So the lesson is not to shut your eyes and ears to criticisms, whatever the source, or even if the source appears obnoxious or against the prevailing orthodoxy. Evaluate each criticism on its own merits, even if you do not agree the critic on other matters.

Some examples:

1. Scott Reuben - "Reuben never conducted the clinical trials that he wrote about in 21 [peer-reviewed] journal articles dating from at least 1996"... "purported findings altered the way millions of patients are treated for pain during and after orthopedic surgeries"

2. Jan Hendrik Schön - "received the Otto-Klung-Weberbank Prize for Physics in 2001, the Braunschweig Prize in 2001 and the Outstanding Young Investigator Award of the Materials Research Society in 2002." ... a total of 21 peer-reviewed papers by Schön - which had been published in Nature (7 papers), Science (8 papers) and the Physical Review Journals (6 papers) - were subsequently withdrawn. -

3. Jon Sudbø - "of the 38 [peer-reviewed] articles he had published since 1993, 15 [peer-reviewed articles] were condemned as fraudulent, including his doctoral dissertation." -

4. Steven A. Leadon - "In 2003, a university found that Leadon had fabricated and falsified data in his research on DNA repair." ... "In the wake of the investigations, [peer-reviewed] papers have been retracted from several journals including Science and Mutation Research, while more articles were partially retracted from journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Molecular and Cellular Biology." -

5. Hwang Woo-Suk - "best known for two articles published in the journal Science in 2004 and 2005 where he fraudulently reported to have succeeded in creating human embryonic stem cells by cloning. Both papers were later editorially retracted after they were found to contain a large amount of fabricated data. He has admitted to various charges of fraud." -

6. John Darsee "was a medical researcher with an impressive list of publications in reputable scientific journals who was found to have fabricated data for his publications."

7. Emil Abderhalden ... "His main findings, though disputed already in the 1920s, were not finally rejected until the late 1990s. Whether his misleading findings were based on fraud or simply the result of a lack of scientific rigor remains unclear."

"Abderhalden's reputation continued to grow in Germany, however, where collaborators managed to "replicate" his results, usually by simply repeating experiments until they succeeded and discarding the negative results. As Abderhalden was seen as the founder of scientific biochemistry in Germany, questioning his work could harm one's career, as Leonor Michaelis discovered in the mid-1910s; by 1922, Michaelis' reputation was so tarnished that he had to leave the country to embark on an outstanding career of scientific success abroad. Otto Westphal later called Abderhalden's Abwehrfermente work "a fraud from beginning to end"."

8. Emil Rupp - "a German physicist, regarded by many as a respectable and important experimentalist in the late 1920s. He was later forced to recant all five of the papers he had published in 1935, admitting that his findings and experiments had been fictions. There is evidence that most if not all of his earlier experimental results were forged as well."

"In 1926 Rupp's canal ray experiments seemed to corroborate Einstein's theories on wave-particle duality. He published these results in a paper that was printed next to a theoretical paper on the same subject by Einstein, who evidently accepted Rupp's alleged findings as confirming his (Einstein's) theoretical model. Rupp's experimental results were later shown to have been falsified (although subsequent experimental work re-confirmed Einstein's model)."

9. Walter Sydney Adams - 1925 - verified the red-shift, consistent with Einstein (and subsequently cited by Einstein)... but there are some doubts about this work - see

Feb 16, 2010 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterAWatcher

The late Michael Crichton's article, "Aliens Caused Global Warming", has always been a great self-test for skeptical integrity. Most will find at least one of his targets to be something that gives a knee-jerk "but everyone knows!" reaction and a feeling that even if not based on good science, it should be true for the good of society (or politics).

Crichton's warning conclusion that AGW "consensus" based on bad science will not simply discredit environmental science in the public's mind, but science itself, remains the greatest danger I think. After this, how many will say "yeah right, that's what they said about global warming" in reaction to any real issue when it's supported by "scientists say"?

Feb 16, 2010 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterTed Douglas

Thanks for the article Ted. The middle section about consensus science is particularly relevant to the current discussion.

For others looking to read it -

Feb 16, 2010 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterAWatcher

What I find interesting is that the warmist-alarmists have developed a bunker mentality and as a result are now defending the indefensible - the mistakes - the errors - the exaggerations - the falsifications, all on the basis that the science is sound. That is a very damaging strategy.

Bad science is just that bad science, it should not be defended. The longer warmists-alarmists pursue such a flawed strategy the more damage will be done to the good science in the public mind.

Scientists should take note how the public are solidly convinced that all politicians are crooks and fraudsters after the leaking of MPs expenses.

Climategate, and the other gates, are now impacting on the public is the exact same way.

How long before scientists are compared to politicians in exactly the same way?

I would answer that the change of public attitude has already happened and the hardening of that attitude will happen in a matter of weeks.

Once that happens it will take many years for the public again to trust the word of scientists.

Feb 16, 2010 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

It took 41 (or 45) years to expose the Piltdown man hoax.
No blogs at that time.

Feb 16, 2010 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

...If that means that the various eco-fascists associated with AGW find that their platforms in the MSM and governements are no longer so scrutiny-free....

The problem happening, in a nutshell, in this comment. We still kill 3,000 a year on the roads, we still release vast quantities of lethal insecticides and herbicides into the air and fields, we still have dreadful air pollution in cities. People continue to argue that environmental considerations don't matter.

And now that one bogus one has blown up in style, it will take all these important and legitimate concerns with it, and give comfort to special interests arguing they should be able to carry on wrecking quality of life for everyone for short term and narrow gains. Concerns about this stuff remain valid, but it has just got a lot harder to argue that case, thanks to the irresponsibility of a lunatic fringe of 'warmers'.

Feb 16, 2010 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel


I have always made the distinction between being ecologically-minded and being an environmentalist. Environmentalism is too far gone to save. It is a religion based on being anti to the modern world. For me, being ecologically-minded means that you negotiate with the modern world to lessen its less savoury aspects. Of course, the wealthier the society, the greater the level of protection that can be afforded. That's the paradox for environmentalists, they can't see that its the increasing wealth which has afforded the improvements in living standards and the environment.

Its not harder to argue the case at all. Its about understanding the negotiation between growth and ecological improvements.

Feb 16, 2010 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Lish

I remember hearing Michael Bellesiles interviewed on Terry Gross before the scandal broke...and then there was the scandal. What is it about human nature that we pretend to act and be rational, scientific, reasoned, and professional when in reality, we have a perception of those elements in our thinking or argument but our actual beliefs are based on elements not quite so scientific or rational?

For more, check out this essay by Tamar Szabo Gendler entitled “Alief and Belief” from the Journal of Philosophy 105:10 (2008), 634-663. It's written from a philosophical perspective, but I think others have tried to address this phenomenon from a psychological perspective elsewhere.

Feb 16, 2010 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

This is a fascinating comparison. I vaguely remember it at the time and thought Bellesiles was getting unfairly targetted. I can now see how it illustrates Noble-Cause corruption. As Michel said, to a lot of people Bellesiles' critics seemed a very unsympathetic crowd and even worthy of dismissive scorn, and so thus helping his thesis get an easy ride into the mainstream. It seems that when you are immersed in that atmosphere of Noble revisionism the temptation to gradually sink into outright fabrication is immense.

Feb 16, 2010 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

The Reason Joyce Malcolm article linked is well worth a read. Following the development of the Bellesiles story through the rise and fall of his thesis and then hearing his defenses as it started getting credible scrutiny, reminds me a hell of a lot of whats going on in climategate.

Feb 16, 2010 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

Rather as if the Bellesiles fraud should have set back the cause of gun control, which the country all too obviously is in desperate need of.

There several researchers who set out to investigate the links between gun availability and crime in the US, starting with anti gun personal beliefs, who's findings have convinced them that "More guns = less crime" (Lott)

The two whose work I am most familliar with are Gary Kleck and John R Lott.

There are several easy illustrations of this effect:

The statistically significant drop in violent crime and homicide including multiple victim public shootings in each state that has introduced legislation allowing civillians to carry concealed firearms for self defence (see for illustration, links to Lott papers and raw data sets at bottom of page here(requires registration) )

Compare the Brady campaign's (anti gun viewpoint) ranking of its liking for individual State's gunlaws (, with the homicide rate per 100,000 from the uniform crime reports ( ).

The occurance of multiple public shootings in "gun free(/disarmed victim) zones" such as schools, universities and shopping malls and formerly at churches, rather than in places where the intended victims might shoot back. Notable examples of where armed civilians have ended such shootings are Appalachian Law school
Pearl, Mississipi and Colorado Springs

In the second quarter of 2009, an estimated $1.14B was spent buying guns and cartridges in the US ( ) Before, Obama was elected, and for a year following his election, the US experienced a massive boom in gun sales, mostly AR15 (semi auto version of M16) and semi auto AK rifles (the "assault weapons" of anti gun journalists). Over the same period, homicide rates continued a decline, ie more guns did not equal more crime.

Given that crimminals do not obey laws, and if illegal drugs can be smuggled into Britain by the ton, so can the guns (remember Britain banned semi auto rifles in '88 and handguns in 98, but crimminal use of them is continuing to rise). Why do you think the US, or any other country needs its law abiding citizens disarmed and defenceless?

The British Home Office has never asked the question

"Do Britain's gun laws make law abiding people more or less safe?"

they only ask
"how can the laws be made tougher?" whatever that means in a supposed democracy

excellent background reading here:
third paper down

Feb 16, 2010 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith


Unless you are a teenager in a deprived inner city area, either in a gang, or assocating with people with guns - your chances of being shot by a criminal in the UK are low.

On average, your chances of being killed in a firearms related homicide in the UK are literally less than one a million (59 firearms related homicides in 2006-07, 49 in the previous year). -

And while it is true that gun crime has risen in the UK in the past few years - the real problem in the UK is property crime - especially burglary and car crime - as less than 0.5% of crime in the UK involves guns (and many of the crimes, are simply related to illegal possesion of the gun)

Now it may or may not be true that arming up law-abiding citizens of the UK might reduce non-gun crimes, but the idea that the UK is awash with guns and gun crimes is simply untrue.

Feb 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterAWatcher

the Bellesiles scandal

Which discredited the entire field of American and Legal history.

Oh wait, that didn't happen. Turns out there was a whole other body of prior and subsequent work that was unaffected.

It took 41 (or 45) years to expose the Piltdown man hoax.

Which discredited the entire field of evolutionary biology.

Oh wait, that didn't happen. Turns out there was a whole other body of prior and subsequent work that was unaffected.

"No blogs at that time."

And if there had been there'd still be a band of 'sceptics' banging on about Piltdown Man and claiming that it disproved evol....oh wait, there is!!


Do John Tyndall, Svente Arrhenius, Guy Callendar, Lewis D. Kaplan, Gilbert N. Plass, and hundreds of others look worried? Neither does the earth care.

"reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled"
- Richard Feynman

Feb 17, 2010 at 12:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

A watcher,
going from memory (I'd need to double check the figures) shooting as cause of death has increased since the handgun ban in '99. the UK death by shooting figure in the late 90s was in the mid teens/year

Handguns have remained the gun of choice for violent crimminals, typically outnumbering shotguns 2:1 in armed crime, despite control by licencing and individual recording of seriel numbers since 1921 and outright ban in '99(shotguns only required a licence since 1968, individual recording of them since I think 1988).

availability of firearms does not appear to be a problem for British crimminals, despite "bans".

Making a big deal of a particular means of homicide is something of a red herring, I have seen Brazil praised for having half the rate of death by shooting that the US has, yet the overall homicide rate is twice that of the US, Russia, with police state restrictions on civillian firearms ownership, at least since the time of the revolution has around six times the homicide rate of the US. Unless someone has a particular fear of death by shooting, the mechanism is less important than the rate. I'm a little out of date with the UK homicide rate, but memory is of it increasing pretty continually since the mid to late 1960s

The comparative study between the US and UK that I'm most familliar with was published in the mid 90s "crime and punishment in England and Wales and the US" I think it was published by HMSO, it gave:

- the UK burglary rate as around twice the US, with 50% of UK burglaries occuring while the house was occupied, in the US the figure was 14%. FBI comissioned research interviews with prison inmates gave fear of getting shot as the major deterrent against "hot" burglary.

- Assault mugging and robbery were again all about twice as high in the UK as US.

since the time of the study, US crime figures have been dropping pretty consistently, while UK figures have been getting worse.

I'd be the first to admit the huge difficulties with identifying the key controls on any variable in social "sciences" let alone a single cause.

The gun issue is one that has been hugely politicised, however, I know I am on safe ground saying that the risk of being shot, or of being murdered was lower before each of our major gun control act than it was after.

I know that correlation does not equal causation, but;
- the statistically significant reductions in homicides and other crimes following the introduction of concealed carry weapons for civillians in most US States (and the failure of the predicted "Wild West shootouts to occur),
-and the remaining extreme hotspots of homicide being in the cities which maintain the strictest gun controls on law abiding citizens
Does strongly suggest a causal link

Feb 17, 2010 at 2:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Climate Change Policy of Christian Aid: Nothing inherently Christian about it!

The theory of Global Warming has run its course. NGOs are now left high and dry, having to painfully re-examine their own roles in this scam. Climate Change will certainly go down as one of the darkest chapters of NGO history, when they went amok, exchanging their ideals for thirty pieces of silver. Where have they gone wrong?

Visit our new bog site: to read a critique of Christian Aid's Climate Change Policy.

Feb 17, 2010 at 6:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterRajan Alexander

> going from memory (I'd need to double check the figures) shooting as cause of death has increased since the handgun ban

Shooting crimes, as have firearm crimes generally, have gone up in the UK. And have caused something of a media panic. But the point remains they've gone up from an incredibly low base.

And your annual chance of being killed in a shooting incident in the UK is still quite literally less than 1 in a million. Your chance of being injured in a shooting incident in the UK is still quite literally less than 1 in 100,000.

If you want to increase your chance, move to an inner city, become a teenage boy, and join a gang - where a very substantial portion of the shooting/firearms crimes occurs. (If you want to decrease your chance, do none of these things).

For the average person, outside these categories, being involved in these types of crimes is just incredibly unlikely.

There is however again a knife crime problem, substantially worse than the gun crime problem, and perhaps not as concentrated in particular groups (you may be threatened or robbed at knife point).

Whatever you think about gun crime, or whether guns should be available or not, it's simply untrue that the UK is awash with guns or gun crime. It's also untrue that criminals find guns easy to obtain - how do you account for the fact that knife crime is vastly more prevalent than gun crime, and that use of **replica** firearms account for a substantial portion of the firearms offences?

Feb 17, 2010 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterAWatcher

@Frank O'Dwyer


I don't see anything here claiming the entire field of American and Legal history is dicredited or that Piltdown man hoax discredited the entire field of evolutionary biology.

Feb 17, 2010 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

Glenn Reynolds has made a very apt and worthy comparison between 2 frauds perpetuated within the the closed minded hothouse of Academia, Science and Statist Government. This reflects a major fault and possibly a disease in the whole system. This should be taken lightly.
Another worthy comparison would be a similar fault with the Economic/Financial and GovPolicy nexus that has almost destroyed the Global Economy.

Feb 18, 2010 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterWestWright

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Apr 6, 2010 at 5:43 AM | Unregistered Commenterjessieamelio

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