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« Non-linear system is linear | Main | UKCIP defunded »

Wegman paper retracted

USA Today is reporting that the allegations of plagiarism made against Edward Wegman have hit their mark. Said et al, a paper describing the uncomfortably close relationships between cliques of climate scientists has been withdrawn after it was shown that elements of the paper were plagiarised.

The journal publisher's legal team "has decided to retract the study," said CSDA journal editor Stanley Azen of the University of Southern California, following complaints of plagiarism. A November review by three plagiarism experts of the 2006 congressional report for USA TODAY also concluded that portions contained text from Wikipedia and textbooks. The journal study, co-authored by Wegman student Yasmin Said, detailed part of the congressional report's analysis.

As far as I can tell, nobody is disputing the paper's findings though.


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Reader Comments (36)

nobody is disputing the paper's findings though.

That may be true, but I have no doubt that the retraction will be trumpeted as the findings being untrue.

May 16, 2011 at 6:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Yup, the climate druids are going to have a field day with this one.....

May 16, 2011 at 7:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

This shows up the scientific establishment for what it really is. A paper is retracted for minor plagiarism, but they haven't retracted any papers for being a giant pile of crap, have they?

May 16, 2011 at 7:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

It's not surprising that journals are holding their own enquiries given that George Mason has entirely failed to implement it's own research misconduct procedure. Events are slipping from George Mason's control.

May 16, 2011 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered Commenterbobdenton

"contained text from Wikipedia"

Pretty hard to write anything that doesn't, by now...

May 16, 2011 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Watts isn't worried.

I expect the report will be rewritten, with citations where needed, maybe even adding extra dictionary definitions of words and their origins to satisfy the imagined slights against our lexiconic ancestors envisioned by DC and Mashey man, and they’ll resubmit it with the very same conclusions. That’s what I would do.

May 16, 2011 at 9:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

I agree that this news will be like nectar to the beleagured believers in the blogs and mainstream media. Personally I think it will make an interesting study to see how anyone would promote the news of the "oh so egregious" plagiarism, whilst at the same time playing down the content of what the study was actually showing. I am sure it will be managed ably though ;)

May 16, 2011 at 9:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

"…plagiarism experts…"

Nothing new there then…

May 16, 2011 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterPetrodini

Deep Climate's post is here

"Part 1" they say. How many installments are expected, one wonders?

May 16, 2011 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered Commenterandyscrase

John Mashey seems quite excited about this. I can understand, it all fits in with the big conspiracy of Big Oil funded "denialist think tanks" so wonderfully presented in his slides here

The Machinery of Climate Anti-Science (pdf ~ 3Mb)

May 16, 2011 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered Commenterandyscrase

[X posted to WUWT]:

According to the USA Today piece, it was “Computer scientist Ted Kirkpatrick of Canada’s Simon Fraser University [who] filed a complaint with the journal after reading the climate science website Deep Climate”

If Dan Vergano, the author of the article, is not able to distinguish between a “website” and a “blog” [the latter of which is not deeemed to be "an acceptable source of information" under the IPCC's new, improved "rules" wrt non-peer-reviewed literature, btw], I’m not sure that I would give much credence to the rest of his account.

But that aside, it seems to me that Vergano (or his editor) is attempting to fudge a conflation of the actual Wegman Report with whatever was published in the Journal.

The Journal has retracted an unnamed “study”. But the same paragraph indicates that the “analysis [in this study] was an outgrowth” of the Wegman Report.

Furthermore, there’s no indication in the article of whose work was allegedly plagiarized … Wikipedia?! It was the publisher’s legal beagles who advised retraction of the “study” … and publishers’ legal beagles have their own “precautionary principle”, don’t they?!

May 16, 2011 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered Commenterhro001

I think Anthony Watts has exactly the right idea; re-proof the paper, fix the offending quotes and definitions then re-submit. No fault has been found with Wegaman et al's conclusions in the paper, which is anything but a victory for the complainants and renders their complaints to be no more than legal nit-picking.

May 16, 2011 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

So, USA Today contacted 'plagiarism experts' on their own, and Ted Kirkpatrick, an enthusiastic commenter at the Deep Climate blog complained, not to the university but the publisher.

Shilling for a supposed commercial copyright protection of the mega-publisher this what computer science faculty at this Canadian University do?

May 16, 2011 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

This is 'copyright violation' not 'plagiarism', that is being framed here.

May 16, 2011 at 12:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

i'm glad the paper is being retracted. it contains un-cited text, plagiarises and borrows improperly. it's right that it be retracted. i would have preferred wegman and said to have instigated the retraction, but i'll take it any way it comes. my "side" is the one where conduct is exemplary, where scientists are meticulously and rigidly honourable. that's why i'm on the climate-sceptic side after all.

now that the paper is being retracted, we can look to bradley to do the same.

May 16, 2011 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered Commentersimon hopkinson mobile

ps: i also agree with anthony. correct the shortfalls, perhaps even sharpen its pointy end, and get it back out there. none of the objections raised relate to the paper's conclusions, which are as solid as ever.

May 16, 2011 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered Commentersimon hopkinson mobile

The interesting thing will be to see if Gerry North, Peter Bloomfield and Ralph Cicerone, retract their statements given under oath to Congress.

CHAIRMAN BARTON. I understand that. It looks like my time is expired, so I want to ask one more question. Dr. North, do you dispute the conclusions or the methodology of Dr. Wegman’s report?
DR. NORTH. No, we don’t. We don’t disagree with their criticism. In fact, pretty much the same thing is said in our report. But again, just because the claims are made, doesn’t mean they are false.
CHAIRMAN BARTON. I understand that you can have the right conclusion and that it not be--
DR. NORTH. It happens all the time in science.
CHAIRMAN BARTON. Yes, and not be substantiated by what you purport to be the facts but have we established--we know that Dr. Wegman has said that Dr. Mann’s methodology is incorrect. Do you agree with that? I mean, it doesn’t mean Dr. Mann’s conclusions are wrong, but we can stipulate now that we have--and if you want to ask your statistician expert from North Carolina that Dr. Mann’s methodology cannot be documented and cannot be verified by independent review.
DR. NORTH. Do you mind if he speaks?
CHAIRMAN BARTON. Yes, if he would like to come to the microphone.
MR. BLOOMFIELD. Thank you. Yes, Peter Bloomfield. Our committee reviewed the methodology used by Dr. Mann and his coworkers and we felt that some of the choices they made were inappropriate. We had much the same misgivings about his work that was documented at much greater length by Dr. Wegman.
MR. WHITFIELD. If I may interrupt just one minute. We didn’t swear you in so I want you to swear now that the testimony you gave was the truth.
[Witness sworn]
MR. WHITFIELD. Thank you.

MR. STEARNS. Okay. Dr. Cicerone, you are the President of the National Academy of Science. Dr. Wegman is an appointed member of the National Academy of Science Board of Mathematical Sciences and Their Application. He is chair of the NAS Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, highly credentialed in math and statistics, wouldn’t you say? Shouldn’t we take his judgments on statistical matters very seriously, and don’t they carry significant weight? Would you say his judgment about statistical matters is important and that he has credibility based upon those credentials?

May 16, 2011 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

While, in the hallowed halls of academia, this may be the equivalent of shooting a fox, to most of the rest of the populace it's the conclusions and their veracity that matter.
I doubt that the 'man on the Clapton Omnibus' would be much impressed by the dog and pony show.

May 16, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

It is quite clear here that Dan Vergano, pitifully enough, has been seduced into thinking this might be his big ticket ride, and is on a fishing trip.

USA Today, as a newspaper, should be able to justify why they are after Said et al paper to the extent of provoking its retraction.

May 16, 2011 at 5:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

This likely will be heralded as some sort of vindication for people believing in the mountains of data supporting the theory of climate change, BUT the funny thing is that the Wegman paper was used for exactly this type of misdirection as well. While the fundamental evidence of climate change was not challenged, this paper, which disputes the presentation of the data, was used as an argument denying climate change and fueled further disinformation. Both sides can't seem to stick to the important facts in such an important conversation.

May 16, 2011 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterdc

Plagiarism is THE wordt possible crime in the scientific world.
It's strange to see how commenters don't seem to get that. They probably never were involved in scientific research. Or they don't care about dishonesty.

May 16, 2011 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterAntoon DV

It is believable, but not excusable, that a grad student, under time constraints would get sloppy. But has anyone checked, considering the quality of Wikipedia's sources, the history of the articles in Wikipedia that were supposed to be plagarized? Can it be deterimined that the Wikipedia articles predated the Wegman report?

It would have been better if Wegman had pulled the report himself, corrected the text, and re-submitted it.

May 16, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterB. Kindseth

"It is believable, but not excusable, that a grad student, under time constraints would get sloppy."

no it's not.

1) the FIRST thing a student learns in not to plagiarize.
2) If the text was written by a student, the student should've been listed as an author. Otherwise the student was plagiarized.
3) An author always has the duty to check the parts written by the other authors.

Said and Wegman cannot be excused. the fact you like to hear what they say doesn't mean what they say is wrong. Very wrong.

May 16, 2011 at 10:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterAntoon DV

The point of things like corrections published in subsequent volumes is to add notes like, "In our article **** on page *** a citation crediting *** was accidentally omitted." However, I also note that back when I was a graduate student, I researched and collected piles of references for use as citations by my professor. I did not contribute major pieces of text to articles or reports. If I had, he would have listed minimally as a contributor. Of course, "cut and paste" frequently entailed real scissors and genuine paste back then.

May 16, 2011 at 10:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterDuster

Bish, I wouldn't worry too much about Kloor. It's always been fairly obvious which "side" of the fence he leans on. He did try early on to portray himself as balanced, but that facade soon slipped and he now appears to have given up any attempt at impartiality. It's the reason I rarely go there now and have removed his blog from my "favourites" list. As for Wegman et al, we may not like it and we may think it a big fuss over nothing, but the fact remains that the journal at least, has found there to be enough evidence of plagiarism to withdraw the paper. Again, we might think it all a bit over the top, but it's obvious plagiarism is a big thing in the academic world. Wegman and Said would have been only too well aware of this. For that reason, it is only right and proper that the paper should be withdrawn. Whether the journal will allow them to correct and resubmit is entirely a matter for the journal itself to decide and, should they refuse to allow a resubmission, who, in all honesty, could criticise them? Wegman was commissioned to prepare a report for congress (which, as far as I can tell, still stands as it would be outside the jurisdiction of academia, though the "others" may well have a valid case to claim it's importance is now diminished), but he and Said then decided off their own backs to publish a paper on what they had found and which they appear to have rushed headlong into without paying due care and attention to the proper standards. For us to now claim it makes no difference to the papers conclusions would be exactly the same as those believers in AGW who excuse Manns methods because he gets the "right" answer at the end. Let's all just stand tall and admit we were wrong on this one, let the "others" have their ten minutes of crowing and save our slings and arrows for another day. Besides, it wasn't Wegman that smashed the hockey stick, it was M&M ;)

May 17, 2011 at 5:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterLC

@dc May 16, 2011 at 6:21 PM

"mountains of data supporting the theory of climate change"? Hmmmm. I agree there is plenty of data supporting the theory of climate-change. Not so sure about the theory of MAN-MADE climate change though ;)

Whilst there may have been a very few uneducated sceptics who thought the Wegman report invalidated the theory of man-made climate change, I think you'll find most of us understood exactly what it actually did. It didn't, as you say, "dispute the presentation of the data". It showed, quite conclusively, that the methodology used to arrive at the "hockey stick" paper's conclusions was wrong and that, therefore, those conclusions were unsafe. As far as I know, no self-respecting sceptic has used it as "an argument denying climate change" nor has it "fueled further disinformation".

May 17, 2011 at 5:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterLC

@Antoon DV May 16, 2011 at 9:31 PM

Actually, plagiarism is NOT the "worst possible crime in the scientific world". That would be falsifying your data. In fact, plagiarism would probably rank fairly low amongst scientists themselves. What you're talking about is academia. Not quite the same thing.

May 17, 2011 at 5:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterLC

Well said LC@5:56 am, the arcane rituals of academia have very little to do with science. I'm not sure what the instigators were hoping to achieve by this, but I would have thought that firstly, re-focusing attention on your 'opponents' old publications was not a good idea, as it's akin to arranging free publicity?
And secondly, as LC also noted, plagiarism is of interest only to academics and writers. To the general public and the business world, it barely rises to the level of irrelevant.

May 17, 2011 at 9:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

This story reminds me of those "scientists" that were so happy for having got a "Nobel Prize" thanks to the IPCC. The fact that it was a Nobel Peace Prize and therefore had nothing to do with "science" didn't seem to bother them at all. What mattered was the appearance of the "Nobel Prize".

Likewise, Wegman's facts are, according to some, irrelevant compared to the Wikipedia copy-and-paste. Come to think, it's the same attitude that transmogrifies in the IPCC the WG findings (eg about the Sun) into the absurdist, doubt-free statements in the SPM.

May 17, 2011 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

Update on May 16, 2011 by Bishop Hill
Keith Kloor says I'm twisting myself into contortions over this. I think he's overdoing it a bit.

Keith's meta-analysis is superfluous as usual. I'm sad to say I'm where LC is on KK. Unsubscribed and de-faved. I have my list of go-to places for a balance of thought provoking content and CaS no longer features. I really think that KK's idea of achieving balance is poking a stick at Joe Romm. Poking sticks at Romm is the stuff of "well duh!", and nothing more than that. Balance is something else, and KK ain't got it.

May 17, 2011 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

I notice the American Statistics Association blog have picked up the Wegman CSDA paper story:

Prominent social science stats professor Andrew Gelman seems to be trying to start a campaign to get Wegman's Founder's Award (stats gong) revoked.

May 18, 2011 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered Commenteraztek

I notice the American Statistics Association blog have picked up the Wegman CSDA paper story

Yes indeed.

Some money quotes from the editor:

“Wow–that’s really bizarre that they would have the chutzpah to attribute plagiarism to a student who was not even listed as a coauthor? I mean, who allows a non-coauthor to add huge chunks of material to the paper?

If true, this really is disgraceful. What’s their rule for coauthorship: if you contribute original material, we’ll list you as a coauthor, but if you plagiarize, you only get “thank you” credit?
I wonder what the rules are on revoking that Founder’s Award?
I agree that Azen’s review was a mistake in this case and that where there is doubt it is good to get a subject matter expert. I was just saying that I don’t in principle object to a review by the journal editor alone, if that editor is willing to consider himself enough of an expert to make the call. Editorial judgment is a form of peer review if the editor himself is a peer.
But I’m still reeling at the idea that Said and Wegman blamed the plagiarism on a student who wasn’t even listed as a coauthor. None of the credit, all of the blame, huh?”

May 19, 2011 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterCedric Katesby

The principal point of interest is whether the outcome of the Inquiry was progressive, helpful, acceptable by thinking people. It seems to pass this test.

The act of plagiarism is hard to pin down in non-grey terms. I'm Chair of a Committee that investigates it in photography. It's a minefield. The nearest I can come to a rational approach is to examine intent. If plagiarism is knowingly used to mislead, that is serious. If it in unknowingly used but does not damage the hypothesis, that can be treated with less gravity as merely careless. We are all careless each day in some small thing or another.

When it becomes really hard to judge, I defer to the expert Lobachevsky advice in

May 20, 2011 at 3:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

FWIW, social network analysis was never one of Wegman's strengths, actually he is/was pretty ignorant about it, and Reeves was the member of his group that knew the most (she had taken a one week seminar). That's what makes the whole thing totally bizarre. The editor who knows nothing about social network analysis accepts a paper from a group that has no track record in social network analysis without outside reviews. C'mon

May 22, 2011 at 1:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterEli Rabett


The publishing networks detailed in Wegman frankly barely rise to the level of an analysis, it is just pointing out the very intimate connections between those claiming to have verified Manns work. I am puzzled as to what "expertise" in this area you think Wegman is lacking.

I am also puzzled as to how this thing gets retracted in the first place. I was under the impression that the Wegman report was a finding of a congressional inquiry, not an academic paper, although clearly it was later published in a journal - it is this that has been withdrawn, surely, rather than the Congressional report. After all, why would legislators give a hoot about a trivial matter of cut and paste in some background material - like the rest of us, they are concerned with the reports conclusions, which to this day remain entirely unchallenged.

Or is Eli suggesting that Wegmans criticisms of the statistical techniques used in the Hockey Stick are in some way invalidated by this sideshow. If so, he needs to explain why Wegman was never contradicted by the NAS report, despite Gerry Norths palpable desire to do so.

May 22, 2011 at 2:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Wilson

Next on DeepClimate: "Nepotism sensation rocks Svensmarks' cosmic ray theory". John Mashey will reply detailing how according to an internet report, one of Svensmark Sr.'s great-granddads was spotted once with an apple in his hands at the age of 5, possibly forcibly taken from a neighbor's tree (the neighbor will sadly not be available to clarify if the Svenmarks are not highway robbers, so that will remain a highly-likely possibility).

Then we will be told that "it gets worse", with investigations of match-fixing in U-21 international volleyball games.

Jun 3, 2011 at 11:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

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