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Penn State University panel clears global-warming scholar

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By Mike Cronin
Friday, July 2, 2010
 

A Penn State University panel of scientists on Thursday exonerated one of the school's researchers of accusations that his work on climate change violated the university's research misconduct policy.

After a four-month investigation, five university professors unanimously cleared professor Michael Mann, a climate scientist and one of several hundred researchers sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their work with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Penn State investigators concluded in a report released yesterday that "Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities."

"I am pleased that the last phase of Penn State's investigation has now been concluded, and that it has cleared me of any wrongdoing," Mann wrote in an e-mail. "These latest findings should finally put to rest the baseless allegations against me and my research."

Mann's work was chronicled in the 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," about former Vice President Al Gore's public campaign on global warming.

The film showed a graph Mann created, commonly called the "hockey stick" because of its shape, that depicts global temperatures skyrocketing during the past century. It appeared in the U.N. panel's 2001 report. Global-warming skeptics criticized the graph and Mann's research methods.

The National Academy of Sciences investigated Mann's work and in 2006 found it valid, though it questioned some conclusions by Mann and other researchers, including that the 1990s were the warmest decade of the past 1,000 years.

A controversy erupted in November when a hacker published e-mails obtained from computer servers at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England and published them on the Internet.

The e-mails contained at least 10 years of communication among climate-change researchers, including Mann.

In one e-mail, Phil Jones, former director of the Climatic Research Unit, who resigned after the e-mails became public, asked Mann to delete e-mails he wrote to another scientist. Mann said he did not comply and did not delete any e-mails.

Penn State chose to investigate because the e-mail incident "raised questions in the public's mind about Dr. Mann's conduct of his research activity," and those questions could undermine confidence in Mann, science and climate science.

Supporters and critics of Mann's work responded swiftly to the Penn State decision.

"It's about time," said Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists scientific integrity program, speaking from Washington.

"Now, let this man get back to work," Grifo said. "When is this witch hunt going to stop• A lot of this type of research is funded by taxpayer dollars. I'd rather have my taxpayer dollars spent on research than utter nonsense."

But Richard S. Lindzen, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of meteorology who disagrees with Mann's work, called the school's investigation a "whitewash." Lindzen was interviewed by the Penn State panel during its investigation.

"Penn State has clearly demonstrated that it is incapable of monitoring violations of scientific standards of behavior internally," Lindzen said in an e-mail from France.

School officials in February dismissed other allegations against Mann that questioned whether he suppressed or falsified data, deleted or concealed e-mails, or misused privileged or confidential information.

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II served University of Virginia Rector John O. Wynne on April 23 with a civil investigative demand for documents related to grants Mann obtained during his time as an assistant professor at the school. Mann worked at the university from 1999 until 2005, when he joined Penn State's faculty.

"We will address any arguments that the University of Virginia has posed when we file our court brief on July 13," said Cuccinelli's spokesman, Brian Gottstein, in an e-mail. "We do not intend to address issues outside of the courtroom."

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