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Penn State opens probe into climate-change researcher's work

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By Mike Cronin
Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010
 

Fearing erosion of public confidence in research climate-change scientist Michael Mann conducted, Penn State University officials said Wednesday they will formally investigate the co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

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

But three authors of a Penn State internal inquiry could not "make a definitive finding whether there exists any evidence" that Mann deviated from accepted research practices, said a report they published yesterday.

"I fully support the additional inquiry, which may be the best way to remove any lingering doubts," Mann, director of Penn State's Earth System Science Center and a meteorology professor, said in a statement. "I intend to cooperate fully in this matter, as I have since the beginning of the process."

Five Penn State professors will investigate whether Mann violated the school's research misconduct policy, the report said. The panelists must submit findings and recommendations within 120 days.

Controversy embroiled Mann in November when a hacker stole e-mails from computer servers at 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. He won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with several hundred other scientists for his work on the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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

Penn State officials thought 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's science, in climate science specifically and in science generally.

"There has been more than a whiff of corruption that has followed Mann for years," said Marc Morano, executive editor of Climate Depot, a Web site published in Washington skeptical of global warming. "The fact that even his own university could not clear his name does not bode well for Mann."

Morano said "Mann represents everything that is corrupt and unethical in climate science today. He is one of the prime reasons that the global warming movement lay in tatters. Mann will go down in scientific history as a statistical charlatan."

But Mann said he is happy with his employer's procedures.

"I am very pleased that, after a thorough review, the independent Penn State committee found no evidence to support any of the allegations against me," he said. "Even though no evidence to substantiate the fourth allegation was found, the university administrators thought it best to convene a separate committee of distinguished scientists to resolve any remaining questions about academic procedures.

"This is very much the vindication I expected, since I am confident I have done nothing wrong."

Aaron Huertas, press secretary for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, called Morano's attack "a perfect example of substituting climate science for character assassination."

Huertas applauded Penn State for its process.

"When you're transparent with the science and the evidence, that's what builds the public trust," he said. "The contrarians have failed on the merits of climate science, so instead they've attacked the scientists themselves. It's morally bankrupt, and it's not going to work."

Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, said the remaining allegation "speaks to how a scientist exchanges information with fellow scientists and if their actions undermine the public trust in the science itself."

She emphasized the university would not examine the science of climate change, only the way Mann conducted research.

This isn't the first scrutiny of Mann's research. His 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, which depicts global temperatures skyrocketing during the past century. It appeared in the 2001 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 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.

 

 
 


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