Back in 1998, climate scientists Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes (hereafter MBH) published a famous paper on paleoclimate that showed that the Earth is warmer now than at any time in the past thousand years. This paper became known as the "Hockey Stick" because the graph of global temps looked roughly that shape: a long slow decline from 1000 AD, transitioning to a sudden warming during the 20th century.

The Hockey Stick became a shibboleth to the right-wing climate denier crowd: if MBH were right, that would mean we would actually have to do something about global warming. So the right set out to destroy the hockey stick. This attempt didn't start in academe. It started in the offices of certain Republican congressmen. They found a compliant statistician named Edward Wegman to write a report in 2006, and they fed him information from a congressional staffer. The result was an excoriation of MBH in the form of an official congressional report, read into the record at a subcommittee hearing.

One little problem: the information that the GOP staffer fed to Wegman was plagiarized. And the climate scientist whose textbook was ripped off was none other than Raymond Bradley, the B in MBH.

"Congressional Hearings break Hockey Stick!" shouted the Heartland Institute and other denier blogs. What are the odds that the Heartland Institute will cover this latest development?

The bulldog of this story is Canadian science blogger John Mashey, whose Deep Climate is a must-read for anyone following the controversy. Mashey was the first to find plagiarized passages in the report. Now USA Today has picked up the story in spectacular fashion: the paper hired three outside experts to review the Wegman report for plagiarized text, and found (as Mashey knew they would) that 35 of the report's 91 pages are mostly plagiarized from other sources, including Bradley's textbook and Wikipedia.

In response to Bradley's complaint, George Mason University (Wegman's employer) is also looking into the charges.

And this would be funny if it weren't so typical:

The Wegman report called for improved "sharing of research materials, data and results" from scientists. But in response to a request for materials related to the report, GMU said it "does not have access to the information." Separately in that response, Wegman said his "email was downloaded to my notebook computer and was erased from the GMU mail server," and he would not disclose any report communications or materials because the "work was done offsite," aside from one meeting with Spencer.

Just in case you're wondering, here's the original "Hockey Stick" graph from MBH 1998:


And here are the dozen-or-so studies that have confirmed the Hockey Stick in the last decade:


And here's the study by the National Academy of Science that confirms MBH's conclusions.

"It's nothing personal. I don't want these guys fired or anything," Bradley says. "They should just retract or withdraw the report as you would any scientific publication that has these sort of problems."

UPDATE: from the comments, John Mashey is not responsible for the Deep Climate blog, and apologies especially to the fabulous anonymous blogger DC. h/t Pete Dunkelberg. Go read Deep Climate anyway ... as Pete says, the web of deceit is amazing.

UPDATE 2: Some commentators have asked if the plagiarism is relevant to the truth or falsity of the report. The answer is yes, but the full story takes a while to explain. The gist is that one of the plagiarized works is that of McIntyre & McKitrick (M&M) who had real issues with MBH when it first came out. They published a response in the literature which was the first to criticize the Hockey Stick based on its statistics, claiming that 100 datasets of white noise would also have come up with a hockey stick using MBH's methods. And Wegman cribbed from that.

The problem is that M&M themselves have been debunked by Wahl & Amman, who pointed out that the 100 allegedly "random" white noise datasets were cherry-picked from a group of 10,000 to have the largest apparent hockey-stick type shapes to begin with. Wegman apparently didn't know about Wahl & Amman — no GOP staffer told him about it, probably. So yes, Wegman's plagiarism directly affected the truth of his writings.

Originally posted to The Numerate Historian on Sun Nov 21, 2010 at 11:01 PM PST.

Your Email has been sent.