In 2005, the then-chairman of the House Energy Committee, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), a climate change skeptic, commissioned a report that would challenge the data in two major climate change papers, including the popular “hockey stick” theory. In 2006, the Barton-commissioned report was released and heralded by climate change skeptics the country over, laying the groundwork for last year’s “Climate-Gate” controversies.
Last week, experts who reviewed the report for USA Today determined that the report was largely plagiarized.At the time it was released, climate skeptics, most notably the Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee, touted it as proof that the climate was doing just fine, thank you. Edward Wegman, the George Mason University statistician who wrote the report, testified before the committee and made the cable news rounds.
“Especially when massive amounts of public monies and human lives are at stake, academic work should have a more intense level of scrutiny and review,” Wegman and his co-authors wrote. “While the paleoclimate reconstruction has gathered much publicity because it reinforces a policy agenda, it does not provide insight and understanding of the physical mechanisms of climate change… What is needed is deeper understanding of the physical mechanisms of climate change.”
GMU is conducting its own investigation of Wegman and his methods. Wegman maintains that the attacks against him are baseless. He did, however, admit to USA Today that he felt “some pressure” from Barton’s committee to work “faster than we might like.”
We should note that the basic premise of the report — that some climate-change data used in late-1990s reports was sloppy — has not been challenged. But, in the world of scientific papers that sway the course of public debate, plagiarism is a big deal.
The report aimed to refute, specifically, the “hockey stick” theory introduced by Michael Mann. Mann’s graphs showed the world’s temperature staying about the same for centuries before spiking with the Industrial Revolution.
Barton wanted to take Mann down. In preparation for hearing on climate change, Barton demanded Mann turn over all his raw data and software, as well as information on all his sources of funding.
Indeed, Wegman’s report — which apparently heavily plagiarized textbooks and Wikipedia — challenged the validity of Mann’s peer review by noting the connections between Mann and the fellow climatologists that reviewed his data, suggesting an untoward coziness.
Outside the committee, the report was seized on by other climate change skeptics, including the Wall Street Journal, which wrote an editorial bashing the idea that there was a consensus that global warming is real:
Mr. Wegman’s report was initially requested by the House Energy Committee because some lawmakers were concerned that major decisions about our economy could be made on the basis of the dubious research embodied in the hockey stick. Some of the more partisan scientists and journalists howled that this was an attempt at intimidation. But as Mr. Wegman’s paper shows, Congress was right to worry; his conclusions make “consensus” look more like group-think.
Wegman’s report’s reach was much further, however. Last year, skeptics again started hollering about a conspiracy to trick an unsuspecting public into believing in global warming. They called it Climate-Gate and alleged that a series of emails proved that leading climate scientists had conspired to suppress data that showed the world is doing A-OK.
One of the loudest of these skeptics is Ken Cuccinelli, the ultra-conservative attorney general of Virginia. Despite rebuffs from the courts, Cuccinelli has repeatedly tried to subpoena the University of Virginia, Mann’s former employer, in an effort to discredit Mann’s research. His latest attempt, filed in October, extensively quoted the Wegman report.
The Wegman report, Cuccinelli wrote, proved that Mann’s data is “poorly documented and archived.” Cuccinelli is trying to probe a $214,000 state grant Mann received for his research.
The Climate-Gate scientists, of which Mann, again, was one, have been cleared by several independent investigations.
The climate change debate, however, may be one of those things where evidence lacks the power to change minds. Barton, for example, stands by the Wegman report.
Ed. note: This post has been changed since it was first published.