Inquiry clears US Climategate researcher of falsification, questions “conduct of science”

The Michael Mann 'hockey stick graph' incorporating tree rings to calculate temperatures since 1000AD in the Northern Hemisphere. Credit: IPCC

Penn State University’s inquiry into Michael Mann has dismissed widespread claims that he made up climate measurements, deleted information, or misused his position. Mann, whose emails were among those published in the University of East Anglia (UEA) leak, is however to be investigated further by a panel of Penn State researchers. Five scientists from a range of different subjects will examine whether how Mann proposed, did, or reported research differed from what is expected of an academic.

A first committee of senior university management suggests that doubts about how Mann has done his work “may be undermining public trust in science in general and climate science specifically.” Although Mann was cleared by a similar US National Academy of Sciences investigation in 2006, the University’s leaders say that the emails give a new insight into how he works that needs more attention. They have set up the second, five-strong, committee to do just this within 120 days.

Despite this, the February 3 report disagrees with those criticising the work of Mann and others on the basis of the word “trick” used in what it calls “purloined emails”.

“There exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had or has ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data. The so-called “trick” was nothing more than a statistical method used to bring two or more different kinds of data sets together in a legitimate fashion by a technique that has been reviewed by a broad array of peers in the field.”

Another key concern to come out of the Climategate emails surrounds the suggestion of the UEA’s Phil Jones that Mann and others delete emails. Henry Foley, vice president for research at Penn State therefore requested that Mann provide him with all emails related to the fourth report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Mann duly provided a zip file containing these emails, leading the committee to conclude:

“There exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data related to AR4.”

The third accusation not to be investigated further is that Mann and other climate change researchers had early access to research papers that they disagreed with, and prevented their publication. The committee asked what papers were involved, it found enormous confusion over the interpretation of the emails supposedly showing this. Some referred to papers written by the researchers themselves, but were not yet published as they were under embargo, a common situation in academic journals. Others referred to papers that were published, but that they disagreed with.

“The committee found no research misconduct in this,” the report says. “Science often involves different groups who have very different points of view, arguing for the intellectual dominance of their viewpoint.”

Mann himself responded to the report:

“This is very much the vindication I expected since I am confident I have done nothing wrong. I fully support the additional inquiry which may be the best way to remove any lingering doubts.”