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Climategate: Penn State Moves to Protect Its Own

Appearances matter, and this doesn't appear good: Penn State is heading toward concluding that Michael Mann's role in Climategate is all a big misperception, a matter of appearances more than substance.

by
Christopher Horner

Bio

February 3, 2010 - 1:25 pm
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7. The money conclusion, except for any that inform your assessment of the credibility of the inquiry, is this:

Finding 4. After careful consideration of all the evidence and relevant materials, the inquiry committee could not make a definitive finding whether there exists any evidence to substantiate that Dr. Mann did engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities.” (Pp. 6-7)

Reading the panel’s quantification of this finding over the next two pages, they sure look like a band edging closer toward the outcome. When the music (inquiries) stops, they’re left standing pretty squarely on the spot staked out in the initial wagon-circling, dismissive response of the relevant and cloistered scientific community detailed by Wegman et al. Maybe they behaved less purely than is the driven snow, but that’s more a matter of perception derived from “private” correspondence never intended for outside assessment; who has not been indiscreet? However that is not the same as violating laws, etc.

The wagon-circlers in ClimateGate’s early days involved climate scientists waving away the actions of fellow climate scientists with whom they shared parallel interests of not seeing their gravy train derailed. Indeed, the panel summarizes that response of others as “nothing more than the private discussions of scientists engaged in a hotly debated topic of enormous social impact.”

Penn State risks the appearance of waving away the actions of a fellow Penn Stater with whom they share the interests in this not being a drawn-out tawdry affair for the University. We will see how they distinguish their own, surely more verbose ultimate conclusions from the wagon-circlers’ pithy dismissal.

8. Also troubling is the panel’s selective notation that “some may seek to use the debate over Dr. Mann’s research conduct and that of his colleagues as a proxy for the larger and more substantive debate over the science of anthropogenic global warming and its societal (political and economic) ramifications”. (P. 8.)

Yes. And some may seek to diminish the scrutiny of Mann’s research and conduct and that of his colleagues to protect the larger and more substantive industry that they represent. Why only one of these interests is worth mentioning is of a part with the panel being taken by just how forthright their subject was, despite not acquiring context to make that judgment but which assertion was material for inclusion in a ten-page assessment of more than two months’ work.

Sadly, the panel’s express focus, the only one among the relevant issues which troubles them for further inquiry,  “questions in the public’s mind about Dr. Mann’s conduct of his research activity, given that this may be undermining confidence in his findings as a scientist, and given that it may be undermining public trust in science in general and climate science specifically.” (P. 9) This is likely to be viewed in hindsight as having revealed a driving desire of dispelling questions and rehabilitating Mann, “science” and/or the University, not into fairly exploring the substance.

In conclusion, these points all remind us of the frequent need for and widespread use of independent inquiry when seeking to truly discern the meaning and importance of credibly alleged misfeasance. Penn State is heading toward concluding that this is all a big misperception, a matter of appearances more than substance. Something similar can be said about their initial assessment. Appearances matter, and this doesn’t appear good.

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Christopher Horner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and author of the recently-published The Liberal War on Transparency: Confessions of a Freedom of Information "Criminal".
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