FOIA Facts 1 – More Misdeeds By Ed Wegman, Yasmin Said, George Mason University


05/20/15: The full report is now posted, as side-effect of $2M lawsuiit by Ed Wegman, Yasmin Said, Milton Johns.
New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) replies have exposed more misdeeds by Professor Edward Wegman and Yasmin Said at George Mason University (GMU),  closely involved with the Kochs, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and many others known for attacks on climate science. This post reviews background and attaches FOIA files that unearthed evidence for:

-pervasive mis-use of Federal funds for inappropriate work,
-plagiarism* or falsification** in documents used to seek grants or credit,
GMU violations of Federal rules for reporting misconduct, atop an already-absurd procedure.

Readers unfamiliar with the history might first read the background below the fold and then return here for a summary of the posts to follow in this series:

FOIA Facts 2 Wegman and Said used existing grants from the Army Research Office and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for efforts on the 2006 Wegman Report, showing “pro bono” claims made to Congress as false. That was not the only funds mis-use. Together, they claimed 48 inappropriate papers or talks, easily consuming more than half their effort. Grants of $492K produced attacks on climate science  and much foreign travel, but almost nothing in peer-reviewed research journals.

FOIA Facts 3 – More plagiarism and falsification are documented in 13 total works by Wegman and/or Said, including a few new ones and at least 7 claimed for grant credit. Wegman also wrote a half-million-dollar grant proposal, but evidence shows that roughly half the text was copy-paste-edit plagiarism. Luckily for Wegman, it was rejected.

FOIA Facts 4 exposes worse misbehavior at GMU, which badly mishandled simple plagiarism complaints, including one on a Federally-funded paper. That was retracted in May 2011 and finally ruled as misconduct in February 2012. Federal rules required multiple notifications to several agencies, but FOIA requests found no trace of them. GMU seemed to ignore Federal rules, but perhaps other funding and influence are more important.

In any case,  Wegman was appointed in Fall 2012 to a 3-year term on the GMU College of Science Promotion and Tenure Committee.

Background – Attack on the Hockey Stick,  Wegman Report As Centerpiece

IPCC 2001 TAR FIg 2.20From 2001 onward, the “hockey stick” temperature graph of Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcom Hughes was subject to a manufactured controversy,*** not substantially within science, but from outside. Key players 2001-2005 included Senator  James Inhofe (R-OK), Fred Singer, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, especially Myron Ebell, and the George C. Marshall Institute, chaired by Will Happer, whose CEO William O’Keefe was a 25-year veteran of the American Petroleum Institute (API) whose 1998 strategy was executed for years by participants.

Starting with 2001 contact by Singer, Canadians Ross McKitrick and later Stephen McIntyre became closely-involved with these people. They were brought to Washington, promoted widely, sponsored for talks on Capitol Hill and introduced to Inhofe, who publicized their claims. On May 11, 2005 they gave a talk in Washington, later annotated. Its key thrusts were critiques on hockey stick statistics and the quality of peer review in climate science.

In September 2005, Wegman was recruited for Reps. Joe Barton(R-TX) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) to try to ratify McIntyre and McKitrick’s critiques from that talk, which became the “blueprint” for the “Wegman Report”.*** 

The Report was announced July 2006 in the Wall Street Journal. A strong PR campaign included several Congressional hearings, the first with just a few days’ notice to scientists being criticized, resembling a well-known witch-hunt.

Although ignored or refuted by real scientists, the Report became a centerpiece of climate anti-science for years, treated as totally authoritative by some newspapers and many books, such as Essex and McKitrick (2008, 2nd Edition), Rapp (2008), Solomon (2008), Hayden (2008), Horner (2008), Alexander (2009), Booker (2009), Lawson (2009), Michaels and Balling (2009), Plimer (2009), Wishart (2009), Carter (2010), Goreham (2010), Montford (2010), Bell (2011), LaFramboise (2011), Rapp (2012), van Kooten (2013), Goreham (2013), Darwall (2013). Most authors can be found in the DeSmogBlog database.

Exposure, GMU, Kochs, Tobacco

In 2009 and 2010, Canadian blogger Deep Climate started finding Wegman Report plagiarism. Others documented more plagiarism (35 of 91 pages) and many other problems.**** I have alleged deliberate misrepresentations as well. The Report was filled with biases, errors and distortion. Even the statistical work was at best incompetent. Much of the Wegman Report was done by Yasmin Said, an alcoholism-modeler one year past PhD, and Wegman’s grad students, not the claimed “eminent statisticians.” Neither they nor Wegman had credible expertise in paleoclimate temperature issues or social network analysis, the Report’s two key bases.

The Wegman Report later became a key prop of a major legal attack that wasted much Virginian money. VA Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s July 13, 2010 Brief (pp.9-12) and later Civil Investigative Demand (pp.18-20) against the University of Virginia on September 29, 2010 relied strongly on the Report. Cuccinelli and 4 more lawyers included climate minutiae unlikely to be studied at law school, hinting at serious help, perhaps from VA residents with strong GMU connections, such as Pat Michaels, Fred Singer or David Schnare. Other plausible helpers can be found nearby, given the Washington density of thinktanks.  Wegman’s lawyer, GMU J.D. Milton Johns, had been Cuccinelli’s law partner. [05/31/15 They later sued for $2M.]

GMU has long been closely involved with Charles Koch, Richard Fink and other Koch associates, including GMU‘s Vice Rector, Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer, as per A.5 and and A.6 of See No Evil, Speak Little Truth, Break Rules, Blame Others. The Kochs and allied funders have given more money to GMU than most Federal agencies. Many “tax-exempt public charities” involved in climate anti-science have long histories of tobacco funding. GMU also appears often in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, a source of recent research that led to the Tobacco-Tea Party connection, fostered by Koch-funded groups led by Pfotenhauer.

GMU Mishandling of Academic Misconduct Complaints

Based on Deep Climate’s findings, in March and May 2010, Bradley lodged formal plagiarism complaints with GMU, which took nearly 2 years to handle straightforward plagiarism issues.  GMU ignored almost all, admitting only to plagiarism (and thus misconduct) of 1.5 pages in a paper retracted much earlier.  Others filed more complaints, not just on the Report, but on other papers and students’ dissertations, totaling 80+ pages, but were met with stonewalling and sometimes outright falsehoods. GMU declined to investigate.

Despite all this, Wegman was appointed in Fall 2012 to a 3-year term on the GMU College of Science Promotion and Tenure Committee.

A 4-post series can only scratch the surface of misbehavior, so readers may expect a much more detailed report later, (05/31/15 full report now online),  of which a few completed sections will be attached. Some people create FOIA fishing expeditions to harass climate scientists, but careful FOIAs can be used as originally intended, to find important information that some might prefer left hidden. Dan Vergano had filed FOIAs with GMU in 2010, which somewhat oddly were handled by letting Wegman choose the documents to be provided. He supplied a mass of (seemingly-irrelevant) material, but without the usual redactions of personal data and claimed (falsely) that FOIA replies could not be supplied to others, showing he did not understand the rules. FOIAs from 2011-2013 sometimes led to reexamination of the 2010 information, of which some turned out to be quite relevant.

Next: FOIA Facts 2 – No Pro Bono – Federal Funds Mis-Used For Wegman Report And Much More.


* Plagiarism alleged here has a typical pattern – about 50% of the words on a page are in-order identical to identifiable antecedent sources.  Another 20% are trivial editing changes, leaving about 30% as paraphrased or unknown. Many examples were given in See No Evil…, but more will be shown later in this series. Blatant copy-paste-edit is one of the easiest to prove and understand.

** With plagiarism, falsification is another deadly sin in academic research.  Some misconduct policies label the same actions fabrication or misrepresentation, but in this series, falsification is used as a blanket term to include all these  – substantial false statements that could not plausibly be honest errors.  This was discussed at length in Strange Falsifications in the Wegman Report.

*** Subject to the usual caveats about the use of Wikipedia, these pages have been much improved since 2010, and are at least good starting places. The tobacco industry pioneered creating extra-science “controversies” about topics where science had already reached strong results.

**** “Strange Scholarship In The Wegman Report” (2010) was a long dissection of the history and flaws. It was long hosted (many thanks!) by Canadian blogger Deep Climate, who first exposed the plagiarism problems. It is now attached here, plus several Appendices added later, A.6.6, W.5.7, W.5.10, to consolidate all my Wegman and GMU reports at one site.

The Federal FOIA responders were prompt and helpful. No general guilt-by-association is implied anywhere in this series – GMU has many credible faculty and Wegman has worked with many fine statisticians there or elsewhere, making his use of his grad students quite instructive.

Attachments, Mostly FOIAs

Using the last 4 digits of long contract numbers, the 3 major grants were 0447, and 0059, and 5876, for $217K, $100K, and $145K respectively. Said also got a supplementary grant of $30K from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but it seemed to have no grant number and very little documentation.

From National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

Yasmin Said’s Proposal for an NIAAA postdoc grant (5876), the Award, a Progress report, and a second Progress report.

From Army Research Office (ARO):

FOIA responses covering grants 0447 and 0059.

Grant 0447 Proposal AwardFinal, the last mostly copied from Wegman’s February 2010 Resume, archived June 18, 2010. That disappeared in August 2010, with other key documents, as described in “Strange Scholarship” Appendix A.11.

Grant 0059 started with the Army Research Laboratory, but was administered by ARO, Proposal, AwardFinal.

Past grants provide context: 0314 Final Report, 0404 Final, 0267 Proposal, 0267 Award, 0267 Final, 0274 Final.  Unlike 0447 and 0059, these seemed plausible proposals that produced substantial relevant results.

Finally, Dan Vergano has posted about 30 relevant files from FOIAs at DocumentCloud.  Some will be referenced in posts 2-4.

UPDATE 05/06/15: Add Darwall (2013), The Age of Global Warming.  05/07/15 Fix missing * and **.

UPDATE 05/20/15: Add link to the full report, finally published 2 years later, annotated with Wiley commitments.

UPDATE 05/31/15: Update another part to reference the full report.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, IPCC TAR (2001) Fig 2.20

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