Climate Audit: Is being offensive really the best defence?

Climate Audit: Is being offensive really the best defence?
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In a breathless update on the tawdry Wegmangate tale of plagiarism, mining promoter and amateur statistician Stepehn McIntyre (proprietor of Climate Audit) has tried to distract from the case at hand by imagining an earlier instance of plagiarism, allegedly committed by Edward Wegman’s victim, Raymond Bradley.

For those just catching up, the blogger Deep Climate and his research partner John Mashey have produced a document that shows just how extensively the once-respected statisitician Wegman cribbed from one of his apparent victims (Ray Bradley) in a report that Wegman produced for Congress. Mashey argues that Wegman’s errors and plagiarism were more than merely unprofessional: he says that they constitute a barefaced and illegal effort to mislead Congress. George Mason University is currently investigating the plagiarsim charges.

McIntyre has chosen to run interference on that complaint not by actually defending Wegman (whose shoddy work seems increasingly indefensible) but by attacking Ray Bradley, one of the authors of the iconic “hockey stick graph” that Wegman had been hired to attack. McIntyre points out in his post that Bradley had earlier used a series of figures from a 1976 book by H.C. Fritts and, according to McIntyre, provided inadequate credit.

This, however, seems less like plagiarism and more like an effort to build good science on a solid foundation. The first time Bradley used the Fritts work, in 1985, he said (and, to his credit, McIntyre quotes), “…the greatest strides in dendroclimatology hae been made in the last 10-15 years, largely as a result of the work of H.C. Fritts and associates at the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research in the University of Arizona; much of this work has been documented at length in the excellent book by Fritts (1976).”

Bradley then reproduced the figures and paraphrased some of Fritts earlier work, giving Fritts credit as he went. When Bradley produced a second book covering similar material in 1999, he used many of the same figures and credited Fritts about half as often.

Two points: First, there is no evidence here that Bradley was trying to hide the source of his material or that he was trying to claim credit for work done by Fritts. McIntyre’s complaint – to the extent that it has any validity at all – is that Bradley didn’t credit Fritts often enough. Fair enough, but this still appears to be the case of a scientist trying to advance the work of an admired senior scientist.

Second, and instark contrast, in the now infamous Wegman report to Congress, the authors made no effort to cite Bradley at all. Wegman’s team just grabbed the Bradley material (unsourced) and, in several egregious instances, changed it to arrive an contradictory conclusions.

While Bradley was honoring the work of a leader in the field, Wegman’s henchpeople were stealing material and then twisting it in what now appears to be an obvious effort to undermine the credibility of the original author.

And now, rather than make any effort to confront, explain or even defend the Wegman paper, McIntyre responds by throwing another clod of mud at Bradley. Bad form fellas. Typical, but still bad form.

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