From the Scientific Misconduct Blog, 2 May 2009 (h/t to Benny Peiser)
by Dr.Aubrey Blumsohn
Professor Wei-Chyung Wang is a star scientist in the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the University at Albany, New York. He is a key player in the climate change debate (see his self-description here). Wang has been accused of scientific fraud.
I have no inclination to “weigh in” on the topic of climate change. However the case involves issues of integrity that are at the very core of proper science. These issues are the same whether they are raised in a pharmaceutical clinical trial, in a basic science laboratory, by a climate change “denialist” or a “warmist”. The case involves the hiding of data, access to data, and the proper description of “method” in science.
The case is also of interest because it provides yet another example of how *not* to create trust in a scientific misconduct investigation. It adds to the litany of cases suggesting that Universities cannot be allowed to investigate misconduct of their own star academics. The University response has so far been incoherent on its face.
Doug Keenan, the mathematician who raised the case of Wang is on the “sceptic” side of the climate change debate. He maintains that “almost by itself, the withholding of their raw data by [climate] scientists tells us that they are not scientists”.
Below is my own summary of the straightforward substance of this case. I wrote to Wei-Chyung Wang, to Lynn Videka (VP at Albany, responsible for the investigation), and to John H. Reilly (a lawyer at Albany) asking for any correction or comments on the details presented below. My request was acknowledged prior to publication, but no factual correction was suggested.
- The allegations concern two publications. These are:
- Jones P.D., Groisman P.Y., Coughlan M., Plummer N., Wang W.-C., Karl T.R. (1990), “Assessment of urbanization effects in time series of surface air temperature over land”, Nature, 347: 169–172. (PDF here)
- Wang W.-C., Zeng Z., Karl T.R. (1990), “Urban heat islands in China”, Geophysical Research Letters, 17: 2377–2380. (PDF here)
- The publications concern temperature at a variety of measuring stations over three decades (1954-1983). Stations are denoted by name or number. A potential confounder in such research is that measuring stations may be moved to different locations at different points in time. It is clearly important that readers of publications understand the methodology, and important confounders.
- The publications make the following statements:
- (Statement A) “The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times.” [Jones et al.]
- (Statement B) “They were chosen based on station histories: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times….” [Wang et al.]
- The publications refer to a report produced jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) which details station moves, and the publications further suggest that stations with few if any moves or changes were selected on the basis of that report. However:
- Of 84 stations that were selected, Keenan found that information about only 35 are available in the DOE/CAS report
- Of those 35 stations at least half did have substantial moves (e.g 25 km). One station had five different locations during 1954–1983 as far as 41 km apart.
- It therefore appears that Statements A and B must be false. If false, readers would have been misled both in terms of the status of the stations and the manner in which they had been selected (or not selected).
- Keenan then communicated with the author of one of the publications (Jones) to ask about the source of location information pertaining to the other 49 stations that had not been selected using the described methodology. Jones informed Keenan that his co-author Wang had selected those stations in urban and rural China based on his “extensive knowledge of those networks”.
- On 11 April 2007 Keenan E-mailed Wang, asking “How did you ensure the quality of the data?”. Wang did not answer for several weeks, but on 30 April 2007 he replied as follows:
“The discussion with Ms. Zeng last week in Beijing have re-affirmed that she used the hard copies of station histories to make sure that the selected stations for the study of urban warming in China have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times over the study period (1954-1983)”
- Keenan points out that the “hard copies” to which Wang refers were not found by the authors of the DOE/CAS report, who had endeavored to be “comprehensive” (and that the DOE/CAS report was authored in part by Zeng, one of the co-authors on Wang). Keenan further notes that any form of comprehensive data covering these stations during the Cultural Revolution would be implausible.
- In August 2007 Keenan submitted a report to the University at Albany, alleging fraud. Wang could at that stage have made the “hard copy” details of the stations selected available to the scientific community. However, he failed to do so.
- In May 2008, the University at Albany wrote to Keenan that they had conducted an investigation and asked him to comment on it (see the rather odd letter). However they refused to show him the report of the investigation or any of the evidence to allow any comment (further odd letter).
- In August 2008 the University sent Keenan an astonishing letter of “determination” stating that they did not find that Wang had fabricated data, but that they refused to provide any investigation report or any other information at all because “the Office of Research Integrity regulations preclude discussion of any information pertaining to this case with others who were not directly involved in the investigation”.
- Wang has still not made the station records available to the scientific community. If he provided such records to the University as part of a misconduct investigation, then the University has apparently concealed them.
- In the absence of any explanation to the contrary, it seems that the methodology for station selection as described in these two publications was false and misleading.
- Wang maintains that hard copy records do exist detailing the location of stations selected by himself outwith the published methodology. However the refusal to clarify “method” is inappropriate and a form of misconduct in and of itself. It does not lend credence to Wang’s assertion that fraud did not take place. It would also be necessary to see records of stations that were not selected, in order to confirm that selection was indeed random, and only “on the basis of station history”.
- The University at Albany is in a difficult position.
- If the University received such records as part of the supposed misconduct investigation, then they could easily resolve the problem by making them available to the scientific community and to readers.
- If the University does not have such records then they have been complicit in misconduct and in coverup of misconduct.
- If the University at Albany does have such records, but such records are not in accordance with the stated methodology of the publications, then the University has more serious difficulties.
- “Investigations” of scientific misconduct should themselves align with the usual principles of scientific discourse (open discussion, honesty, transparency of method, public disclosure of evidence, open public analysis and public discussion and reasoning underlying any conclusion). This was not the case at the University at Albany. When you see universities reluctant to investigate things properly, it provides reasonable evidence that they really don’t want to investigate things properly.
(2) THE FRAUD ALLEGATION AGAINST SOME CLIMATIC RESEARCH OF WEI-CHYUNG WANG
Informath, April 2009
Douglas J. Keenan
Following are some remarks about my exposé, “The fraud allegation against some climatic research of Wei-Chyung Wang“.
Wei-Chyung Wang is a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He has been doing research on climate for over 30 years, and he has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles. He has also received an Appreciation Plaque from the Office of Science in the U.S.A., commending him, “For your insightful counsel and excellent science. …”. The plaque resulted in particular from his research on global warming.
I have formally alleged that Wang committed fraud in important parts of his global-warming research. Below is a relevant timeline.
|03 August 2007||My report, “Wei-Chyung Wang fabricated some scientific claims“, is sent to the Vice President for Research at Wang’s university.|
|31 August 2007||The university notifies me that it is initiating an inquiry into suspected research misconduct by Wang. (The notification includes a copy of the university’s Policy and Procedures on Misconduct in Research and Scholarship.)|
|12 November 2007||My exposé on Wang’s alleged fraud is published (reference below).|
|07 December 2007||Myself and the university’s Inquiry Committee have a conference call.|
|20 February 2008||The university sends me the Report of the Inquiry Committee. The Committee unanimously concluded that “there was no data” (thus implicitly concluding Wang must have fabricated data) and that a full investigation should be undertaken.|
|23 May 2008||The university sends me a notice: the Investigation Committee has completed its work and found no evidence of fraud. The investigation was conducted without interviewing me, which is a violation of the university’s policy. The university asks me to comment on the Committee’s report; I am, however, not allowed to see the report.|
|04 June 2008||The university informs me that I am not allowed to see the report because they did not interview me when preparing it.|
|06 June 2008||I submit comments to the university, listing ways in which I believe the university has acted in breach of U.S. regulations and its own policy.|
|11 July 2008||I submit a complaint to the Public Integrity Bureau at the Office of the Attorney General of New York State, alleging criminal fraud.|
|12 August 2008||The university sends me the determination for its investigation, saying that there is “no evidence whatsoever [of] … any research misconduct”.|
|07 October 2008||I telephone the Public Integrity Bureau and am told that it might be some months before the Bureau begins to review the complaint.|
|17 March 2009||I telephone the Public Integrity Bureau and am told that the complaint is under review by an attorney.|
|18 March 2009||I file three requests under the Freedom of Information Law of New York State: for a copy of the full report by the Inquiry Committee; for a copy of the full report by the Investigation Committee; and, given that the relevant federal funding agencies are required to be notified when a misconduct investigation is initiated, for copies of all such notifications that were sent by the university and pertain to the investigation of Wang.|
|24 March 2009||Given that Wang received funding for the fraudulent research from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and that the DOE has since supplied more funding to Wang, I report the fraud and the university’s apparent cover up to the Office of Inspector General at the DOE.|
This web page will be updated with news about the case, as the investigations progress.
(3) KAFKA AT ALBANY
Freeborn John, 15 March 2009
Last June I reported on the allegations of academic fraud levelled by a British mathematician, Doug Keenan, against Professor Wei-Chyung Wang of New York State University at Albany.
Dr Keenan alleged that in work that has come to be widely cited in climate studies, work that included the collation of data from temperature measuring stations in China, Professor Wang made statements that “cannot be true and could not be in error by accident. The statements are fabricated.”
In August 2007, Dr Keenan submitted a report (pdf) of his allegations to the Vice President for Research at Wang’s university and an inquiry was initiated. In February 2008 this was escalated into a full investigation by the Inquiry Committee.
All this was summarised in my earlier post, together with quotations from Dr Keenan’s allegation.
So far, things had run as might be expected. A fraud had been alleged, the University at Albany looked into it and decided to hold a formal investigation. Dr Keenan waited to be contacted by the investigation and asked to put his case, in line with the university’s Policy and Procedures on Misconduct in Research and Scholarship (.doc). The relevant section of this document runs as follows (emphasis added):
III. A. Rights and Responsibilities of the Complainant
Rights: The Vice President for Research will make every effort to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of complainants. The University will protect, to the maximum extent possible, the position and the reputation of those who in good faith report alleged misconduct in research.
The Vice President for Research will work to ensure that complainants will not be retaliated against in the terms and conditions of their employment or other status at the University and will review instances of alleged retaliation for appropriate action. Any alleged or apparent retaliation should be reported immediately to the Vice President for Research.
The complainant will be provided a copy of the formal allegations when and if an inquiry is opened. The complainant will have the opportunity to review portions of the inquiry and investigation reports pertinent to the complainant’s report or testimony, and will be informed in writing of the results of the inquiry and investigation, and of the final determination. After the final determination and upon request to the Vice President for Research, the complainant shall be given access to the full documentation.
Responsibilities: The complainant is responsible for making allegations in good faith, maintaining confidentiality, and cooperating fully with an inquiry and/or investigation.
Dr Keenan lived up to the responsibility as stated in the final paragraph above so far as he could. He had made the allegation in good faith and given Professor Wang an opportunity to explain how he had reached his results, an opportunity the Professor had not taken. Keenan maintained confidentiality. In order to cooperate with the investigation, though he would first have to be contacted by it. Dr Keenan waited.
Late in May 2008 a communication arrived from Albany. It said:
After careful review of the evidence and thoughtful deliberation, the Investigation Committee finds no evidence of the alleged fabrication of results and nothing that rises to the level of research misconduct having been committed by DR. Wang.
As the institutional official responsible for this case, I have accepted the Committee’s findings and the Report. You have fourteen (14) calendar days from the date of this letter to provide any comments to add to the report for the record.
Contrary to its own rules, the Committee had not given Keenan the opportunity to “review portions of the inquiry and investigation reports”.
That’s astonishing, but here’s where it becomes Kafkaesque. Keenan was being asked, in this most recent communication, to comment on the report of the Committee. But he was not sent a copy of the report. When he challenged this, he received an email from Adrienne Bonilla explaining that:
[Keenan] did not receive a copy of the Investigation report because the report did not include portions addressing your role and opinions in the investigation phase.
Per the UAlbany Misconduct policy:
VI. E. Investigation Report and Recommendations of the Vice President for Research
“…The Vice President for Research will provide the respondent with a copy of the draft investigation report for comment and rebuttal and will provide the complainant with those portions of the draft report that address the complainant’s role and opinions in the investigation. The respondent and complainant will be given 14 calendar days from the transmission of the report to provide their written comments. Any written responses to the report by either party will be made part of the report and record.
Keenan then wrote to the Vice President for Research at Albany, Lynn Videka, pointing out the various ways in which the University had breached its own policy, stating that its behaviour was consistent with a cover up, and pointing out that Professor Wang has received more than $7 million in grants from a couple of US federal agencies.
In August 2008, Lynn Videka wrote to Keenan enclosing a final copy of a “determination” of the investigation. In her covering note, she stated:
I am notifying you of the case outcome because you were the complainant in this case. The University’s misconduct policies and the Office of Research Integrity regulations preclude discussion of any information pertaining to this case with others who were not directly involved in the investigation.
To summarise, the university initiated an investigation, then broke its own rules by not involving Dr Keenan. It then produced a report that carefully avoided mentioning Dr Keenan, so it could claim he was not entitled to see a copy of this report. It then asked Keenan to comment on the report. It has completely disregarded its own policy that “After the final determination and upon request to the Vice President for Research, the complainant shall be given access to the full documentation.”
But Doug Keenan is a tenacious man. In July 2008, after being refused sight of the report, he submitted a formal complaint (pdf) to the Public Integrity Bureau at the Office of the Attorney General of New York State, alleging criminal fraud. In this complaint, he said:
Wei-Chyung Wang is a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He has been doing research for over 30 years. For this research, Wang has received at least $7 million. The funds have come primarily from the Department of Energy, with additional funding from other federal agencies (DOD, FAA, NSF). I have formally alleged that Wang committed fraud in important parts of his research. My allegation was submitted to the University at Albany; a copy is enclosed.
The university conducted a preliminary inquiry; a copy of the report from the inquiry is enclosed (redacted, by the university). Briefly, Wang claimed that there were some documents that could exonerate him. The inquiry concluded that there should be a full investigation, which should be “charged with obtaining and reviewing any such additional evidence … so that a final resolution may be made regarding the allegation against Dr. Wang”.
Wang had been claiming the existence of such exonerating documents for nearly a year, but he has not been able to produce them. Additionally, there was a report published in 1991 (with a second version in 1997) explicitly stating that no such documents exist. Moreover, the report was published as part of the Department of Energy Carbon Dioxide Research Program, and Wang was the Chief Scientist of that program.
The university conducted an investigation. The investigation concluded that Wang is innocent. I believe that the case against Wang is strong and clear, and that the university is trying to cover up the fraud so as to protect its reputation. Wang is one of the university’s star professors. The conduct of the investigation violated several of the university’s own stated policies: details are given in an attached e-mail (dated 06 June 2008).
The e-mail was sent to Lynn Videka, Vice President for Research at the university: Videka was in charge of overseeing the investigation. Note, in particular, that the documents that Wang was relying on were never produced.
I have only examined a little of Wang’s research; so I do not know the full extent of the fraud. It is difficult to examine more in part because Wang has not willingly made his data available: when asked for the data from the research that I later reported as fraudulent, Wang refused. For that research, though, Wang had a co-worker in Britain. In Britain, the Freedom of Information Act requires that data from publicly-funded research be made available. I was able to get the data by requiring Wang’s co-worker to release it, under British law. It was only then that I was able to confirm that Wang had committed fraud. Details are given in my report to the university (page 4, last paragraph). I would be willing to help examine other research that Wang has done, if more data were made available.
There was another case of research fraud with a professor at the University of Vermont, in 2005. There, Prof. Eric Poehlman was convicted of making false statements on federal grant applications; he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Wang has done the same as Poehlman. The fraudulent work described in my report dates from 1990; Wang has been relyingon that work in some of his grant applications since then. As I understand things, each of those applications is a violation of statute. (Additionally, Wang has been using the grants to go on frequent trips to China.)
In October 2008 Dr Keenan was told there could be a wait of several months while his complaint is investigated.
I’ll let you know when there are any further developments.
UPDATE: I didn’t mention this in the main piece above, but I did mail the relevant person at Albany myself, some time ago, asking for news of the investigation against Professor Wang. I received no reply.
However, within a couple of hours of this being posted, someone at Albany came to look at it, from the host aspmini-cc326.cc.albany.edu (188.8.131.52), having apparently been sent an email about it.
So even if they are not communicative about this case, it seems someone at Albany is keeping their eyes open for reports of it.
UPDATE: On reflection, the hit from Albany is also consistent with someone using Google Alerts to monitor coverage of this issue.
UPDATE: Doug Keenan has been told on the telephone that this case is now under review by an attorney at the OAG Public Integrity Bureau.
UPDATE: Also see new findings on the effect of urban warming.