David Holland, the professional engineer who submitted the FOI which prompted Phil Jones to initiate what can only be described as a conspiracy to destroy documents related to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, has repeatedly asked:
why did Jones take such a large professional risk by asking other scientists to destroy documents?
A correlative question for the other scientists (Briffa, Mann, Wahl, Ammann) is why they agreed to co-operate with Jones in this bizarre enterprise. These questions are not just Holland’s. They are important questions that deserve an answer.
But despite multiple so-called “inquiries”, Holland’s questions about Jones’ email deletion “enterprise” remain unanswered. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that, as far as the inquiries are concerned, they remained unasked. Instead of unravelling the conduct of Jones and his Team, the “inquiries” have been wilfully obtuse, both refusing to ask the salient questions and determining the matter on empirical findings that were either blatantly untrue or unsupported by the evidence that they collected.
In the UK, Muir Russell was commissioned by the University of East Anglia to inquire about the emails, but didn’t even ask Jones whether he deleted the emails. Muir Russell “explained” to the Parliamentary Committee that, if he had done so, he would have been asking Jones to admit misconduct. That a panel commissioned to inquire about misconduct should refuse to grasp the nettle of actually inquiring about misconduct is unfortunately all too typical of these sorry events. Muir Russell’s subsequent report then contained findings on email deletion that were blatantly untrue and known to be untrue to hundreds, if not thousands, of readers who’ve followed these events. In particular, even though Jones’ email initiating the deletion enterprise was marked re “FOIA” and was a direct response to Holland’s FOIA request, Muir Russell obtusely reported that there was no pending FOI request at the time of Jones’ deletion email. This sort of wilful obtuseness and/or incompetence was one of a number of factors that resulted in the Muir Russell “inquiry” exacerbating, rather than diminishing, the polarized attitudes in this field.
In today’s post, I’ll review the recent NSF Office of the Inspector General report as it pertains to Jones’ document destruction enterprise, together with the Penn State Inquiry Committee that it reviews. Like Muir Russell, both the Penn State Inquiry Committee and the NSF OIG neglected to consider obvious and fundamental questions about Mann’s participation in Jones’ document destruction enterprise and arrived at empirical conclusions that were unsupported by the inadequate record that they had collected.
Although the defects in the Penn State Inquiry Committee’s handling of Mann’s participation in Jones’ email destruction enterprise are or should be obvious to any Inspector General (and had been pointed out long ago at Climate Audit), the recent report of the Inspector General condoned Penn State’s mishandling of these matters, as I’ll discuss in today’s post.
On a number of occasions, I’ve urged readers to not hyper-ventilate so much about Mann and pay more attention to the institutions that have enabled Climategate conduct, as for example here:
Far too much attention in this controversy has been focused on Mann and not enough on the enablers.
I once again re-iterate this observation and request and ask people to focus more on the conduct of the inquiries and institutions than of the scientists and grant recipients. For the record, I was one of the people interviewed by the NSF Office of the Inspector General (OIG), though I see no evidence of my input in the report. I’ll discuss this in a follow-up post.
Jones’ email asking other scientists to destroy documents pertaining to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report is probably the second-most notorious Climategate email (after the trick email).
In late May 2008, David Holland had sent an FOI request to East Anglia for IPCC review comments and correspondence that had not been archived at IPCC, specifically mentioning Wahl’s co-author, Ammann, but in terms that were broad enough to include Wahl. (The inquiry arose out of puzzles under discussion in contemporary Climate Audit posts.) The following day, Jones told East Anglia FOI officer David Palmer that Briffa would (untruthfully) deny that there had been any such correspondence. Jones then notoriously asked Mann to delete his emails, asking Mann to forward the request to Wahl, saying that Briffa and Ammann would do likewise:
Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith [Briffa] re AR4? Keith will do likewise… Can you also email Gene [Wahl] and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar [Ammann] to do likewise.
Mann replied the same day as follows:
… I’ll contact Gene [Wahl] about this ASAP. His new email is: generwahl@xxx
talk to you later,
That Mann lived up to his promise to Jones to contact Wahl about deleting the emails seems certain. In early 2011, from the report of the NOAA OIG, we learned that Wahl (by this time, a NOAA employee), told the NOAA IG that “he believes that he deleted the referenced emails at the time”.
To date, Mann’s email to Wahl (forwarding Jones’ request) has not been documented, nor has Wahl’s reply, if any, acknowledging Mann’s request. As a result, we do not know what commentary, if any, was added by Mann when he forwarded Jones’ request. Did he add any endorsement or caveat? If so, what? Did Wahl acknowledge Mann’s email? If so, what did he say in his acknowledgement?
Nor, for that matter, do we know whether any of the inquiries sought out such information, as they are all silent on this aspect of the investigation.
As to the documents that underlay Jones’ deletion enterprise, they were not “ordinary” academic correspondence about prospective journal articles, but correspondence to Briffa in his capacity as an IPCC Lead Author. In particular, the correspondence addressed one of the then most controversial IPCC issues, their assessment of the Hockey Stick controversy. While Jones’ email destruction enterprise cast a broader net, Jones was most concerned about destroying the emails in summer 2006 between Briffa and Eugene Wahl, who, with Caspar Ammann, had been a co-author of the Team response to the McIntyre and McKitrick criticisms of the Hockey Stick.
This correspondence had been carried out surreptiously, a word that I use because Wahl and Briffa’s own words characterized their correspondence this way (using terms like “for your eyes only” and “confidential”). Nor was the correspondence copied to their usual cc partners.
It appears certain that Wahl (who was not registered as either an IPCC Contributing Author or even as a reviewer) altered the IPCC assessment of the Stick controversy from the assessment that had been sent out to external reviewers to an assessment that favored his own interpretation of the Hockey Stick, trivializing our criticisms and supporting Mann’s position. (The University of East Anglia refused my 2011 FOI request for the critical attachments to this correspondence, a refusal presently under appeal at the UK ICO.) Wahl’s assessment was then relied on by government agencies e.g. in Julia Slingo’s evidence to the UK SciTech Committee in March 2010.
Penn State Inquiry Committee
Academic misconduct investigations are supposed to have two stages: an “inquiry” committee, which is sort of equivalent to a grand jury stage, designed only to see whether there are grounds for an “investigation”; and an “investigation” committee, which is charged to investigate counts arising from the inquiry committee and weigh the defence. See a prior CA discussion here.
Commencing on or about Nov 22, 2009, Penn State received “numerous communications (emails, phone calls and letters)” from “University alumni, federal and state politicians, and others, many of whom had had no relationship with Penn State” making a variety of accusations against Mann, including accusations of “destroying records”. (See the report of the Inquiry Committee here, which is the source of most of the chronology in this section.) On November 24, 2009, Eva Pell, then Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, “decided that the matter should be examined by the process articulated in RA-10” [the Penn State research misconduct policy] and met with the relevant Penn State officials.
The Penn State RA-10 definition of research misconduct policy contains four clauses, of which the following two are the most relevant:
(1) fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or other practices that seriously deviate from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities;…
(4) failure to comply with other applicable legal requirements governing research or other
The Penn State definition is not the same as the present NSF definition. (The first clause corresponds to the pre-2002 NSF definition, which is somewhat broader than the present NSF definition.)
Despite the apparent volume of complaints, the Penn State inquiry committee stated that the university did not receive any “formal” allegations. Pell therefore “synthesized” four “formal” allegations, a process which seems to have been carried out between November 24 and November 29, 2009 (obviously not much time to assimilate the Climategate dossier). One of the four allegations synthesized by Pell (allegation #2) directly pertained to Mann’s role in Jones’ email deletion enterprise and was set out as follows:
Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data, related to AR4, as suggested by Phil Jones?
The prima facie evidence for this allegation is, of course, the May 28, 2008 emails. (In the real world, even a single email requesting destruction of documents can give rise to serious charges e.g. US v Quattrone.)
As the NSF OIG put in their recent report, the public emails “reasonably caused individuals, not party to the communications, to suspect some impropriety on the part of the authors”.
The Role of an Inquiry Committee
The purpose of an Inquiry Committee is to determine whether “there is sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation”. The Office of Research Integrity has observed that, from time to time, inquiry committees go beyond their mandate and, despite their restrict ed time and resources, purport to carry out the investigation that should have been handed off to a properly constituted investigation committee.
The U.S. Office of Research Integrity discourages this practice, as discussed in a prior CA post here [elisions in the following pertain to an inapplicable situation].
On occasion, ORI receives an inquiry report in which either the committee has conducted the equivalent of an investigation and made specific findings… These reports may violate the PHS regulation and cause substantial difficulties for ORI’s oversight. Findings made at the inquiry stage are all too frequently incomplete because the record has not been fully developed… Both instances may deprive ORI of the facts necessary to determine whether there has been an adverse effect on the PHS sponsored research, and the institution may be required to reopen its case and initiate an investigation.
Instead of short circuiting the process, once an institution has determined that there is some evidence of possible misconduct, a thorough investigation should be conducted in accordance with the requirements explained in Section 93.310. Only after this process is complete should the investigation committee turn to an analysis of whether the charges have been proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
Other references and discussion are in the CA post here.
Usurping the Investigation Committee
The Inquiry Committee obviously believed that there was “sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation” of Allegation #2, as it proceeded to carry out its own investigation of the allegation (rather than allowing a properly constituted investigation committee to do so.) Unfortunately, the caveats of the Office of research Integrity about the problems of an Inquiry Committee usurping the role of an investigation committee were realized, as we shall see below.
The investigation by the Inquiry Committee commenced with an interview with Mann on Jan 12, 2010, at which time he told the Inquiry Committee “that he never deleted emails at the behest of any other scientist, specifically including Dr. Phil Jones, and that he never withheld data with the intention of obstructing science”. (While the latter point is off-topic to today’s discussion of emails, the Climategate emails show many incidents of Mann withholding data, e.g. his “dirty laundry”, and encouraging CRU to withhold data; nonetheless, the Inquiry Committee let this assertion pass unchallenged.)
On January 15, 2010, Foley of the Inquiry Committee followed up with an email to Mann asking him to “produce all emails related to the fourth IPCC report (“AR4”), the same emails that Dr. Phil Jones had suggested that he delete.” The report then states that “on January 18, 2010, Dr. Mann provided a zip-archive of these emails and an explanation of their content.” (As an editorial comment, Penn State policy RA-10 states that, upon the decision to start a RA-10 inquiry, “relevant research records, documents, and/or materials shall be immediately sequestered.” I presume that Penn State did not do so. If they did do so, the report fails to state that the zipfile was produced from sequestered records.)
From this cursory investigation, the Inquiry Committee concluded that there was “no credible evidence” towards Allegation #2:
Finding 2. After careful consideration of all the evidence and relevant materials, the inquiry committee finding is that 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, as suggested by Dr. Phil Jones. Dr. Mann has stated that he did not delete emails in response to Dr. Jones’ request. Further, Dr. Mann produced upon request a full archive of his emails in and around the time of the preparation of AR4. The archive contained e-mails related to AR4.
Regardless of whether Mann’s participation in Jones’ deletion enterprise constituted research misconduct or not, this particular finding of the Inquiry Committee clearly does not follow from the information that they presented in their record.
That Mann was able to produce a zipfile containing his own emails related to AR4 in January 2010 is neither here nor there in respect to his participation in Wahl’s admitted deletion of his emails, conduct which would clearly fall within the terms of Allegation #2. Not only does the conclusion not follow, but, as the Office of Research Integrity had warned against, the Inquiry Committee completely neglected its obligation to create a proper investigative record on Mann’s participation, if any, in this aspect of Jones’ document deletion enterprise. Did they examine Mann’s email to Wahl, forwarding Jones’ deletion request? Did Mann add any endorsement or caveat? If so, what? Did Wahl acknowledge Mann’s email? If so, what did he say in his acknowledgement? Even the most elementary investigation ought to have obtained this material and reported on it. However, the Inquiry Committee did not report that they did so, and one can only assume that they were negligent in this aspect of their duties.
Nor did Mann’s production of a zipfile on January 18, 2010 fully answer the Inquiry Committee’s question in respect of his own emails. The language in Allegation #2 is framed to also include actions with the intent to “conceal” emails. It is easy to imagine circumstances in which Mann removed the emails in question from his work computer (potentially subject to FOI or other investigation), while keeping an archive on a thumbdrive at home. Such conduct would arguably be an action “with intent to … conceal” emails. In a proper investigation, a report from the IT department on the provenance of the zipfile would have been commissioned: was the archive at all times on Mann’s work computer or had the zipfile been moved off premises. (At CRU, Briffa admitted moving emails off premises for “safekeeping”, though the admission was never pursued by the Muir Russell inquiry or University of East Anglia administration.) Similar actions by Mann cannot be precluded.
These defects in the Penn State process were evident at the time – and were reported at Climate Audit. They should have been even more evident to specialists from the National Science Foundation, to which report I now turn.
The NSF Office of the Inspector General Report
The NSF OIG report on this incident commences:
Our office was- notified by a University that it had initiated an inquiry into allegations regarding research integrity, including allegations of research misconduct. The allegations included:
2. Concealing, deleting or otherwise destroying emails, information or data
Watch carefully here, as the OIG re-framed the actual second Penn State “allegation” to a narrower allegation than that framed by Penn State, which originally read:
2. Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data, related to AR4, as suggested by Phil Jones?
NSF’s re-framing diverted attention away from Mann’s participation in Wahl’s document destruction, an issue that falls squarely within the terms of Penn State allegation #2, but perhaps not the re-framed terms of reference.
Later in the report, they concluded that Penn State had “adequately addressed” allegation #2 as follows:
We next considered the University’s second Allegation, related to the emails. We reviewed the emails and concluded that nothing contained in them evidenced research misconduct within the definition in the NSF Research Misconduct Regulation. The University had been provided an extensive volume of emails from the Subject and determined that emails had not been deleted. We found no basis to conclude that the emails were evidence of research misconduct or that they pointed to such evidence.
We concluded that the University adequately addressed its second Allegation.
Watch the pea here, as it is moving quickly (either intentionally or unintentionally.)
A casual reader may easily interpret the “emails” in this OIG finding statement as the Climategate emails. But the “emails” in question are not defined or specified in this paragraph and the OIG report does not directly say that its inspectors examined the Climategate emails. In my opinion, the needlessly imprecise of the report suggests that the “emails” referred to here are the ones in the zipfile that Mann provided to Penn State on January 18, 2010. I draw this conclusion because elsewhere in their short report, they report that they had received documents from Penn State that would include the zipfile:
We wrote to the University, requesting an extensive amount of documentation related to its investigation, including copies of all documentation the committees used in their assessments, copies of all interview transcripts, and specific transcripts or memorandums about certain conversations to which the report referred.
and from the next sentences in the NSF report:
The University had been provided an extensive volume of emails from the Subject and determined that emails had not been deleted. We found no basis to conclude that the emails were evidence of research misconduct or that they pointed to such evidence.
I acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree on whether the “emails” referred to in this sentence were the Climategate emails or the zipfile emails. Obviously the “emails” should have been defined in the OIG report. If the NSF limited their review to the emails on the Mann zipfile provided to the Inquiry Committee, this is hardly determinative of whether misconduct was evidenced in the Climategate dossier.
Nor does their analysis report on or address the defects in the Penn State process. As noted above, Penn State did not consider whether Mann’s email to Wahl fell within the terms of their Allegation #2. Nor did they show that they carry out an IT examination of computers to exclude potential “concealment” of emails via transfer to a thumb drive or otherwise (as Briffa had done.)
There are many other issues and defects with the NSF OIG report. It is an Oxburghesque 5 pages. It is undated and unsigned (it is on the letterhead of the Office of Investigations). It states that it interviewed various parties, but, unlike a similar report from the NOAA OIG, does not give any information on those interviews.
I was one of the people interviewed by the NSF Inspector General. However, I might as well not have been interviewed as the report makes no mention of the issues that we discussed at our meeting. More on this another post.
During the time that I’ve been involved in climate, the U.S. NSF has had a pernicious role in enabling and endorsing Climategate conduct. This is not a new theme. Prior to Climategate, from time to time, I drew attention to the responsibility of enablers and (I think) that I was, if anything, more critical of the bureaucrats for not ensuring compliance than of the grant recipients who abused their compliance responsibilities (for example, see here , here.) I will try to review their conduct in a future post as well, as some of NSF’s most questionable conduct occurred in 2003 and 2004 prior to Climate Audit.