On Feb. 26, I wrote a post on CA, “Steig 2009’s Non-Correction for Serial Correlation”, commenting on the Jan. 22 letter in Nature by Eric Steig et al. On Feb. 28, I sent Steig and his 5 co-authors an e-mail alerting them to my post and its content.
On Aug. 6, Steig and co-authors published a Corrigendum in Nature replicating my findings, but without mentioning my prior post. I wrote the editors of Nature a letter complaining that if the Corrigendum was received after Feb. 28, it would constitute plagiarism under Nature‘s definition as “when an author attempts to pass off someone else’s work as his or her own.” My letter to Nature, together with my e-mail to Steig and co-authors, is in Comment 60 of the CA thread on the Steig Corrigendum.
On Aug. 10, Steig wrote Nature Associate Editor Michael White the following letter, with a copy to myself:
Date: Mon, 10 Aug 2009 08:31:16 -0700 (PDT)
From: Eric Steig
Subject: regarding Dr. McCulloch’s claim
Department of Earth and Space Sciences
University of Washington, Seattle
August 10th, 2009
Dr. Michael White, Editor
Dear Dr. White,
I understand that Nature has received a letter from Prof. Hu McCulloch, claiming that the August 6th Corrigendum (to my paper in the January 22nd issue of Nature) is a plagiarism of his work. He makes this claim on the grounds that he posted an article on the blog climateaudit.org in February showing the same information as in our Corrigendum, and that he informed me of this in an email on February 28th. Any such email sent to me in February would have received notification that I was in the field in Antarctica until late March, and not receiving email. I was unaware of his post, and did not read it.
The accusation of plagiarism implies I have presented Prof. McCulloch’s ideas as my own. His ‘ideas’ in this case are the recognition that we did not account for autocorrelation in our data when calculating the significance of trends. While I regret that the published version of the paper didn’t include such a correction, it is obvious that I was aware of the need to do so, since in the text of the paper we state that we did in fact make this correction. Once I recognized that we had neglected to make the correction properly, we re-did the calculations using well-known methods, the details of which are available in myriad statistics textbooks and journal articles.
There can therefore be no claim on Dr. McCulloch’s part of any originality either for the idea of making such a correction, nor for the methods for doing so, all of which were discussed in our original paper.
Had Dr. McCulloch been the first person to make me aware of the error in our paper, or had he written directly to Nature at any time prior to the submission of our Corrigendum, it would have been appropriate to acknowledge him in the Corrigendum and we would have been happy to do so. To suggest that correcting an error in my own work, using standard methods, constitutes plagiarism is specious.
Eric J. Steig, Professor
University of Washington
On August 12, White wrote me as follows:
Date: Wed, 12 Aug 2009 13:00:14 +0100
From: “White, Michael”
Cc: Eric Steig
Dear Dr McCulloch (cc to Dr Steig)
Thank you for your letter of 7 August 2009. Dr Steig sent us the below correspondence (which he cc’d to you) in which he outlined to us the sequence of events leading up to the submission of his corrigendum. In the light of this information, we see no need for further action on our part. If you feel that the description provided is not accurate then this is something that you would need to take up with Dr Steig directly or with his institution.
Dr Michael White
Since Steig professes ignorance of my post and claims that he had not read it, I can only take him at his word. Accordingly, I wrote White today thanking him for his prompt attention to the matter and withdrawing my complaint.
However, while ignorance may be an iron-clad defense against plagiarism, it is a rather dicey position academically speaking. Surely Steig and co-authors would at least read the vigorous and serious discussion of their paper on Climate Audit, the Air Vent, and other blogs, even if they do not deign to participate.
If Steig doesn’t follow CA, he must be the only person in all of climate science. It is well known that within 24 hours of when Steve McIntyre hinted on CA that there was a problem with the Harry AWS data used by Steig et al, Gavin Schmidt of NASA and RealClimate had reported the problem to the British Antarctic Survey, who manages the data. It is less well known that at 1:22 AM on Feb. 2, way down in Comment 171 of the Dirty Harry 4 thread, I noticed that there was also a problem with Steig’s AWS station #52. “Andy” quickly identified this as Racer Rock in Comment 173, and within 12 hours the BAS had already corrected the data!
Steig maintains that he did not receive my Feb. 28 e-mail to him, as he was in Antarctica, and that I should have received an automatic reply to that effect. While it is possible I did receive such an automatic reply from him, I can’t find it in my in box, spam box, or even trash box. I did receive such an automatic reply from him on March 17, in reply to another e-mail, requesting data. This indicated that he would in Antarctica until March 19, and could be contacted until then only by a special e-mail address posted on his website. There was no indication in the message that he would not catch up on e-mails received in his absence on his return.
I did receive an automatic reply from Michael Mann on Feb. 28, indicating that he was out of town and that important e-mails should be resent after his return, or he was not likely to read them. However, I had no reason to believe that Steig’s other 4 co-authors had not received my e-mail. Nevertheless, a new post on Real Climate does state that “Had Dr. McCulloch been the first person to make Steig et al. aware of the error in the paper, or had he written directly to Nature at any time prior to the submission of the Corrigendum, it would have been appropriate to acknowledge him and the authors would have been happy to do so. ” The key addition here is “et al”, indicating that none of the 6 authors learned of the error from my post, and that therefore all were as ignorant of the discussion here as was Steig himself.