How Anthony Watts Handled Team Plagiarism

Anthony has an instructive post on how he handled a plagiarism incident involving NOAA. Anthony writes:

Readers may recall this post: More dirty pool by NCDC’s Karl, Menne, and Peterson

…where I take NCDC to task for not given proper attribution to the and volunteer Russ Steele for use of a photo on the cover page of their Exeter report, seen below:

I was a bit taken aback by the cover image (left, from NCDC’s Exter presentation), because it was straight from our surfacestations project (right, click image for gallery), but there was no attribution that I could find.

So yes, I was a little miffed that they’d used it, especially since it has been an ongoing problem with NCDC using my preliminary data (against my wishes) to write a paper.

So I fired off an email to Dr. Matt Menne of NCDC about the issue.

And I got a response a few days later. The email was friendly, apologetic, and offered two solutions. I opted to just have him do the solution that put our standard attribution on it….

So, apology made, attribution added, document updated, and the problem was solved. Simple, I’m satisfied. Of course I could have been a jerk about it and demanded all sorts actions via formal complaints, copyright claims, etc. But I didn’t. It simply didn’t rise to that level.

But I’m betting that I won’t even have to ask about adding Russ Steele’s name in place of “various contributors” He’ll see it here and fix it, or somebody will tell him.

Given all the wailing that has been going on about the Wegman report (Aka “copygate” Steve McIntyre sums it up pretty well here) and attribution to Bradley, and a whole strange set of circumstances, it seems to me that after four years of the Wegman report floating around the web, if Dr. Bradley really had an attribution issue, he could have avoiding the whole stink going on now by simply asking Dr. Wegman to modify the report in a way that satisfies whatever his complaint is.

But that would be too simple, too direct, and too professional. It also wouldn’t get the pound of flesh some of the players like John Mashey and “Deep Climate” want.

It’s a sad state of affairs, really, and only invites escalation of moribund issues beyond the scope of their actual worth.

See Anthony’s full post for illustrations and details.

It’s too bad that the Team (in its narrowest sense) doesn’t have similar courtesy.


  1. MarkB
    Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 1:27 PM | Permalink

    “So, apology made, attribution added, document updated, and the problem was solved. Simple, I’m satisfied.”

    Well said.

    “Of course I could have been a jerk about it and demanded all sorts actions via formal complaints, copyright claims, etc. But I didn’t.”

    Well yeah, you just did. The latter spoils the former. If you’re satisfied, then drop it – don’t make a big deal of what you could have done.

    • Vorlath
      Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 3:54 PM | Permalink

      Mentioning a prior example of how to act professionally is not itself an example of being unprofessional.

      • MarkB
        Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 11:32 AM | Permalink

        When you boast about your restraint, you lose any claim on the virtue of restraint.

        • Günther Kirschbaum
          Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 3:43 PM | Permalink

          Wasn’t Anthony Watts that guy who accused NOAA scientists of ‘deception’?

  2. Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 1:34 PM | Permalink

    Considering that the CRU mob would have sued, taken out injunctions and invoked copyright caims if it had happened to a piece of their work the other way round, I think Anthony is entitled to point out that he didn’t.

    • David Davidovics
      Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 3:20 PM | Permalink

      Absolutely agree.

  3. Joe Crawford
    Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 1:37 PM | Permalink

    I guess that since they (the Team) have now pretty well been discredited they are going to get even with all those they think have done them in. As Anthony stated, they must now get their pound of flesh.

  4. Phillip Bratby
    Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 1:46 PM | Permalink

    Anthony is a gentleman and sorted out the problem in a gentlemanly way. You don’t do things that way if you are a climate thug.

  5. Bernie
    Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 1:48 PM | Permalink

    Isn’t this an example of pounding the table, when the facts and the law no longer support you?

  6. Anoneumouse
    Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 2:22 PM | Permalink

    ‘Nemo Me Impune Lacessit’

  7. Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 3:35 PM | Permalink

    I just came over from WUWT to CA, having made a point of linking [[plagiarism]] in my personal wiki with SurfaceStations, as the perfect counter-example. Well done Anthony Watts.

  8. Molner
    Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 3:46 PM | Permalink

    Here is another good example from Anthony Watts on how to handle plagiarism.

    • Anthony Watts
      Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 5:03 PM | Permalink

      And here’s the story behind it. It all started when NCDC wrote a ghost talking points memo, using my work, but not attributing it. Unprofessional behavior on the part of Dr. Thomas Petersen of NCDC started it all.

      Mr. Sinclair did in fact use information from a copyrighted book I published without my permission. I wanted him to make a change in the images, and add attribution, and I thought then that doing the YouTube DCMA pulldown was the right approach.

      Little did I know that the paid AGW disinformer PR firm aka DeSmog Blog (Hoggan and Associates) would go berserk and shout “censorship” on HuffPo. Of course it never was about censorship, it was about NCDC’s attribution failure and copyright.

      Of course the posturing that followed was all about the inflamed story DeSmog told, and mine got lost in the noise. I let the YouTube claim expire, and two weeks later the video was back online in its original place, complete with my copyrighted material and the errors that started with NCDC.

      So I simply let the issue rest, and suffered the indignity. Dr. Bradley could learn from that too.

      • Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 11:02 PM | Permalink

        So I simply let the issue rest, and suffered the indignity. Dr. Bradley could learn from that too.

        Thank you for the explanation. Here’s why I believe you, without feeling the need to click down further, having picked up the gist of the Monbiot July 2009 complaint from ‘Molner’ seven hours ago.

        Because you were instantly and wholly generous when Matt Menne of NCDC did the right thing in October 2010. I learn from that (not for the first time) that you don’t wish to demonise your enemies, that you speak well of them when you can.

        And when was the last time that I read George Monbiot and those pointing to him here paying tribute to Watts Up With That for publishing and discussing Richard Lindzen and Willis Eschenbach (to take two ends of the credentials spectrum) on the really important and difficult stuff: climate sensitivity and whatever extraordinary mechanisms have kept the earth within a band of 20degK out of around 300 for perhaps four billion years? I’ve never seen any such appreciation. But I know that I like countless others have gained a great deal from these, without ever feeling cramped by a ‘party line’ on any of these intensely interesting issues.

        So it’s as a flea to an elephant – and that’s not another kind of slur! – but I salute you sir.

  9. AusieDan
    Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 7:52 PM | Permalink

    The team should be encouraged to continue on in this vein.

    The more they carry on like children, the more the general public will come to realise that their theory is just a childish nightmare.

  10. Nick
    Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 8:30 PM | Permalink

    Look,I just can’t keep up here…who’s in the ‘Team’ this week? And in what way is an unattributed photograph equivalent to extensive unattributed verbatim and near verbatim use in several published works?

    • John M
      Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 8:55 PM | Permalink


    • Steven Mosher
      Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 11:46 PM | Permalink

      Re: Nick (Oct 16 20:30),

      When you set out your objective criteria let us know. That way we can parade of the examples you dont want to look at.

      • Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 12:53 AM | Permalink

        Mosh refresh my memory wasn’t it the Team that named themselves the Team? If that is indeed the case Nick needs to go over to RC and get an updated roster from them.

        Also I’m surprised you didn’t answer the other part of the question with: “A picture is worth a thousand words”. 🙂

    • kuhnkat
      Posted Oct 18, 2010 at 8:30 AM | Permalink

      Yes Nick, you just can’t keep up. Of course the Watt’s Up incident is months old and there was a bit more to it than just a photograph. You might do your homework and read the links provided above.

  11. P Gosselin
    Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 2:11 AM | Permalink

    “…he could have avoiding the whole stink going on now by simply asking Dr. Wegman to modify the report in a way that satisfies whatever his complaint is.
    But that would be too simple, too direct, and too professional.”

    That’s the grownup way of going about it…a level that some have yet to attain.

    • Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 2:38 AM | Permalink

      I tried to make a comment relevant to that, but it went into moderation about eight hours ago. I’ll try again:

      Nick Stokes
      Posted Oct 16, 2010 at 5:48 PM | Permalink | Reply
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      The Wegman report was a report presented to, and accepted by, Congress. It was the subject of publicised hearings. Its material found its way into PhD theses, research papers, and has most recently been used extensively in a court case by Cuccinelli.

      How do you expect that this could be remedied by an email between, say, Bradley and Wegman?

      IN any case, the matter is now in the hands of GMU, who would have had to investigate in response to DeepClimate’s website even without Bradley, who is involved in only a tiny part of it. It’s GMU’s reputation at stake. The plagiarism is a fact which can’t be undone by gentlemanly agreements. It’s now between GMU and Wegman.

      • John M
        Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

        And plaigerism changes his conclusions how?

        Steve or one of the other moderators disappeared a comment I made on one of the other threads in this vein, but since the topic of this thread is plaigerism, maybe it’s safe for me to try again:

        Does the fact that Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin were found to have plaigerized change anything they had to say about WWII or FDR?

        Anyway, you’ve been consistently insisting that the Wegman report had no signficant statistics in it. And then you said his conclusions weren’t even controversial. If that’s all true, why should plaigerism matter with regard to being cited in theses or being used by an Attorney General?

      • TAG
        Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 11:37 AM | Permalink

        If Bradley had insisted then Wegman could have rewritten the introductory sections. None of these sections influence the conclusions and so the PhD theses and other activities would not have to be modified in any way.

        The People behind this should really get a grip. The only thing that they are embarrassing is themselves and their cause. They are just confirming what many people think if them.

        • Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 3:34 PM | Permalink

          “Rewritten the introductory sections”?
          Where and how? There are umpteen print versions. The Wiki etc texts is now in the theses and papers, verbatim.

        • TAG
          Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 5:36 PM | Permalink

          Bradley had several years to request that the introductory sections be rewritten. I’m not a lawyer but in my work I do assist them during litigation. People have an obligation to mitigate their damages. If someone waits years to make their concerns known then they become responsible for the damages that they incurred during the time the they delayed.

          The lawyers call this the ‘Doctrine of Laches” or something similar in “Acquiescence by Silence”. If Bradly took this to court, a judge could rule that by delaying he was the author of his own damages and dismiss the case. This would be influenced by the many instances of generous sharing of text and Bradley’s text in particular by different authors in climate science papers. If this is a common practice, Wegman could reasonably believe that this was permissible for his work. He was simply following the common customs of the climate science community. Bradley’s silence could be interpreted as a recognition of this and acquiescence to Wegman’s use of the text. A judge could well rule that Bradley’s objections are untimely since he had adequate time to object and did not choose to do so.

        • Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 6:45 PM | Permalink

          Again, this has nothing to do with courts, and very little to do with Bradley. He just made the complaint that spurred action.

          There is a great deal of copied text in the Report. Much comes from Wikipedia, and two textbooks on social networks. That’s a problem for GMU, and they are doing something about it. It’s their reputation on the line.

        • TAG
          Posted Oct 18, 2010 at 6:53 AM | Permalink

          The courts have had to deal with similar issues of long delayed complaints and complaints about something that is commonly done but can be technically construed as a violation. The concepts that they developed to deal with such situations (laches and acquiescence) are pertinent and instructive.

        • QBeamus
          Posted Oct 18, 2010 at 10:03 AM | Permalink

          The obligation to mitigate damages doesn’t really have anything to do with this situation; that is a principle that limits potential recovery for breach of contracts, which arises from our (American) conception of “efficient breach” (the theory that the law exists to serve the general welfare, not an absolute moral imperative to follow through with one’s promises).

          The idea you’re fishing for is called “laches.” Like a statute of limitations, laches makes causes of action expire if not pursued in a timely fashion. However, while SoLs–great acronym–are operationalized timers, laches is an equitable doctrine, under which a court can rule for a defendant based on the court’s own judgment that the plaintiff delayed filing suit long enough that it would no longer be fair to permit the action to go forward. In practice, rather than making such a wide open judgment call, courts try to use periods similar to comparable SoLs, so 3-5 years is in the ballpark.

      • kuhnkat
        Posted Oct 18, 2010 at 8:32 AM | Permalink

        ” The plagiarism is a fact which can’t be undone by gentlemanly agreements.”

        Thanks for convicting the man without a trial on your OPINION!!!

        • TAG
          Posted Oct 18, 2010 at 9:16 AM | Permalink

          Nick Stokes writes:

          The plagiarism is a fact which can’t be undone by gentlemanly agreements. It’s now between GMU and Wegman.

          This is not how the law reads. A court will look to the common customs of a community to determine what is and what is not plagiarism. If someone writes a brief note that summarizes the current art they will likely not have room for extensive citation. I have read many complaints from researchers that their work was described in such texts but not cited. The author commonly replies that there was no room to cite the many workers who contributed to the field. Their purpose was not to claim priority for the ideas but merely to summarize the current art. This is a common custom and recognized by as such by the community. This is what Wegman did.

          It is also a legally recognized principle that a community can set up bodies to examine charges of plagiarism. However these bodies are not outside the law. A court may recognize that such bodies are a community custom and may choose to defer to their judgement. However such bodies are not outside the law and they operate only by the deference of the courts and the law. The specific community body may have been set up by GMU but it operates only in so far as it is consistent with the law.

          I was at a company AGM once in which the chairman tried to rule a motion out of order because it was inconsistent with the company bylaws. The proposer replied that the company bylaws were as they were but the law indicated that the motion was in order.

  12. dorlomin
    Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 3:34 PM | Permalink

    So Anthony Watts did not try to get a video removed from YouTube about a year ago?

    Watts got the video taken down then when a fuss was raised claimed he was some kind of hero for only wanting to be properly attributed. Notice he went out of his way to find others than himself who he could claim had had their copywrite violated.

    He is one of the thinnest skinned people in this debate, yet has a stunning high opinion of himself.

    • Konrad.
      Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 8:08 PM | Permalink

      I suspect in a years time it will be Mr. Peter Sinclair who will be trying to erase all evidence of that unfortunate video, although based on Franny’s experience I doubt he will be successful.

    • pete m
      Posted Oct 17, 2010 at 9:18 PM | Permalink

      Try reading:

    • kuhnkat
      Posted Oct 18, 2010 at 8:36 AM | Permalink

      So, you think it is OK to plagiarize and take copyrighted material and then complain when the author/owner enforces their rights??

      Then you have no issue with ignoring the ALLEGATIONS against Wegman and stopping the GMU investigation as a waste of time?

    • Posted Oct 18, 2010 at 9:41 AM | Permalink

      Doesn’t sound like you even read the post you’re referring to, or the comments.

  13. Posted Oct 19, 2010 at 1:35 AM | Permalink

    It feels great when you are able to resolve the issues. Good on the parts of both of you.

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