About eight weeks ago, Jean S postulated that Gavin Schmidt had been involved in writing the documents supporting EPA’s decision denying various petitions for reconsideration of the Endangerment Finding (the “RTP documents“), documents that Mann had cited to the D.C. Court as a supposedly “independent” investigation into allegations against him. Obviously, if Schmidt had been involved in the evaluation of evidence for EPA, any claim to “independence” of the EPA’s supposed investigation would be risible.
Jean S directly asked Schmidt, but Schmidt ignored the question.
However, Jean S’ post led to the discovery of new and convincing evidence on Schmidt’s involvement in the RTP documents, which I’ll report today for the first time. Searching for an answer also revealed that EPA appears to have violated federal peer review policies in respect to the peer review of the RTP documents supporting the denial decision.
Background to FOI Request
In his CA post, Jean S noted that language in the RTP documents (noting Responses 1-2, 1-9, 1-16 and 1-70) showed a familiarity with some very fine details of Real Climate positions on past controversy that even Jean S had not been previously aware of. From this, Jean S speculated that Schmidt (and perhaps even Mann) had been involved with the RTP documents. Jean S directly asked both Mann and Schmidt as follows:
@ClimateOfGavin @MichaelEMann Were you involved in writing of EPA’s Denial of Petitions? http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment/petitions.html …
The comment thread to Jean S’ post is worth re-reading. Among other things, AMac reminded readers of EPA’s reliance on Mann’s contaminated nodendro reconstruction (an issue that I had noticed in my only near-contemporary comment on the EPA documents.)
Subsequently, one of the parties in Mann v Steyn (CEI) made an FOI inquiry to EPA asking for (1) correspondence between EPA and Gavin Schmidt between February 2010 and August 2010; and (2) a list of authors and a list of reviewers of the RTP documents
EPA produced emails between Schmidt and Jason Samenow of EPA (copied to Marcus Sarofim and Rona Birnbaum of EPA.) Samenow and Sarofim had been lead authors of the Endangerment Finding, of which Schmidt had been a reviewer. Other FOI information (see discussion here) provides evidence that Samenow, Sarofim and Birnbaum were also lead authors of the RTP documents
On May 21, 2010, Samenow and Schmidt exchanged emails in which the EPA officials scheduled a meeting with Schmidt at Schmidt’s office in New York on June 10. Samenow and Sarofim planned to take a train to New York and meet with Schmidt and Reto Ruedy for a half-day, finishing in early-to-mid afternoon. Sarofim and Birnbaum were copied on the correspondence.
On June 8, Samenow sent a “document” via overnight courier to Schmidt in preparation for their half-day meeting on June 10. Emails were exchanged on the day prior to the meeting arranging details.
Under the circumstances, there can be little doubt that Schmidt had been sent draft versions of documents connected to the denial decision and that Schmidt’s meeting with Samenow and Sarofim was for the purpose of reviewing these documents. Jean S’ question can therefore be answered in the affirmative: Schmidt had been involved – at a minimum, as a technical expert in the review and evaluation of the draft documents.
No Peer Review Documents
EPA’s answer to the other question was equally interesting. They stated that they had no documents listing either authors or reviewers of the RTP documents. This is hard to understand given U.S. federal policies requiring peer review and peer review records for influential scientific information disseminated by the U.S. federal government.
Both federal and EPA policies require EPA to carry out peer review of “influential scientific information” in accordance with the EPA Peer Review Handbook, as clearly stated in the following EPA policy memo linked on their webpage concerning peer review:
Influential scientific information, including highly influential scientific assessments, should be peer reviewed in accordance with the Agency’s Peer Review Handbook. All Agency managers are accountable for ensuring that Agency policy and guidance are appropriately applied in determining if their work products are influential or highly influential, and for deciding the nature, scope, and timing of their peer review. For highly influential scientific assessments, external peer review is the expected procedure. For influential scientific information intended to support important decisions, or for work products that have special importance in their own right, external peer review is the approach of choice.
The EPA defines “influential” scientific information as follows:
.3. EPA will generally consider the following classes of information to be influential, and, to the extent that they contain scientific, financial, or statistical information, that information should adhere to a rigorous standard of quality:
Information disseminated in support of top Agency actions (i.e., rules, substantive notices, policy documents, studies, guidance) that demand the ongoing involvement of the Administrator’s Office and extensive cross-Agency involvement; issues that have the potential to result in major cross-Agency or cross-media policies, are highly controversial, or provide a significant opportunity to advance the Administrator’s priorities. Top Agency actions usually have potentially great or widespread impacts on the private sector, the public or state, local or tribal governments. This category may also include precedent-setting or controversial scientific or economic issues.
Similar language is set out in the EPA’s Peer Review Handbook in its section entitled “2.2.3 How Does One Determine Whether a Scientific and/or Technical Work Product is Influential Scientific Information?”.
The decision to deny the petitions for reconsideration was clearly a “top Agency action” that provided “a significant opportunity to advance the Administrator’s priorities”, was “highly controversial”, had “potentially great or widespread impacts on the private sector, the public or state, local or tribal governments” and/or included “precedent-setting or controversial scientific or economic issues”. Indeed, it’s hard to contemplate how one would even begin to argue otherwise.
The EPA’s Peer Review Handbook requires the agency to maintain a “peer review record”, which, at an inconceivable minimum, would contain the names of authors and reviewers of the document. So how is it that the EPA had no responsive documents? Odd.
Schmidt and Mann v Steyn
Mann had represented to the D.C. Court that the EPA had conducted an “independent” investigation “into the allegations of scientific misconduct against Dr. Mann”. Out of all the supposed “exonerations”, EPA was most heavily featured in Mann’s pleadings, which included extended quotations from the EPA’s press kit (falsely described in the pleadings as coming from the denial decision itself.)
For an investigation to be “independent”, it would obviously be inappropriate for the technical experts of an investigation into scientific misconduct to have current or previous personal or professional relationships with the subject of the inquiry that could be considered a conflict of interest. The Office of the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation clearly stated this in a letter to Penn State in March 2010 as follows:
The official(s) who conduct this investigation and any technical experts you might rely on to evaluate evidence related to this investigation should not have a current or previous personal or professional relationship with Dr. Mann that could be considered a conflict of interests.
While this particular letter was sent in a different proceeding, it reflects the Inspector General’s understanding of applicable U.S. federal policy, policy that applies also to EPA.
Obviously, Gavin Schmidt had a close “current or previous personal or professional relationship with Dr. Mann that could be considered a conflict of interest”. Indeed, it is hard to contemplate a technical expert, other than Mann himself, who would be more thoroughly conflicted in the investigation of scientific misconduct allegations against Mann. Given the resulting compromise to its independence, it is surprising, to say the least, that EPA would so thoroughly ignore Schmidt’s well-known personal and professional relationships with Mann by asking him to act as a technical expert and/or reviewer in a supposed “investigation” of scientific misconduct allegations against Mann or that Schmidt would not recuse himself from acting as a technical expert and/or reviewer of such an investigation.
In previous CA posts, I’ve challenged the claim in Mann’s pleadings that EPA had actually carried out an “investigation” into scientific misconduct allegations” against Mann (as opposed to taking the narrow, clever and legalistic position that the EPA Endangerment Finding has not relied on hide-the-decline in Mann’s section of IPCC TAR or Mann et al 1998-99, thus making the Mann controversy moot in respect to the Endangerment). Be that as it may, today’s post shows that any such investigation was not “independent“, since the EPA’s evaluation of evidence related to its supposed investigation of scientific misconduct allegations against Mann unwisely used a technical expert (Gavin Schmidt) who was thoroughly conflicted by well-known personal and professional relationships with Mann.
Schmidt’s involvement with the EPA denial decision and its supporting documents also places an interesting new perspective on EPA’s use of Mann’s controversial nodendro reconstruction to supposedly refute the divergence issues – a tactic that originated at realclimate (see here). Soon after his meeting with the EPA officials, Schmidt defended Mann et al 2008, not just at Real Climate, but in controversy at a third party blog, claiming, as he had for months, that Mann’s use of contaminated data didn’t “matter” to any of the reconstructions. However, on or before July 27, 2010, a couple of days before the release of the RTP documents, Schmidt learned that his previous defences of Mann’s nodendro reconstruction were untrue and that Mann’s nodendro reconstruction (which had been relied upon by EPA) had, after all, been compromised by Mann’s use of the contaminated portion of the Tiljander data. This placed Schmidt in an exceeding awkward position in respect to EPA, since he now knew that the RTP documents made false claims in respect to Mann’s nodendro reconstruction, but it was now only hours away from their release. I’ll discuss these events in my next post.