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Penn State panel partially clears professor in climate e-mail inquiry

Exonerated of three allegations, a full investigation is launched into whether Michael E. Mann violated academic standards in researching global warming.

February 04, 2010|By Frank Warner

Reporting from Allentown, Pa. — A Penn State University panel on Wednesday cleared a climate professor of falsifying data, concealing information and misusing confidential information, but ordered a full investigation into whether he violated academic standards in researching global warming.

The decision followed a preliminary inquiry into questions raised by the unauthorized release in November of more than 1,000 private e-mails written by several of the world's top climate scientists, including Michael E. Mann, the Penn State professor.

A panel headed by Graduate School Dean Henry C. Foley looked at four allegations and dismissed all but one, which asks whether Mann's research activities "seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community."

A new committee of five Penn State science professors has been set up to review that allegation and report its findings to Foley within 120 days.

Mann called the university's initial report a "vindication" and welcomed the further investigation.

"Even though no evidence to substantiate the fourth allegation was found, the university administrators thought it best to convene a separate committee of distinguished scientists to resolve any remaining questions about academic procedures," he said in a statement.

"I fully support the additional inquiry, which may be the best way to remove any lingering doubts."

Mann is best known for creating the "hockey stick" graph to illustrate 1,000 years of Northern Hemisphere temperatures. The chart, based on analysis of tree rings and other data, indicates the 20th century was the warmest century and the 1990s the warmest decade of the last millennium.

Doubts were raised about Mann's research when an anonymous hacker on Nov. 19 publicized e-mails, including dozens written by Mann, from computers of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England.

The e-mails disclosed the often-personal messages of Mann and other scientists as they defended their own work, sniped at others, belittled journals that published skeptical research, and discussed the destruction of e-mails sought under Freedom of Information laws.

In a May 29, 2008, e-mail, Climate Research Unit then-Director Phil Jones wrote to Mann: "Mike, Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith [scientist Keith Briffa] re AR4? Keith will do likewise."

Jones has stepped down from his post pending an investigation of his behavior regarding the e-mails.

The e-mail attracted the attention of global warming skeptics because it appeared aimed at destroying the record of scientific deliberations on AR4, the fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In his own e-mails, Mann did not respond directly to Jones' request, and Mann has said he deleted none. The Foley inquiry determined there is no credible evidence that Mann deleted AR4 e-mails.

A Nov. 16, 1999, Jones e-mail, which Mann and others received, discussed a "trick" to "hide the decline" on Briffa's 600-year temperature chart. The Foley panel found that the "trick" did not refer to deception but to a technique to make the chart more understandable.

The panel also found that Mann did not misuse privileged or confidential information to prevent the publication of articles skeptical of global warming.

The remaining allegation against Mann is summed up in the Foley panel's question to him: "Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities?"

In its report, the panel did not specify which of Mann's actions led it to forward the question to a full investigative committee.

fwarner@mcall.com

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