Petty Bickering and Checking Sources, Part Three

Dear god, I want to stop. I don't know what's going on. Somehow while discussing the topics covered in my last post I've wound up involved in a discussion of a new topic which involves the same sort of nonsense. There seems to be an endless stream of spin and misdirection. Let's jump right in by looking at the headline of the article which started things this time:

Exposed: How top university helped secure £9million of YOUR money by passing off rivals' research as its own... to bankroll climate change agenda

Anyone should find a claim like this difficult to swallow. That's not to say the accusation is false. It's just a very serious accusation and thus one we need strong and compelling evidence to believe. I'll provide a spoiler up front: There isn't any.

I don't really care about this issue. I would condemn a group which did such on principle, but I normally wouldn't write about it. However, I wrote a few things on Twitter to express my skepticism. That led to an exchange with a few people, including a person whose Twitter handle is clim8resistance. I didn't recognize that handle when things began...

Actually, no. I'm not going to do that. The title of this post refers to petty bickering, but I am tired of dealing with the sort of nonsense that user and other people engage in. As such, I'm going to excise the first half of this post. Please forgive me if anything that follows seems a bit disjointed or if any links are missing.

The article claims:

One of the world's leading institutes for researching the impact of global warming has repeatedly claimed credit for work done by rivals – and used it to win millions from the taxpayer.

This is a serious accusation. Amongst what it says to support this claim the article says:

Some of the papers the CCCEP listed have nothing to do with climate change – such as the reasons why people buy particular items in supermarkets and why middle class people 'respond more favourably' to the scenery of the Peak District than their working class counterparts

It provides no details or sources which would allow one to verify what it says. A list of CCCEP publications is easy to find though. I couldn't identify the first paper this quotation refers to, but I imagine the second is:

Suckall, N., E. D. G. Fraser, T. Cooper and C. Quinn (2009). "The challenge of matching environmental conservation and visitors' cultural identity in the Peak District National Park, United Kingdom." Journal of Environmental Management 90(2): 1195–1203.

While the article says this paper has "nothing to do with climate change," environmental conservatism is tied to climate change in a number of ways. There is even a webpage for the management plan of the Peak District National Park which includes mention of "cultural heritage" and "climate change considerations." It is not clear why this paper about the Peak District National Park would necessarily "have nothing to do with climate change."

On the issue of stealing credit from rivals, there are a variety of points. One point involves an interesting issue:

Academics whose work was misrepresented reacted with fury. Professor Richard Tol, a climate change economics expert from Sussex University, said: 'It is serious misconduct to claim credit for a paper you haven't supported, and it's fraud to use that in a bid to renew a grant. I've never come across anything like it before. It stinks.'
The paper cited by the CCCEP of which Prof Tol is a co-author was published online by the Ecological Economics journal on July 31, 2008.
At the time, he and the lead author, David Anthoff, were on the staff of the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin.
Their co-author, Cameron Hepburn, was at Oxford University. The research on 'the marginal costs of climate change' was funded by the European Commission and the Stockholm Environment Institute.
The CCCEP's own first annual report reveals it did not start work until October 1, 2008...
Mr Ward admitted that to tell the ESRC that a total of seven studies identified by the MoS had been funded by the CCCEP was a 'mistake'. But he insisted it was not misleading that the list claimed some of them had been published in 2009, because that was when they appeared on paper.
Dr Elizabeth Wager, editor of the journal Research Integrity and Peer Review and the former head of the international watchdog the Committee on Publication Ethics, disputed this. She said: 'Everyone regards the online date as the actual publication date. It is considered published the day it goes online.'

I provided a lengthy quotation here because I wanted to give the article's perspective on a number of details. There are a few fundamental points everyone can agree on. First, each case of "blatant theft of credit" (as the article puts it) involves a paper where one or more co-authors was part of the CCCEP organization. The CCCEP thus includes it on a list of "CCCEP Publications." Because the CCCEP doesn't help fund the work of all these papers, it marks papers on this list it didn't fund with an asterisk.

Everyone agrees about that. Everyone also agrees some items included in the list were not marked with an asterisk even though the CCCEP provided no funding for those studies. Bob Ward says of this:

We have discovered that seven publications in the list of 276 should have been identified as not having received Council funding, but were not, and we have notified the Council of the mistake.

That appears to be the extent of agreement between all parties. The article quotes Richard Tol to portray as fraudulent the CCCEP taking credit for a paper he co-authored. Tol claims the paper was published before the CCCEP existed and the CCCEP provided no funding for the paper:

Prof Tol said: 'Our paper had no relationship to the CCCEP. It came out of David Anthoff's masters thesis. At the time, the CCCEP did not exist, and it only came into existence after the paper was published. Fraud means deception for financial gain. That is what this is.'

Though it should be noted the paper's entry in the list I linked to above:

10_23_entry

Is marked by an asterisk. That means the CCCEP identified the paper as one it did not provide funding for. Given nobody claimed the CCCEP funded this work, Tol's statement they did not fund it seems to be a case of violent agreement.

An issue there is complete disagreement over is whether or not the CCCEP should get credit for papers supposedly published before it existed. Bob Ward argues:

As an example of the errors, the article cites Professor Richard Tol, who claims that one of the papers which he co-authored, ‘Equity weighting and the marginal damage costs of climate change’, should not have been cited as an output by one of the members of the Centre. But the article was published in 2009 in the journal ‘Ecological Economics’, after the Centre was founded on 1 October 2008, and was co-authored by Professor Cameron Hepburn, who was at the time, and still is, a member of the Centre.

This is a cogent position. The argument is a CCCEP member helped perform the work on this paper therefore the CCCEP can claim the paper was worked on under its auspices. The problem, as the article points out, is:

Yet in its list of papers submitted to the ESRC in its bid for funds, it claimed credit for the Ecological Economics paper, wrongly stating it was published in 2009.

Here is an interesting issue. This paper was published in 2008. It seems obvious a paper published before the CCCEP existed should not be credited to the CCCEP. On the other hand, Richard Tol's website and published work provide the same citation for this paper:

10_23_date

The paper is clearly listed as being a 2009 paper. If the authors of the paper, one of whom was quoted in this article, portray the paper as a 2009 paper, how unreasonable is it for the CCCEP to consider it a 2009 paper?

I don't have an exact answer to that. I don't agree with taking credit for a paper written and published before one's organization existed. On the other hand, I can't fault an organization overly much for treating a paper as though it was published in the year the authors list it under. I can see why they would have included the paper. They most likely saw the year 2009 listed for the paper and assumed the paper was published in 2009. That's not unreasonable. When the article says:

The publication dates of some of these papers on the list are incorrect – giving the mistaken impression that they had been completed after the CCCEP came into existence.

It is saying the CCCEP provided "incorrect" publication dates because the CCCEP copied the reference entries for papers from the authors themselves. That's silly. This article is criticizing the CCCEP for using the exact same reference listings as are used in scientific papers, including ones written by the very same people.

What does all this amount to? That's hard to say. The authors of the article don't specify how many papers there are (supposedly) problems with. The list they're talking about contains hundreds of papers. It is impossible to know what effect potential issues with some of the entries might have without information about how many entries are challenged and why they are being challenged. Despite not providing that, the article says:

These and other papers clearly played a direct role in the ESRC's decision to award the second, £4.4 million grant.

What is clear about this? There were hundreds of papers in the list in question. How can it be clear which papers "played a direct role" in any decision based on the list? The article doesn't explain. In fact, the article doesn't do anything to show the inclusion of any of these papers had any effect on anything. It uses bold rhetoric to portray this as fraud used to steal money, but it offers nothing to show anything it refers to had any effect on anything. Bob Ward says:

These mistakes will have had no bearing on the decision by the Council to continue funding for the Centre between 2013 and 2018. We were evaluated by a panel of experts, and these publications were not part of our core research programme.

I'm inclined to believe that. I don't think funding was awarded to the CCCEP because of papers like Richard Tol's where it clearly stated it contributed no funding. I'll continue to think that until someone provides evidence suggesting otherwise. That would be evidence, not the hand-waving of saying things like "these papers clearly played a direct role" in obtaining funding while offering no explanation as to why that should be clear to anyone.

There's much more to be said, but I am tired of dealing with this sort of stupid spin-doctoring. As such, I'll just provide a simple summary. There are four core points:

1) The CCCEP includes publications its members contributed to in its list of papers published under its auspices.
2) The CCCEP includes papers in its list which were written and/or published prior to its creation. It justifies this by going off the year listed in reference entries of scientific papers, including those by the authors of the papers being listed.
3) The CCCEP failed to indicate it did not provide funding for several studies. It has admitted this, saying it was a simple error.
4) The article condemning the CCCEP portrays these things as having been done willfully in order to obtain greater funding, going so far as to explicitly claim these actions played a direct role in obtaining funding.

For the first point, I don't know what to think. My opinion would depend on what common practices for this sort of thing are. Perhaps organizations normally use the same criteria to determine which papers to include when trying to obtain funding. Perhaps not. I don't know. Without knowing, I'm not going to condemn the CCCEP. It may be doing what is normal. If this is inappropriate, the article should have said so and explained why.

Point two is a mess. I cannot agree with the CCCEP including papers written and published before it existed. I don't view this as a major issue though. I understand why (at least some) papers were included this way. The CCCEP treated papers listed as 2009 as being published in 2009. I think that is wrong, but I cannot see any reason to get up in arms about it.

Point three involves a simple error. There's nothing more to it.

The fourth point is the most important one. This article does nothing to make a case on this point. All it offers is spin. There is nothing in the article to indicate anything it refers to had any effect on anything. As such, portraying the CCCEP as having committed fraud to bilk taxpayers out of millions of dollars (or pounds) is completely unreasonable.

13 comments

  1. Brandon:
    I don't know about the other papers, but for Anthoff et al., the story is simple:
    Received 1 June 2007, Revised 8 May 2008, Accepted 26 June 2008, Available online 31 July 2008

    CCCEP started 30 September 2008.

    There was no intellectual input into the paper after June 26, no editorial input after July 31.

    As everybody knows, journal publication dates are fictional.

  2. Richard Tol, I don't see how that affects anything I said in this post. It doesn't contradict anything I said. I guess the extra context may be useful? I don't know. I do know it would be more useful for you to address the discussion of your specific claims the CCCEP engaged in fraud.

    Or not. Spin, spin, spin. That's all anyone seems to care about right now.

  3. > Dear god, I want to stop. I don't know what's going on...

    As I've mentioned before, I've only really paid attention to any of this 'debate' for about a year now. It
    seems to me that the endeavour you're currently engaged in is akin to cleaning the Augean stables. Both
    'sides' seem entrenched - the fact that there are 'sides' tells you everything you need to know. There are
    very few sites (that I can find) that are non-partisan with about 97% primarily concerned with consensus
    enforcement. I frequent your site as you write well and you're mostly impartial - you rarely make points
    without appropriate substantiation. I guess this is why the subject seems to rile you so much!

    I'd imagine there are a lot of people like me who just want to find out what all the MSM proclamations of
    doom are really based on. As very few of us are polymaths, we end up at discussion sites so that we can
    try and educate ourselves about the state of the science. Generally, that's a total waste of time.

  4. Simples, Brandon.

    The CCCEP claimed a paper that was not theirs. This is deception.

    The CCCEP did so in a grant application, that is, a financial gain.

    Deception for financial gain is fraud by false representation under the Fraud Act 2006.

  5. Richard Tol:

    The CCCEP claimed a paper that was not theirs. This is deception.

    No. It is wrong. Being wrong isn't the same as being deceptive. As I discuss in this post, there's a simple explanation for why the CCCEP did what it did that doesn't involve any nefariousness.

    The CCCEP did so in a grant application, that is, a financial gain.

    No. Incorrect things stated on a grant application do not inherently have any connection to financial gain. You can make any number of errors in a grant application that wouldn't help the the grant get approved. Given that, there's no inherent expectation this could lead to financial gain.

    In other words, this is just more spin from you. You're taking one possible interpretation of the facts and stating it as gospel truth without even attempting to show it is correct.

  6. "The CCCEP claimed a paper that was not theirs. This is deception."

    It is deception if they knew the paper hadn't been funded by them. Even if the date was after the inception of CCCEP was before the paper was written they still didn't fund.

    As I understand it there are six other papers similarly not funded by CCCEP. It is difficult to understand why7 papers not funded by the CCCEP could get into the list of papers by mistake.

  7. JonA, you're probably right. What makes me sad is I started following the climate discussion because of the hockey stick debate, in which there were a lot of factual matters to discuss and analysis to do. There was a lot to learn. Sure, there was spin, but it was generally spin about how to portray the substantive points being discussed. And it was mostly limited to one side. Or at least, that's how it seemed to me at the time.

    For a topic claimed to be an important one, the level of discussion we have is pathetic. If either side would actually take the high ground (not just pretend to), I suspect they'd "win" the debate.

  8. @geronimo
    Hepburn was not employed by the CCCEP until 2010. Even if they mistakenly thought the paper was published in 2009 ...

    It takes a long time to publish a paper in economics. Any paper published in 2009 is likely to have been submitted well before 2009.

    There is also the Fankhauser & Stern paper. Both are named as applicants on the proposal. That paper was published 6 months before the grant started. According to the Fraud Act 2006, "[a] representation is false if (a) it is untrue or misleading, and (b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading." It can reasonably expected that Fankhauser and Stern knew when they published their paper.

  9. geronimo:

    "The CCCEP claimed a paper that was not theirs. This is deception."

    It is deception if they knew the paper hadn't been funded by them. Even if the date was after the inception of CCCEP was before the paper was written they still didn't fund.

    As I understand it there are six other papers similarly not funded by CCCEP. It is difficult to understand why7 papers not funded by the CCCEP could get into the list of papers by mistake.

    It may help to reread this post. It explains how the CCCEP list is not just a list of studies it helped fund. Moreover, this particular paper was clearly listed as not having been funded by the CCCEP.

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