2011-06-10 10:33:22John Mashey: The man who exposed Wegman's plagiarism



Computer Scientist Goes on Offensive
To Defend Climate Scientists

To climate scientists like Pennsylvania State
University’s Michael Mann, who has come
under relentless attacks from climate change
skeptics, John Mashey is “one of the good
guys.” The 65-year-old Mashey, who amassed
a small fortune designing computer systems
for the likes of Bell Labs and Silicon Graph-
ics, is spending his retirement years compiling
voluminous critiques of what he calls the “real
conspiracy” to produce “climate antiscience.”
He is trying to turn the tables, using tactics
some of Mann’s opponents may fi nd uncom-
fortably familiar.
Will Happer, a physicist at Prince-
ton University who questions the consen-
sus view on climate, thinks Mashey is a
destructive force who uses “totalitarian
tactics”—publishing damaging documents
online, without peer review—to carry out
personal vendettas. Whereas Mann lauds
Mashey for “exploring the underbelly of
climate denial,” Happer says Mashey’s
tactics are “contrary to open inquiry.”
Both sides can agree on one thing, how-
ever: Mashey has become one of the most
visible of a new generation of citizen climate
warriors. This month he scored a prominent
victory when the journal Computational Sta-
tistics & Data Analysis (CSDA) retracted a
2008 paper co-authored by economist and
climate skeptic Edward Wegman. Mashey
had attacked the article last September in a
250-page analysis released online and head-
lined “Strange Scholarship in the Wegman
Report.” Last week, the journal’s editors
issued a statement saying that the article con-
tained “portions of other authors’ writings on
the same topic in other publications, without
suffi cient attribution to these earlier works
being given.” To Mann, “the retraction validates [Mashey’s] efforts.”
Mashey’s critique also looked into a 2006
report to Congress by Wegman claiming that
two paleoclimate studies by Mann and two other authors used poor statistical analyses.
Mashey blasted the science in the so-called
Wegman report and alleged that many pages
were copied from published sources without
citation; no offi cial action has been taken.
The CSDA paper grew out of a section of
the Wegman report that asserted the authors’
social connections had corrupted peer review
of paleoclimate papers and that various inde-
pendent studies “may not be as independent
as they might appear.” Wegman, a professor
of statistics at George Mason University in
Fairfax, Virginia, wrote in a March e-mail to
the journal’s publisher, Elsevier, which was
investigating allegations of plagiarism, that
he was “innocently unaware” that text on net-
work theory and climate had been “copied
and pasted” by a George Mason student into
the Wegman report and later included in the
CSDA paper. (USA Today, which fi rst reported
on the retraction, obtained the e-mail from
CSDA and sent it for comment to Mashey,
who published it.) Wegman and his lawyer
declined several requests for comment from
Science, but the latter told USA
Today that neither Wegman nor
the first author of the CSDA
paper, an assistant professor
at George Mason, “has ever
engaged in plagiarism.”
Mashey’s career in comput-
ers only occasionally touched
on climate issues, but his back-
ground has provided him with
valuable skills for his new role.
After earning a Ph.D. in com-
puter science from Penn State
in 1974, Mashey worked for
several Silicon Valley com-
panies designing systems for
users that included intelli-
gence agencies, oil companies,
and climate scientists. He was
drawn into the swirling climate debate in 2007
after hearing a lecture on climate skeptics by
University of California, San Diego, science
historian Naomi Oreskes at Stanford Univer-
sity, which is near his Portola Valley home.
As he got to know Oreskes and allied cli-
mate scientists, Mashey became upset that
they were being attacked by bloggers and law-
makers and subjected to anonymous threats.
“Naomi’s a friend, and she gets death threats.
Mike Mann’s a friend, and he gets death
threats. It pisses me off,” Mashey says. “They
get harassed and discouraged for doing a good
job for everybody’s grandchildren.” Defend-
ing their work from unfair attack is the least
he can do, he reasons. “They seem heartened
by the knowledge that somebody cares and is
actually trying to take the offense.”
Mashey decided to join the nascent com-
munity of nonscientist climate bloggers by
preparing documents that dissected what the
opponents were actually saying. (He main-
tains no blog but publishes documents through
allied sites.) “Climate scientists do not have
the skill set for investigating where weird
stuff is coming from,” Mashey says. He likens
his current activities to the corporate intelli-
gence efforts he once undertook and to inves-
tigations of organized crime. “You see what
they’re doing, who they talk to. Then what you
do is, you hope they make a mistake.”
His home office includes a laptop
equipped with three extra screens to help
him compile his reports. “When I’m try-
ing to find these hidden connections or
inconsistencies between testimonies and
write them down, I likely have a big spread-
sheet on one display, some Word document
open to two places to compare, and several
browser windows on several displays, as
well as a bunch of PDFs open in [Adobe]
Acrobat,” he says.
His dense reports contain the fruits of his
research and that of others, properly cred-
ited, as well as his opinions, in italics. An
anonymous blogger dubbed Deep Climate
fi rst raised questions about the originality of
material in Wegman’s CSDA paper and his
report to Congress, and Mashey included
those examples and other questionable pas-
sages in his “Strange Scholarship” report,
festooned with complex organizational
charts and multicolored text.
Mashey drew Happer’s ire with a 128-
page report in 2009 critiquing a petition from
Happer and other members of the American
Physical Society urging the society to revise
its call for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions
and instead to question the existence of
anthropogenic warming. It was a solo effort
that analyzed the petitioners’ political dona-
tions, their co-authorship on papers, and their
connections to various nonprofi ts or compa-
nies. Mashey suggested that the petition was
intended “to create and maintain doubt in the
public” about the consensus on anthropo-
genic warming.
“For a long time, the amateurs in the
online wars over climate science have been
on the other side,” Mann says. Those com-
batants include Steve McIntyre, a Cana-
dian skeptic blogger and mining consultant.
McIntyre’s critique on the statistical analysis
behind the so-called hockey stick (a graph
by Mann showing that recent decades were
warmer than any since 1400) was praised in
the Wegman report and reported on the front
page of The Wall Street Jour-
nal. Mashey, Mann says, is
“the anti–Steve McIntyre.”
While Mashey occasion-
ally quotes experts attacking
the central scientific argu-
ments of his foes, he gen-
erally focuses on what he
considers to be unacceptable
professional behavior or con-
nections to political or monied
interests. As a result, his critics
say, Mashey is more interested
in destroying his foes than in
debating the issues. Wegman
told Elsevier in his e-mail that
various investigations have
made the year “a professional
and personal nightmare.”
Mashey says exposing poor scholarly prac-
tices is just as important as uncovering what
he calls “bad science.” The copied sections of
the CSDA paper, he says, are “clear evidence
of incompetence [that is] understandable to
the public.”
Mashey believes that vanquishing scien-
tists’ foes will serve a higher purpose. “It’s up
to some of the rest of us to help get these guys
off your backs so you can do the science,” he
tells his scientist allies. He thinks discrediting
their opponents also allows society to focus
on the biggest problem: the need to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions. “Goal number
two is, try to help lessen the impact of climate
antiscience on public policy before it com-
mits the U.S. to be an increasingly bad place
to live,” he says. –ELI KINTISCH

www.sciencemag.org    SCIENCE    VOL 332    10 JUNE 2011