See No Evil, Speak Little Truth, Break Rules, Blame Others

Mon, 2012-08-20 03:00John Mashey
John Mashey's picture

See No Evil, Speak Little Truth, Break Rules, Blame Others

Pinocchio tells some really big lies

The “Wegman Report”, led by Edward Wegman of George Mason University (GMU) got criticized in 2010's Experts claim 2006 climate report plagiarized.  Experts called it “obvious” even “shocking” plagiarism.  GMU's incompetent handling, mistreatment of complainants and flawed rulings were mostly documented in March, but recent FOIAs expose more untruths.

Is the harsh title fair?  Read on, then study the 69-page attachment.

GMU Provost Peter Stearns' February letter to GMU faculty made claims of non-plagiarism that contradicted not only experts, but themselves.  The process consumed almost two years to assess four (4) pages of text.  

Stearns' letter was even more untruthful than previously known.  It  fabricated an imaginary second investigation committee, seemingly to somehow excuse crucial contradictions.   This seemed an attempt to defend the Wegman Report at all costs, even with potential problems from Federal agencies who expect schools to handle misconduct properly.  They fund much of GMU's actual research, done by faculty that to the best of my knowledge are normal, credible researchers.

However, a few groups in GMU are closely, even uniquely enmeshed with people behind the machinery of anti-science, such as Charles Koch, Ken Cuccinelli, David Schnare, Fred Singer, and Pat Michaels, plus the Heartland Institute and key Washington think tanks.  GMU even has a long history of tobacco connections, oddly relevant.

Following are a few brief summaries to motivate the title's phrases:

See No Evil: Via FOIA, the only investigation committee took 200 days to produce a 9-page report.  It ruled on Ray Bradley's three complaints based on Canadian blogger Deep Climate's early discoveries:

  • 2.5 pages of text mostly from Ray Bradley's book: paraphrasing, not plagiarism although serious plagiarism experts said otherwise long ago.
  • 5.5 pages of near-verbatim plagiarism of social networks text: never mentioned.
  • 1.5 page subset re-used in later paper: plagiarism, likely unavoidable, since the publisher had forced retraction in May 2011. This is an obvious contradiction.

But there was more, found by Deep Climate and others:

  • Another 70 pages of formally-reported plagiarism, 27 in WR alone, in 6 more articles, half Federally-funded, and four PhD dissertations: never mentioned.
  • Alleged falsification in the Wegman Report: never mentioned.

Speak Little truth: GMU VP Roger Stough rarely told complainants much and when he did, he was often wrong or misleading, now seen more clearly by FOIA replies.  Stearns' letter   fabricated committee(s) and processes that never happened, casting doubt on the credibility of anything thereGMU never informed Ray Bradley of any result.  GMU acknowledged receipt of other complaints, which then seemed to vanish into limbo. Complainants got no status reports.

Break Rules: FOIA replies exposed large policy-breaking schedule slips, at best poorly explained, at worst misleading.  GMU ignored its policy of pursuing all significant issues -  Stearns said there were no more investigations.   GMU's seemed to maximize discouragement and stonewalling of external complaints, even from distinguished academics like Ray Bradley or Ohio State's Rob Coleman, an experienced misconduct expert.  One can imagine GMU's handling of internal complaints, especially from junior faculty of students.

Blame Others:   GMU violated its “retaliation” policies by making false or misleading claims about Bradley, impugning his reputation and helping incite vitriolic blog attacks against him.   Universities are supposed to guard complainants from retaliation, repair it if need be, not do it themselves.  GMU owes Bradley many apologies.

Why would they do this? FOIAs have revealed actions far outside GMU's own policies, the norms of academe and possibly Federal rules.  Big universities are expected to know how to follow misconduct policies, so mere incompetence seems an insufficient explanation, especially with experienced administrators who should know better.

We cannot know exactly what happened, but GMU has some unusual connections that might help explain this.  No explicit pressure need be assumed, but a few parts of GMU are deeply involved in climate anti-science activities, so it is no surprise that something like the Wegman Report was written almost entirely by GMU faculty and students.

Funding. Charles Koch is by far the largest single foundation funder for each of GMU Foundation, its Mercatus Center and Institute for Humane Studies (IHS).   His donations to these usually exceeded the research grants of most government agencies. His lieutenant Richard Fink cofounded Mercatus and is a  Director of it and IHS. Koch is a Director of Mercatus and Chairman of IHS

Money comes from other Koch allies, such as Richard Mellon Scaife, Searle Freedom Trust, Earhart Foundation, L&H Bradley and  DONORS Trust+Capital, the second largest foundation giver, which anonymizes the real givers' identities.  The recently-discovered Knowledge and Progress Fund seems to send Koch money only to DONORS.  It is a real money maze.

Governance. Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer is the Vice-Rector of the GMU Board of Visitors. She was a Koch Industries lobbyist and an executive of Americans For Prosperity.  The Board also includes Kimberly Dennis (Searle Freedom Trust, DONORS) and Mark McGettrick, Executive VP at Dominion Resources, a large utility that has donated well to the campaign of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, as has Koch Industries.

Lawyers. Ken Cuccinelli, his Deputy Wesley Russell and his ex-partner Milton Johns (Wegman's lawyer) all got their JD degrees at GMU in the 1990s.  So did David Schnare, of the American Tradition Institute (ATI), well-known for FOIA harassment of UVA, Michael Mann, James Hansen, Andrew Dessler and Katharine HayhoeFOIA has legitimate uses, but can also be employed for harassment.  The reader can decide which these are.

Schnare is also an Adjunct Professor who recently taught a GMU course on how to do FOIAs, use the Data Quality Act, using this outline.  it starts:

'This course is an introduction on how to sue the government when it does what it should not do. Citizens, advocates of small government and Tenth Amendment proponents engage in this kind of litigation practice to address the imbalance between federal authorities and state and individual sovereignties.'

He also offers “externships” to give students practice, via a new 501(c)(3) “public charity,” originally (and legally still) the George Mason Environmental Law Clinic.  it is now called the Free Market ELC, consisting of him and Chris Horner, as at ATI.  He was looking for students to file FOIAs against some Virginia university, likely not GMU.

Conclusion. We cannot know whether the strange process and absurd rulings came from overt pressure or implicit GMU culture.  A few parts of GMU form a very large gear in the machinery of anti-science and they defended Wegman at all costs.

Public funding of research depends on credibility, of which little is found in GMU's handling of this case.  Maybe it is time for a first-ever institutional debarment from Federal funding until they rebuiild a track record of normal behavior.  Given the credibility problems of key people, this may require outside teams.

Finally, people might recall the potential felony issues raised here  and wonder if this process might add more obstruction of justice to the mix.  The old saying may apply: “It's not the crime - it's the cover-up.”

UPDATE 08/23/12, 08/24/12:

Moe Tkacik writes a related story, Why Thomas Jefferson's University is Killing Climate Science.  This sheds light on a Wegman Report mystery: how did Joe Barton/Ed Whitfield get to  Tea Partier  Jerry Coffey to recruit Wegman?  We still do not know for sure, but in 2005, Coffey was working for Jim Tozzi, well-known for creating the same Data Quality Act taught by David Schnare.

For example, see petition to FTC, Coffey background (pp.15-165), response by FTC.  He did do some work for the House 2000-2001, so somebody may have known him.

Coffey  had clear views on climate, being fond of books by Lawrence Solomon, Pat Michaels and Fred Singer.

Image Credit: andere andrea petrlik  / Shutterstock .

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