Pennsylvania State University recently released a report summarizing its final “investigation” into whether one of its employees had committed scientific misconduct. The report exonerated Dr. Michael Mann of all charges, although he did receive a tap on the wrist – for sharing unpublished manuscripts with third parties without first getting the authors’ permission!

The result was hardly unexpected. Most experts who question climate disaster claims had assumed Penn State would produce a whitewash.  PSU stood to lose significantly in reputation and dollars if it found that Dr. Mann had cheated on research and engaged in other conduct unbecoming of a university professor.  What was surprising is the reason it gave for its “not guilty” finding.

Dr. Mann could not possibly be guilty, the report averred, because his “level of success in proposing research and obtaining funding” was possible only because he had “met or exceeded the highest standards of his profession.” Indeed, his research was consistently “judged to be outstanding by his peers.”

Mann’s innocence was further proven, said Penn State, by the awards and recognition he has received. For example, his “hockey stick” temperature graph for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change played a significant role in the IPCC receiving the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Had his “conduct been outside the range of accepted practices, it would have been impossible for him to receive so many awards and recognitions,” the report argued.

Such a circular tautology would earn an “F” in introductory college reasoning courses. It is eerily similar to views taken by starry-eyed investors and SEC officials before they realized Bernie had Madoff with billions in client money. The Penn State report is akin to what Mrs. Madoff might issue following her “investigation” of his conduct, “investment” strategies, “standards,” accolades and awards.

Dr. Mann and many of his “peers” were implicated in the Climategate scandals, obstruction of legitimate FOIA requests via deletion of emails, manipulation of global warming temperature data and research, and the politicized funding system that kept them and their institutions awash in government/taxpayer dollars. They conferred awards and recognition on each other, excluded skeptical scientists from “peer reviews” of one another’s papers, and conspired to blackball editors who permitted the publication of professional papers by Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon, Patrick Michaels, Richard Lindzen, Roy Spencer and other climate experts whose work challenged the Mann-made global warming disaster thesis.

In so doing, Mann and his colleagues promoted laws, treaties and regulatory schemes that imposed higher prices and greater government/activist control over energy use, economic growth, and virtually everything modern societies eat, drive, make, ship and do. They, their institutions, and a host of politicians, bureaucrats, bankers and corporate executives thus had a direct stake in the science, politics and “renewable energy future” supported by billions of dollars in annual research grants – and in ensuring that no investigation upset this convenient golden apple cart.

It is these “accepted practices” and “highest standards of the profession” that are being protected here. It is for this reason that the “investigation” was conducted solely by Penn State – which permitted no contradictory evidence, no adverse witnesses, and no cross-examination of Dr. Mann or anyone knowledgeable about his research, funding and alleged misconduct.

Penn State’s Tom Sawyeresque report says far more than the university could possibly have intended about the “highest standards” prevailing today in climate research arena, and the way universities circle the wagons, protect their “rainmakers” and continue taking our money, while throwing “manmade climate disaster” skeptics under the bus or shipping them off to academic Siberia. 

One could accurately (and sadly) say there is nothing new under the sun.

A 1988 NOVA program on PBS investigated the causes and extent of cheating in academia. “Do Scientists Cheat?” interviewed several scientists who discussed how easy and tempting it was to lie and falsify research. Indeed, observed JAMA senior Editor Bruce Dan, while peer review “is a wonderful process for throwing out garbage, I can’t see that [it] can detect fraud, except in a few lucky chances.”

The show focused on two high-profile cases – John Darsee and Robert A. Slutsky, convicted perpetrators of scientific misconduct. Both researchers were well-funded, had numerous publications, won prestigious awards, and were on the fast-track to academic stardom. Both were brought down when other scientists suspected fraud in their work. Investigators concluded that most of their papers were either questionable or demonstrably fraudulent. Many of their co-authors were implicated and their reputations tarnished.

Ironically, one of the NOVA interviewees was Professor Rustum Roy, head of the Materials Research Lab at – Penn State University. He said cheating often occurs because researchers are under intense pressure to publish, win awards, and raise more money each year just to keep their labs going, employ research assistants and provide their academic institutions with 40-50% of each grant for “overhead.” Hard cheating, Roy explained, occurred when a scientist concludes he can get away with compromising or cutting corners a little bit, so why not take it a step further?

Thus, those who have big research fiefdoms, are prolific publishers and win many awards have the most to gain by misconduct. They are also most likely to get away with it, partly because of their reputation –and partly because academia has too many incentives to look the other way and avoid taking actions that could bring disrepute on the university and cut off the financial gravy train.

This translates into a high degree of moral apathy toward scientific misconduct, the PBS program argued.  Academics are much less outraged than one might expect, even when confronted by obvious fraud. This, of course, undermines the integrity of science, and the ethics of its practitioners.

Perhaps more importantly, the program demonstrated that whistleblowers who exposed fraud were more likely to be the target of investigations than the alleged perpetrators. This sends a chilling message to anyone who might raise academic misconduct questions, and further insulates guilty parties.

The NOVA program also included excerpts from a House Committee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on academic misconduct. “Unfortunately, few universities, when confronted with the task of investigating misconduct, have conducted as thorough or candid a self-appraisal” as they should have, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI) noted.

In fact, universities that conduct investigations of their own scientists were like the “fox actively investigating the chicken coop. The university gets first crack at the data and witnesses, and gets to frame the issues…. There is a natural tendency to limit the damage.” 

The program ends with the question: “Does the scientific community really want to expose misconduct?”

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be, No. Worse, over the last 20 years, the problem has only gotten worse, while the stakes have become infinitely higher.

Vastly larger sums of money are involved: $9 billion in 2009 for climate change and renewable energy research alone. Phony studies of melting Himalayan glaciers, disappearing Amazon rainforests, etc. etc. etc. continue to garner attention and praise in IPCC reports, news stories and congressional statements.

The bogus science is used to justify energy and environmental policies, laws, treaties, court decisions and subsidies that will enrich some, bankrupt others, control our lives, and send millions of jobs overseas. Meanwhile, the investigation by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is heatedly denounced by the very academics and institutions that refuse to conduct honest investigations of their own.

And you thought Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll and Jonathon Swift had good material to work with!?!


  • Paul Driessen

    Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for CFACT and author of Cracking Big Green and Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death.