‘Climategate’ professor Michael Mann protected ‘to maximum extent’ by Penn State policy

Scott Ott Contributor
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It ultimately falls to one man to decide if we ever see headlines that shout: “Penn State Climate Prof Fudged Facts to Fetch Funding”, or perhaps “Nittany Lyin’: Penn State’s Mann on the Street.”

Henry “Hank” Foley, the new vice president for research and dean of the graduate school, will hold professor Michael Mann‘s academic future in his hands if an internal inquiry, now under way, sparks an investigation that finds Mann broke university policy.

But results of Penn State’s internal Climategate probe may not come until Mann’s part of the globe really warms up, in May or June. In addition, you may never learn what really happened between Mann and other leading lights in the global warming movement. That’s because Penn State, like other universities, treats such inquiries as confidential personnel matters, protected by policy “to the maximum extent possible.”

More surprising, the initial probe involves a committee of just three, all of whom are Penn State employees with a clear interest in preserving the reputation of a university ranked ninth in the nation in receiving government research and development grants. It may raise some eyebrows to know that no outsiders will monitor the proceedings.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. The perception of integrity in the climate research community will likely determine whether trillions of dollars are pumped into less-developed nations in the form of virtual reparations to atone for 150 years of unequal occupation of the so-called “carbon space” by more prosperous nations.

Still, the public is asked to trust the findings of a secret probe conducted by the colleagues of the accused.

Michael Mann created the now-famous “hockey stick” graph, which Al Gore cited in “An Inconvenient Truth,” his Oscar-winning Powerpoint presentation. Mann also received email from Phil Jones, director of the University of East Anglia‘s Climate Research Unit, in which Jones appeared to suggest he had used a “trick” to “hide the decline” in global average temperatures. Another Jones note asks Mann to delete emails that were the target of a Freedom Of Information Act request.

It’s in the context of one of the biggest stories of the decade — a scandal that called into question the credibility of an entire scientific discipline — that Penn State launched its initial 60-day inquiry.

Ordinarily, the probe panel would include the dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. However, Dean William Easterling recused himself because he was one of the lead authors of the report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Easterling and co-authors shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

So, the team consists of Foley, plus William Brune, Mann’s boss, who has headed Penn State’s meteorology department for about a decade, and Candice Yekel, director of the Office of Research Protections, who reports to Foley.

If the committee feels the allegations warrant further scrutiny, Foley will appoint another committee — this time five tenured professors who have “no conflicts of interest and are competent to evaluate the issues objectively.”

The ad hoc panel has 120 days to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation” to determine whether Mann violated university policy. If they think he did, he’ll have 14 days to respond.

Hank Foley alone would determine whether to accept or reject the investigation committee’s findings in whole or in part. Then he would tell Mann’s boss, Bill Brune, what to do about it.

“This is quite a different case than we’ve had in the past,” said university spokeswoman Lisa Powers. “We take any claims of misconduct very seriously … in some cases the people have been separated from the university.” However, she added, “Sometimes allegations are brought forward that have no validity.”

Funding agencies that channel public dollars to Mann’s research would receive the report of the investigation committee’s findings and any disciplinary action, Powers said, but the circle of knowledge could end there.