Autopsy of an ‘innocent’ Mann at Penn State

Andy Nash Contributor
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On July 6th, Thomas A. Shakely, a friend and colleague, wrote on the controversy surrounding Penn State University’s investigation clearing infamous “hockey stick” climatologist Michael “Hide the Decline” Mann of any allegations of professional misconduct.

Penn State conducted its own investigation to examine “allegations of research misconduct, which would constitute a violation of Penn State policy,” namely Research Admin Policy # 10, (RA-10), released the committee’s findings mid-Summer, Fourth of July weekend. If you blinked, you missed it.

Interestingly, the timing of the “decision” and the release of the story was conveniently positioned well after the Spring semester’s end, set between holidays and vacations, and well before students return for the new academic year, when the story will be almost two months old.

Calls from the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s prolific advocacy group, for an independent investigation have been brushed aside and the full report of the investigatory committee smacks of irony.

One of the definitions of “research misconduct” according to this very policy is “failure to disclose significant financial and business interest as defined by Penn State Policy RA20, Individual Conflict of Interest.”

It seems the very committee conducting the “research” in investigating Mann is violating at least the spirit of its own policy. Does not Penn State, and more so Mann and other academics, have significant financial interests in maintaining grant money? (That’s at least $541,184 for climate research in this past year alone, and several millions over the years.)

The report notes that the decision to find Mann not guilty of allegations of research misconduct was reached unanimously. Of course!

The biggest sham is the full report itself:

At the time of initiation of the inquiry, no formal allegations accusing Mann of research misconduct had been submitted to any University official. Therefore, the emails (leaked from England) and other communications were reviewed by (Senior Vice President for Research) Dr. Eva Pell, and from these she synthesized the 4 formal allegations. To be clear, these were not allegations that Dr. Pell put forth but rather her best effort to reduce to reviewable allegations the many different accusations that were received from parties outside of the University.

Translation: in order to have an investigation (so as to clear Mann), the institution, as if by reaching into a sea of suspicious emails, had to first boil down the criticism of Mann into clearly refutable “allegations.”  So right from the start, they frame the charges how they want – as straw men to be knocked down.

Allegation 1: “Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to suppress or falsify data?”

Allegation 2: “Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data, related to AR4, as suggested by Phil Jones?”

Allegation 3: “Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any misuse of privileged or confidential information available to you in your capacity as an academic scholar?”

Allegation 4: “Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities?”

If they are in fact “allegations,” then why are they framed merely as questions?

On Nov. 29, 2009, Dr. Pell and Dr. Foley met with Dr. Mann to inform him personally that he had been accused of research misconduct and that an inquiry under RA-10 would take place. On November 30, 2009, a letter was delivered by Dr. Pell to Dr. Mann to notify him of these allegations and Dr. Pell’s decision to conduct an inquiry under RA-10.
Accused by whom?  Pell?  “Parties outside the University?” Other academics? If they don’t name the “accusers,” then what research misconduct accusations or allegations are we talking about?  The ones Pell made up?  That Mann could answer “No” to?

Dr. Mann was asked to address the four allegations leveled against him, but “leveled” by whom?  Penn State carefully crafted into four questions what they then held up to the world as “The Allegations!”

In an interview lasting nearly two hours, Dr. Mann addressed each of the questions and follow-up questions.

So now it’s an “interview” with Mann by an “Inquiry Committee,” in which he answered, “No, I didn’t do it, man!” This resulted in the committee “finding” of the first 3 allegations:

Decision 1-3: The Inquiry Committee determined there was no substance to this allegation and further investigation of this allegation was not warranted.

Decision 4: The Inquiry Committee determined that … given that this may be undermining confidence in his findings as a scientist, and given that it may be undermining public trust in science in general and climate science specifically, an Investigatory Committee of faculty peers from diverse fields should be constituted under RA-10 to further consider this allegation.

Penn State let the flames of the political firestorm die down by dragging its investigation into the summer, thereby casting the illusion that the process was exhaustive.

Throughout this process, Penn State identified four questions to which it already knew the answers and called it an “investigation.” But there were neither accusers nor any real accusations. No real allegations and no identifiable party that leveled them. There were merely questions from a committee to which Mann denied impropriety to the “unanimous” agreement.

This process differs for those who have previously run afoul of the university’s interests and faced dismissal, such as Nona Gerard, David Code, and Jose Texidor.  (Perhaps, the only similarity in all those cases and now is that the outcomes were likewise predetermined, albeit not in the favor of the accused). Certainly, the institution seems to extend Mann far more credit than it does students who have served their country.

Then, in a letter from Vice President for Research Henry Foley:

According policy RA-10, “if the VP for Research finds University policy not to have been violated, either at the inquiry stage or after a full investigation, these proceedings will be closed and the accused individual and the accuser will be notified in writing.

Of course the policy wasn’t violated, neither at the beginning nor after the “full investigation.” The conclusion itself, its decisive finality, and its timing are what matter here for university PR.

And the “accuser will be notified in writing?” Really?  Is that like a letter sent to Santa addressed to the North Pole?  Foley actually says: “This letter is my official notification to you that you’re no longer under investigation.”

Where is the letter to the accuser as per policy RA-10?  Who’s the accuser?  Shouldn’t Mann be able to confront his “accuser” in all this?  There isn’t one, at least not as far as this charade was concerned.

In his final letter to Penn State President Graham Spanier, himself cited in the writings of Al Gore, Foley writes:

In sum, the Investigatory Committee found that “after careful review of all available evidence, there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann…Having conducted the preliminary inquiry in the charge of research misconduct alleged against Dr. Mann in late 2009 and early 2010; having read this investigative report…I uphold the finding and recommendations of this committee concluding that Dr. Mann is not guilty of research misconduct.

Translation: we refuted the “allegations” that we framed as questions (by answering them in the negative) as part of an inquiry that we oversaw from start to finish and which we went back over and reread. Thereby concluding our recommendations and recommending our conclusions – we found Dr. Mann not guilty of “research misconduct” insofar as it is (however inapplicably, inadequately and hopelessly) ill-defined ipso facto by our own misapplied policy RA-10.

Jack Sparrow might as well have written the conclusion.

What is important to Penn State is the substantial flow of research dollars based on the perceived validity of its research. They calculated that they needed to weather the storm with Mann and not hang him out to dry in the climate debate.

In their arrogance, they further think they can make or break whomever whenever they want.  In this case, they probably will, because no one will read or analyze the findings; they’ll just get it second-hand from journalists, who also didn’t bother to read the documents.

The public will be left thinking that Mann was cleared and that anyone left complaining are his detractors who had him pegged guilty all along.

The process however, is not about Mann.  He could be legitimately innocent of research misconduct, but one would never know it from the process.

Andy Nash hosts “Radio Free Penn State”, a daily public affairs talk radio program in its tenth year on The LION 90.7fm (WKPS) in State College, PA. He can be reached by e-mail.