Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Price of Fame - The New Legalities of Science

Scientists publish papers all the time, that's their job, publish or perish. Ground breaking papers published in big name journal rarely are really ground breaking. Most have some flaw that under more scrutiny is revealed that may lead to something or may not. If the work appears to be truly ground breaking, the scientist or team receive notoriety. If the paper is perceived to be ground breaking, touted as a new revelation, then found to be flawed, the fun begins.

The price, especially when the scientist or his work may sway policy, is law suits. There are a lot of law suits flying around in climate change right now. Many of the scientists involved are not accustom to the reality of fame, so their learning is entertaining and often very funny.

Micheal Mann, of IPCC "Hockey Stick" fame is currently center stage. He now works at the Penn State University. Most sports fans know the old Penn State, State Pen joke. Mann has a pending law suit with a Canadian over his character being defamed because of that joke. Mann also worked at the University of Virginia which is now being taken to court to release internal documents and e-mails related to Mann requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

A report critical of Mann's methods was withdrawn due to plagiarism. This report was authored by a student of a Doctor Wedgman who testified before the US Congress that the Mann "Hockey Stick" was flawed and the peer review process tainted by the limited number of experts in the field for reviewers. "Pal Review", as it has come to be known is letting less than stellar work slip through to the big name publications. That is the allegation anyway.

So now the internet is really buzzing with various blogs taking up positions. I have written my own opinion on the poor statistical choices of Dr. Mann. To error is human, so I am not one to kick a Mann down, but Mann is a serial offender. His confidence in his novel statistical insight is surprisingly intact despite many reminders that his conclusions are not very skillful. It is Mann's poor choices that have lead to calls for all climate science publication to be reviewed by third party statisticians.

Oddly, a great deal of climate scientists publicly defend Mann's less than stellar work. This is opening a huge can of worms.

Everyone knows that public officials have less protection from defamation laws in most countries, especially the United States. Public figures have more legal protection until they attempt to influence policy, which makes them legally on par with public officials. So the whole defamation games changes.

One of the liberal bloggers, Deep Climate, pressed hard to discredit the paper on Micheal Mann's "pal Review" process. The plagiarism issue championed by the liberal climate science community now opens the door wider to scrutinize their ethics. Tit for tat. One example of obvious plagiarism by the liberal side is the Menne et al paper that stole the work in progress of conservative blogger Anthony Watts. Watts and Menne came to an agreement so that the stole work was property attributed after the fact. While Watts may be satisfied, the plagiarism by employees of the United States Government of a private turned public citizen can lead to the mother of all federal cases. Menne et al committed a crime. Not a devastating crime, one that would not even require a written reprimand. However, the potential conspiracy to commit even a minor crime could be a much greater crime. "Pal Review" can easily become conspiracy which can be an extremely nasty legal situation.

Micheal Mann's poor statistical choices, since they were repeated in his following works and a co-authored paper with Dr. Eric Stieg, could be considered a conspiracy to improperly influence public policy. By gaining the level of fame they have and attempting to sway policy, their lives are no longer private.

So I predict, that the scat has not finished hitting the fan. No matter their intentions, quite a few climate scientists are about to enter the litigation zone.

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