I have no inclination to "weigh in" on the topic of climate change. However the case involves issues of integrity that are at the very core of proper science. These issues are the same whether they are raised in a pharmaceutical clinical trial, in a basic science laboratory, by a climate change "denialist" or a "warmist". The case involves the hiding of data, access to data, and the proper description of "method" in science.
The case is also of interest because it provides yet another example of how *not* to create trust in a scientific misconduct investigation. It adds to the litany of cases suggesting that Universities cannot be allowed to investigate misconduct of their own star academics. The University response has so far been incoherent on its face.
Doug Keenan, the mathematician who raised the case of Wang is on the "sceptic" side of the climate change debate. He maintains that "almost by itself, the withholding of their raw data by [climate] scientists tells us that they are not scientists".
Below is my own summary of the straightforward substance of this case. I wrote to Wei-Chyung Wang, to Lynn Videka (VP at Albany, responsible for the investigation), and to John H. Reilly (a lawyer at Albany) asking for any correction or comments on the details presented below. My request was acknowledged prior to publication, but no factual correction was suggested.
- The allegations concern two publications. These are:
- Jones P.D., Groisman P.Y., Coughlan M., Plummer N., Wang W.-C., Karl T.R. (1990), “Assessment of urbanization effects in time series of surface air temperature over land”, Nature, 347: 169–172. (PDF here)
- Wang W.-C., Zeng Z., Karl T.R. (1990), “Urban heat islands in China”, Geophysical Research Letters, 17: 2377–2380. (PDF here)
- The publications concern temperature at a variety of measuring stations over three decades (1954-1983). Stations are denoted by name or number. A potential confounder in such research is that measuring stations may be moved to different locations at different points in time. It is clearly important that readers of publications understand the methodology, and important confounders.
- The publications make the following statements:
- (Statement A) "The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times." [Jones et al.]
- (Statement B) "They were chosen based on station histories: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times…." [Wang et al.]
- The publications refer to a report produced jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) which details station moves, and the publications further suggest that stations with few if any moves or changes were selected on the basis of that report. However:
- Of 84 stations that were selected, Keenan found that information about only 35 are available in the DOE/CAS report
- Of those 35 stations at least half did have substantial moves (e.g 25 km). One station had five different locations during 1954–1983 as far as 41 km apart.
- If true, it appears that Statements A and B would be false, or at best grossly misleading. If false, readers would have been misled both in terms of the status of the stations and the manner in which they had been selected (or not selected).
- Keenan then communicated with the author of one of the publications (Jones) to ask about the source of location information pertaining to the other 49 stations that had not been selected using the described methodology. Jones informed Keenan that his co-author Wang had selected those stations in urban and rural China based on his "extensive knowledge of those networks".
- On 11 April 2007 Keenan E-mailed Wang, asking "How did you ensure the quality of the data?”. Wang did not answer for several weeks, but on 30 April 2007 he replied as follows:
"The discussion with Ms. Zeng last week in Beijing have re-affirmed that she used the hard copies of station histories to make sure that the selected stations for the study of urban warming in China have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times over the study period (1954-1983)"
- Keenan points out that the “hard copies” to which Wang refers were not found by the authors of the DOE/CAS report, who had endeavored to be "comprehensive" (and that the DOE/CAS report was authored in part by Zeng, one of the co-authors on Wang). Keenan further notes that any form of comprehensive data covering these stations during the Cultural Revolution would be implausible.
- In August 2007 Keenan submitted a report to the University at Albany, alleging fraud. Wang could at that stage have made the "hard copy" details of the stations selected available to the scientific community. However, he failed to do so.
- In May 2008, the University at Albany wrote to Keenan that they had conducted an investigation and asked him to comment on it (see the rather odd letter). However they refused to show him the report of the investigation or any of the evidence to allow any comment (further odd letter).
- In August 2008 the University sent Keenan an astonishing letter of "determination" stating that they did not find that Wang had fabricated data, but that they refused to provide any investigation report or any other information at all because "the Office of Research Integrity regulations preclude discussion of any information pertaining to this case with others who were not directly involved in the investigation".
- Wang has still not made the station records available to the scientific community. If he provided such records to the University as part of a misconduct investigation, then the University has apparently concealed them.
- In the absence of any explanation to the contrary, it seems that the methodology for station selection as described in these two publications was false or at best grossly misleading.
- Wang maintains that hard copy records do exist detailing the location of stations selected by himself outwith the published methodology. However the refusal to clarify "method" is inappropriate and a form of misconduct in and of itself. It does not lend credence to Wang's assertion that fraud did not take place. It would also be necessary to see records of stations that were not selected, in order to confirm that selection was indeed random, and only "on the basis of station history".
- The University at Albany is in a difficult position.
- If the University received such records as part of the supposed misconduct investigation, then they could easily resolve the problem by making them available to the scientific community and to readers.
- If the University does not have such records then they have been complicit in misconduct and in coverup of misconduct.
- If the University at Albany does have such records, but such records are not in accordance with the stated methodology of the publications, then the University has more serious difficulties.
- "Investigations" of scientific misconduct should themselves align with the usual principles of scientific discourse (open discussion, honesty, transparency of method, public disclosure of evidence, open public analysis and public discussion and reasoning underlying any conclusion). This was not the case at the University at Albany. When you see universities reluctant to investigate things properly, it provides reasonable evidence that they really don't want to investigate things properly.
For further information on this case see here and here.