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Climategate Over, Sort-of

This picture has a tenuous relationship to the story at best, but I don't care

This picture has a tenuous relationship to the story at best, but I don't careYou’ve all heard about “Climategate” (in fact, we blogged about it earlier this week!). Penn State professor Michael Mann has been linked to emails that suggest research was falsified to support the claim for man-made global warming. In response, Penn State began an inquiry committee to look into the matter. After a few weeks of inquiring, the committee has decided to begin investigating instead.

But what is the difference between an Inquiry and an Investigation? Both are outlined in University policy RA10, “Handling Inquiries/Investigations Into Questions of Ethics in Research and in Other Scholarly Activities”. This lengthy, yet accurately-titled, policy sets out the procedure to looking into situations such as Mann’s.

The purpose of the Inquiry is to find if any of the allegations against a researcher can be definitively dismissed or verified. The committee asked four questions of Mann during this period:

  • Did you falsify or suppress data?
  • Did you attempt to conceal the relevant e-mails?
  • Did you misuse privileged or confidential information?
  • Did you deviate from accepted academic practices?

In this case, the committee found no evidence that the first three allegations were true and has dismissed them. Their decision to move into a more in depth investigation is explained in their report.

Policy RA-10 speaks not just of research misconduct but also of research conduct and is
explicit regarding the responsibility that we have as scientists to maintain the public trust.
The report goes on to explain that accepted practices vary drastically from field to field, and it will take more time to determine whether or not Mann followed practices in his own field of paleoclimatology. It also recognizes the political significance of Mann’s research, and outlines how the investigation will not deal with the content of the research, but the method in which it was conducted.
This is a touchy issue, and I feel the committee, headed by new VP of Graduate Research Henry “Hank” Foley, is handling it well. They could have kept their findings secret and could have even made Mann a scapegoat, but are instead taking time to carefully investigate the matter.
What do you think about the committee’s findings?

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About the Author

Nick Johnson

Nick is a junior majoring in IST (the Internet) and CAS (saying things). He hopes to one day get paid to do this, but for now he is willing to do it for the fame. Besides writing for Onward State, he also puts things on the Internet here.

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