Mann Misrepresents NOAA OIG

In today’s post, I’ll consider a fifth investigation – by the NOAA Office of the Inspector General OIG here- and show that, like the other four considered so far, Mann’s claims that it “investigated” and “exonerated” Mann himself were untrue. In addition, I’ll show that Mann’s pleadings misrepresented the findings of this investigation both through grossly selective quotation and mis-statement. Finally, the OIG report re-opened questions about Mann’s role in Eugene Wahl’s destruction of emails as requested by Phil Jones. In Mann’s pleadings, Mann claimed that each of the investigation reports was “commented upon in the national and international media”. But, in this case, much of the coverage focused on renewed criticism of the apparent obtuseness of the Penn State inquiry committee. The episode even included accusations of libel by Mann against CEI’s Chris Horner as well as a wild and unjustified accusation of “dishonesty” by Mann against myself.

Terms of Reference
The OIG investigation was triggered by a letter from Senator James Inhofe on May 26, 2010. The OIG interpreted its terms of reference as follows:

Pursuant to your request, we conducted an inquiry to determine the following:
1. Whether NOAA carried out an internal review of the CRU emails posted on the internet;
2. The basis for Dr Lubchenco’s above testimony statement before the House Select Committee on December 2, 2009;
3. Whether NOAA has conducted a review of its global temperature data comprising the GHCN-M dataset, which is maintained by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center;
4. Whether any CRU emails indicated that NOAA:
a. Inappropriately manipulated data comprising the GHCN-M temperature dataset;
b. Failed to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures;
c. Did not comply with federal laws pertaining to information/datas sharing, namely the Federal Information Quality Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the Shelby Amendment?

Nowhere do these terms of reference include or require the OIG to investigate Mann’s conduct and they did not do so.

As requested by Inhofe, the OIG report included a section on the GHCN-M monthly historical temperature dataset maintained by NOAA, which is common to the three major temperature indices (CRU, GISS, NOAA).

The NOAA summarized NOAA’s procedures for preparing GHCN-M data and reported:

We found no evidence in the CRU emails that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data comprising the GHCN-M dataset.

Given that the Climategate dossier contained very few references to CRU’s own CRUTEM data, it is unsurprising that the emails do not contain evidence on inappropriate manipulation of GHCN-M data – a product with which CRU was not involved, though it’s a reasonable enough point to crosscheck. (As a further editorial comment, temperature data has never been a major theme at Climate Audit, though it has at other blogs.)

But watch carefully here. The phrases in the above quotation – “no evidence” of “inappropriate manipulat[ion]” – will crop up in an entirely different context in the Mann pleadings, applied not just to GHCN-M in the light of Climategate emails, but much more widely.

The OIG on the Climategate Emails
The OIG report stated that it examined all the CG1 dossier, from which it extracted eight emails that concerned NOAA employees. Three of these emails also mention Mann (identified as a “researcher at Pennsylvania State University”).

The OIG says that it interviewed the relevant NOAA scientists and “summarized their responses and explanations”. (But again watch carefully: “summariz[ing] their responses and explanations” means exactly that: it does not entail that the OIG either endorsed or rejected their explanations and, in at least one case, the OIG left a matter of contention completely unresolved – see contemporary CA discussion here of the inconsistency between statements by Susan Solomon and by NOAA lawyers on advice supposedly given to Solomon on whether documents were the property of NOAA or IPCC.)

In our own review of all 1073 CRU emails, we found eight emails which, in our judgment, warranted further examination to clarify any possible issues involving the scientific integrity of particular NOAA scientists or NOAA’s data. As a result, we conducted interviews with the relevant NOAA scientists regarding these eight emails and have summarized their responses and explanations below.

The first of the three emails considered by the OIG in which Mann was involved was a 2006 email (CG-1 1140039406), in which Briffa conceded to Chapter Coordinating Lead Author Overpeck that there was “minimal” “real independence” to the paleoclimate analyses subsequent to TAR (this is obviously a longstanding Climate Audit position) and urged Overpeck not to let co-Chair Susan Solomon (a NOAA employee) or Mann “push” them beyond what they thought was right.

Peck, you have to consider that since the TAR , there has been a lot of argument re “hockey stick” and the real independence of the inputs to most subsequent analyses is minimal. True, there have been many different techniques used to aggregate and scale data – but the efficacy of these is still far from established. We should be careful not to push the conclusions beyond what we can securely justify – and this is not much other than a confirmation of the general conclusions of the TAR . We must resist being pushed to present the results such that we will be accused of bias – hence no need to attack Moberg . Just need to show the “most likely” course of temperatures over the last 1300 years – which we do well I think. Strong confirmation of TAR is a good result, given that we discuss uncertainty and base it on more data. Let us not try to over egg the pudding. For what it worth , the above comments are my (honestly long considered) views – and I would not be happy to go further . Of course this discussion now needs to go to the wider Chapter authorship, but do not let Susan [Solomon of NOAA] (or Mike [Mann]) push you (us) beyond where we know is right.

They reported Solomon’s answer as follows (without additional comment):

The Co-Chair explained to us that she had only requested that these scientists cite the evidence that they contended “reinforced” the TAR’s conclusion regarding the “exceptional warming of the late 20th century relative to the past 1000 years.” She told us her goal as Co-Chair was not to push a particular outcome but to ensure that the scientists provided “more clarity as to what the reasoning was for [the] particular statement.

They did not seek an explanation from Mann as to why IPCC authors were worried that Mann might push them beyond “what was right” or explain why Mann, who was not an AR4 author, would be mentioned with Co-Chair Solomon as pressing IPCC authors.

The NOAA OIG also considered a second Briffa email involving Mann and Solomon, in which Briffa told Mann that he had tried to get (what appears to be a self-congratulatory) statement about paleoclimate into the Summary for Policy-makers, but had been rebuffed by Solomon. The paragraph contains a disquieting phrase that the needs of science and IPCC are not always being the same.

I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which were not always the same. I worried that you might think I gave the impression of not supporting you well enough while trying to report on the issues and uncertainties. Much had to be removed and I was particularly unhappy that I could not get the statement into the SPM regarding the AR4 reinforcement of the results and conclusions of the TAR. I tried my best but we were basically railroaded by Susan [Solomon].

Commenting to the OIG, Solomon denied that Briffa had made any such request to her (and it is entirely possible that Briffa was not being entirely candid with Mann) and stood by the language in the SPM.

The third email was the notorious email in which Jones had asked Mann to forward his deletion request to Eugene Wahl, who, at the time of the OIG report, was employed by NOAA, characterized by the OIG as follows:

CRU email 1212073451 dated May 29, 2008 in which the Director of the CRU requested a researcher from Pennsylvania State University to ask an individual, who is now a NOAA scientist, to delete certain emails related to his participation in the IPCC AR4.

The OIG reported that the incident had taken place prior to Wahl becoming an employee of NOAA and therefore not under NOAA jurisdiction:

This scientist explained to us that he believes he deleted the referenced emails at that time. We determined that he did not become a NOAA employee until after the incident, in August 2008, and therefore did not violate any agency record retention policies. Further, this individual informed us that in December 2009 he received a letter from Senator Inhofe requesting that he retain all of his records, which he told us he has done.

The Mann Pleadings
The NOAA OIG investigation (“the Inspector General of the U. S. Department of Commerce”) is listed in paragraph 21 of the Mann Complaint as one of the five governmental agency investigations (and four university investigations) that supposedly “conducted separate and independent investigations into the allegations of scientific misconduct against Dr. Mann and his colleagues” and is included in the paragraph 24 claim that “all of the above investigations found that there was no evidence of any fraud, data falsification, statistical manipulation, or misconduct of any kind by Dr. Mann”.

Its report is cited in Mann’s Reply Memorandum as one of “many other inquiries by various organizations within the United Kingdom and the United States that reached the same conclusion [Dr. Mann [had not] committed fraud or manipulated the data]”(page 2) and its report is attached as an exhibit to the Reply Memorandum, which accused CEI and National Review of “obfuscat[ing] and misrepresent[ing] the findings of those panels[including NOAA OIG, Muir Russell, Oxburgh, Commons Committee, DECC], in an effort to suggest (erroneously) that those inquiries did not exonerate Dr. Mann of fraud or misconduct”.

In his exhibits, Mann included nine reports: four reports from the two universities and five reports from government agencies. In his Reply Memorandum, he stated that “two universities and six governmental agencies independently investigated the allegations of fraud and misconduct” and that he had “been exonerated of fraud and misconduct no less than eight separate times”. While the NOAA OIG is not itemized on each occasion, the only reasonable interpretation of these claims is that the NOAA OIG (and Muir Russell, Oxburgh, Commons Committee and DECC) are included.

However, the investigation of the NOAA OIG was limited to NOAA employees while they were NOAA employees. The NOAA OIG did not conduct an investigation of Mann’s conduct nor did it “exonerate” him. This increases the total of misrepresentations to all five that I have thus far re-examined.

Out-of-Context Quotation
Mann’s pleadings in connection with the NOAA OIG investigation contain yet another egregious example of out-of-context quotation that misrepresented the record. They stated that the NOAA OIG investigation had found “‘no evidence’ of inappropriate manipulation of data”, citing pages 11-12 of the report, pages dealing with GHCN-M:

noaa quotation 1

However, the NOAA OIG had commented only on evidence in the CRU emails of whether NOAA had “inappropriately manipulated data comprising the GHCN-M dataset”. Mann’s quotation has been wrenched out of its original context and used to support assertions that go far beyond the narrow finding of the NOAA OIG.
noaa quotation 3

In addition, Mann’s claim that the NOAA OIG “examined all of the CRU e-mails, including the November 16, 1999 e-mail referenced above in which Professor Jones used the words “trick” and “hide the decline” is, to say the least, highly misleading. The NOAA OIG report does not mention or address the “trick” email, with which NOAA scientists were not involved. The report clearly stated that the NOAA OIG selected eight emails “which, in [their] judgment, warranted further examination to clarify any possible issues involving the scientific integrity of particular NOAA scientists or NOAA’s data”. The “trick” email was not one of the eight.

Contemporary Coverage
Mann’s pleadings stated that “all of the above reports and publications were widely available and commented upon in the national and international media”, that such coverage was read by the defendants and “laid to rest” “any question regarding the propriety of Mann’s research”.

There was negligible coverage of the NOAA OIG report in traditional media, but it was extensively covered on climate blogs (on both sides of the aisle) but the coverage was almost entirely devoted to the new information on Wahl’s admission that he had destroyed his email correspondence with Briffa about IPCC AR4, following Mann’s transmission of Jones’ deletion request, and the negligence of the Penn State Inquiry Committee in failing to interview Wahl. Climate Audit played a role in the coverage. The transcript of Wahl’s interview with the OIG was first released at CA here, later linked in an online article at Science(mag).

The OIG report had been released on February 23, 2010, which (by coincidence) was one day after the NSF OIG had visited me in Toronto. I published several posts on the report including a first post on the news that the OIG had asked Eugene Wahl about whether he had deleted emails and Wahl’s admission that he had, linking this to the seemingly wilful blindness in the Penn State Inquiry Committee report, a second on the inconsistency between stories from NOAA lawyers and Susan Solomon and a third on the misrepresentation of the OIG findings in NOAA’s press release.

A couple of weeks later, I was sent a transcript of Wahl’s evidence to the OIG on the incident, which I published as follows:

Q. Did you ever receive a request by either Michael Mann or any others to delete any emails?
A. I did receive that email. That’s the last one on your list here. I did receive that…

Q. So, how did you actually come about receiving that? Did you actually just — he just forward the — Michael Mann — and it was Michael Mann I guess?
A. Yes
Q. — That you received the email from?
A. Correct …
A. To my knowledge, I just received a forward from him.
Q. And what were the actions that you took?
A. Well, to the best of my recollection, I did delete the emails.

This story was covered by Chris Horner, a CEI associate, who made the obvious observation that Penn State Inquiry Committee had neglected to interview Wahl, even though their terms of reference required them to examine whether Mann “directly or indirectly” participated in “any actions” with the “intent to delete” emails:

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?

Horner pointedly asked:

So, were Penn State’s investigators staggeringly incompetent, willfully ignorant, or knowingly complicit?

Horner continued:

This begs the same questions of PSU as it does of the UK’s two supposed inquires into ClimateGate, which were also cited as “clearing” the participants. Obviously we know that’s not possible because, if either had bothered to interview Wahl, they’d know what we now know. Wahl says Mann did indeed ask Wahl to destroy records, and Wahl did.

To many third parties, the most plausible interpretation of events was that Mann had forwarded Jones’ deletion request in the expectation that Wahl would act on it (as he did.) However, although Mann admitted that he had forwarded Jones’ deletion request to Wahl, he claimed that he had sent the email to Wahl only because he felt Wahl “needed to see it”. Mann said that Horner’s (supposed) claim that Mann had “told” Wahl to delete emails was “a fabrication, a lie and a libelous allegation”, a “despicable smear” that spoke to the “depths of dishonesty of professional climate change deniers” like Horner and others (including me):

The claim by fossil fuel industry lobbyist Chris Horner in his “Daily Caller” piece that I told Eugene Wahl to delete emails is a fabrication –a lie, and a libelous allegation. My only involvement in the episode in question is that I forwarded Wahl an email that Phil Jones had sent me, which I felt Wahl needed to see. There was no accompanying commentary by me or additional correspondence from me regarding the matter, nor did I speak to Wahl about the matter. This is, in short, a despicable smear that, more than anything else, speaks to the depths of dishonesty of professional climate change deniers like Chris Horner, Marc Morano, Stephen McIntyre, and Anthony Watts.

Mann did not identify any actual mis-statements on my part in relation to this incident, nor, to my knowledge, were there any.

Horner refused to back down, pointing out, among other points, that the words of Mann’s accusation did not correspond to the language of Horner’s original post:

Mann’s response is typically off point from the question

Please state where I “claim . . . that [Mann] told Eugene Wahl to delete emails,” and also what is libelous, Mr. Mann. If you do the latter, I am happy to retract it.

But, “Wahl says Mann did indeed ask Wahl to destroy records, and Wahl did” doesn’t do it, unless you want to crop off one end of the sentence (“Wahl says”) and replace it with something more appealing to your thesis (an inside joke for those familiar with the whole Hockey Stick saga). Chuckle.

Your allegation is false until you somehow demonstrate otherwise, and your problem lies with the NOAA inspector general whose transcript indicates these events transpired.

Mann didn’t follow through on his libel claims against Horner, but, two weeks later, did file a libel suit against Tim Ball and the Frontier Center for making the very old Penn State-state pen joke about him.

Gavin Schmidt and others have argued that Wahl’s destruction of emails, however unseemly, was not an offence and therefore that Mann’s role in forwarding Jones’ destruction of emails was likewise not an offence. Perhaps, perhaps not. But given the question before the Penn State Inquiry Committee and the evidence available to them – “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?” – the Inquiry Committee was not justified in its finding that “there exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data related to AR4, as suggested by Dr. Phil Jones”. Mann’s act of forwarding Jones’ deletion request to Wahl was such evidence and the Inquiry Committee ought to have forwarded this question to the Investigation Committee, where Mann could have presented his defence, such as it was.

As an editorial comment, surely Mann’s proper course of action, upon receiving Jones’ request that he destroy documents, was to reply to Jones immediately stating that (1) he refused to do so; (2) he would not forward the request to the much more junior Wahl; (3) urging Jones and Briffa to reconsider their plans to destroy documents. It is disquieting that none of the investigations set out standards that would be expected outside of climate science.

In the event, Wahl understood that he was expected to destroy documents, as he did so. We’ll never know whether the Penn State Investigation Committee would have accepted Mann’s defence, because the Penn State Inquiry Committee did not refer the matter for investigation. (According to information provided to me from a member of the committee, the proceedings of the Inquiry Committee were compromised by continued involvement of a Penn State faculty member who was obliged to recuse himself, but did not do so despite a statement in the report that he had).

In passing, I’ll refer readers to an interesting obstruction of justice case involving Frank Quattone, a securities executive. At the time, Quattrone’s firm was under SEC investigation for its handling of IPO trading. It was then relatively late in the calendar year and an administrator at his firm had sent a standard memo to all staff reminding them of the firm’s document retention policies and procedures. A few hours later, after learning of a leak of the investigation by the Wall Street Journal and being told to retain counsel, Quattrone sent an email to his staff endorsing the seemingly routine instruction as follows:

having been a key witness in a securities litigation case in south texas (miniscribe) i strongly advise you to follow these procedures

Quattrone’s email was countermanded the following day by the firm’s legal department and no documents were deleted. Nonetheless, Quattrone was charged with obstruction of justice under pre-Sarbanes-Oxley section 1512. The case had a complicated history and went on for years. The key point for the present discussion is that an appeal court ruled that a trier of fact could have concluded that Quattrone acted with a “corrupt intent”, an element of the offence, even though, on its face, Quattrone was endorsing a legitimate request.

Like the four investigations considered previously, Mann’s claim that that the NOAA OIG (Department of Commerce) “investigated” and “exonerated” Mann himself was untrue. In addition, Mann’s pleadings contained further gross misrepresentations of the investigation through selective misquotation or misleading statements. The OIG report re-opened questions about Mann’s role in Eugene Wahl’s destruction of emails as requested by Phil Jones, renewing criticism of the seemingly wilful obtuseness of the Penn State Inquiry committee. The episode even included accusations of libel by Mann against CEI’s Chris Horner as well as wild accusations of “dishonesty” by Mann against various critics, including myself.

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