Blog Archive

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Chronicle of Higher Education: Chronic Soapbox for Smears Against Climate Scientists" by Scott Mandia

September 17, 2012

This is a guest post by Prof. Scott Mandia, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences and Assistant Chair of the Physical Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College, Long Island, New York, USA.

In July 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) allowed one if its bloggers, Peter Wood, to equate the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal to the email investigation conducted by Penn State of noted climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann. I, along with many others, sent letters to CHE requesting a retraction and public apology.
Several of those letters appear below with permission from the authors to repost here:
Dear Dr. Semas,
Why has Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) allowed one of its bloggers, Peter Wood, to smear noted climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann? Woods’ latest post, “A Culture of Evasion,” quite inappropriately compares Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child rape case with that of its investigation of stolen emails that included messages from Dr. Mann. (Previous posts by Wood also maligning Dr. Mann include “Bottling Up Global Warming Skepticism” and “Climate Thuggery”.) Multiple international investigations, including one from  the National Science Foundation, have carefully reviewed Dr. Mann’s email messages and have found no misconduct whatsoever. (For more on these investigations see
It is clear that Peter Wood finds addressing human-caused climate change inconvenient to his world-view and he hopes that somewhere in Dr. Mann’s emails there might be proof that the world is not rapidly warming so we will not need to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions. I wonder if Peter Wood also thinks a careful perusal of Sir Isaac Newton’s personal letters might end up disproving gravity thus allowing us to fly without spending money for an airplane ticket?
I have no issue with CHE allowing him to display his lack of understanding of well-understood science on CHE’s blog. After all, we are all entitled to our own opinions no matter how wrong they are and commenters on his blog have repeatedly tried to educate Mr. Wood about the settled fact of global warming. Isn’t that what the E in CHE is all about?
What is not acceptable is for CHE to allow Peter Wood or any other author to smear a well-respected scientist because of the writer’s political beliefs. It must be quite embarrassing to CHE that one of its bloggers is using a child rape case to achieve political ends and doing so under the mantle of CHECHE can repair the damage by immediately removing the article, admonishing Peter Wood, and issuing a public apology to Dr. Mann.
Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences, Asst. Chair, T-202 Smithtown Sciences Bldg., S.C.C.C., 533 College Rd., Selden, NY  11784
Dear Dr. Semas:
The editorial in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Peter Wood attempts to link Professor Mike Mann with the Penn State football scandal.  There is no conceivable link between this distinguished climate scientist and the "culture of evasion" exemplified in the institution's response to its athletic problem. Mann has been repeatedly cleared of any kind of research misconduct -- not only at Penn State but in the course of his earlier service to the University of Virginia.   There is not one shred of evidence on which to base the alleged connection.  As an outlet that has always been taken seriously in the higher education community, the Chronicle owes its audience a fair appraisal of matters this important.  I hope it will do something to restore its reputation.
Sincerely yours,
Donald Kennedy, President emeritus, Stanford University, Editor in Chief, Science 2000-2008
Dear Dr. Semas,
I was appalled and disgusted by the screed by Peter Wood, "A culture of evasion" in the July 20 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The attempt to associate Michael Mann, an extremely distinguished climate scientist, with the Sandusky affair was worthy of Rush Limbaugh, but not of any real journalist.  Even the most simple exploration would have revealed that Mann has been "cleared" of the preposterous charges against him in several venues much more noteworthy than Penn State, and that he retains the admiration and respect of his scientific colleagues despite the abuse launched at him for daring to publish the results of his excellent research.  The Chronicle should be ashamed of itself, apologize publicly to Mann, and assure that hacks like Wood are free to publish their nonsense in climate-denier and anti-evolution blogs, but not in a respectable and admired journal.
Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, President, Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, 371 Serra Mall, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020
Dear Mr. Semas:
The column by Peter Wood entitled “A Culture of Evasion” in the 13 July issue of The Chronicle addresses the despicable lapses at Penn State that allowed a coach to repeatedly molest children. I agree with much of what Mr. Wood says, but I was shocked when he went on to suggest that a similar lapse of oversight can be found in the way Penn State investigated or responded to the spurious allegations against Michael Mann, a professor at Penn State and one of the climate scientists whose email messages were stolen from a server at East Anglia University.
The stolen email messages were intentionally misinterpreted to cast doubt on the integrity of certain scientists and their scholarly work. Numerous thorough and transparent investigations conducted by the universities and research institutes that employ these scientists plus several governmental and neutral academy bodies found absolutely no evidence of misconduct by the scientists. It was a long and painful process, but in the end the climate science that the email thieves attempted to discredit stands as strong as ever. Case closed.
I was shocked by what appears to be malicious intent on the part of Mr. Wood and by the decision of The Chronicle’s editors to publish such irresponsible, scurrilous, and false statements. You have reason to question Mr. Wood’s judgment and honesty, and The Chronicle of Higher Education owes Professor Mann an apology.
Yours sincerely,
James J. McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138
Dear Dr. Semas,
I am astounded and utterly disappointed by the failure of editorial judgment at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  It should be deeply embarrassing to you that this appeared in the Chronicle during your tenure as President and Editor in Chief.
I am referring to the blog posted by Peter Wood, "A culture of evasion," in the July 20 edition of the Chronicle. Wood attempts to smear the distinguished climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann by conflating a Penn State investigation into his science -- in which he was fully exonerated -- with Penn State's treatment of the child predator Jerry Sandusky.  Not only did Penn State clear Mann of all charges, so did 7 other independent investigations, including one conducted by the Office of the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation.
Using innuendo to smear a senior, respected scientist in this fashion is inexcusable.
The Chronicle should issue a retraction of Wood's blog, publish a public apology to Dr. Mann, and examine the flawed editorial policies and practices that allowed this to happen.
John Peterson Myers, Ph.D., Board Chair, H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, CEO/Chief Scientist, Environmental Health Sciences, 421 Park St., Charlottesville VA 22902, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University

Dear Mr. Semas,

The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) provides a valuable forum for the exchange of a wide range of opinions on all aspects of higher education.  However, I'm sure you'll agree that CHE should not allow itself to be misused as a platform for the publication of defamatory accusations and coordinated attacks on the integrity of honest academic professionals and entire fields of scientific research.  Yet, that is precisely how Dr. Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) has repeatedly been abusing his privilege to publish his unfounded opinions in the CHE blog, Innovations.

That Dr. Wood's blog articles tread far outside the bounds of legitimate scholarly disagreement and civil discourse, and into the realm of defamation, was previously documented in the guest article by Dr. John Mashey and Professor Robert Coleman, "Bottling Nonsense, Misusing a Civil Platform," published on August 4, 2011 in Innovations.[1]  CHE's decision to allow Dr. Mashey and Professor Coleman to publish their rebuttal to Dr. Wood's scurrilous series of articles on CHE's website (see references below) is commendable, but this has not discouraged Dr. Wood from abusing his privileged position to continue making inaccurate and defamatory attacks on the climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University (PSU).

In his most recent commentary on the academic field of climate research, a subject about which Dr. Wood has repeatedly demonstrated his ignorance, he again attacks the reputation of Dr. Mann by insinuating that PSU's investigations and exonerations of Dr. Mann's research were as tainted as the recent, notorious cover-up of child molestation at PSU.  Referring to the investigation of Dr. Mann, Peter Wood makes the following unsupported and defamatory claim:
"Penn State has a history of treading softly with its star players. Paterno wasn’t the only beneficiary."[2]
While Dr. Wood stated in his response to a reader's comment that his mention of Professor Mann was "by way of illustration of a larger point that had nothing to do with global warming theory" [3], it's clear that Dr. Wood's mention of Dr. Mann in an article about former FBI Director Louis Freeh's investigation of PSU was intended to cast a pall of suspicion over Dr. Mann's work by equating PSU's investigation of Dr. Mann with PSU's cover-up of child molestation by the assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.  Dr. Wood provided absolutely no evidence to support this comparison, despite being repeatedly requested to support his allegations by the readers of this scurrilous and cowardly "hit-and-run" article.  

This has been a regular pattern followed by Dr. Wood in his articles:  he makes unsupported and defamatory accusations and insinuations, then refuses to back them up with any evidence whatsoever. [4,5]  This style of ad hominem attack falls far below any editorial or scholarly standards I would hope CHE strives to maintain.  Despite being given many opportunities to defend his unsupportable writings in previous postings, Dr. Wood has consistently refused, as in this comment:
"I am not going to spoil it by providing citations." [6]
You should be aware that Dr. Mann has requested a formal retraction and apology, and threatened to take legal action against the editors of National Review Online [7] for an article by Mark Steyn making similar allegations of fraud and a generic relationship between PSU's cover-up of Jerry Sandusky's child molestation and their investigation of Dr. Mann. [8]  Not coincidentally, Mr. Steyn's article cited similar defamatory allegations in an article in the Competitive Enterprise Institute's online blog dated July 13, 2012 [9], the same day as Dr. Wood's attack appeared in Innovations.  Do you believe that such coordinated, defamatory, and unjustified personal attacks on a highly-regarded scientist have a place at CHE?  If so, I think CHE's readers deserve to see a written policy that clearly endorses such abusive behavior on the part of CHE's bloggers.

Taylor Bennett, C.HG.


[1] John Mashey and Robert Coleman, "Guest Post:  Bottling Nonsense, Misusing a Civil Platform," August 4, 2011 (accessed July 25, 2012 at

[2] Peter Wood, "A Culture of Evasion," July 13, 2012 (accessed July 25, 2012 at

[3] Peter Wood, comment to "A Culture of Evasion," July 25, 2012 (accessed July 25, 2012 at

[4] Peter Wood, "Bottling Up Global Warming Skepticism," June 30, 2011 (accessed July 25, 2012 at

[5] Peter Wood, "Climate Thuggery," July 29, 2011 (accessed July 25, 2012 at

[6] Peter Wood, comment to "Bottling Up Global Warming Skepticism," June 30, 2011 (accessed July 25, 2012 at

[7] Michael Mann, July 20, 2012 (accessed July 25, 2012 at

[8] Mark Steyn, "Football and Hockey," in National Review Online, July 15, 2012, (accessed July 25, 2012 at

[9] Rand Simberg, "The Other Scandal in Unhappy Valley," in OpenMarket.Org, The Blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, July 13, 2012 (accessed July 25, 2012 at
ATTN: Phil Semas, President and Editor-in-Chief, the Chronicle of Higher Education
I write regarding Peter Woods' "A culture of evasion" as it appeared at
Whatever Woods' purpose, surely the whitewashing of the horrific Sandusky criminal behavior was sufficient to prove his case regarding the malfeasance of the administration of the Pennsylvania State University.  I do not know much about the Spanier's failure to disclose salaries of public employees, but tossing the disproven inquisition of the noble Professor Michael Mann onto the pyre is nothing less than character smearing and assassination, as well as endorsing horrible logic.  Doing so strips the Chronicle of any pretense of representing "Higher Education."
There are at least two fallacies in Woods' piece: Administrative accusations are not the same as guilt, especially ones determined by process to be rejected. And that Professor Mann was exonerated by a tainted administration does not make his being cleared of administrative charges  false. The Chronicle should be capable of basic reasoning, whatever its poor status in our enfeebled polity.
Also, the charges brought against Professor Mann can, in retrospect, be surely seen as an inquisition and ill-motivated, whether considering the findings of subsequent criminal investigations judging their basic evidence (the professional hacking of the Climatic Research Unit emails), or the highly successful results of projections and a line of climate research Professor Mann and others pioneered.
By failing to be a proper Editor, you implicitly endorsed this bad logic and form. It is not simply someone's free expression that you allowed, but gross, harmful error, damaging to the principles for which higher education exists.
You owe your readership a retraction, an apology to Professor Mann, and an admission that your publication of this piece endorses bad logic, bad form, and unreasoned, populist attack. You have done so in the past. You owe the readership and Professor Mann one this time.
 Jan Galkowski, Class of 1976G, MIT, Westwood, MA.
Below is the reply sent by Chronicle President and Editor-in-Chief Philip Semas to these letters:
Thank you for your message. As we clearly state on every blog post, posting on a blog does imply any endorsement of these views by The Chronicle. We publish a wide range of views in a wide range of formats, from opinion articles in print to blog posts to comments from readers. We couldn’t possible agree with or endorse all of them.
We also offer ample opportunity for readers to respond to and criticize opinion articles and blog posts (and indeed almost anything we publish). Indeed, Peter Wood’s post has, at last count, drawn 71 comments, many of which are critical of what he said about Michael Mann. Some make many of the same points you make in your message.
In other words, I think your quarrel is with Mr. Wood, not The Chronicle.
Phil Semas, President & Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Higher Education Inc.
There are two problems with Semas’ claims.
  1. The CHE banner waves proudly above Wood’s post and on the bottom of page of Wood’s post we see the CHE copyright both of which certainly give the appearance that CHE owns and endorses Wood’s piece.
  2. In May 2012, The Chronicle fired Naomi Riley for writing The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations so apparently CHE does not tolerate attacks on some disciplines but does with others. Why the double standard?
With regard to point #2, The Chronicle posted A Note to Readers to apologize stating:
When we published Naomi Schaefer Riley’s blog posting on Brainstorm last week (“The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations”), several thousand of you spoke out in outrage and disappointment that The Chronicle had published an article that did not conform to the journalistic standards and civil tone that you expect from us.
We’ve heard you, and we have taken to heart what you said.
We now agree that Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog. Since Brainstorm was created five years ago, we have sought out bloggers representing a range of intellectual and political views, and we have allowed them broad freedom in topics and approach.  As part of that freedom, Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted.
Scientists, health officials, military and intelligence experts, and the insurance industry keep warning us about the coming crisis that is climate change. Increased droughts, heat waves, fires, floods, famine, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification, all of which have been predicted for many years are now happening and many are suffering – particularly those in poorer nations who did little to create the crisis.
One must feel sad that The Chronicle of Higher Education has handed a megaphone to a factually challenged ideologue who, like some others, is obstructing scientific progress by attacking our experts. I encourage readers here to send a letter to Philip Semas (contact page) asking him to uphold the mission of The Chronicle as a source of informed information and to ask Mr. Semas to immediately retract the Wood smear job as well as issue a public apology to Dr. Michael E. Mann.

No comments: