Blog Archive

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Computer Scientist, John Mashey, Goes on Offensive To Defend Climate Scientists," by Eli Kintisch, Science, Vol. 332, pp. 1250-1251 (June 10, 2011)

Computer Scientist, John Mashey, Goes on Offensive To Defend Climate Scientists

by Eli Kintisch, Science, June 10, 2011

To climate scientists like Pennsylvania State University’s Michael Mann, who has come under relentless attacks from climate change skeptics, John Mashey is “one of the good guys.” The 65-year-old Mashey, who amassed a small fortune designing computer systems for the likes of Bell Labs and Silicon Graphics, is spending his retirement years compiling voluminous critiques of what he calls the “real conspiracy” to produce “climate antiscience.” 

He is trying to turn the tables, using tactics some of Mann'’s opponents may find uncomfortably familiar.

Will Happer, a physicist at Princeton University who questions the consensus view on climate, thinks Mashey is a destructive force who uses “totalitarian tactics ”—publishing damaging documents online, without peer review, —to carry out personal vendettas. Whereas Mann lauds Mashey for “exploring the underbelly of climate denial, Happer says Mashey's tactics are “contrary to open inquiry.”

Both sides can agree on one thing, however: Mashey has become one of the most visible of a new generation of citizen climate warriors. This month he scored a prominent victory when the journal Computational Statistics & Data Analysis (CSDA) retracted a 2008 paper co-authored by economist and climate skeptic Edward Wegman. Mashey had attacked the article last September in a 250-page analysis released online and headlined “Strange Scholarship in the Wegman Report.” Last week, the journal'’s editors issued a statement saying that the article contained “portions of other authors’ writings on the same topic in other publications, without sufficient attribution to these earlier works being given.” To Mann, “the retraction validates [Mashey’'s] efforts.”

Mashey’s critique also looked into a 2006 report to Congress by Wegman claiming that two paleoclimate studies by Mann and two other authors used poor statistical analyses. 

Mashey blasted the science in the so-called Wegman report and alleged that many pages were copied from published sources without citation; no official action has been taken.

The CSDA paper grew out of a section of the Wegman report that asserted the authors’ social connections had corrupted peer review of paleoclimate papers and that various independent studies “may not be as independent as they might appear.” Wegman, a professor of statistics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, wrote in a March e-mail to the journal’s publisher, Elsevier, which was investigating allegations of plagiarism, that he was “innocently unaware” that text on network theory and climate had been “copied and pasted” by a George Mason student into the Wegman report and later included in the CSDA paper. (USA Today, which first reported on the retraction, obtained the e-mail from CSDA and sent it for comment to Mashey, who published it.) Wegman and his lawyer declined several requests for comment from Science, but the latter told USA Today that neither Wegman nor the first author of the CSDA paper, an assistant professor at George Mason, “has ever engaged in plagiarism.”

Mashey'’s career in computers only occasionally touched on climate issues, but his background has provided him with valuable skills for his new role. 

After earning a Ph.D. in computer science from Penn State in 1974, Mashey worked for several Silicon Valley companies designing systems for users that included intelligence agencies, oil companies, and climate scientists. He was drawn into the swirling climate debate in 2007 after hearing a lecture on climate skeptics by University of California, San Diego, science historian Naomi Oreskes at Stanford University, which is near his Portola Valley home.

As he got to know Oreskes and allied climate scientists, Mashey became upset that they were being attacked by bloggers and law-makers and subjected to anonymous threats. 

"“Naomi'’s a friend, and she gets death threats. Mike Mann'’s a friend, and he gets death threats. It pisses me off,”" Mashey says. “"They get harassed and discouraged for doing a good job for everybody'’s grandchildren."” Defending their work from unfair attack is the least he can do, he reasons. “"They seem heartened by the knowledge that somebody cares and is actually trying to take the offense."

Mashey decided to join the nascent community of nonscientist climate bloggers by preparing documents that dissected what the opponents were actually saying. (He maintains no blog but publishes documents through allied sites.) “Climate scientists do not have the skill set for investigating where weird stuff is coming from,” Mashey says. He likens his current activities to the corporate intelligence efforts he once undertook and to investigations of organized crime. “"You see what they'’re doing, who they talk to. Then what you do is, you hope they make a mistake.”"

His home office includes a laptop equipped with three extra screens to help him compile his reports. “When "I'’m trying to find these hidden connections or inconsistencies between testimonies and write them down, I likely have a big spreadsheet on one display, some Word document open to two places to compare, and several browser windows on several displays, as well as a bunch of PDFs open in [Adobe] Acrobat,"” he says.

His dense reports contain the fruits of his research and that of others, properly credited, as well as his opinions, in italics. An anonymous blogger dubbed Deep Climate first raised questions about the originality of 
material in Wegman'’s CSDA paper and his report to Congress, and Mashey included those examples and other questionable passages in his “Strange Scholarship” report, festooned with complex organizational charts and multicolored text. 

Mashey drew Happer'’s ire with a 128-page report in 2009 critiquing a petition from Happer and other members of the American Physical Society urging the society to revise its call for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and instead to question the existence of anthropogenic warming. It was a solo effort that analyzed the petitioners’ political donations, their co-authorship on papers, and their connections to various nonprofits or companies. Mashey suggested that the petition was intended “to create and maintain doubt in the public” about the consensus on anthropogenic warming.

“For a long time, the amateurs in the online wars over climate science have been on the other side,” Mann says. Those combatants include Steve McIntyre, a Canadian skeptic blogger and mining consultant. McIntyre’'s critique on the statistical analysis behind the so-called hockey stick (a graph by Mann showing that recent decades were warmer than any since 1400) was praised in the Wegman report and reported on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Mashey, Mann says, is “the anti–-Steve McIntyre.”

While Mashey occasionally quotes experts attacking the central scientific arguments of his foes, he generally focuses on what he considers to be unacceptable professional behavior or connections to political or monied interests. As a result, his critics say, Mashey is more interested in destroying his foes than in debating the issues. Wegman told Elsevier in his e-mail that various investigations have made the year “a professional and personal nightmare [What a wooz!  No matter what his lies did to Michael Mann's life!].

Mashey says exposing poor scholarly practices is just as important as uncovering what he calls “bad science.” The copied sections of the CSDA paper, he says, are “clear evidence of incompetence [that is] understandable to the public.” 

Mashey believes that vanquishing scientists’ foes will serve a higher purpose. "“It’'s up to some of the rest of us to help get these guys off your backs so you can do the science,"” he tells his scientist allies. He thinks discrediting their opponents also allows society to focus on the biggest problem: the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "“Goal number two is, try to help lessen the impact of climate anti-science on public policy before it commits the U.S. to be an increasingly bad place to live,"” he says.


John Mashey: Crescendo Climategate Cacophony

by Richard Littlemore, DeSmogBlog, March 10, 2010
A new paper by the computer scientist and entrepreneur John Mashey, (attached) digs ever deeper (and in an increasingly well-organized way), into the morass of deception and disinformation that has characterized the recent climate conversation.
Mashey never uses the word "lies," but somehow it seemed an appropriate illustration of what he finds underlying the recent campaign against climate science, scientists and anyone who respects their work.
This and Mashey's previous paper point an unflinching finger at corporate front groups and free market think tanks that have worked so hard in the last two decades to spread confusion about climate science and to block public policy that would regulate the use of fossil fuels.
Mashey makes a compelling case that Congress has been misled in the process -- which is an offense against the democracy that think tankers claim to love (in addition to being a felony).
For a visual reckoning of the kinds of think tanks involved, Mashey has populated a Google Map locating the major and minor players -- although care should be taken to sort out those tanks that have the worst record in all of this -- say, the George C. Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heartland Institute -- from some that are just going along with the pack.
crescendo climategate cacophony v1 0.pdf3 MB

1 comment:

susan said...

"crescendo climate cacophony" is dated 17 March 2010 though the link was included on the correct recent published date.