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Defamation By Internet? Part 1 - Murry Salby's Short-Lived Blog Storm

Defamation? Murry Sa;by's Short-Lived Blog Storm

Climate anti-science adapted well to the Internet. A blog storm (in this case the “SalbyStorm”) can surge through well-linked blogs to spread misinformation or unsupported accusations.  Some blogs act as tribal echo chambers where people reinforce others' anger, in this case resembling a famed witch-burning scene, with Macquarie University as main, but not only, witch.

As in the “Climategate” blog storm, the noise was intended for the mainstream. This reached The Australian, but the main SalbyStorm lasted less than a week.

Some earlier storms generated serious harassment of targeted climate scientists. In pre-blog 1996, Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer made personal attacks on Ben Santer via the Wall Street Journal. Later, blogs were employed to continue, as by Paul Chesser in this or this(Warning: those URLs are OK, but every once in a while, WebCite gets overloaded and gives odd error message. Ignore for now and try later.)

Michael Mann has replaced Santer as favored target, but there have been many other victims, such as Katharine Hayhoe. Only a small fraction of readers need get angry enough to produce reputational damage, hate mail, death threats, a dead rat on the doorstep or floods of email.

Some “skeptical” bloggers routinely accept and repeat both silly anti-science ideas, and other unsuppported claims, as here. Apologies or corrections almost never occur and even if they do, they rarely flow through the network, leaving waves of misimpression there.  First impressions stick.

On July 9-12, Macquarie suffered this kind of attack (Wave 1).  Ex-Professor Murry Salby made serious, but unsupported and sometimes contradictory, accusations against Macquarie, by the unusual route of email to bloggers. Joanne Nova (Australia), Anthony Watts (Watts Up With That, USA), and Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill, UK) republished them.

After 4 days and 1,500+ comments at those blogs alone, SalbyStorm's Wave 1 ended quickly when Salby's checkered past was detailed at DeSmogBlog.  Discussions stopped, although with little apology or introspection about gullibility at “skeptical” blogs.  A very few people had wondered at oddities of Salby's claims, searched for his past history, and independently started finding problems within a few hours. Salby supporters did not do that, preferring to specualte and comment.

People believed the worst and repeated it, sometimes expanding defamatory accusations with little concern for evidence. A few of the phrases applied to Macquarie or mainstream climate science included criminal, dictatorial, barbaric, Orwellian, Nazi, Stasi, Deutsch Physika, Marxist, Stalinist, Lysenko, thugs, Mafia, and extended further to “goose-stepping, alarmist, fascist, progressives.”  Salby was praised as a science hero, compared to Galileo, Copernicus or Einstein,  despite the evident problems in his scientific claims.

Salby sent accusations to bloggers who republished them with little visible effort to calm the mutually-reinforcing commenter outrage.  Finally, the story got repeated by The Australian.  Experienced watchers have seen this before, but  SalbyStorm makes a compact case study to document and recall in future storms.

Murry Salby: Galileo? Bozo? Or P.T.Barnum?

Murry Salby fired from Macquarie, had been debarred by NSF

“They laughed at Galileo … but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown” might be appled to Murry Salby, who until May was a Professor of Environmental Science at Australia's Macquarie University (MU).  P.T. Barnum might fit better, as Salby has a well-documented history of deception and financial chicanery that got him debarred from Federal funding in the USA.

Galileo? In 2011, he proclaimed a recent rise in CO2 to be natural, not human-caused, which if true, would qualify for Galileo level.  This was received with great praise or at least taken seriously at The Sydney Institute (thinktank), Andrew Bolt in Herald Sun, JoNova, Jennifer Marohasy, WUWT (Steve Brown, Benny Peiser/GWPF, Ronald Voisin, Vincent Gray, Anthony Watts),  Bishop Hill (Andrew Montford), Climate Depot (Marc Morano), Climate Etc (Judith Curry,  who knew Salby at U Colorado), SPPI (Robert Ferguson reblogs Curry), NotrickZone (P. Gosselin), GWPF (reblogs Gosselin), The Hockey Schtick, to  name just a few.

Bozo? SkS lists “Murray Salby finds CO2 rise is natural” as #188 in the catalog of bad arguments, following this and this earlier articles.  MU Professor Colin Prentice took the time to write “How we know the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 is anthropogenic”, but scientists rarely waste much time debunking wrong arguments. They wait until bad ideas get into credible peer-reviewed journals, beyond thinktank talks or even  poster sessions.

Fired in May, emailed ~July 8: Salby emailed a few bloggers laying out many complaints against MU, quickly published by JoNova (“Did Macquarie University sabotage, exile, blackban, strand and abandon Murry Salby?”), Watts (“Professor Murry Salby who is critical of AGW theory, is being disenfranchised, exiled, from academia in Australia”, reblogged by Tallbloke), Montford (“Climate of Fear”), Powerline (Steven Hayward, “The Climate Mafia Strikes Again…”). An article in The Australian was reblogged as Climate Chairman Left High And Dry By University by GWPF (of FOIA Facts 5) and Morano, who also wrote “the same.”   If a legal strategy, it seemed odd.

MU replied July 10, Statement regarding the termination of Professor Murry Salby.  Unlike bloggers, schools follow legal rules, so it was short, including:

FOIA Facts 5 - Finds Friends Of GWPF

Climate anti-science, social network accidentally exposed

People try to paint climate scientists as members of a cabal or conspiracy to hide the truth, but this idea is often promoted by thinktanks, politicians, bloggers, journalists and some economists, members of a tight social network themselves. Their emails are not usually subject to FOIAs, but the FOIA Facts research fortuitously found unexpected data.

Email to Ed Wegman highlighted close relationships between UK's main climate anti-science charity, Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), its counterparts in the US and Canada, and some key Congressional staffers.  Many email addresses were quite familiar, with a few surprises, including involvement of AIER, a previously unnoticed thinktank.

In the English-speaking machinery of climate anti-science, GWPF is the main UK gear, seen to be well-meshed with AEI, CATO, CEICFACT, GMI, Heartland Institute(HI), ICSC, IER, Mercatus (GMU), PERC, SEPP plus staffers for Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), among others.

FOIA Facts 4 - George Mason Takes The Money And Breaks The Rules

New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) replies (1, 2, and 3) expose worse misbehavior at George Mason University. GMU badly mishandled simple plagiarism complaints, including one on a Federally-funded paper, retracted in May 2011, finally ruled as misconduct in 2012. Federal rules required notifications to several agencies earlier, but FOIA requests found no trace of any: Army 1, Army 2, GMU 1, GMU 2. [05/31/15 As a result of this $2M lawsuit, the full report  is now online, but in May 2013, was sent as a formal complaint to Aurali Dade, GMU's AVP for Research Integrity and Assurance.]

GMU gets $129M+/year in Federal grant funds, generally takes 30% for itself, but breaks rules.

A Nature editorial criticized GMU's handling, the Chronicle of Higher Education covered the retraction, Science discussed the process. USA Today's Dan Vergano later wrote in February 2012:

''”We took these charges very seriously,” (GMU Provost Peter) Stearns said, in a telephone interview, adding that the university will forward the investigation reports to federal authorities. The National Institutes of Health and the Department of the Army supported the 2008 study.'

Stearns had already written falsehoods to his own faculty, as detailed in See No Evil, Speak Little Truth, Break Rules, Blame Others, §6. GMU has many respectable faculty members, but the GMU administration ran a bizarre process far outside academic norms, GMU's own rules and Federal rules.

Was this just total incompetence by the administration of a 32,000-student university? Or was some part played by the powerful influence at GMU of Charles Koch and his associates, as discussed in See No Evil §A.5, §A.6?

In any case, Edward Wegman was appointed in Fall 2012 to a 3-year term on the GMU College of Science Promotion and Tenure Committee.

Then, in February 2013 GMU modified its already-opaque and complaint-discouraging process to be even more so.

FOIA Facts 3 - More Plagiarism - Get Grants Or Claim Credit

Copy-Paste plagiarism, Wegman and Said

As a byproduct of FOIA Facts 1 and FOIA Facts 2, Ed Wegman or Yasmin Said are now alleged to have included plagiarism or falsification in 9 papers or talks associated with funding from the Army Research Organization (ARO grants 0447 or 0059) or the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA grant 5876), 2005-2009.
[05/31/15 The full report  is now online, as a result of this $2M lawsuit.]

Of 6 plagiarized works already reported to George Mason University (GMU), Elsevier retracted one. By FOIA, the other 5 had either been claimed for credit on grants or cited to support Said's grant proposal. Study of grant claims unearthed 2 more works with problems.

Finally, Wegman wrote a 2009 grant proposal for half a million dollars, but evidence shows about half the text was plagiarized. Although unconnected with Federal funding, plagiarism or falsification are alleged against 4 more works. Of 13 total works with problems, 7 involved both Wegman and Said, and 3 by each alone, so they cannot blame all this on grad students.

FOIA Facts 2 - No Pro Bono - Federal Funds Mis-Used For Wegman Report And Much More

Wegman's mis-use of Army funds, irrelevant work outweighed relevant

As begun in FOIA Facts 1, Ed Wegman and Rep. Joe Barton repeatedly called the Wegman Report “pro bono”* but Wegman and Said later claimed it as work done for existing Federal  grants paid quarterly.  In response to Dan Vergano FOIA request  Wegman and Said each said the work was pro bono, years after claiming for credit it and much other irrelevant work. Together, they “charged” 48 inappropriate works to grants they effectively treated as slush funds.

Wegman was funded by Army Research Office (ARO) grant 0447, $217K for “Analytical and Graphical Methods for Streaming Data with Applications to Netcentric Warfare.” He claimed credit for 75 papers and talks, listed in the thumbnail at left or full-sized in Sheet §0.1.

Dark blue shows fit (possibly relevant) papers, but almost all acknowledged earlier grants and were published or mostly done before 0447. Wegman improperly claimed them again in late 2008, perhaps because he had done so little new relevant work in peer-reviewed research journals. Ignoring them leaves just cyan (light blue) talks, outnumbered by grant-unfit works: green for alcoholism, red for attempts to discredit climate science and orange for miscellaneous others unrelated to his or Said's grants.

The chronology matches well - fit papers essentially vanished after 2005, as Wegman plunged into climate and worked on alcoholism with Said, who claimed the Wegman Report for her grant. A 91-page report on unfamiliar topics and Congressional hearings had to consume much more effort than anything else. Even by simple counts, more than half of each person's works were inappropriate, but the grant time spent inappropriately was almost certainly larger. 

Lamar Smith (R-TX) might want to investigate obvious funds misuse before trying to meddle with the National Science Foundation.

“Congress has a responsibility to review questionable research paid for by hard-working American taxpayers. … Public funds should be used to benefit the American people.”

FOIA Facts 1 - More Misdeeds By Ed Wegman, Yasmin Said, George Mason University

The Wegman Report was not pro bono, and George Mason violated Federal rules

05/20/15: The full report is now posted, as side-effect of $2M lawsuiit by Ed Wegman, Yasmin Said, Milton Johns.
New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) replies have exposed more misdeeds by Professor Edward Wegman and Yasmin Said at George Mason University (GMU),  closely involved with the Kochs, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and many others known for attacks on climate science. This post reviews background and attaches FOIA files that unearthed evidence for:

-pervasive mis-use of Federal funds for inappropriate work,
-plagiarism* or falsification** in documents used to seek grants or credit,
-GMU violations of Federal rules for reporting misconduct, atop an already-absurd procedure.

Readers unfamiliar with the history might first read the background below the fold and then return here for a summary of the posts to follow in this series:

FOIA Facts 2 - Wegman and Said used existing grants from the Army Research Office and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for efforts on the 2006 Wegman Report, showing “pro bono” claims made to Congress as false. That was not the only funds mis-use. Together, they claimed 48 inappropriate papers or talks, easily consuming more than half their effort. Grants of $492K produced attacks on climate science  and much foreign travel, but almost nothing in peer-reviewed research journals.

FOIA Facts 3 - More plagiarism and falsification are documented in 13 total works by Wegman and/or Said, including a few new ones and at least 7 claimed for grant credit. Wegman also wrote a half-million-dollar grant proposal, but evidence shows that roughly half the text was copy-paste-edit plagiarism. Luckily for Wegman, it was rejected.

FOIA Facts 4 exposes worse misbehavior at GMU, which badly mishandled simple plagiarism complaints, including one on a Federally-funded paper. That was retracted in May 2011 and finally ruled as misconduct in February 2012. Federal rules required multiple notifications to several agencies, but FOIA requests found no trace of them. GMU seemed to ignore Federal rules, but perhaps other funding and influence are more important.

In any case,  Wegman was appointed in Fall 2012 to a 3-year term on the GMU College of Science Promotion and Tenure Committee.

TEA Party: Tobacco Everywhere Always

TEA Party: Tobacco Everywhere Always, its origins with Big Tobacco

Climate change doubt is a key belief in the TEA Party, sparked by the Koch-related Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Big Tobacco was heavily involved from the 1980s onward, and by 1992 the “Tea Party” was already in play. Extensive new research has unearthed the real history. 

“‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party” by Amanda Fallin, Rachel Grana and Stanton A Glantz, was published online last week in BMJ Tobacco Control, a high-impact peer-reviewed journal. They write:

“Rather than being a purely grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party has developed over time, in part through decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests.”

Fakery 2: More Funny Finances, Free Of Tax

Money falls from the sky, anonymously

Follow the money.  October 23, PBS Frontline's Climate of Doubt gave viewers an hour's coverage of the tactics of climate anti-science, its advocates and a quick look into the funding behind it. Read on to follow the money deeper into the funny finances, all free of tax.

Last February, Fake Science, Fakexperts, Funny Finances, Free Of Tax explored some of those issues in detail. More information has been unearthed since, especially on DONORS TRUST, which Robert Brulle discussed with Frontline. Charles Koch and others use DONORS TRUST to anonymize their funding of policy/advocacy groups.  The attached revision exposes more detail of the $311 million given through DONORS between 2002-2010, managed by Whitney Ball.

See No Evil, Speak Little Truth, Break Rules, Blame Others

Pinocchio tells some really big lies

The “Wegman Report”, led by Edward Wegman of George Mason University (GMU) got criticized in 2010's Experts claim 2006 climate report plagiarized.  Experts called it “obvious” even “shocking” plagiarism.  GMU's incompetent handling, mistreatment of complainants and flawed rulings were mostly documented in March, but recent FOIAs expose more untruths.

Is the harsh title fair?  Read on, then study the 69-page attachment.

GMU Provost Peter Stearns' February letter to GMU faculty made claims of non-plagiarism that contradicted not only experts, but themselves.  The process consumed almost two years to assess four (4) pages of text.  

Stearns' letter was even more untruthful than previously known.  It  fabricated an imaginary second investigation committee, seemingly to somehow excuse crucial contradictions.   This seemed an attempt to defend the Wegman Report at all costs, even with potential problems from Federal agencies who expect schools to handle misconduct properly.  They fund much of GMU's actual research, done by faculty that to the best of my knowledge are normal, credible researchers.

However, a few groups in GMU are closely, even uniquely enmeshed with people behind the machinery of anti-science, such as Charles Koch, Ken Cuccinelli, David Schnare, Fred Singer, and Pat Michaels, plus the Heartland Institute and key Washington think tanks.  GMU even has a long history of tobacco connections, oddly relevant.

Following are a few brief summaries to motivate the title's phrases:

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