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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Controversial paper critiquing climate change science set to be retracted because of plagiarism

with 6 comments

A controversial study of how relationships between climate change scientists may affect the field, and that has been dogged by charges of plagiarism, will be retracted, USA Today reports.

The abstract of the 2008 paper in Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, by Edward Wegman and colleagues, concluded:

We conjecture that certain styles of co-authorship lead to the possibility of group-think, reduced creativity, and the possibility of less rigorous reviewing processes.

According to USA Today:

Its analysis was an outgrowth of a controversial congressional report that Wegman headed in 2006. The “Wegman Report” suggested climate scientists colluded in their studies and questioned whether global warming was real. The report has since become a touchstone among climate change naysayers.

The journal publisher’s legal team “has decided to retracted the study,” said CSDA journal editor Stanley Azen of the University of Southern California, following complaints of plagiarism. A November review by three plagiarism experts of the 2006 congressional report for USA TODAY also concluded that portions contained text from Wikipedia and textbooks. The journal study, co-authored by Wegman student Yasmin Said, detailed part of the congressional report’s analysis.

The journal is published by Elsevier. Wegman’s attorney told USA Today that neither Wegman nor co-author Yasmin Said had committed plagiarism; he blamed a student.

Scientists don’t seem to have taken much notice of the paper, which has only been cited four times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Dan Vergano, the USA Today reporter who has been on top of the story and who broke the news of the retraction in yesterday’s paper, has more criticism of the paper by a network researcher and plagiarism expert, as well as emails between Wegman and journal editor Azen, here.

The site Deep Climate, which first noted the possibility of plagiarism in 2009, also posted on the retraction this week. The site also continues to question another paper by Wegman’s group.

Hat tips: Mike Slattery, John Fleck, Dan Vergano, Joe Rojas-Burke, John Mashey

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Written by Ivan Oransky

May 17, 2011 at 9:30 am

6 Responses

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  1. It’s an amazingly ironical story which has done great damage by influencing the way the public perceives the threat of Global Warming. I predict historians will be more interested in it a decade or two from now that they will be in the PR-ploy called Climategate.

    Neven

    May 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm

  2. But the paper says:
    “Finally, the mentor style of co-authorship, while not entirely free of the possibility of bias, does suggest
    that younger co-authors are generally not editors or associate editors. And often they are not in a position to become
    referees, so that the possibility of bias is much reduced.”

    Hence, a paper written by Wegman and 3 of his students (mentor model), has severe problems.

    This might be called a rare self-refuting paper, as per p.150 of

    http://deepclimate.org/2010/09/26/strange-scholarship-wegman-report/

    John Mashey

    May 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm

  3. Especially for those with academic experience, the behind-the-scenes details are found in the 17-page PDF @

    http://www.desmogblog.com/mashey-report-reveals-wegman-manipulations

    This annotates the email from Wegman to Elsevier trying to explain the plagiarism away and ask to submit an errata sheet to avoid a retraction.

    Editor Azen considered this an option.
    Elsevier did not.

    John Mashey

    May 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm

  4. The paper itself has now been retracted. Oddly, the cited withdrawal policy gives (right now) “page not found.

    Fortunately, the Wayback machine has one from 2009, and it was certainly there in 2010. It says:
    “Article Retraction

    The retraction of an article by its authors or the editor under the advice of members of the scholarly community has long been an occasional feature of the learned world. Standards for dealing with retractions have been developed by a number of library and scholarly bodies, and this best practice is adopted for article retraction by Elsevier:

    A retraction note titled “Retraction: [article title]” signed by the authors and/or the editor is published in the paginated part of a subsequent issue of the journal and listed in the contents list.
    In the electronic version, a link is made to the original article.
    The online article is preceded by a screen containing the retraction note. It is to this screen that the link resolves; the reader can then proceed to the article itself.
    The original article is retained unchanged save for a watermark on the .pdf indicating on each page that it is “retracted.”
    The HTML version of the document is removed.”

    Presumably the action starting “A retraction note…” will occur in next issue, as it has not yet.

    John Mashey

    June 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm

  5. There is now a retraction notice:

    This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief and co-Editors, as it contain portions of other authors’ writings on the same topic in other publications, without sufficient attribution to these earlier works being given. The principal authors of the paper acknowledged that text from background sources was mistakenly used in the Introduction without proper reference to the original source. Specifically, the first page and a half of the article (pp. 2177–2178) contain together excerpts from Wikipedia (first paragraph), Wasserman and Faust’s “Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications” (pp. 17–20) ISBN 10: 0-521-38707-8; ISBN 13: 978-0-521-38707-1. Publication Date: 1994, and W. de Nooy, A. Mrvar and V. Bategelj’s “Exploratory Social Network Analysis with Pajek”” (pp. 31, 36, 123, and 133) ISBN 10: 0-521-60262-9; ISBN 13: 978-0-521-60262-4. Publication Date: 2005.

    The scientific community takes a strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

    One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. The re-use of material, without appropriate reference, even if not known to the authors at the time of submission, breaches our publishing policies.

    Bob O'Hara (@BobOHara)

    August 8, 2011 at 6:01 am


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