One year after the "Climategate" controversy rallied science skeptics around the world in November 2009, yet another global warming report is now facing scrutiny — only this time, it's the skeptics in the spotlight.
The report in question was commissioned back in 2005, pushed by two GOP congressmen who take climate science with a grain of salt: Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Rep. Joe Barton (pictured), R-Texas, who made news this summer by apologizing to former BP CEO Tony Hayward for the U.S. government's response to the Gulf oil spill. The duo enlisted George Mason University statistician Edward Wegman to write the report, charging him with evaluating scientific studies of manmade climate change. The "Wegman Report" was released in 2006, becoming a key piece of evidence that has been widely touted by climate skeptics in the four years since.
But following a yearlong analysis by retired computer scientist John Mashey and a new investigation by USA Today reporter Dan Vergano, major cracks have begun to appear in the Wegman Report. Sections of it were apparently plagiarized from textbooks, copied from Wikipedia or taken out of context, and some parts even stole language from one of the scientists it criticized. According to Mashey's research, 35 of the report's 91 pages "are mostly plagiarized text, but often injected with errors, bias and changes of meaning," a revelation that has many scholars calling foul. "It kind of undermines the credibility of your work criticizing others' integrity when you don't conform to the basic rules of scholarship," Virginia Tech plagiarism expert Skip Garner tells USA Today.
George Mason University says the matter is under investigation, and while Wegman himself calls the charges "wild conclusions that have nothing to do with reality," both he and GMU are still faced with an unfortunate irony: The Wegman Report called for increased "sharing of research materials, data and results" from scientists, but when asked for materials related to the report, GMU tells USA Today it "does not have access to the information." Likewise, Wegman says his "email was downloaded to my notebook computer and was erased from the GMU mail server," and he declined to release communications or materials because the "work was done offsite."
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that U.S. climate scientists have launched a new website aimed at boosting public understanding of climate change, hoping to renew the strained relationship between academics and everymen. "Over the last year or two there has really been some backsliding in public concern about this issue," says one of the site's creators. "We hope that if we do a better job communicating and getting the scientists more engaged in speaking to the public we can turn the dial on public opinion. We think the science is compelling."