Sunday, March 15, 2009

Kafka at Albany

Last June I reported on the allegations of academic fraud levelled by a British mathematician, Doug Keenan, against Professor Wei-Chyung Wang of New York State University at Albany.

Dr Keenan alleged that in work that has come to be widely cited in climate studies, work that included the collation of data from temperature measuring stations in China, Professor Wang made statements that "cannot be true and could not be in error by accident. The statements are fabricated."

In August 2007, Dr Keenan submitted a report (pdf) of his allegations to the Vice President for Research at Wang's university and an inquiry was initiated. In February 2008 this was escalated into a full investigation by the Inquiry Committee.

All this was summarised in my earlier post, together with quotations from Dr Keenan's allegation.

So far, things had run as might be expected. A fraud had been alleged, the University at Albany looked into it and decided to hold a formal investigation. Dr Keenan waited to be contacted by the investigation and asked to put his case, in line with the university's Policy and Procedures on Misconduct in Research and Scholarship (.doc). The relevant section of this document runs as follows (emphasis added):

III. A. Rights and Responsibilities of the Complainant
Rights: The Vice President for Research will make every effort to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of complainants. The University will protect, to the maximum extent possible, the position and the reputation of those who in good faith report alleged misconduct in research.

The Vice President for Research will work to ensure that complainants will not be retaliated against in the terms and conditions of their employment or other status at the University and will review instances of alleged retaliation for appropriate action. Any alleged or apparent retaliation should be reported immediately to the Vice President for Research.

The complainant will be provided a copy of the formal allegations when and if an inquiry is opened. The complainant will have the opportunity to review portions of the inquiry and investigation reports pertinent to the complainant’s report or testimony, and will be informed in writing of the results of the inquiry and investigation, and of the final determination. After the final determination and upon request to the Vice President for Research, the complainant shall be given access to the full documentation.

Responsibilities: The complainant is responsible for making allegations in good faith, maintaining confidentiality, and cooperating fully with an inquiry and/or investigation.
Dr Keenan lived up to the responsibility as stated in the final paragraph above so far as he could. He had made the allegation in good faith and given Professor Wang an opportunity to explain how he had reached his results, an opportunity the Professor had not taken. Keenan maintained confidentiality. In order to cooperate with the investigation, though he would first have to be contacted by it. Dr Keenan waited.

Late in May 2008 a communication arrived from Albany. It said:
After careful review of the evidence and thoughtful deliberation, the Investigation Committee finds no evidence of the alleged fabrication of results and nothing that rises to the level of research misconduct having been committed by DR. Wang.

As the institutional official responsible for this case, I have accepted the Committee's findings and the Report. You have fourteen (14) calendar days from the date of this letter to provide any comments to add to the report for the record.
Contrary to its own rules, the Committee had not given Keenan the opportunity to "review portions of the inquiry and investigation reports".

That's astonishing, but here's where it becomes Kafkaesque. Keenan was being asked, in this most recent communication, to comment on the report of the Committee. But he was not sent a copy of the report. When he challenged this, he received an email from Adrienne Bonilla explaining that:
[Keenan] did not receive a copy of the Investigation report because the report did not include portions addressing your role and opinions in the investigation phase.

Per the UAlbany Misconduct policy:

VI. E. Investigation Report and Recommendations of the Vice President for Research

"...The Vice President for Research will provide the respondent with a copy of the draft investigation report for comment and rebuttal and will provide the complainant with those portions of the draft report that address the complainant's role and opinions in the investigation. The respondent and complainant will be given 14 calendar days from the transmission of the report to provide their written comments. Any written responses to the report by either party will be made part of the report and record.
Keenan then wrote to the Vice President for Research at Albany, Lynn Videka, pointing out the various ways in which the University had breached its own policy, stating that its behaviour was consistent with a cover up, and pointing out that Professor Wang has received more than $7 million in grants from a couple of US federal agencies.

In August 2008, Lynn Videka wrote to Keenan enclosing a final copy of a "determination" of the investigation. In her covering note, she stated:
I am notifying you of the case outcome because you were the complainant in this case. The University’s misconduct policies and the Office of Research Integrity regulations preclude discussion of any information pertaining to this case with others who were not directly involved in the investigation.
To summarise, the university initiated an investigation, then broke its own rules by not involving Dr Keenan. It then produced a report that carefully avoided mentioning Dr Keenan, so it could claim he was not entitled to see a copy of this report. It then asked Keenan to comment on the report. It has completely disregarded its own policy that "After the final determination and upon request to the Vice President for Research, the complainant shall be given access to the full documentation."

But Doug Keenan is a tenacious man. In July 2008, after being refused sight of the report, he submitted a formal complaint (pdf) to the Public Integrity Bureau at the Office of the Attorney General of New York State, alleging criminal fraud. In this complaint, he said:
Wei-Chyung Wang is a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He has been doing research for over 30 years. For this research, Wang has received at least $7 million. The funds have come primarily from the Department of Energy, with additional funding from other federal agencies (DOD, FAA, NSF). I have formally alleged that Wang committed fraud in important parts of his research. My allegation was submitted to the University at Albany; a copy is enclosed.

The university conducted a preliminary inquiry; a copy of the report from the inquiry is enclosed (redacted, by the university). Briefly, Wang claimed that there were some documents that could exonerate him. The inquiry concluded that there should be a full investigation, which should be “charged with obtaining and reviewing any such additional evidence ... so that a final resolution may be made regarding the allegation against Dr. Wang”.

Wang had been claiming the existence of such exonerating documents for nearly a year, but he has not been able to produce them. Additionally, there was a report published in 1991 (with a second version in 1997) explicitly stating that no such documents exist. Moreover, the report was published as part of the Department of Energy Carbon Dioxide Research Program, and Wang was the Chief Scientist of that program.

The university conducted an investigation. The investigation concluded that Wang is innocent. I believe that the case against Wang is strong and clear, and that the university is trying to cover up the fraud so as to protect its reputation. Wang is one of the university’s star professors. The conduct of the investigation violated several of the university’s own stated policies: details are given in an attached e-mail (dated 06 June 2008). The e-mail was sent to Lynn Videka, Vice President for Research at the university: Videka was in charge of overseeing the investigation. Note, in particular, that the documents that Wang was relying on were never produced.

I have only examined a little of Wang’s research; so I do not know the full extent of the fraud. It is difficult to examine more in part because Wang has not willingly made his data available: when asked for the data from the research that I later reported as fraudulent, Wang refused. For that research, though, Wang had a co-worker in Britain. In Britain, the Freedom of Information Act requires that data from publicly-funded research be made available. I was able to get the data by requiring Wang’s co-worker to release it, under British law. It was only then that I was able to confirm that Wang had committed fraud. Details are given in my report to the university (page 4, last paragraph). I would be willing to help examine other research that Wang has done, if more data were made available.

There was another case of research fraud with a professor at the University of Vermont, in 2005. There, Prof. Eric Poehlman was convicted of making false statements on federal grant applications; he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Wang has done the same as Poehlman. The fraudulent work described in my report dates from 1990; Wang has been relyingon that work in some of his grant applications since then. As I understand things, each of those applications is a violation of statute. (Additionally, Wang has been using the grants to go on frequent trips to China.)
In October 2008 Dr Keenan was told there could be a wait of several months while his complaint is investigated.

I'll let you know when there are any further developments.

UPDATE: I didn't mention this in the main piece above, but I did mail the relevant person at Albany myself, some time ago, asking for news of the investigation against Professor Wang. I received no reply.

However, within a couple of hours of this being posted, someone at Albany came to look at it, from the host (, having apparently been sent an email about it.

So even if they are not communicative about this case, it seems someone at Albany is keeping their eyes open for reports of it.

UPDATE: On reflection, the hit from Albany is also consistent with someone using Google Alerts to monitor coverage of this issue.

UPDATE: Doug Keenan has been told on the telephone that this case is now under review by an attorney at the OAG Public Integrity Bureau.

UPDATE: Also see new findings on the effect of urban warming.


Anonymous said...

It's most upsetting to read of this kind of behaviour by a University, behaviour more in keeping with a totalitarian state, although a nice totalitarian state - at least no-one has been disappeared.

David in Sydney

Anonymous said...

No surprise here with the U of Albany's actions. They're receiving millions of dollars to research global warming, and they don't want to lose that gravy train in light of other budget cuts coming from the economically distressed State of New York.

Plus, it's a VERY liberal campus, so this fits in well with their support of the new Administration's views on global warming.

How pathetic indeed....just another politically correct coverup in a city that has become synonomous with political corruption.

Lucy Skywalker said...

Thank you Peter, thank you Dr Keenan, thank you ICECAP for drawing my attention to your witness in this matter of fraud in Climate Science.

I've drawn attention to it in our Forum here and will add it to the skeptics' Climate Science Primer (click on my name) which is going to be starting-material for the next step, a skeptics' wiki.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in publicizing this case further - could I please be sent the latest update?

Tom Harris
Executive Director
International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)
P.O. Box 23013
Ottawa, Ontario
K2A 4E2



Carl said...

Did anything ever proceed with this? You might want to keep up, ClimateGate may open up unrelated things like this if universities don't want the bad PR!

Anonymous said...

This is a great story and follows the typical pattern of denial, blocking and ignoring people who show evidence of the climate change fraud.
Please let us know how this is going. Perhaps link this story to

Great job.