Home > Environment, Intellectual 'property' > Adventures in social network analysis: approaching the finale

Adventures in social network analysis: approaching the finale

May 17th, 2011

A few years back as part of the attack on climate science (and in particular the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph) Senator Joe Barton commission an assessment of the work of Michael Mann and others from Professor Edward Wegman of George Mason University, along with his former student Yasmin Said and some others. This included, not only Wegman’s supposedly independent assessment of the statistical methods used by Mann but a ‘social network analysis’ of the relationship between Mann and his co-authors, which purportedly showed that Mann’s network of co-authors dominated the climate science field. As I pointed out at the time, Wegman et al started the analysis with Mann at the centre, so the primary result was that Mann had written a paper with every one of his co-authors! Nevertheless, a version of the paper was published in Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, in which Wegman took this analysis to the startling conclusion that senior academics should not collaborate with each other, but should instead work only with their students. Wegman follows his own advice in this respect, and now we can see why.

It’s just been announced that the paper is to be retracted on the grounds that it contains extensive plagiarism, much but not all of it from Wikipedia. Wegman’s response, showing the wisdom of his research strategy, is to blame his graduate student, who was not, however credited as an author. USA Today, which has taken the lead in following the Wegman plagiarism story, asked an actual expert to look at the paper and her reaction was about the same as my amateur assessment (Wegman and Said are also newcomers to the field, which may explain their heavy reliance on Wikipedia as a reference source).

This kind of trouble seems to follow Wegman around, and to be contagious. Among those affected:

* George Mason University, which received a formal complaint about plagiarism over a year ago, and has yet to take any action. Amazingly, Wegman (or one of this graduate students) copied, without acknowledgement, the work of Raymond Bradley, one of the scientists he was attacking. As in the separate social networking case, USA Today asked experts about the case, and were told that this was an open-and-shut case of plagiarism.

* The editor of Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, Stanley Azen, who accepted the Wegman et al article a few days after its submission. Azen now says he would never do such a thing without having earlier sent the paper out for peer review. Sadly, all records of the review were lost in an office move. And, in accepting the article by email, Azen forgot to mention the rigorous review process, instead saying, in emails obtained under FOI by USA today “I personally reviewed your very interesting (and unique) manuscript.” In separate news, Azen’s pet dog has finally confessed to eating his homework in ninth grade.

* The journal WIREs Computational Statistics where Wegman and Said, along with co-author David Scott, were appointed as editors following their innovative work on climate science. There, Wegman and Said published an article on color design and theory, which, wouldn’t you know it, turned out to contain large slabs lifted from Wikipedia and other sources. The graduate student presumably responsible didn’t just cut and paste – there was extensive paraphrasing which often changed the meaning. The redoubtable blogger “Deep Climate” who’s done much of the work in documenting the extensive plagiarism that has plagued Wegman’s work has made some color innovations in the process, using color highlighting to document the various modes of unattributed borrowing that make up a typical Wegman piece. I should also mention John Mashey’s extensive work which has greatly helped our understanding of how delusions are manufactured and sold.

  1. Ernestine Gross
    May 17th, 2011 at 19:56 | #1

    Its called ‘knowledge worker management’. Wegman is not the only one nor is climate change the only area. But it is good to see the Wegman case exposed.

    The ‘team work’ and ‘knowledge management experts’ may through up some interesting cases too. Mixed with a bit of pseudo-postmodernism, can lead to remarkable outcomes which don’t auger well at all for the theory of evolution. Come to think of it – does the theory of evolution allow for institutional power?

  2. Alice
    May 17th, 2011 at 21:04 | #2

    @Ernestine Gross
    No it does not..

  3. Ken Miles
    May 17th, 2011 at 21:35 | #3

    Wegman’s response, showing the wisdom of his research strategy, is to blame his graduate student.

    It’s even worse than this. From my understanding, Wegman and Said have defended the plagiarism charge by blaming an unattributed student…

  4. John Quiggin
    May 17th, 2011 at 22:02 | #4

    @Ken Miles
    Yes, I’ve updated to include this point

  5. MartinM
    May 18th, 2011 at 01:52 | #5

    If you follow DeepClimate’s description of the WIREs CS paper, you’ll find that some of the plagiarised material first appears in a set of Wegman’s lecture notes in 2002. So, presumably a different unnamed student, then…

  6. bill
    May 18th, 2011 at 13:00 | #6

    …not to mention losing your correspondence in ‘an office move’ in this day and age! What, someone dropped the server, did they?

  7. may
    May 19th, 2011 at 12:33 | #7

    agnotology in action.

    if we had a functioning free press this would have been big news.

    but we have what i call the corporate pravda.(with almost apologies to pravda)

  8. Freelander
    May 20th, 2011 at 06:40 | #8

    Wegman must have felt very let down to have found that the work he had stolen and was trying to take credit for, was, itself, pre-owned, somewhat mangled, and certainly not worthy of being appropriated. I do hope the university finds a fitting punishment for the disreputable student.

  9. John Mashey
    May 20th, 2011 at 16:32 | #9

    Wegman blamed Denise Reese (sort of, somehow it wasn’t really plagiarism, just a mistake).
    She was Ack’d in the Wegman Report, but not in the 3 later uses of it, including the CSDA article.

    Check the updated version of:
    http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2011/05/retracted-climate-critics-study-panned-by-expert-/1

    More detail on this mess will be available soon.

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