Monday, November 14th 2011, 6:54 PM EST
Spanier's pattern of malfeasance demands new investigations of Penn State scandals
Massive attention has been rightly focused on the cover-up of former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sex scandal by Penn State’s recently fired President, Graham Spanier. Yet nothing but disinterest attends Spanier’s equally damning malfeasance in his failure to assure even a pretense of legitimacy to a major Penn State academic investigation that, ironically, focused on research that produced a graph resembling a hockey stick!
While athletic programs are a major aspect of university life, the fact remains universities are first and foremost academic institutions. A stain on Penn State’s athletic program is a significant blow to both the University’s reputation and athletic program. A stain on its academic reputation is vastly more harmful.
Former President Spanier's malfeasance played key roles in both scandals, apparently for the same reason: he wanted to preserve the flow of money to the University, regardless of consequences to others.
Spanier’s role in Penn State’s academic scandal is described well in Steve McIntyre's recent column, Penn State President Fired.1
For those unfamiliar with the academic scandal, Spanier allowed Penn State’s Inquiry Committee (PSIC) on Michael Mann's tainted "Hockey Stick" research to create the illusion that Mann was exonerated by failing to assure the integrity of a complete and objective investigation by the PSIC. Apparently, Spanier was fully aware of the PSIC whitewash. Not one of Mann’s many critics were either called to testify, interviewed, or allowed to submit evidence. With Spanier's blessing, the PSIC simply ignored Penn State’s policy requiring such investigations “look at issues from all sides” (which must necessarily include critics of Mann’s work). Where an honest investigation would solicit evidence from critics, the PSIC simply built a wall to exclude critics!
Among those critical of Mann's research is a leading authority on statistical techniques, Dr. Edward Wegman, a man whose reputation is beyond reproach. Dr. Wegman entered the "Hockey Stick" fiasco when he accepted an assignment from the congressional Energy and Commerce Committee "to assess the [Mann] hockey stick controversy pro bono, assembling an expert panel of statisticians to help with the job, also working pro bono."2
Conclusions of the Wegman report to Congress were particularly damning of Mann’s fundamentally invalid statistical methods. Figure 4.3 of the Wegman Report3 illustrates that, had proper statistical techniques been used, Mann’s chart would bear no resemblance to a hockey stick. It was only Mann’s improper use of statistical techniques that created the infamous “Hockey Stick” temperature history profile.
Spanier's malfeasance is rooted in his accepting the committee's findings that basically concluded Mann must be innocent on the basis of the strikingly naive belief his fellow climate scientists supporting provided ample justification for his innocence! That, together with the potential for more millions in funding for Mann's future research at the University apparently sealed the verdict! Knowing the PSIC failed to perform a proper investigation, Spanier opted to sanction PSIC's misconduct by simply looking the other way.
Incidental to Wegman’s primary investigation was the discovery that Mann’s fellow paleoclimate scientists constituted a relatively limited "clique" of scientists who engaged in circular peer-review, i.e., they "reviewed" each others’ works so that no real dissenting views were heard. On this point, the Wegman report stated the "paleoclimatology community seems to be tightly coupled as indicated by our social network analysis... " (the clique). Given this background, it hardly startling to observe that Mann's fellow scientists supported him!
Evidently, Spanier’s common approach to University scandals appears to have been to sanction a whitewash of any investigations that might diminish the flow of funds to the University.
Because the Mann investigatory whitewash is so transparent, objective observers do not believe Mann was exonerated (as Spanier claimed and the press trumpeted).
If really innocent of wrongdoing, Mann should be clamoring for a new and thorough PSIC investigation staffed by entirely new personnel committed to seeking the truth. A full and proper review must also assess any misconduct by the earlier PSIC personnel and is no less important than a full and proper investigation of the criminal behavior of those who facilitated former coach Sandusky’s prolonged egregious conduct.
Should Mann oppose reopening the case, he would essentially be admitting, "I'm guilty, and I don't want to be caught by an honest inquiry."
Of great significance to the importance of this scandal is the prominent role Mann's "Hockey Stick" chart played in the subsequent report to policymakers of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The potential impact of bad science on international policy should not be underestimated. Despite independent repudiation of the chart, its veracity has been stubbornly defended by Mann's friends in his paleoclimatology clique. It is therefore imperative that Penn State perform a legitimate, full and proper investigation of each of the allegations concerning Mann's academic conduct in developing and defending his work.
Pennsylvania's public and their Governor must demand equally comprehensive investigations of both these scandals so that any misconduct is ferreted out and those responsible for both the misconduct and its cover-up are punished appropriately. Should Penn State fail to act to expose official misconduct in sports and academics, the consequence will be irreparably further damage to both.
Appropriate legal action against Spanier for his malfeasance and the harm he has brought to Penn State’s reputation should be actively pursued.
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