Climategate was born in late November 2009 with the release of more than a thousand emails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England. One of the prominent figures in these emails is Penn State's Michael Mann, a professor in the university's Department of Meteorology.
Mann, a contributor to the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is known mostly for the now discredited "hockey stick" graph, which shows purported manmade global warming during the last century. But it is his role in Climategate that has him in the news lately.
The emails reveal that Mann might have committed a variety of acts that constitute significant and intentional scientific misconduct, including data manipulation, inappropriately shielding research methods and results from peers, and retaliating against those who publicly challenged his conclusions and political agenda.
To Penn State's credit, the university announced it would investigate Mann's alleged misconduct. But the school has a serious conflict of interest that legitimately calls into question its ability to conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation.
There is good reason to believe that a Penn State-managed investigation would amount to a whitewash given Mann's financial and reputational value to the university-and the embarrassment that would result from an adverse finding.
The only way to resolve the conflict of interest is for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to commission an external and independent investigation of Mann's research and conduct.
The economy and social structure of our country stand to be significantly altered by climate-change legislation that has been, in part, driven by Mann's erroneous research and his defense of it. Only with a credible and thorough inquiry can the general public know that its state and national policymakers are making important policy decisions based on sound science. Taxpayers have the right to know before legislation is enacted what role, if any, scientific misconduct played in its development.
Recently, the Commonwealth Foundation released a report entitled, "Climategate & Penn State: The Case for an Independent Investigation," which explains why it's critical for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to launch a thorough investigation of Mann's actions.
This report notes: other paleoclimate research scientists questioned Mann's conduct; Mann lashed out at anyone challenging his research data, methods, and techniques; Mann tried to hide errors and prevented the collegial pursuit of accuracy; and Mann attempted to subvert the scientific peer-review process and blacklist critics from key academic journals.
Whether people believe in global warming and the need for government action or not, they should care about the credibility of Mann's research because it's influencing state, federal, and international economic and environmental decisions, which affects their lives dramatically. Too much is at stake to simply allow Penn State to have the final word on Mr. Mann's questionable academic behavior.
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Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org), a public policy education and research institute located in Harrisburg.