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Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Kafka at Albany

By Peter Risdon on Freeborn John

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

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.

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. 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. Read much more here.

Posted on 03/17 at 01:35 AM
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