Another university lists banned ideas

June 27, 2015

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point has put out a list of banned ideas similar to the University of California’s list. In fact, the list and its formatting is almost the same, which tells me that there is someone out there pushing this stuff.

FBI retracts bogus mass shooting study

June 23, 2015

Another troubling aspect of the Obama administration is its politicization of the government’s statistical agencies, which are supposed to be free of politics. In the latest instance, the FBI commissioned a bogus report on mass shootings, which it has now been forced to retract:

Last September the Obama administration produced an FBI report that said mass shooting attacks and deaths were up sharply—by an average annual rate of about 16% between 2000 and 2013. Moreover, the problem was worsening. “The findings establish an increasing frequency of incidents,” said the authors. “During the first 7 years included in the study, an average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually. In the last 7 years of the study, that average increased to 16.4 incidents annually.” . . .

But late last week, J. Pete Blair and M. Hunter Martaindale, two academics at Texas State University who co-authored the FBI report, acknowledged that “our data is imperfect.” They said that the news media “got it wrong” last year when they “mistakenly reported mass shootings were on the rise.”

Alas, but surprisingly, the retraction was issued with much, much less fanfare than the original bogus report.

It’s worth noting that criminologist John Lott debunked the study almost immediately, while the report’s authors dithered for the better part of a year before admitting he was right.

University of California lists banned ideas

June 23, 2015

It’s very helpful for the University of California to put out a list of ideas you’re not allowed to hold. Thanks guys!

For example, one of those banned ideas is “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” That, like the other 50-odd prohibited sentiments, are “microaggressions,” a new term that is taking the politically correct world by storm. It provides a invaluable tool for proclaiming any sentiment a progressive disagrees with to be racist, even though it isn’t. (If it were actually racist, you wouldn’t be bothering to call it a microaggression.)

It is a sign of the times that the University of California, having been exposed for this, doesn’t even have the decency to backpedal in shame:

The university stood by the use of the guides.

“Given the diverse backgrounds of our students, faculty and staff, UC offered these seminars to make people aware of how their words or actions may be interpreted when used in certain contexts. Deans and department heads were invited, but not required, to attend the seminars,” University of California Office of the President spokeswoman Shelly Meron told

She added that the university had not banned the words when it labeled them as examples of micro-aggressions and insisted that the university system is “committed to upholding, encouraging and preserving academic freedom and the free flow of ideas.”

Meron said that they have one more seminar scheduled that makes use of the training guides.

Terrific! We are committed to the free flow of ideas; we just want you to know that expressing certain ideas (like merit-based hiring) will brand you a racist. I’m sure that untenured faculty will take great comfort from that reassurance and will feel perfectly free to speak their minds.

Ironically, the University of California was the birthplace of the so-called “free-speech movement“, but it’s quite clear now that the movement was never about free-speech per se, but their speech. They were all for free-speech when they were in the minority, but now that they control the campus, everyone must toe the line.

POSTSCRIPT: Eugene Volokh takes a look at the University of California’s unconvincing explanation.

The “free speech movement” never was

September 8, 2014

Ken White notes that Berkeley’s chancellor is giving lip service to the “free speech movement” it spawned, while simultaneously neutering it by drawing a distinction between free speech and “political advocacy”. Of course, anyone with any knowledge of the Constitution knows that political speech (“advocacy”) was the entire point of the Freedom of Speech.

As White put it:

Political advocacy is not distinct from free speech. Political advocacy is the apotheosis of free speech.

Berkeley’s chancellor is hardly alone. The very same people who used to celebrate free speech on campus hate it now. It’s not hard to see why.

The “free speech movement” arose when leftist ideology was a minority opinion. Free speech was important to leftists so they could be heard. Today, leftist ideology is a majority opinion, at least on college campuses, if not yet nationally. What use is free speech to them now? Free speech now means their opponents can be heard.

I wasn’t there at the time, but the left’s behavior today proves that (broadly speaking) they didn’t care about free speech per se, they cared about leftism.

(Via Instapundit.)

Religious intolerance at Cal State

September 7, 2014

The California State University is following Vanderbilt and Michigan, banning Christian groups from campus. As in previous cases, the pretext is that they do not admit “all comers” if they require leaders to be Christian.

Of course, all campus groups choose leaders who ascribe to the group’s beliefs. (Just try to get elected president of the College Republicans/Democrats if you’re a Democrat/Republican.) Christian groups are being penalized for being forthright about it.

Ministry of Truth

August 26, 2014

Oh, this isn’t sinister at all:

The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor “suspicious memes” and what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online.

The “Truthy” database, created by researchers at Indiana University, is designed to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.”

“Social pollution.” What a lovely term that is.

(Via Instapundit.)

Handwritten notes are superior

February 5, 2014

A new study confirms what I have long believed, that taking handwritten notes leads to better learning than typed notes. Those who type tend to record verbatim, while those who take notes by hand actually process the material.

(Via Instapundit.)

You can’t teach people to program, this is California!

February 3, 2014

California cracks down on unregulated lessons. Because California thinks it’s better for people to remain ignorant than to be taught by the wrong people.

(Via Instapundit.)

Naivete considered harmful

January 9, 2014

When I write about climate science, I take care to remember my limitations: As a computer scientist, not a climate scientist, I’m not really qualified to comment on the details of their work.

They would do well to do the same. Consider Gavin Schmidt’s naive remarks on programming:

when are scientists going to stop writing code in fortran?

as crimes go, using fortran is far worse than anything revealed in “climategate”…

[Response: You might think that, but it’s just not true. Fortran is simple, it works well for these kinds of problems, it complies efficiently on everything from a laptop to massively parallel supercomputer, plus we have 100,000s of lines of code already. If we had to rewrite everything each time there was some new fad in computer science (you know, like ‘C’ or something ;) ), we’d never get anywhere. – gavin]

Fad? Structured programming has been the dominant paradigm since the late sixties. That’s only ten fewer years than programming languages have even existed. Back when structured programming was invented, climate scientists were still taking about global cooling!

Obama administration relents on speech codes

November 22, 2013

The Obama administration seems to be abandoning its effort to institute unconstitutional speech codes throughout higher education:

The federal government is backing away from the nationwide “blueprint” for campus speech restrictions issued this May by the Departments of Education and Justice. The agencies’ settlement with the University of Montana sought to impose new, unconstitutional speech restrictions, due process abuses, and an overbroad definition of sexual harassment and proclaimed the agreement to be “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.”

But in a letter sent last week to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the new head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Catherine Lhamon, said that “the agreement in the Montana case represents the resolution of that particular case and not OCR or DOJ policy.”

“Assistant Secretary Lhamon’s clear statement that the Montana agreement does not represent OCR or DOJ policy—meaning it’s not much of a ‘blueprint’—should come as a great relief to those who care about free speech and due process on our nation’s campuses,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Colleges have been bewildered trying to reconcile their obligations under the First Amendment with the requirements of the ‘blueprint’—essentially an impossible task. OCR and DOJ now need to directly inform our nation’s colleges and universities that they need no longer face that dilemma.”

We noted this stunning attack on free speech in higher education last May. Unfortunately, the administration never relented in its attack on due process in higher education, and most universities have implemented the policy by now. (Mine has.) All this from the president who once taught Constitutional law.

Still, take your good news where you can find it. And congratulations to FIRE. It’s hard to see this happening without them.

(Via Instapundit.)

MOOCs don’t work

September 20, 2013

Politico has a story on how MOOCs (massive open online courses) don’t work. This is not surprising in the least.

The idea was that you could educate massive numbers of people at minimal cost simply by putting course materials on-line. Sure, you can put the one-way material — textbooks, lectures, handouts, homework assignments — on-line for the masses, but there’s much more to education than that. Indeed, if one-way material were all that were needed for education, then textbooks (some of which are excellent) would have replaced education years ago. (This was the premise of the movie Good Will Hunting, where a janitor with a library card taught himself more than MIT taught its students.)

But a lot of learning comes from a two-way process: dialogue in class, office hours, and the grading of instructive (which is to say, not multiple-choice) homeworks and exams. None of that stuff scales to massive participants, and that’s why MOOCs generally don’t work. (And that’s before you even consider the problem of cheating, which is huge if you want to offer some kind of certification.)

Perhaps there’s a way to scale up the two-way learning process so that MOOCs can work, but if there is, no one has figured it out yet.

Administration imposes nationwide speech codes

May 16, 2013

It’s been a big week for news of Obama administration wrongdoing, with four scandals swirling on Capitol Hill, but this oughtn’t get lost in the shuffle: The federal government is ordering that college campuses nationwide institute unconstitutional speech codes:

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

The second paragraph is the key one: Any speech related to sex that offends anyone is banned, even if is it not reasonable to take offense. And remember that two years ago, the administration ordered that college campuses eliminate due process in sexual harassment complaints.

That’s the First and Fifth amendments, both eliminated on college campuses by the president who once taught Constitutional law.

POSTSCRIPT: The Washington Post is bleating that the IRS scandal and the AP phone records scandal “have challenged Obama’s credibility as a champion of civil liberties”! What? This man is attacking our civil liberties all the bloody time. You just haven’t been paying attention.

Censorship is not speech

March 1, 2013

A pernicious notion has entered our universities that reflects a deep and very strange misunderstanding of free speech. The notion is that if you don’t approve of what someone is saying, you can stop them from saying it, and that doing so is actually an exercise of free speech.

Thus, if you don’t like a speaker, you can go to the talk and shout him down, and you’re simply exercising your free speech. Or if you don’t like a display, you vandalize it, and that vandalism is an act of free speech.

It should be self-evident that this is wrong. Stopping other people’s expression is not free speech, it’s the opposite of free speech. But people seem profoundly confused by this, and it’s not just our students, but the administrations:

On January 22, 2013, the DePaul chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), having attained the required permits, erected a pro-life display. . . That afternoon, numerous DePaul students vandalized the display. . .

With the investigation completed, DePaul Assistant Dean of Students Domonic Rollins provided Del Campo with a report from the Department of Public Safety, containing the names of 13 DePaul students who had admitted to vandalizing YAF’s display. On February 5, the national YAF organization posted this document on its website. . .

DePaul found Del Campo responsible for the charge of “Disorderly, Violent, Intimidating or Dangerous Behavior,” as well as a charge related to “Judicial Process Compliance.” Del Campo has been placed on disciplinary probation and is prohibited from all contact with the students named in the public safety report. DePaul has also required that Del Campo complete an “Educational Project” in the form of a reflection letter.

As yet, the vandals have apparently not been punished, but the university is punishing the victim for publicly naming them. This is insanity.

I think the slogan Censorship is Peace would go very well with War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.

(Via Evan Coyne Maloney.)


June 11, 2012

The New York Times has an article about an outfit called Nerd Wallet, which ranks colleges according to various criteria. It found that the top program in the country in terms of starting salary for graduates is my program, Carnegie Mellon computer science. MIT was third.


An alarming development

February 12, 2012

Vanderbilt University announces that Christian student organizations are no longer welcome on campus. Anti-religious activists have been trying to accomplish this sort of thing at various schools for years (they tried and failed at CMU in 1994), but this is their first high-profile success.

Does anybody still like free speech?

February 10, 2012

The University of Minnesota wants to regulate its students’ speech off campus. (Via Instapundit.)

School behaving badly

October 14, 2011

I’m going to come right out and say that colleges really shouldn’t expel students for criticizing the school’s administration.

(Via Instapundit.)

Student loan default rates soar

October 2, 2011

. . . from 7% to 8.8% in just one year.

Remember that the federal government just nationalized the student loan industry, as part of the Democrats’ scheme to pretend that Obamacare wouldn’t balloon the deficit:

Thanks to only-in-Washington accounting, making the Department of Education the principal banker to America’s college students created a “savings” of $68 billion over 11 years, certified by the Congressional Budget Office. Even CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf admitted that this estimate was bogus because CBO was forced to use federal rules that ignored the true cost of defaults. But Mr. Miller had earlier laid the groundwork for this fraud by killing amendments in the House that would have required honest accounting and an audit.

Armed in 2010 with their CBO-certified “savings,” Democrats decided they could finance a portion of ObamaCare, as well as an expansion of Pell grants. But as Bernie Madoff could have told them, frauds break down when enough people show up asking for their money. That’s happening already, judging by recent action in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where lawmakers apparently realize that the federal takeover isn’t going to deliver the promised riches.

Nationalizing an industry isn’t a windfall for taxpayers? You could knock me over with a feather.

Grains of salt required

September 30, 2011

Stories like this remind us to maintain a healthy skepticism about anything we hear from the IPCC:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up by the UN in 1988 to advise governments on the science behind global warming, issued a report [in May] suggesting renewable sources could provide 77 per cent of the world’s energy supply by 2050. But in supporting documents released this week, it emerged that the claim was based on a real-terms decline in worldwide energy consumption over the next 40 years – and that the lead author of the section concerned was an employee of Greenpeace. Not only that, but the modelling scenario used was the most optimistic of the 164 investigated by the IPCC.

(Via Instapundit.)

POSTSCRIPT: Since I haven’t had occasion to mention it for awhile, my position continues to be that the science on historical climate change seems to be reasonably solid (with a few major exceptions), but the science that purports to predict the future is little better than guesswork.

Advancing intolerance in the name of tolerance

September 29, 2011

Vanderbilt University is withdrawing its “approval” from several Christian organizations for requiring their leaders to be Christians. I don’t know what “approval” gets you at Vanderbilt, but at a typical school, it’s a requirement in order to use campus facilities, such as rooms for meetings. If that’s the case here, they are forcing these students to meet off-campus.

It should be obvious that this sort of policy — if applied uniformly — would make it impossible for any group of like-minded people to organize. For example, College Democrats would have to allow Republicans, not only as members, but as leaders.

But I’m sure it’s not being applied uniformly. This sort of thing has been contemplated at other universities (including mine) and it’s always a special persecution just for Christians. However, universities usually step back from actually doing it (as mine did).

Scientific literacy and global warming

July 28, 2011

A new paper (well, new a month ago) finds the more scientifically literate a person is, the less likely he is to believe that global warming poses a catastrophic threat.

Now, as much as global warming skeptics would like to draw the conclusion that the scientific evidence opposes global warming, that’s not what the study finds. It finds that in regard to the issue of global warming, scientific literacy tends to reinforce a person’s pre-existing biases: those predisposed to skepticism become more skeptical, and vice versa. The effect is stronger for the skeptics, which accounts for the overall finding.

What is interesting is that the effect does not appear to apply in general. In regard to nuclear power, the more scientifically literate a person is, the less likely he is to believe that nuclear power poses a safety risk, regardless of the person’s predispositions.

The paper notes that, in regard to nuclear power, the effect once again is stronger for those predisposed to think nuclear power is safe. Consequently, greater scientific literacy leads to greater polarization, just as with global warming. This leads the authors to the conclusion of their paper, which I won’t go into.

But curiously — unless I missed it when I skimmed the paper — they didn’t discuss, or even conjecture, why the effect was different for global warming and for nuclear power.

My guess is there are two effects being mixed together. One effect is the degree to which the scientific evidence points in one clear direction and people find that evidence convincing, and the second effect is the polarization effect that the paper emphasizes. The paper shows clearly that the first effect is not the whole story. But it seems likely to me that in nuclear power, the scientific evidence is so compelling that it dominates the polarization effect. Hence both populations move in the same direction. For global warming the polarization effect dominates, so both populations move in opposite directions.

This makes sense to me, because my reading of the climate science is that it does not support strong conclusions about the future either way. Global warming could be dangerous, or not; we just don’t know.

This is all conjecture. Hopefully someday someone will tease those effects apart.  But the one thing this study says clearly is that skepticism of global warming is not the result of scientific illiteracy.

Universities tied to land grabs

June 15, 2011

Inside Higher Ed reports:

A series of reports by the Oakland Institute charge that several prominent American universities — including Harvard and Vanderbilt Universities and Spelman College — are investing in hedge funds and companies that are driving African farmers off their land.

They probably figure that if Columbia can get away with stealing land from Americans, no one will care about African farmers.

(Via Instapundit.)

The precautionary principle

June 3, 2011

Apparently this isn’t a joke:

When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.

Ilya Somin and Jonathan Adler offer carefully reasoned arguments against the “precautionary principle”, but do we really need them? When someone questions the safety of an activity, the burden of proof is on the other side? That’s insane.

I say — and I’m not being facetious — that conferences on the precautionary principle endanger human health and the environment. Prove me wrong.

Carnegie Mellon wins free-speech award

May 24, 2011

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has assembled a list of the seven best schools for free speech. My institution, Carnegie Mellon University, made the list. The other six were Arizona State, Dartmouth, William & Mary, Pennsylvania, Tennessee-Knoxville, and Virginia.

They also have a list of the twelve worst.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)

More xkcd wisdom

May 13, 2011

FDR: anti-Semite

March 28, 2011

Rafael Medoff, a Holocaust scholar, has uncovered US government documents that shed new light on Franklin Roosevelt’s policy toward Jews. The SS St. Louis incident — in which nearly a thousand Jews fleeing Europe were denied asylum in the United States and sent back to Europe, where many of them were murdered — was no aberration. FDR was an anti-Semite.

The documents, which were publicized last week by former New York mayor Ed Koch, are the record of a meeting in Casablanca between Roosevelt and the notorious French general Auguste Noguès. In the wake of the Allied landings in North Africa, the Vichy government had released most of the Jews from their concentration camps, and Noguès wanted to know how much of the Jews’ civil liberties must be restored. The record (page 608) relates Roosevelt’s response:

It was also stated that the Jews, especially those in Algeria, had raised the point that they wish restored to them at once the right of suffrage. The President stated that the answer to that was very simple, namely, that there weren’t going to be any elections, so the Jews need not worry about the privilege of voting.

Mr. Murphy remarked that the Jews in North Africa were very much disappointed that “the war for liberation” had not immediately resulted in their being given their complete freedom. The President stated that he felt the whole Jewish problem should be studied very carefully and that progress should be definitely planned.

In other words, the number of Jews engaged in the practice of the professions (law, medicine, etc.) should be definitely limited to the percentage that the Jewish population in North Africa bears to the whole of the North African population. Such a plan would therefore permit the Jews to engage in the professions, and would present an unanswerable argument that they were being given their full rights.

To the foregoing, General Noguès agreed generally, stating at the same time that it would be a sad thing for the French to win the war merely to open the way for the Jews to control the professions and the business world of North Africa.

The President stated that his plan would further eliminate the specific and understandable complaints that the Germans bore towards the Jews in Germany, namely, that while they represented a small part of the population, over fifty percent of the lawyers, doctors, school teachers, college professors, etc., in Germany, were Jews.

(Paragraph breaks and emphasis added.)

In regard to the “over fifty percent” statistic, Medoff adds “It is not clear how FDR came up with that wildly exaggerated statistic.”

Such statements from a US president are astonishing and horrifying, and indeed are all the more horrifying because they were not merely anti-Semitic remarks, but a policy to be imposed on North Africa by the Allies.

There is no question as to the veracity of the account, as Koch observes:

Hard to believe a president would say such a thing? Maybe, but the source is unimpeachable: the transcript appears in Foreign Relations of the United States, a multivolume series of historical documents published by the U.S. government itself. The Casablanca volume was published in 1968, but did not attract much notice at the time. Dr. Medoff has done a public service by bringing it to our attention again.

(Via PJ Tatler.)

What is tenure for, again?

March 18, 2011

The dean of Widener Law School is going ahead with her effort to fire a tenured professor for controversial material in his lectures, despite the recommendation of a university committee that the matter be dropped. Wow.

Columbia sucks

February 20, 2011

All of that talk about excluding ROTC from campus because of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is revealed as just a pretext:

Wounded Iraq vet jeered at Columbia

Columbia University students heckled a war hero during a town-hall meeting on whether ROTC should be allowed back on campus.

“Racist!” some students yelled at Anthony Maschek, a Columbia freshman and former Army staff sergeant awarded the Purple Heart after being shot 11 times in a firefight in northern Iraq in February 2008. Others hissed and booed the veteran.

(Via Instapundit.)

They are anti-military, plain and simple. We need to start enforcing the Solomon Amendment on these jackasses. (Of course, that will never happen during this administration.)

I have to add that Columbia University really, really sucks. In addition to their hostility to our military, they play host to a genocidal madman, and they steal their neighbors’ property.

No Christians, please

February 17, 2011

The religious discrimination policy at UC Davis specifically exempts Christians from protection. The policy is now being changed; the administration previously ignored complaints about the policy, but the threat of legal action and some press scrutiny quickly got them to see the light (so to speak).

What is tenure for?

February 16, 2011

Widener University seems confused about what tenure is for, as they consider revoking a professor’s tenure for controversial content in his lectures. Then again, this isn’t the first time Widener University has been confused about basic ideas.

UPDATE: The more we learn about this, the worse it looks.

UPDATE (3/10): A Widener committee recommends that the charges be withdrawn.

Skinner: WikiLeaks no favor to historians

January 8, 2011

CMU historian Kiron Skinner points out that the WikiLeaks affair is likely to discourage the generation of contemporary documentation that historians rely on.

Columbia gets away with it

December 15, 2010

Columbia University has succeeded in stealing its neighbors’ land. Columbia employed a cynical plan in which they bought up adjacent land, allowed it to fall into disrepair, and then prevailed on the government to condemn the entire area as “blighted”. A court blocked the scheme but was overruled by the New York Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court will not review the case.

Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

POSTSCRIPT: Glenn Reynolds points out:

Eminent domain is often sold as “the people vs. the powerful.” But in fact it’s property rights that protect the people from the powerful.


UPDATE: Reynolds’s latest column is on the topic.

Restore the humanities

November 18, 2010

John Ellis writes that we should not save the humanities, but restore them:

It is important to grasp the fact that the cry we are now hearing (“save the humanities”) is not about saving the humanities. It is rather about saving the faculty, who long since destroyed them, from the devastating consequences of their own foolish actions. It asks for a bailout, so that those same people can continue enjoying the fiefdoms they created to replace what once were departments of the humanities. And to respond favorably to that appeal would be folly.

Yet the crisis does need a response–but not the one that is asked for. Now that this day of reckoning has arrived, the appropriate cry should be: “restore the humanities.” That rather different slogan would suggest that we should take hold of these failed departments where enrollment has collapsed following abolition of the humanities, and bring them back to health.

Cornell and Dartmouth shame non-givers

November 6, 2010

This sure is stupid:

In an effort to spur gifts among young soon-to-be alumni, students at two Ivy League institutions are trying a different approach: publicizing the names of seniors who don’t contribute to their class gift.

With lists supplied by college administrators, student volunteers at Dartmouth College and Cornell University circulated the names of students who had not donated to senior-gift drives. The programs relied on students to single out their peers to meet high participation goals.

Not everyone participated happily. The single student from Dartmouth’s 1,123-student Class of 2010 who did not contribute this year was criticized in a column in the college newspaper and on a popular blog, which posted her name and photograph.

In addition to being wrong, this is incredibly short-sighted. In order to coerce a tiny contribution for a class gift, they are all but guaranteeing that these people will never give again.

(Via Instapundit.)

Academic fraud in China

October 22, 2010

It’s rampant, according to the New York Times and the Economist.

UC Irvine hecklers busted

October 4, 2010

Last February, Muslim students at UC Irvine successfully used sustained, concerted heckling to prevent Israeli ambassador Michael Oren from giving a talk at their university. Proving that they know nothing at all about America, they had the chutzpah to argue that their actions, preventing Oren from speaking, were an exercise of free speech.

It was obvious at the time that the disruptions were organized, but it seemed impossible to pin the organization on any particular group, even though the perpetrators were all members of UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union. The group repeatedly denied any involvement. But it turns out they organized the effort by email and the emails leaked.

The group has now been suspended, which seems like the minimum penalty for organizing to block a speech and lying about it. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Something is rotten at UC Irvine, and there’s little evidence that the university has the will, or even the desire, to do anything about it.

Palm Beach State College bans conservative group from recruiting

September 8, 2010

Gateway Pundit has the story.

British government caps higher education

August 27, 2010

A story in the Economist teaches me something I didn’t know about higher education in England. Tuition at English universities is capped at £3,290 per year, which is well below the cost of the education. The government subsidizes the difference. Consequently, to limit the size of the subsidy, the government imposes a cap on the number of students. No school can grow its class without obtaining permission from the government, which is routinely denied.

The price cap does not apply to foreign students (from outside Britain and the EU), so the number of such students is not capped. Consequently, the number of international students at English schools is soaring. For example, at the London School of Economics, half of the undergraduates and 80% of the graduate students are foreign.

This is an appallingly perverse policy. The government is requiring its universities (some of the best in the world) to serve foreign students instead of its own citizens. No doubt the policy was justified as making higher education more affordable when, in fact, it actually makes it unavailable to most prospective students. Fixing the system would presumably result in an outcry from the minority who benefit from the arrangement.

In short, it’s an excellent example of the perversity of progressive policies.

The war on science continues

July 13, 2010

The LA Times reports:

Scientists expected Obama administration to be friendlier

When he ran for president, Barack Obama attacked the George W. Bush administration for putting political concerns ahead of science on such issues as climate change and public health. And during his first weeks in the White House, President Obama ordered his advisors to develop rules to “guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch.”

Many government scientists hailed the president’s pronouncement. But a year and a half later, no such rules have been issued. Now scientists charge that the Obama administration is not doing enough to reverse a culture that they contend allowed officials to interfere with their work and limit their ability to speak out.

“We are getting complaints from government scientists now at the same rate we were during the Bush administration,” said Jeffrey Ruch, an activist lawyer who heads an organization representing scientific whistle-blowers.

Jonathan Adler adds:

This should not surprise. The “GOP War on Science” argument was always overstated and sought a partisan explanation for a phenomenon generated by broader institutional pressures and incentives. There were also early signs that the Obama Administration would replace science politicization of the Right with that of the Left.

I’ve noticed that academics often put inexplicable faith in Democratic politicians. Even those who have a healthy cynicism in other areas often seem to make an exception when it comes to Democratic politicians. They are genuinely dismayed when, inevitably, those Democratic politicians behave like weasels (even from the progressive perspective). And yet they repeat the same mistake all over again for the next guy.

Columbia gets away with stealing

July 11, 2010

Columbia University came up with a creative scheme to steal land from its neighbors. It bought up neighboring land, allowed it to fall into disrepair, and then prevailed on the government to condemn the whole neighborhood as blighted. Last December a state court blocked the scheme, but alas the New York Supreme Court has overruled the decision.

Pennsylvania scores on campus free speech

April 26, 2010

Glenn Reynolds is proud of his institution, the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, for quickly acting to protect free speech on campus and preserve its green-light rating from FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). FIRE’s press release says UT Knoxville is “one of only a handful of schools to receive FIRE’s most favorable ‘green light’ rating for protecting free speech on campus.”

My institution, Carnegie Mellon University, also has a green light, and I was curious who the rest of the handful were so I assembled the list:

  • Bucks County Community College (Pennsylvania)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (Pennsylvania)
  • Cleveland State University (Ohio)
  • The College of William and Mary (Virginia)
  • Dartmouth (New Hampshire)
  • Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of South Dakota
  • University of Tennessee – Knoxville
  • University of Utah

One quickly notices a few things: (1) Not very many schools defend free speech. (2) Most of these are public schools; just three of the eleven (CMU, Dartmouth, Penn) are private. (3) Over a third are in a single state, Pennsylvania, the only state to have more than one. (4) Despite the high esteem in which the institutes of higher learning of Massachusetts and California are held, there’s not one from either state.

Prior restraint

March 22, 2010

The provost of the University of Ottawa has written to Ann Coulter in advance of her upcoming visit to the Ottawa Campus Conservatives, threatening her with prosecution if she says anything that violates Canadian censorship laws.

It’s disgusting enough that Canada has those laws in the first place, but it might be even worse to see the a university provost using those laws to intimidate a campus speaker.

Well, I guess as Dean Steacy (Canadian “human rights” investigator) put it, freedom of speech is an American concept, without value in Canada.

(Via Instapundit.)

Climate scientists to fight back

March 5, 2010

Apparently, “top climate researchers” think that climate science is insufficiently political:

Undaunted by a rash of scandals over the science underpinning climate change, top climate researchers are plotting to respond with what one scientist involved said needs to be “an outlandishly aggressively partisan approach” to gut the credibility of skeptics.

In private e-mails obtained by The Washington Times, climate scientists at the National Academy of Sciences say they are tired of “being treated like political pawns” and need to fight back in kind. Their strategy includes forming a nonprofit group to organize researchers and use their donations to challenge critics by running a back-page ad in the New York Times.

Climate science’s problems are self-inflicted, the result of extensive academic misconduct. Somehow, I don’t think “an outlandishly aggressively partisan approach” is what the doctor ordered to restore confidence in the field.

But, maybe we should take this with a grain of salt. The only scientist cited by name as supporting this approach is renowned nutcase Paul Erlich (famous for advocating forced abortions, universal sterilization, and a “Planetary Regime” the world’s resources, as well as impressively inaccurate predictions of global famine), so this might not actually be a serious endeavor. I hope not: I’d like to see climate science get its act together, not worsen its problems.

Hadley CRU takes another hit

February 7, 2010

The Guardian reports:

Phil Jones, the beleaguered British climate scientist at the centre of the leaked emails controversy, is facing fresh claims that he sought to hide problems in key temperature data on which some of his work was based.

A Guardian investigation of thousands of emails and documents apparently hacked from the University of East Anglia’s climatic research unit has found evidence that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed and that documents relating to them could not be produced. . .

It also emerges that documents which [Jones’s collaborator, Wei-Chyung] Wang claimed would exonerate him and Jones did not exist. . .

The temperature data from the Chinese weather stations measured the warming there over the past half century and appeared in a 1990 paper in the prestigious journal Nature, which was cited by the IPCC’s latest report in 2007.

Climate change sceptics asked the UEA, via FOI requests, for location data for the 84 weather stations in eastern China, half of which were urban and half rural.

The history of where the weather stations were sited was crucial to Jones and Wang’s 1990 study, as it concluded the rising temperatures recorded in China were the result of global climate changes rather the warming effects of expanding cities.

The IPCC’s 2007 report used the study to justify the claim that “any urban-related trend” in global temperatures was small. Jones was one of two “coordinating lead authors” for the relevant chapter.

The Guardian also notes that Jones withheld the information when it was requested under the freedom of information act. Of course, that sort of behavior from Jones and his colleagues is old news now.

The Independent adds one more detail:

However, it has been reported that when climate sceptics asked for the precise locations of the 84 stations, Professor Jones at first declined to release the details. And when eventually he did release them, it was found that for the ones supposed to be in the countryside, there was no location given.

The point was to disprove the urban heat-island effect, so the non-urban measurements are key. And those are the ones that seem likely to be bogus.

(Via Instapundit.)

The IPCC’s scholarship is junk

February 7, 2010

In recent days, three errors in the IPCC report on global warming have been identified, ranging from extremely serious to minor:

  • Most seriously, an estimate of when the Himalayan glaciers would disappear was off by more than three centuries from the best available science. Worse, the scientists who wrote the report knew the estimate was bogus, but included it anyway to put pressure on world leaders.
  • An assessment that the Amazon rainforest was endangered by global warming turned out to have no basis whatsoever.
  • The reported amount of the Netherlands that lies beneath sea level was off by a factor of two. (Oddly, this minor mistake was the one that led the Dutch government to call for an investigation of the IPCC.)

Let’s set the Dutch sea-level mistake aside. The two serious mistakes were both the result of the IPCC incorporating unreviewed claims from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Given these mistakes, one has to wonder how much else in the report is wrong.

The IPCC has issued a statement on the glacier debacle. It’s pretty weaselly. It doesn’t even say what the mistake is, but rather forces you to find it yourself:

It has, however, recently come to our attention that a paragraph in the 938-page Working Group II contribution to the underlying assessment2 refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. . .

2 The text in question is the second paragraph in section 10.6.2 of the Working Group II contribution and a repeat of part of the paragraph in Box TS.6. of the Working Group II Technical Summary of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

They go on to defend the overall integrity of their report:

The Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance. This episode demonstrates that the quality of the assessment depends on absolute adherence to the IPCC standards, including thorough review of “the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report” 3. We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance.

So, how good are the “well-established” procedures that the IPCC is reaffirming? How many times did the report incorporate claims from the WWF and like organizations? Often, I’m sad to say.

Donna Laframboise used the report’s search feature to look for WWF citations. The search turned up dozens of hits, out of which she counted at least sixteen WWF citations. She also turned up eight Greenpeace citations.

One of them caught my attention:

Deforestation threatens the cradle of reef diversity. World Wide Fund for Nature, 2 December 2004.

A citation is supposed to provide enough information that the reader can find the source. Pointing the reader to “somewhere on the WWF web site” is a less than serious effort. But the title is pretty distinctive so I was able to find it here. It’s a blog post. Whatever merit it might have, it is not a scientific source.

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Another serious error:

The most important [new potential inaccuracy] is a claim that global warming could cut rain-fed north African crop production by up to 50% by 2020, a remarkably short time for such a dramatic change. The claim has been quoted in speeches by Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, and by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.

This weekend Professor Chris Field, the new lead author of the IPCC’s climate impacts team, told The Sunday Times that he could find nothing in the report to support the claim.

The IPCC report cites a single paper for the crop failure prediction. The paper was published by a Canadian NGO and does not appear to have been peer-reviewed. I sure hope it wasn’t peer-reviewed, because it’s very shoddy work. The claim appears on page 5 with reference to “studies”. No citation of the study is given, which is presumably why the IPCC report cited the paper and not the (imaginary?) original study.

UPDATE: Still more dubious stuff here.

The latest IPCC blunder

February 5, 2010

Yet another mistake in the IPCC report:

The Dutch environment minister, Jaqueline Cramer, on Wednesday demanded a thorough investigation into the 2007 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after a Dutch magazine uncovered it incorrectly states 55 percent of the country lies below sea level. . . Only 26 percent of the Netherlands is really below sea level.

(Via the Corner.)

Climate coverup

January 30, 2010

The London Times reports:

The chairman of the leading climate change watchdog was informed that claims about melting Himalayan glaciers were false before the Copenhagen summit, The Times has learnt.

Rajendra Pachauri was told that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment that the glaciers would disappear by 2035 was wrong, but he waited two months to correct it. He failed to act despite learning that the claim had been refuted by several leading glaciologists.

Climategate figures broke the law

January 28, 2010

But they won’t face any consequences, the London Times reports:

The university at the centre of the climate change row over stolen e-mails broke the law by refusing to hand over its raw data for public scrutiny.

The University of East Anglia breached the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to comply with requests for data concerning claims by its scientists that man-made emissions were causing global warming.

The Information Commissioner’s Office decided that UEA failed in its duties under the Act but said that it could not prosecute those involved because the complaint was made too late, The Times has learnt. The ICO is now seeking to change the law to allow prosecutions if a complaint is made more than six months after a breach.

(Via Instapundit.)

Another IPCC error

January 28, 2010

Another alarming prediction in the IPCC report on climate change has been shown to be bogus. A finding that much of the Amazon rainforest is endangered actually referred to logging, not climate change:

In the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), issued in 2007 by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists wrote that 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest in South America was endangered by global warming.

But that assertion was discredited this week when it emerged that the findings were based on numbers from a study by the World Wildlife Federation that had nothing to do with the issue of global warming — and that was written by a freelance journalist and green activist. . .

It has now been revealed that the claim was based on a WWF study titled “Global Review of Forest Fires,” a paper barely related to the Amazon rainforest that was written “to secure essential policy reform at national and international level to provide a legislative and economic base for controlling harmful anthropogenic forest fires.”

EUReferendum, a blog skeptical of global warming, uncovered the WWF association. It noted that the original “40 percent” figure came from a letter published in the journal Nature that discussed harmful logging activities — and again had nothing to do with global warming.

If you’re counting, that’s three errors in the IPCC now (that we know of), all resulting from faulty scholarship.

Climate fraud

January 24, 2010

A whole new climate scandal is now erupting, and this one has nothing to do with the leaked emails from the Hadley CRU. Last December, a climate scientist named Madhav Khandekar raised issues with the 2007 IPCC report’s prediction regarding the Himalayan glaciers. Writing on the blog of Roger Pielke (another climate scientist who might be described as a moderate skeptic), he pointed out that there was no support in peer-reviewed literature for the claim that the Himalayan glaciers would be entirely gone by 2035. In fact, the only paper on the subject predicted that the glaciers would survive until 2350. He speculated that the 2035 date was nothing but a typo, and added:

In summary, the glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating, but NOT any faster than other glaciers in the Arctic and elsewhere. The two large and most important glaciers of the Himalayas show very little retreat at this point in time. . . It is premature at this stage to link global warming to the deteriorating state of Himalayan glaciers at this time.

The IPCC’s 2035 prediction was a huge deal. As Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker explains:

To understand why the future of Himalayan glaciers should arouse such peculiar passion, one must recall why they have long been a central icon in global warming campaigners’ propaganda. Everything that polar bears have been to the West, the ice of the Himalayas has been – and more – to the East. This is because, as Mr Gore emphasised in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth, the vast Himalayan ice sheet feeds seven of the world’s major river systems, thus helping to provide water to 40 per cent of the world’s population.

The IPCC’s shock prediction in its 2007 report that the likelihood of the glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high” thus had huge impact in India and other Asian countries.

At first, the IPCC tried to defend the prediction. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, mocked a contrary report from the Indian government, calling it “voodoo science”. Ultimately, however, the IPCC was forced to admit the mistake:

One of the most alarming conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a widely respected organization established by the United Nations, is that glaciers in the Himalayas could be gone 25 years from now, eliminating a primary source of water for hundreds of millions of people. But a number of glaciologists have argued that this conclusion is wrong, and now the IPCC admits that the conclusion is largely unsubstantiated, based on news reports rather than published, peer-reviewed scientific studies.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the IPCC admitted that the Working Group II report, “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” published in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007), contains a claim that “refers to poorly substantiated estimates. ” The statement also said “the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedure, were not applied properly.” . . .

The error has been traced to the fact that the IPCC permits the citation of non-peer-reviewed sources, called “grey literature,” in cases where peer-reviewed data is not available. It requires that these sources be carefully scrutinized, but that didn’t happen in this case.

In fact, the literature that supported the 2035 prediction was very grey indeed:

The claim that Himalayan glaciers are set to disappear by 2035 rests on two 1999 magazine interviews with glaciologist Syed Hasnain, which were then recycled without any further investigation in a 2005 report by the environmental campaign group WWF.

This brings us to the latest development. So far, this could be written off as a bad case of scientific malpractice, but now it is revealed as a deliberate fraud:

The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders.

Dr Murari Lal also said he was well aware the statement, in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), did not rest on peer-reviewed scientific research.

In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Dr Lal, the co-ordinating lead author of the report’s chapter on Asia, said: ‘It related to several countries in this region and their water sources. We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.

‘It had importance for the region, so we thought we should put it in.’

(Via Instapundit.)

One misrepresentation in the IPCC report could be written off as an isolated incident. Combine it with this fraud, and the whole report now must be questioned.

Iran’s war on “star students”

January 12, 2010

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Behind the drama unfolding in the streets of Iran, the regime is quietly clamping down on some of the nation’s best students by derailing their academic and professional careers.

On Wednesday, progovernment militia attacked and beat students at a school in northeastern Iran. Since last Sunday’s massive protests nationwide, dozens of university students have been arrested as part of an aggressive policy against what are known as Iran’s “star students.”

In most places, being a star means ranking top of the class, but in Iran it means your name appears on a list of students considered a threat by the intelligence ministry. It also means a partial or complete ban from education.

The term comes from the fact that some students have learned of their status by seeing stars printed next to their names on test results.

Mehrnoush Karimi, a 24-year-old law-school hopeful, found out in August that she was starred. She ranked 55 on this year’s national entrance exam for law schools, out of more than 70,000 test-takers. That score should have guaranteed her a seat at the school of her choice. Instead, the government told her she wouldn’t be attending law school due to her “star” status. . .

More than 1,000 graduate students have been blocked from higher education since the practice began in 2006, according to statements by Mostafa Moin, a former education minister, in official media in September. . .

The regime identifies star students by tapping the same network of security forces and informants it uses to keep society generally in check. The intelligence ministry routinely monitors email and phone conversations of people it considers dissidents and activists.


December 22, 2009

American Thinker has the story of an absolutely conclusive case of academic misconduct at International Journal of Climatology. Here’s the short version:

  1. One group of authors writes a paper that is critical of some existing work in climate research. The paper is accepted for publication after the usual peer-review process.
  2. A second group of authors (led by researchers at the Hadley CRU, of course) obtains the paper’s page proofs before it is published. They plot to discredit it. They don’t want merely to submit a comment, because then the paper’s authors would get a chance to respond.
  3. The second group colludes with the journal’s editor to delay the paper’s print publication until a response paper can be published. As a full paper, rather than a comment, the first group would not get to respond.
  4. The editor takes unusual steps to speed the response paper through the peer-review process. Most significantly, he removes a “cranky” referee who raised issues with the paper.
  5. An author from the first group learns of the response paper and asks for an advance copy. Astonishingly, the second group refuses to send him a copy!
  6. Both papers appear in the same issue of the journal. The first paper waited over 11 months after being published on-line; the second waited for just 36 days.

The story is fully documented by emails from the Hadley leak. Here are three key quotes. The offer:

He also said (and please treat this in confidence, which is why I emailed to you and Phil only) that he may be able to hold back the hardcopy (i.e. the print/paper version) appearance of Douglass et al., possibly so that any accepted Santer et al. comment could appear alongside it.

Admission of wrong:

the only thing I didn’t want to make more generally known was the suggestion that print publication of Douglass et al. might be delayed… all other aspects of this discussion are unrestricted

A referee is dropped:

As you’ll see, Reviewer 1 was very happy with the revisions we’ve made to the paper. Reviewer 2 was somewhat crankier. The good news is that the editor (Glenn McGregor) will not send the paper back to Reviewer 2, and is requesting only minor changes in response to the Reviewer’s comments.

Absolutely appalling.

(Via Volokh.) (Previous post.)

UPDATE: This story from Richard Lindzen (who is very well-regarded, despite being a skeptic) makes me wonder if this sort of misconduct might have been common:

When I, with some colleagues at NASA, attempted to determine how clouds behave under varying temperatures, we discovered what we called an “Iris Effect,” wherein upper-level cirrus clouds contracted with increased temperature, providing a very strong negative climate feedback sufficient to greatly reduce the response to increasing CO2. Normally, criticism of papers appears in the form of letters to the journal to which the original authors can respond immediately. However, in this case (and others) a flurry of hastily prepared papers appeared, claiming errors in our study, with our responses delayed months and longer. The delay permitted our paper to be commonly referred to as “discredited.”

How not to respond to scrutiny

December 17, 2009

I had hoped that the climate scandal would lead climate scientists to change their ways and begin making their data available for public scrutiny. Obviously, the data that has been destroyed cannot be published, but at least they can publish what they still have.

Alas, it appears that the Hadley CRU, at least, will not be taking that tack. In fact, quite the opposite. CRU has taken down its entire web site, thereby withdrawing all their data that used to be publicly available.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)

How not for scientists to address skepticism

December 11, 2009

(Via Big Government.)

The benefits of openness

December 9, 2009 this past week linked an older Real Climate post titled “Peer Review: A Necessary But Not Sufficient Condition“. The post makes the point that peer review is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition for credibility, observing that bad papers sometimes make it through peer review. (The bad papers they want us to ignore are all skeptical of a human impact on climate change.)

In fact, I would say peer review is neither necessary nor sufficient for credibility. Bad and even horrible papers are sometimes accepted. Good papers are sometimes rejected. Some good papers, for one reason or another, are never submitted to peer review. So peer review is not a magic wand; it is simply a process that adds value by subjecting scientific work to skeptical scrutiny.

Anyway, one of the post’s main examples of the failure of peer review is a paper by Ross McKitrick and Patrick Michaels (a prominent global warming skeptic) that purported to find economic signals in the temperature records. (It doesn’t really matter what this means. The point is that the non-skeptics didn’t like it.)

It turns out that the work was flawed, because McKitrick and Michaels’s data was in degrees but their trigonometric library measured angles in radians. They acknowledge the error. (ASIDE: They also found that the correction does not affect the overall result. On the other hand, Real Climate alleges that there are other problems with the paper as well.)

But here’s the point: The error was discovered because McKitrick and Michaels made their code available! If they had withheld their code, no one ever could have found the error.

Alas, withholding the code seems to be a common practice in the climate science community. The Hadley CRU would not release its code, and it took a leak to expose the fact that its code was broken. (And unlike the previous case, CRU’s code does not admit an easy fix, or perhaps even any fix at all.)

In climate science, the facts may be on the majority’s side (although I’m not as confident as I once was), but they can learn from the skeptics something about the process of science.

Columbia’s land theft blocked

December 5, 2009

A year ago I noted that Columbia University was abusing eminent domain to try to steal property adjoining the university. Basically, they were buying up property in the area, letting that property fall into disrepair, and then seeking to condemn the whole neighborhood as blighted. The scheme was shockingly cynical, as well as immoral and short-sighted.

Now a New York State appellate court has blocked the scheme, ruling that there is no evidence of any real blight. I’m glad to see it.

NASA conceals climate data?

December 5, 2009

A global warming skeptic alleges that NASA is concealing its climate data. We’ll see what develops, but in the wake of the climate scandal, one has to assume that the allegation is likely true.

(Via Instapundit.)

Fair is fair

December 1, 2009

Michael Mann is facing some embarrassment for a statement he made on in 2004. In response to this remark:

Whatever the reason for the divergence, it would seem to suggest that the practice of grafting the thermometer record onto a proxy temperature record – as I believe was done in the case of the ‘hockey stick’ – is dubious to say the least.

He replied:

No researchers in this field have ever, to our knowledge, “grafted the thermometer record onto” any reconstruction. It is somewhat disappointing to find this specious claim (which we usually find originating from industry-funded climate disinformation websites) appearing in this forum.

But he was misinformed. As reported in the New York Times, that’s exactly what Phil Jones did when he prepared the cover graph for the 1999 World Meteorological Organization report. Jones discussed doing so in his infamous “hide the decline” email.

This is embarrassing for Mann, whose intemperate response to the suggestion that anyone in his field would have done such a thing now looks foolish.

It’s even more embarrassing to Jones and his defenders, because they are now trying to argue that Jones’s presentation was appropriate, and Mann’s intemperate response implicitly concedes that it was not. In fact, in Mann’s comments on the scandal, he says that Jones was not trying to fudge the data, but he stops short of defending Jones’s presentation of the data.

But Christopher Horner has gone further and accused Mann of dishonesty. He points out that Jones got the “trick” from Mann’s 1998 article in the journal Nature. How then could Mann claim to be unaware that anyone does it?

That isn’t fair. In his intemperate response, Mann went on to make a distinction:

Often, as in the comparisons we show on this site, the instrumental record (which extends to present) is shown along with the reconstructions, and clearly distinguished from them.

In other words, Mann says, it’s okay to graft the instrumental record onto the reconstruction, as long as it is clearly marked which is which. That’s what he did in the Nature article, plotting the instrumental record with a dotted line that did not exactly stand out, but was clearly distinguishable. That’s also exactly what Jones did not do in the WMO report.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)

Withholding the data

December 1, 2009

I thought I’d made my last remarks about the climate scandal, but another development has occurred that requires comment. First some background.

One of the serious criticisms of the climate science community that predates the leak of the CRU documents is its frequent refusal to disclose their data and methodology. Real Climate tries to argue that doing so is perhaps unfortunate, but no worse than that:

From the date of the first FOI request to CRU (in 2007), it has been made abundantly clear that the main impediment to releasing the whole CRU archive is the small % of it that was given to CRU on the understanding it wouldn’t be passed on to third parties. Those restrictions are in place because of the originating organisations (the various National Met. Services) around the world and are not CRU’s to break. As of Nov 13, the response to the umpteenth FOI request for the same data met with exactly the same response. This is an unfortunate situation, and pressure should be brought to bear on the National Met Services to release CRU from that obligation. It is not however the fault of CRU.

But that’s crap. CRU researchers have made it clear that they have no desire to release their data, and their reasons have nothing to do with agreements with third parties. For example, in 2005 Phil Jones (the now-embattled head of CRU) wrote to an Australian scientist named Warwick Hughes:

We have 25 years or so invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?

So Jones was not punctiliously observing his agreements with national met services; he was protecting his data from skeptical scrutiny.

That was known before the climate scandal hit. Now, the leaked emails [1107454306, 1106338806, 1212166714, 1155333435] make it even more clear that CRU was looking for a pretext not to release their data:

  • Phil Jones wrote of “hiding behind” various excuses for withholding the data (including agreements with third parties). He gives no hint that he really wants to release the data but unfortunately cannot. Quite the contrary.
  • Jones also suggests that he will “delete the file rather than send [it] to anyone”.
  • Tim Osborn wrote to people asking if their emails were intended to be confidential. When at first he didn’t get the desired response he made his intention explicit: if they said yes, “we will use this as a reason to decline the [freedom of information] request”.
  • Keith Briffa wrote that he was just too busy to release his data, but “Will supply the stuff when I get five minutes!!” That was in 2005, and it seems it never happened.

That brings us to today. It is now revealed that CRU deleted their raw data:

SCIENTISTS at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based. . .

The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.

It seems safe to say that if they really wanted to release the data, they would not have deleted it. Real Climate’s claim notwithstanding, the “main impediment” to releasing the data is not the national met services; the “main impediment” is the data is gone!

You might think that over at Real Climate they would be hanging their heads in shame, but no. They say that the data is not lost, because:

The original data is curated at the met services where it originated.

Terrific. The data wasn’t destroyed; someone could go collect it all over again.

This is disingenuous for at least four reasons:

  1. Who is to say that the met services still have the data? Governments (I still believe) are more corrupt than scientists. If CRU deleted the data, maybe some of the met services have as well. As barring that, maybe some of the data has been destroyed accidentally.
  2. If the data is still there, someone would still have to go collect it again. That would take ages in the best of circumstances; and with the debate as politicized as it now is, we are hardly in the best of circumstances.
  3. No academic is going to go to the effort to collect that data again. Academia runs on publications and you cannot publish something that’s been published before. Recreating the CRU data is not likely to result in an original research result, so no academic will take the time to do it. Those skeptics who might be so inclined generally don’t have the expertise to do it.
  4. Here’s the kicker. In any case, no one can reproduce the raw data set that CRU used. Even if someone re-collected all the raw data, realistically it would not be exactly the same data set. It’s not as though there is a definitive list of agencies, each of whom has a file called “the definitive historical meteorological data” that has been unchanged since CRU first collected it. And even if, beyond all probability, someone did manage to re-create the exact data set that CRU destroyed, they could never know that they had done so. Consequently, no one can analyze what CRU actually did with the data.

In short, the data is gone. It’s highly unlikely anyone will ever reconstruct it, and if they do, it won’t be exactly the same, so no one can ever check CRU’s work.

(Previous post.)

UPDATE: I agree with just about everything Megan McArdle writes here.

The climate scandal

November 28, 2009

As an outsider to the global warming debate, as nearly all of us are, it is hard to evaluate the claims and counter-claims. Some say there is a consensus. Is that true, and if so, is the consensus right or merely the product of group-think?

Last year, I was able to have a conversation with a mainstream (i.e., not a “skeptic”) climate scientist and got his account of the state of play in the field. He said that the evidence is very good that the climate is warming and that carbon dioxide levels are increasing, and that it seems very likely that humans are responsible. In regard to projections of future climate, he said that the direct effect of increased carbon dioxide is not very large, and estimating the indirect effects depends on computer models.

Unfortunately, (this is my opinion now, not his), we cannot rely on the computer models, because they do not make predictions that we can test, so we really don’t have any good science for predicting the future. Nevertheless, we have a pretty good idea about the past.

That’s what I thought, but my confidence was shaken two months ago when I read a National Review article alleging that prominent climate researchers refused to reveal their data and methodology. The allegation is serious; if true, it completely undermines their work. We don’t accept scientists’ word for their results. Even if a scientist is honest, he might make a mistake. We need to be able to verify the results. Refusing to reveal the data and methodology is like a mathematician claiming a theorem and refusing to provide the proof. Such a result is worthless.

Even worse, the article alleged that the researchers withheld their data specifically to keep it from skeptical scrutiny, saying: “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?” The answer is: because that’s how science works.

Still, the article seemed to be based on interviews with just one side, so perhaps they weren’t a fair account of what happened. I did some googling, but I was unable to verify the claims independently. So I waited, hoping something would come out to clarify matters. And now, of course, something has.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave without internet access, or you get your news from the mainstream media, you’ve heard of the leaked emails and documents from the Hadley CRU. They show that the National Review article was absolutely accurate. The Hadley researchers were determined to withhold their data, specifically to protect it from skeptical scrutiny [122833062910596647041074277559, 12543451741256735067]. They were even prepared to delete it, rather than release it to the wrong people [1107454306, 1212073451].

The emails also show a deliberate campaign to corrupt the peer-review system. They discussed submitted papers (which are supposed to be confidential) and how to sabotage them [10547569291077829152, 1233249393]. They worked to oust editors with a skeptical bent, or who were even suspected of a skeptical bent [1051190249, 1106322460]. They spoke explicitly of “plugging the leak” at journals that sometimes published the work of skeptics [1132094873]. So when people speak of a consensus among peer-reviewed research, it turns out that doesn’t mean as much as you might think.

But let’s return to the withholding of data and methodology, because it turns out they had much to conceal. I’m not sure if the data was included in the leak; if so I haven’t seen an analysis of it yet. However, the code is part of the leak, and the code, frankly, is complete crap.

One file, the now infamous HARRY_READ_ME.txt, chronicles the effort of one poor programmer (Ian Harris, according to Real Climate) to maintain the code base for one of their temperature databases. It documents endless problems with the code: subscripts out of range, segmentation faults, overflow (e.g., causing a sum of squares to become negative), underflow, division by zero, silently ignoring exceptions. Pretty much a complete disaster. (UPDATE: Good link as of January 2014.)

ASIDE: The last one is so appalling it’s worth a short look. (Fuller story here.) At one point in Harry’s tale he had to deal with the code that determines whether a station contributes to a cell (whatever that means). This amounts to determining whether two points are within a certain range of each other. Rather than do the necessary geometric calculation, the code uses the graphics library instead (!):

..well that was, erhhh.. ‘interesting’. The IDL gridding program calculates whether or not a station contributes to a cell, using.. graphics. Yes, it plots the station sphere of influence then checks for the colour white in the output.

But better yet, when IDL occasionally generates a plotting error, the code simply ignores it and moves on. (You can find this in documents/cru-code/idl/pro/

There’s much, much, more. Near the end of Harry’s tale of horror comes this:

I am seriously close to giving up, again. The history of this is so complex that I can’t get far enough into it before by head hurts and I have to stop. Each parameter has a tortuous history of manual and semi-automated interventions that I simply cannot just go back to early versions and run the update prog. I could be throwing away all kinds of corrections – to lat/lons, to WMOs (yes!), and more.

The bottom line is that nothing their code produces can be trusted.

Some people are delighted by all this. I am not. Instead, I am furious. As a libertarian, I would like to believe that global warming is a myth, but I have thought it unlikely that an entire scientific field could be wrong. But now, who’s to say? Since it now appears that the peer-review process in climate science is corrupt, an outsider cannot begin to assess which claims are valid and which are not; we can only assess which ones are in and which are out. I feel as though I’ve been lied to. (And perhaps I have. How can I know?)

It would be exaggerating to draw from this that there is no science of climate, but not by all that much. Here’s the thing: climate change matters, if it is real that is (which I still think it probably is, retrospectively at least). It would be useful for us to know something about it.

(Previous post.)

Circling the wagons

November 25, 2009

The University of East Anglia (home of the Hadley CRU) has decided to circle the wagons. In a statement issued by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, they claim to have done nothing wrong. The statement includes some howlers:

In relation to the specific requests at issue here, we have handled and responded to each request in a consistent manner in compliance with the appropriate legislation. No record has been deleted, altered, or otherwise dealt with in any fashion with the intent of preventing the disclosure of all, or any part, of the requested information.

Phil Jones said something similar to the Guardian:

We’ve not deleted any emails or data here at CRU.

This is plainly untrue, as this shows:

The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days? – our does ! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind.

And this:

Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise.

And this:

About 2 months ago I deleted loads of emails, so have very little – if anything at all.

The statement also says this:

The Climatic Research Unit holds many data series, provided to the Unit over a period of several decades, from a number of nationally-funded institutions and other research organisations around the world, with specific agreements made over restrictions in the dissemination of those original data. All of these individual series have been used in CRU’s analyses. It is a time-consuming process to attempt to gain approval from these organisations to release the data.

I have no idea if they went through the motions or not, but it is plain as day that they are unwilling to release the data. As the first email above said, the head of the CRU would “delete the file rather than send [it] to anyone”. And he has said openly his reason for refusing to release the data: “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

This part takes chutzpah:

The University of East Anglia and CRU are committed to scientific integrity, open debate and enhancing understanding. This includes a commitment to the international peer-review system upon which progress in science relies. It is this tried and tested system which has underpinned the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is through that process that we can engage in respectful and informed debate with scientists whose analyses appear not to be consistent with the current overwhelming consensus on climate change.

But the emails show plainly that CRU has deliberately corrupted the peer-review process. Also, the “respectful and informed debate” includes celebrating the death of a skeptical colleague.

The statement concludes:

We have, therefore, decided to conduct an independent review, which will address the issue of data security, an assessment of how we responded to a deluge of Freedom of Information requests, and any other relevant issues which the independent reviewer advises should be addressed.

Obviously a lot of stuff could fit under “other relevant issues”, but the administration at least doesn’t view CRU’s corruption of the peer-review process and the plausible allegations of data tampering as requiring investigation. You would think they would want to investigate them, if only to clear their name. If they are innocent, that is.

(Via Roger L. Simon, via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)

More on the Hadley scandal

November 24, 2009

The most troubling aspect of the scandal arising from the Hadley CRU emails is the perversion of the peer review process. True, there is no doubt that the Hadley researchers withheld their data from skeptical scrutiny, and it appears that they may have even fudged their data, but those offenses taint only their own work. But by subverting the peer review process, they have tainted their entire field. The documents make clear that the Hadley researchers and their correspondents worked successfully to oust journal editors who had views contrary to theirs, or who they even suspected had such views:

Proving bad behavior here is very difficult. If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted.

Worse, they did not follow proper protocol in refereeing submitted papers. Submitted papers are supposed to be confidential until accepted for publication, but the emails are rife with discussion of papers under review. For example:

With free wifi in my room, I’ve just seen that M+M have submitted a paper to IJC on your H2 statistic – using more years, up to 2007. They have also found your PCMDI data -laughing at the directory name – FOIA? Also they make up statements saying you’ve done this following Obama’s statement about openness in government! Anyway you’ll likely get this for review, or poor Francis will. Best if both Francis and Myles did this. If I get an email from Glenn I’ll suggest this.

Examples such as these make it clear that the peer-review process is not working property in climate science. Now I don’t believe, as some do, that this scandal somehow washes away all the evidence that the earth’s climate is warming, likely due to human activity. There is still much convincing evidence that it is.

What the scandal does do is destroy any notion that there is a consensus among scientists on the matter. Whatever consensus might appear to exist is because some have conspired (I use the word deliberately) to silence opposing views. Climate science, as a field, needs to take affirmative steps to right its ship, and quickly.

As George Monbiot (an impeccably credentialed British environmental activist) put it:

It’s no use pretending this isn’t a major blow. The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.

I’m also deeply disillusioned by In their view, the leak did not expose a problem in the field, but rather the leak itself is the problem, and they are focusing on explaining away the damning material in it. Worse is this email from the leak:

Anyway, I wanted you guys to know that you’re free to use RC [] in any way you think would be helpful. Gavin and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through, and we’ll be very careful to answer any questions that come up to any extent we can. On the other hand, you might want to visit the thread and post replies yourself. We can hold comments up in the queue and contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you’d like us to include.

You’re also welcome to do a followup guest post, etc. think of RC as a resource that is at your disposal to combat any disinformation put forward by the McIntyres of the world. Just let us know. We’ll use our best discretion to make sure the skeptics dont’get to use the RC comments as a megaphone…

(Emphasis mine.) This makes clear that Real Climate is simply not, as it is billed, an impartial scientific resource. Pity. It would have been nice to have such a thing.

I culled this information from mainly from two summaries: by Charlie Martin and Iain Murray.

POSTSCRIPT: I want to note again that for those fighting ruinous government proposals like cap and trade, this is the wrong hill to die on. The work discussed here is primarily paleoclimatology, the study of past climate. What matters to policy is future climate, and the work in climate projection is very weak, as I discussed here. Our purposes are not served by making paleoclimatology the center of the debate.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)

Scientists behaving badly

November 22, 2009

In my previous post, I discussed my take on global warming. While climate scientists have learned much, the science of predicting the future climate is not done (as some activists claim). In fact, it would be more accurate to say that it has yet to begin. This isn’t the fault of the climate scientists; they are doing the best they can, but you simply cannot test long-term models in the short term.

That was my position until a couple of days ago. In broad strokes, my position has not changed, but I’ve been forced to revise one aspect. In light of the leaked emails and documents from the Hadley Climate Research Unit, I can only say that most climate scientists are doing the best they can.

A hacker broke into the computer system at the Hadley CRU and obtained hundreds of emails, data sets, and other files, and then released them on the internet. At first there was some question whether the files were genuine, but it now appears that they are authentic, or at least substantially so.

The files show that the Hadley scientists and their correspondents have been behaving in a very unscientific manner. The best summaries I’ve found are by John Hinderaker (here and here) and Bishop Hill. They show:

  • These scientists worked very hard to control access to their data, allowing access only to those who could be trusted to support their conclusions. They were willing to forgo publishing in journals that required data to be made public. They were even willing to go so far as to delete data rather than release it to Freedom of Information requests. (In light of this article, I’m not as shocked by this as I might have been.)
  • The scientists failed to observe proper protocol refereeing papers.
  • The scientists plotted to discredit a journal that sometimes published articles skeptical of anthropogenic global warming.
  • The scientists took the debate personally and emotionally, even to the extent of celebrating the death of a prominent skeptic.

Some of the emails appear to admit fudging data, but we don’t know the context of the messages, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they have a benign explanation. I think it’s better to focus on the broader pattern.

The broader pattern is the scientists at Hadley are not behaving like scientists but as activists. Rather than subjecting their data and methodology to scrutiny, they are hiding them from it. Rather than welcoming new ideas, they are fighting to silence them. Their behavior is utterly unacceptable, and it has tarnished their entire field.

The field of climate science now needs to take a serious look at itself and figure out how it can restore its credibility. Releasing all their data would be a good — indeed, essential — first step. Alas, if the folks at are any guide, it’s not likely to happen. They argue that there’s nothing to see here; everything is fine. It’s not. If they think this sort of thing is okay, then their field has a bigger problem than just Hadley.

There are those of us who would like to defend the scientists and their work, even while we debate what can and should be done about it. But they’re making it a lot harder.

UPDATE: My point exactly:

Astonishingly, what appears, at least at first blush, to have emerged is that (a) the scientists have been manipulating the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend; (b) they have consistently refused outsiders access to the raw data; (c) the scientists have been trying to avoid freedom of information requests; and (d) they have been discussing ways to prevent papers by dissenting scientists being published in learned journals.

There may be a perfectly innocent explanation. But what is clear is that the integrity of the scientific evidence on which not merely the British Government, but other countries, too, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claim to base far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions, has been called into question. And the reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished. A high-level independent inquiry must be set up without delay.

There may be an innocent explanation for (a). I hope there is. But (b), (c), and (d) are certainly true, unless there is widespread forgery throughout the documents, and all indications are to the contrary. The climate science community (I’m thinking particularly of the Real Climate guys) need to get in front of this and take a serious, public look at themselves. If they persist in their failure to see how damning this is, they will seriously damage their field.

(Via Instapundit.)

The Tartan opposes higher taxes

November 20, 2009

It all depends on whose ox is getting gored. Ordinarily, the editorial board of the Tartan — CMU’s student newspaper — will reliably support the entire liberal agenda, including higher taxes. Ah, but a tuition tax, that would be a tax on them! The Tartan is against a tuition tax. Taxes, you see, are for other people.

I am against the tuition tax, and I hope to see it defeated. But I am delighted to see the Tartan getting mugged by reality.

UPDATE (12/19): Tom Blumer has a similar take. (Via Instapundit.)

Student journalists charged for reporting

October 29, 2009

Ironically, at James Madison University:

Two scribes who work for The Breeze, the semi-weekly newspaper at James Madison University, have landed in hot water for doing what they are supposed to do: report campus news. The school has placed “judicial charges” against the pair because they supposedly trespassed a verboten dormitory while reporting a story. . .

The facts of the case are thus:

Two Saturdays ago, sophomore Katie Hibson went to Hillside Hall, a dormitory, to interview residents about a “peeping Tom.” After speaking with Hillside residents outside the building, young Hibson, with the permission of a resident, went inside to interview more students. This, apparently, upset the resident assistant at Hillside, who ordered Hibson to leave. The RA escorted her from the building.

Hibson called her editor, Tim Chapman, a former reporter for the Daily News-Record sports department, who showed up at Hillside. With an escort who lives in the building and works at The Breeze, Hibson and Chapman went to the RA’s room to assert Hibson’s rights as a journalist. He showed the RA the school policy on dorm visitors: Guests are allowed as long as a resident is with them. The journalists refused to leave, and the RA and her supervisor threatened to call campus police. The pair left the building before police arrived.

You’d think that would have been the end of it, particularly given Chapman’s correct explanation of school policy, but alas, the pair received an e-mail detailing the following infractions: trespassing, disorderly conduct and noncompliance with an official request. As of now, the Breeze has not received an adequate explanation of why the RA ordered Hibson out of the building or why the school filed charges. Remember, the reporter followed the rules for visiting the building.

(Via Instapundit.)

Yale’s shame

October 27, 2009

Jytte Klausen’s book on the Muhammed cartoon controversy, after going through the usual peer-review process, was censored at the eleventh hour to remove the cartoons that were the subject of the book. It is now revealed that during Yale University Press’s last-minute, second review of the book, the reviewers did not even read the book. Furthermore, Klausen was not allowed to see the reviews without signing a non-disclosure agreement (which she refused).

This is not how academic publishing works. One does not conduct a second review of a book that has already passed peer review. One certainly does not ask those reviewers to render an opinion without reading the book. And one most definitely does not withhold the reviews from the author.

Absolutely appalling.

(Via Volokh.)

Mob veto at Chapel Hill

September 21, 2009

A troubling incident at UNC-Chapel Hill: A student group is unpopular in certain circles. Those people threaten the group’s faculty advisor. The faculty advisor remarks that he is able to defend himself. Chancellor Holden Thorp calls the remark “highly inappropriate” and induces him to resign as the group’s faculty advisor. The student group will soon be forced to close if they cannot find a new advisor.

UNC ought to be sticking up for free speech on campus, rather than collaborating with the mob to shut down a student organization. UNC ought to be disciplining threats against its faculty, not the faculty who are being threatened. Very, very badly done.

Van Jones on Yale

September 8, 2009

In an interview with some lefty group, Van Jones (formerly White House “green jobs czar”) explains why he chose Yale over Harvard:

I had a professor who encouraged me to apply to Harvard and Yale [for law school], which was almost unheard of for students coming from the kind of public schools that I was coming from in the rural South. I was accepted to both places, and decided to go to Yale because Yale didn’t have any grades and was smaller than Harvard. I figured, once I enroll I’m guaranteed to graduate, so I can just go and be a radical hellraiser student, and they can’t do anything about it. Which is pretty much what happened.

(Via the Corner.)

Yikes. That’s quite an indictment of Yale Law School.

Protesting academic freedom

August 20, 2009

At Berkeley, the birthplace of the “free speech movement,” protesters are calling for the firing of John Yoo, a tenured law professor, for producing a work of legal scholarship (the so-called “torture memos”) that has become unpopular. Academic freedom is appropriate only when it advances progressive causes, I guess.

(Via the Corner.) (Related post.)

UPDATE: Once again, the dean of the Berkeley Law School issues a statement in support of academic freedom. It’s good that he’s done it; bad that it’s necessary. (Via Volokh.)

CCAC free speech update

June 19, 2009

CCAC has responded to FIRE’s allegations that CCAC trampled a student’s free speech rights when she tried to form a gun-rights student organization. CCAC’s response is here, and FIRE’s subsequent press release is here. (CCAC earlier admitted that they did not reply to FIRE in a timely fashion.)

CCAC’s response falls quite a bit short of what might be hoped. It proclaims their support for free speech and claims that the student has not been disciplined. However, it reiterates its position that any mention of CCAC in a student’s literature, even with an explicit disclaimer of any affiliation, constitutes a claim of endorsement by CCAC that they must suppress. This argument is hardly defensible. Moreover, as FIRE points out, what then can be made of all the other organizations (such as the College Democrats) that CCAC does permit to use its name?

More troublingly, CCAC fails to rebut the two most serious allegations: First, the student was threatened with charges of academic misconduct. Second, CCAC’s dean said “You may want to discuss this topic but the college does not, and you cannot make us,” making clear the college’s desire to suppress the student’s speech.

The Illinois Way

May 30, 2009

Is anything honest in the State of Illinois? The University of Illinois admits that it bows to political pressure in admissions. (Via The New Editor, via Instapundit.)

Free speech is “academic misconduct” at CCAC

May 27, 2009

The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) has ordered a student to cease her efforts to organize a student group supporting gun rights, and labeled those efforts “academic misconduct”:

FIRE Press Release

PITTSBURGH, May 27, 2009—A student who wants to form a gun-rights group at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) has been threatened with disciplinary action for her efforts. Student Christine Brashier has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help after reporting that administrators banned her informational pamphlets, ordered her to destroy all copies of them, and told her that further “academic misconduct” would not be tolerated. . .

In April, CCAC student Christine Brashier created pamphlets to distribute to her classmates encouraging them to join her in forming a chapter of the national Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) organization at CCAC. The handbill states that the group “supports the legalization of concealed carry by licensed individuals on college campuses.” She personally distributed copies of the flyer, which identified her as a “Campus Leader” of the effort to start the chapter.

On April 24, Jean Snider, Student Development Specialist at CCAC’s Allegheny Campus, summoned Brashier to a meeting that day with Snider and Yvonne Burns, Dean of Student Development. According to Brashier, the deans told Brashier that passing out her non-commercial pamphlets was prohibited as “solicitation.” They told Brashier that trying to “sell” other students on the idea of the organization was prohibited.

CCAC also told Brashier that the college must pre-approve any distribution of literature to fellow students, and that pamphlets like hers would not be approved, even insisting that Brashier destroy all copies of her pamphlet. . .

When Brashier stated that she wanted to be able to discuss this policy freely on campus, she was told to stop doing so without the permission of the CCAC administration. Dean Burns reportedly said, “You may want to discuss this topic but the college does not, and you cannot make us.” Brashier was then told to cease all activities related to her involvement with SCCC at CCAC and that such “academic misconduct” would not be tolerated.

FIRE wrote CCAC President Alex Johnson on April 29 about these violations of Brashier’s First Amendment speech and association rights, pointing out that her free speech in no way constituted solicitation, that CCAC is obligated to permit students to distribute literature and may not ban it on the basis of viewpoint or content, and that if CCAC recognizes student organizations at all, it must recognize an organization that supports concealed carry on campus. FIRE requested a response by May 13, and CCAC responded only by promising a reply from either CCAC or the Allegheny County Solicitor’s office at some “reasonable” future time. Two weeks have passed since that promise, leaving the First Amendment in jeopardy at CCAC.

(Via Instapundit.)

Suppressing free speech is disgraceful. And, at a public college, illegal as well. But even worse is threatening students with bogus charges of academic misconduct. Anyone who would do that has no business at all running an academic institution.


March 27, 2009

This is pretty good.  (Via the Corner.)

Columbia imminent-domain-abuse update

February 11, 2009

Reason has the latest on Columbia’s land-theft effort.  (Via Instapundit.)

(Previous post.)

Why not bail out everyone?

January 6, 2009

A few weeks ago, the Economist had a story on universities that tried to employ the “Yale model” for investing their endowments without actually knowing what they were doing:

The model may also have been adopted by endowments that were too small for it. “You need to be very big and very diversified, and to be sophisticated enough to understand the risk management of complex investments,” says Anthony Knerr, who advises universities on funding strategies. Some of the hardest hit may be smaller endowments that adopted a “Yale-lite” strategy that they did not really understand. They may also have been unable to invest in the best hedge funds and private-equity firms, which have (until now) been able to pick and choose between investors.

But this is 2009; no one should have to suffer the consequences of one’s own bad judgement any more.  So the latest institution to look for a Federal bailout is the University of Virginia.

(Via Instapundit.)

Are articles in top journals more likely to be wrong?

December 22, 2008

A Greek epidemiologist makes the striking claim that articles in top journals are more likely to be wrong than ones in lesser ones:

IN ECONOMIC theory the winner’s curse refers to the idea that someone who places the winning bid in an auction may have paid too much. Consider, for example, bids to develop an oil field. Most of the offers are likely to cluster around the true value of the resource, so the highest bidder probably paid too much.

The same thing may be happening in scientific publishing, according to a new analysis. With so many scientific papers chasing so few pages in the most prestigious journals, the winners could be the ones most likely to oversell themselves—to trumpet dramatic or important results that later turn out to be false. This would produce a distorted picture of scientific knowledge, with less dramatic (but more accurate) results either relegated to obscure journals or left unpublished. . .

The assumption is that, as a result, such journals publish only the best scientific work. But Dr Ioannidis and his colleagues argue that the reputations of the journals are pumped up by an artificial scarcity of the kind that keeps diamonds expensive. And such a scarcity, they suggest, can make it more likely that the leading journals will publish dramatic, but what may ultimately turn out to be incorrect, research.

Dr Ioannidis based his earlier argument about incorrect research partly on a study of 49 papers in leading journals that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists. They were, in other words, well-regarded research. But he found that, within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies. For the idea of the winner’s curse to hold, papers published in less-well-known journals should be more reliable; but that has not yet been established.

I’m not familiar with Ioannidis’s research, so I can’t comment specifically, but there’s some room for skepticism. There are refutations and there are refutations. Did the refutations of these papers refute their specific findings, or the more general conclusions they drew from those findings? If it’s the latter, one could argue that there’s really no problem.

Still, it’s good to work in a field where you can prove your results with mathematical certainty (and, increasingly, with mechanical verification).

Columbia abuses imminent domain

December 5, 2008

Columbia University is working to steal its neighbors’ land, writes Damon Root for Reason. Here’s a low-light, written by one person whose land Columbia hopes to take:

Under New York state law, in order to condemn property the state first has to undertake a “neighborhood conditions study” and declare the area in question “blighted.” Earlier this summer the state released its study, which concluded that Manhattanville is indeed “blighted.” This gives the state the legal green light to condemn my four buildings and hand them over to the university.

The study’s conclusion was unsurprising. Since the commencement of acquisitions in Manhattanville by Columbia, the school has made a solid effort to create the appearance of “blight.” Once active buildings became vacant as Columbia either refused to renew leases, pressured small businesses to vacate, or made unreasonable demands that resulted in the businesses moving elsewhere. Columbia also let their holdings decay and left code violations unaddressed. . .

There is also a conflict of interest in the condemnation process. The firm the state hired to perform the “impartial” blight study — the planning, engineering and environmental consultant Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) — had been retained by Columbia two years earlier to advocate for governmental approval of the university’s expansion, including the possible use of eminent domain.

When I go to court in a few months to contest the condemnation, I will face an overwhelmingly unfair process particular to New York, and to eminent domain trials. I will not be permitted to question any of the state or Columbia’s representatives, nor will I be allowed to have anyone take the witness stand on my behalf. My attorney will only be provided with 15 minutes to speak to the court on a matter that Columbia and the state have been working on for over four years.

(Via Instapundit.)

FIRE on Delaware

November 1, 2008

FIRE has a retrospective on the University of Delaware’s 2007 re-education program.  Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear that it was actually dissolved.

(Via Instapundit.)

UCLA professor alleges its admissions violate the law

August 31, 2008

UCLA professor Tim Groseclose (known to readers of this blog as an author of the Groseclose-Milyo media bias index) is a former member of UCLA’s Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools.  He has resigned from the committee, alleging that UCLA is breaking California law by considering race in its admissions.

As the old adage goes, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.  Much of Groseclose’s evidence (pdf) is damning but circumstantial.  (For example, the university chancellor’s made remarks to the committee lamenting the decline in minority admissions and demanding that they put into place a new “holistic” system that would make it impossible for judge academic achievement separately from personal factors (pp. 3-4).)  So Groseclose, an economist, set out to look at hard numbers to see what the new admissions policy was actually doing.

Despite serving on the committee that oversees admissions, he was refused access to even a sample of the data.  After further agitation, it was decided that a “workgroup” would conduct a study that would be an official product of the committee.  Groseclose was appointed to the workgroup (they could hardly refuse him), but then the chair of the workgroup determined that the workgroup would not be permitted to look at the data either (p. 9)!  Instead, the workgroup’s sole purpose would be to hire an independent researcher who would do the study.

Groseclose’s motion that the workgroup should get access to a sample of the data was defeated by a 3-3 vote (pp. 9-10).  The same block of three votes (including the chairmen of the committee and the workgroup) that dismissed the motion also rejected several candidates to do the study and selected UCLA sociologist Robert Mare to do the study.  (Groseclose volunteered to do the study himself for free, which would have saved UCLA about $100k (p. 10), and with considerably stronger privacy guarantees than Mare (p. 11).)

The process gives every impression that UCLA has something to hide.  In fact, the workgroup chairman himself made an unguarded remark (p. 9) stating explicitly that he wished to control access to the data to prevent any dissenting report.

UCLA has responded to the allegations in an unconvincing fashion.  It trumpets the upcoming study when Groseclose has already shown the study to be part of the cover-up effort.

UIC covers up Obama-Ayers documents

August 18, 2008

Stanley Kurtz has been trying to look at documents in collection of the University of Illinois – Chicago. The documents pertain to Obama’s tenure on the board of (former terrorist) Bill Ayers’s organization, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Despite early assurances from UIC librarians, they keep finding reasons not to let him see the documents.

UPDATE (8/19): UIC has issued a statement.


August 5, 2008

I’ve just discovered WebCite, a great service that creates permanent archives of web pages for citation in scholarly works.  It’s also useful for bloggers who want to link to a page that might be changed or deleted.  Well done!

Quotas for women in science

July 15, 2008

They could be on their way, if activists and members of Congress have their way.  (Via Instapundit.)

In my department, many people earnestly believe that a Democratic administration would fix all of our funding problems.  I always thought that was naive, but it still didn’t occur to me that one might actually make things much, much worse.

Researchers covertly tracked 100 thousand people

June 5, 2008

Here’s a disturbing story:

Researchers secretly tracked the locations of 100,000 people outside the United States through their cell-phone use and concluded that most people rarely stray more than a few miles from home.

The first-of-its-kind study by Northeastern University raises privacy and ethical questions for its monitoring methods, which would be illegal in the United States.

It also yielded somewhat surprising results that reveal how little people move around in their daily lives.  Nearly three-quarters of those studied mainly stayed within a 20-mile-wide circle for half a year.

The scientists would not say where the study was done, only describing the location as an industrialized nation.

Ethical questions?  I’d say so.  Set aside the likely illegality of the study, the privacy issues, and the issues of human subject research.  By refusing to reveal where the study was done, they make it impossible to reproduce their results, thereby making the study useless.  (Of course, it would probably be hard to reproduce it anyway, due to the other ethical problems.)  I imagine that they’re holding that information back because of concern for legal consequences.

Professor fired for upholding academic standards

May 14, 2008

At Inside Higher Ed:

Other professors at Norfolk State, generally requesting anonymity, confirmed that following the 80 percent attendance rule would result frequently in failing a substantial share — in many cases a majority — of their students. Professors said attendance rates are considerably lower than at many institutions — although most institutions serve students with better preparation.

One reason that this does not happen (outside Aird’s classes) is that many professors at Norfolk State say that there is a clear expectation from administrators — in particular from Dean Sandra J. DeLoatch, the dean whose recommendation turned the tide against Aird’s tenure bid — that 70 percent of students should pass.

Aird said that figure was repeatedly made clear to him and he resisted it. Others back his claim privately. For the record, Joseph C. Hall, a chemistry professor at president of the Faculty Senate, said that DeLoatch “encouraged” professors to pass at least 70 percent of students in each course, regardless of performance. Hall said that there is never a direct order given, but that one isn’t really needed.

(Via Instapundit.)

Instructor sues over bad course evaluations

April 30, 2008

Dartmouth gets another black eye, courtesy of one of its English instructors. One Priya Venkatesan, after (deservedly) receiving profoundly negative course evaluations, decides to sue:

Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2008 20:56:35 -0400 (EDT)
From: Priya.Venkatesan@Dartmouth.EDU
To: “WRIT.005.17.18-WI08”:;, Priya.Venkatesan@Dartmouth.EDU
Subject: WRIT.005.17.18-WI08: Possible lawsuit

Dear former class members of Science, Technology and Society:

I tried to send an email through my server but got undelivered messages. I regret to inform you that I am pursuing a lawsuit in which I am accusing some of you (whom shall go unmentioned in this email) of violating Title VII of anti-federal [SIC] discrimination laws.
The feeling that I am getting from the outside world is that Dartmouth is considered a bigoted place, so this may not be news and I may be successful in this lawsuit.
I am also writing a book detailing my experiences as your instructor, which will “name names” so to speak. I have all of your evaluations and these will be reproduced in the book.

Have a nice day.

One’s first inclination is that this has to be a hoax, not just because of the idea of a lawsuit over course evaluations, but also because the person who wrote this was teaching English at Dartmouth. Nevertheless, the story seems to be for real. Still, I’m pretty sure Ms. Venkatesan hasn’t yet consulted a lawyer.

I think someone is about to be bumped from the Internet’s most hated people.

(Via Roger’s Rules, via Instapundit.)

CORRECTION: Venkatesan is an instructor, not a professor.  (Corrected the title, but I can’t correct the permalink.)

UPDATE: Another one sues his students!  This one is an actual professor, apparently, and a law professor to boot.  (Via Instapundit.)

New York Times: academic freedom “inexplicable”

April 15, 2008

In an April 4 editorial, the New York Times lambasts John Yoo, formerly a lawyer in the Justice Department, for his legal memo on interrogation that the Times says authorized torture. There’s a lot of blowhardiness to rebut here, and I’m not going to bother. But, there’s an astonishing statement in the middle:

Mr. Yoo, who, inexplicably, teaches law at the University of California, Berkeley, never directly argues that it is legal to [do various bad things].

(Emphasis mine.) Yoo, a tenured professor at Berkeley, took a leave of absence to work at the Justice Department before returning in 2004. During that leave, he produced a work of legal scholarship that proved politically unpopular. For the New York Times, that is apparently grounds for revoking his tenure. Nay, more than that; it is “inexplicable” that his tenure was not revoked.

Am I reading too much into one word? It’s hard to see what else “inexplicable” could mean, since “he has tenure” would otherwise appear to be an explanation. Moreover, I’m not the only one to read it this way. Other observers took it the same way, including the Dean of Law at Berkeley, who felt the need to put out a statement explaining academic freedom and tenure to the New York Times.

(Via the Volokh Conspiracy.)

UPDATE: Paul Campos, writing in the Rocky Mountain News, comes out and says it explicitly, and laments the lack of seriousness of those like Berkeley’s Dean of Law (and me) who think academic freedom might be an issue. (Via Instapundit.)

Distance learning

April 4, 2008

An e-mail received today:

Hi. I am not a student at your school but the professor of my class is out of town and I am stuck on a homework problem. If you could help me then I would appreciate it. I need to work the following problem, using only rules of inference and not conditional or indirect proofs.

. . . logic problem follows . . .

It used to be that when you tried to get strangers to do your homework for you, you would pretend it wasn’t homework.

US News rankings for programming languages

April 3, 2008

The US News and World Report rankings of graduate programs are out.  In addition to ranking schools by strength in fields overall, they also rank specialty areas such as programming languages.  (No permalink.)  Let’s take a look:

1 Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA
2 University of California–Berkeley
Berkeley, CA
3 Stanford University
Stanford, CA
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA
5 Cornell University
Ithaca, NY
6 Princeton University
Princeton, NJ
University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL
8 University of Texas–Austin
Austin, TX
9 Rice University
Houston, TX
10 University of Wisconsin–Madison
Madison, WI

This list seems pretty much random.  I’m glad to see my school on top, but the rest of the list is so strange that I can’t honestly take much satisfaction from it.  The University of Pennsylvania, which has one of the strongest groups in PL, doesn’t make the list at all!

Are all the US News rankings this bad?  Probably, yes.  One of the principles I’ve learned is when the media is wrong about anything of which I have direct knowledge, it’s probably wrong about everything else as well.

BONUS: Glenn Reynolds has some related thoughts about law school rankings.

A secret change to tenure rules?

April 2, 2008

At Baylor University, Inside Higher Ed reports:

Senior administrators have come to believe that departmental standards were not rigorous enough and so applied new standards, which have never been shared with faculty leaders, let alone with those who submitted tenure portfolios under the old standards. Largely as a result, tenure denials at Baylor this year — which have been about 10 percent annually in recent years — shot up to 40 percent.

(Via Instapundit.)

Setting aside the unfairness of this, Baylor is shooting themselves in the foot here.  It really can hurt recruiting if prospective hires worry that they won’t be treated fairly.  I can think of one major institution in particular (not mine, in case you’re wondering) that developed such a bad reputation that it was unable to hire anyone that would meet their standards for tenure.