NIH, the National Institutes of Health, defines research misconduct as
fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results
with the proviso
Research misconduct does NOT include honest error or differences of opinion
The emphasis is in the original. Other funding agencies have similar definitions.
Some climate change sceptics would appear to believe that a different definition should apply to climate scientists: being a climate scientist.
Allegations of research misconduct have been made against several climate scientists. Michael Mann and Phil Jones have, together, endured at least five inquiries into academic misconduct and been exonerated by each. I’m not aware of any climate scientist who has had an inquiry into academic misconduct make material findings against them.
Perhaps it is the hope that they will eventually that drives Doug Keenan, who has just submitted his fourth (I believe) formal allegation of research misconduct (in addition to several other claims of misconduct that he has not pursued formally – including against the Met Office). His previous allegations against Professor Wang (University at Albany) for his work on urban heat islands and Professors Manning (University of Reading) and Kuniholm (Cornell University) for their work on dendrochronology, were dismissed. This time he is making allegations of misconduct against Christopher Bronk Ramsey on the Bishop-Hill blog and reporting that he has submitted the allegations to Oxford University. Keenan’s allegations of misconduct stem from Bronk Ramsey’s radiocarbon work which Keenan claims is in error.
Keenan takes issue with two aspects of Bronk Ramsey’s work. The first is in how radiocarbon dates are calibrated. Keenan has argued in a paper published in Nonlinear Processes in Geophysics that the standard method of calibrating radiocarbon dates is wrong. Bronk Ramey continues to use the standard methods, as implemented in his OxCal software. Keenan believes this is grounds for a misconduct complaint – I fail to see how it can be categorised, at this stage, as more than “differences of opinion” even if Keenan was correct. And he certainly is not.
I wrote about the problems with his paper last year. The basic problem with Keenan’s proposed method is that it assumes that all radiocarbon ages are equally likely – they are not. Radiocarbon dates that correspond with plateaux in the radiocarbon calibration curve are more likely than dates that correspond to steep parts of the curve. Today, others have explained the same in the comments at Bishop-Hill (see comments by Radford Neal and Nullius in Verba) . Keenan has yet to either accept that he is wrong or to try to demonstrate that he is correct.
The second allegation concerns the correct method for combining radiocarbon dates. Keenan believes that Bronk Ramsey used the wrong method in some papers and asks if corrigenda will be published. Despite Keenan’s combative email, Bronk Ramsey’s response is constructive and explains that the choice of model is “ultimately is a matter of opinion”. Neither in the email nor the paper does Keenan demonstrate that the choice of model makes a material impact on the results.
Keenan’s allegations of misconduct against Bronk Ramsey are hopeless – both complaints can be ascribed to “differences of opinion” and thus be dismissed. Keenan must know this – some of his previous complaints were dismissed on the same grounds. Any honest errors are Keenan’s. These allegations, like the allegations against Mann and Jones before, will consume the time of the researchers and the committee assembled to investigate the complaint. When his complaint is inevitably dismissed, Keenan will no doubt complain about biases in the system, and other climate sceptics will nod vacuously.
Given its likelihood of success (almost exactly zero), it is difficult to see Keenan’s current complaint as anything other than vexatious. Hopefully, he will realise there are errors in his calibration procedure, withdraw the complaint, issue a corrigendum to his paper, and apologise to Christopher Bronk Ramsey. Well one can hope.