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Because the world needs another opinion

A Letter from Dr. McCulloch to Nature

Posted by Jeff Id on August 6, 2009

Hu’s not too happy that his work was used without credit.  I imagine blatant plagiarism is new to him as well.  He’s actually requested a complete retraction of the Corrigendum

Here’s the letter posted on CA’s thread:


Hu McCulloch

<!––>August 6th, 2009 at 9:27 am

Here’s what I sent to Nature:

Date: Thu, 06 Aug 2009 10:50:11 -0400
From: Hu McCulloch
Subject: Fwd: Comment on serial correlation in Steig et al 2009

August 7, 2009

Dr. Philip Campbell, Editor in Chief
Dr. Karl Ziemelis, Chief Physical Science Editor

Dear Drs. Campbell and Ziemelis:

On Feb. 26, 2009, I informally published, in a well-known and closely watched
climate blog, a comment on the Jan. 22, 2009 Nature letter by Eric J. Steig et al.,
“Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet…” (vol. 456, pp. 459-62). In my
comment, I pointed out that the confidence intervals they published
made no compensation for serial correlation, and that
when this is done, the results are substantially weaker than they
reported, albeit not by enough to overturn them in the key case of West
Antarctica. On Feb. 28, 2009, I called the authors’ attention to my findings
in the e-mail copied below.

In yesterday’s issue of Nature, Steig et al. published a Corrigendum
replicating my findings, with essentially the same results. However,
they make no mention of my prior, well-distributed results, of which
I had made them aware. Instead, they present my prior discovery as if it
were their own.

According to your Editorial Policies, “Plagiarism is when an author attempts to
pass off someone else’s work as his or her own.” There is no submission
date published with the Corrigendum, but if it this was after Feb. 28, I would
submit that this Corrigendum constitutes plagiarism as you define it.

I therefore request that you retract the Steig et al. Corrigendum and
replace it with my e-mail to them, copied below. The e-mail provides
the URL to my Feb. 26 Climate Audit post, “Steig 2009’s Non-Correction
for Serial Correlation.”

Since your policy on corrections and comments is to publish them
“if and only if the author provides compelling evidence that a major
claim of the original paper was incorrect,” and this error did not
in itself overturn their key result, I did not submit my comment to Nature,
and only published it informally instead. But since you have
now published Steig et al.’s replication of my findings, they
evidently are important enough for at least a mention in Nature.

Thank you in advance for your careful consideration.

Sincerely yours,

J. Huston McCulloch
Professor of Economics and Finance
Ohio State University

Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2009 15:51:44 -0500
To:[edited by Jeff to remove All of the Steig et al.  authors emails]
From: Hu McCulloch
Subject: Comment on serial correlation in Steig et al 2009

Dear Dr. Steig and co-authors,
FYI, I have recently posted a comment on your 2009 paper in Nature
on Climate Audit, at .
While I was able to replicate or virtually replicate the 1957-2006 trends you report
on p 460 for the three regions and the continent as a whole, the 95% Confidence
Intervals you report appear to have taken no account of serial correlation
in the regression errors. When this is done, the CI’s are substantially wider
than you report.
Any reactions, by comments there or by e-mail, would be welcome!
— Hu McCulloch

J. Huston McCulloch
Economics Dept. voice (614) 292-0382
Ohio State Univ. FAX (614) 292-3906, attn. J.H. McCulloch
1945 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43210

Since the Corrigendum was published yesterday in the Aug 6 issue of Nature, I figured that today must be the 7th. I’ve sent them a correction to the date.

14 Responses to “A Letter from Dr. McCulloch to Nature”

  1. MikeN said

    They did come up with different numbers.

  2. curious said

    Oh God – not another Corrigendem to come?

  3. TAG said

    We should understand and note Dr. McCulloch’s qualification of his claim. If Steig et al did submit their correction before February 26th, then there would be no question of plagiarism. Climate science is, as we all know, rife with unsupported claims. We should be cautious in not adding to them. We should wait for Nature’s response to see if our indignation is justified

  4. Pierre Gosselin said

    You don’t understand. Hu’s work is not subject to confidentiality agreements and have no adverse impacts on “international relations”. Besides, they can be used academically 🙂

  5. Pierre Gosselin said

    If they did submit before 26 February, then Hu would have had to plagarised Steig. Or am I missing something.

  6. curious said

    TAG – fair point.

    How will we know when the correction was received? Presumably it would be normal for Nature to have a record of the date of receipt of a correction to a publication?

    Unlike the letter, which has it’s date of receipt and acceptance recorded, the correction only has the date of publication presented in Nature online.

  7. Jeff Id said

    It can only be plagiarized if it’s copied, it can’t be copied if it isn’t publicly available. There is basically zero chance that the Corrigendum was submitted before February, they are not peer reviewed and would therefore require Nature to sit on it for 5 months before publication. Very unlikely.

  8. Jeff Id said

    Hu covered his bases pretty well by conditioning the requested response on the timeline.

  9. Carrick said


    If they did submit before 26 February, then Hu would have had to plagarised Steig. Or am I missing something.

    Yeah, what plagiarism is.

    It would be plagiarism if e.g. Eric Steig had sent the correction to Hu McCulloch, and McCulloch had then posted in on a website and claimed it to be his own intellectual property.

    It wouldn’t be plagiarism if Steig had independently come up with the idea and sent it in as a privileged communication to Nature prior to McCulloch’s published comment.

    Chances are it doesn’t take anything like 5 months to publish a corrigendum and that Steig et al were aware of McCulloch comment.

    It would seem to me that a one-sentence acknowledgement of McCulloch’s work at the least would have been appropriate here, even if you didn’t use McCulloch’s analysis to arrive at your own but very similar conclusions.

  10. Mike D. said

    Nature is in incorrigible.

  11. Mike D. said

    Nature is incorrigible.

  12. Kenneth Fritsch said

    I could see this AR1 adjustment faux pas coming early in the game. My calculations are here in Post #’s 164 and 341 at . It was one of many weaknesses in the paper, but probably the most easily shown as a blatant error. In some ways pointing this error out and obtaining a correction diverts attention from some of the more basic problems with the paper that have not been acknowledged.

    These errors when acknowledged do, however, bring to mind a character out SNL named Emily Litella and played by Gilda Radner. She would get confused on reporting some issue on Weekend Update and then on being shown her error would invariably say “Oh, that’s very different…”, and then say “Never mind”. I have this visulaiztion of a coming issue of Nature reprinting the cover with the Steig article with large letters printed acrossed it spelling out “Never Mind”.

    Emily Litella was old and deaf, but I do not know what excuses some of these climate scientists have other than they already know, or presume to know, the answer.

    My wife and I have diffused many of a touchy situation with a Radner imitation, voice and all of “Never mind” in the place of facing a “I told you so”. The team might want to use it. Its use would show true humility.

  13. Jeff Id said


    I just spent the last half hour watching Gilda clips with my wife. Good stuff!

  14. hi, i discovered

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