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back to article ICO waves stick at climate boffins over FoI compliance

The Information Commissioner's Office has made its first move to force a public sector organisation to improve its compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. It has required the University of East Anglia (UEA) to sign a commitment to further improve the way it responds to FoI requests. Until now, the ICO has only required …

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WTF?

What am I missing here?

If I do some research, why should I be compelled to share my results with anybody?

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RE: Anonymous Coward

Because if your research will cost every person in the country money, it needs to be scrutinised.

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Boffin

You forgot the part where

...the government commissioned the research in order to inform debate on a matter with very significant public policy implications.

Research dollars always come with strings attached - if you don't want the strings don't take the money. Easy!

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Grenade

You shouldn't...

Unless of course your research is funded by government grants in which case I as a taxpayer should be perfectly entitled to find out how you are spending MY money. Obviously if that research involves national security then fair enough that's research you don't want every Tom, Dick & Harry to see. This however is research on climate change and their data is something the "researchers" are always more than happy to use to force a change in both public opinion and government policy. The fact that they were not willing to co operate with FOI requests especially to sceptics and would rather destroy the data than hand it over to them tells me bucketloads about their research and it's validity. If they didn't have something to hide and the data was as good as they said, they would have been happy to throw the data at the sceptics and FOI requesters for them to try and disprove.

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Its obvious

because thats how scientific research works. Nobody works in a vacuum, you do research to publish the results not to hoard them away and keep them private. Plus as has been mentioned by others, if you are taking public money to do that research, it should be scrutinisable by the "public"

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You don't

Unless of course you're shaping government policy with it or spending taxpayers money on it.

Get a clue

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Anonymous Coward

Such as ...

... Philip Green's Efficiency Review. Didn't hear you all clamouring for the data on that one. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Millions are spent on researching how to spend further billions. And I never hear the commentards asking to see any of it.

I'm all for greater transparency, but let's have a level playing field, eh?

I want full access to all data for any reports commissioned by the "skeptic" lobby. I want full access to prospecting data for oil and minerals before any government subsidies are granted. I want full data on research into nuclear energy, particularly where private interest is due to benefit. I want full data on every single penny that is spent on diplomatic relations with other countries, down to the level of what brand of toilet paper used, particularly in the US embassy, as that country has a known history of engaging in industrial espionage against British and European rivals.

The list is pretty endless really.

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Anonymous Coward

I do hope ...

.... all the above commentards feel the same way about any and all weapons research, any and all nuclear research, any and all pharmaceutical research, any and all ... well ... you get the picture. Quite a lot of this research has government funding behind it, and will affect our future in profound ways.

I'm fairly sure the above commentards don't feel the the need to question every last bit of research, and are just happy with the comforting rocking motion of their particular bandwagon.

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@John Dee

Straw man arguments. Exceptions already exist for *real* national security issues.

Do not feed

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Not fraud, just a bit tight with info

So the information commissioner is nagging UEA after we basically got all the info we wanted.

It's hard to see how the UEA improving their response to FoI requests would have exposed global warming as a fraud any better than leaking the emails. In fact the UEA could have prevented the hacking by placating people with a little bit of info.

The impact of the leaks was pretty big but the only policies that seem to change are the ones concerned with spin.

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The leaked emails showed no fraud

Absolutely nothing in the emails suggested fraud, conspiracy or any of the other wild eyed allegations that anti global warmers imagined the emails said.

The emails do show however frustration by individual scientists that they had to waste time supplying data on demand to anti global warming bloggers and so forth. Completely understable really.

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All they had to do

Was publish their raw data freely on a website and there would have been no need to waste any time on FOI requests at all.

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Wow some people are idiots

Look at all the thumbs down I got! Here is an impartial summary of "climategate" for those who can be bothered to read the facts.

http://www.factcheck.org/2009/12/climategate/

No conspiracy, no coverup. Just a bunch of scientists' chitchat which occasionally got a bit bitchy especially when dealing with some of their critics frivolous demands.

As for "raw data" placating FOIA requests, go read this email to see what they were dealing with. The raw data was already available.

http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=936&filename=1226500291.txt

The requests merely wanted to "audit" the scientists including reading their email correspondence and other arbitrary and intrusive demands. It's no wonder they were getting pissed. A human failing to be sure, but not evidence of some vast conspiracy, because there isn't one.

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@ DrXym

Are you feckin stupid?? If I do legitimate research which I claim proves something, I'll let the whole world see it and attempt to rebuke it. If UEA were convinced their research is genuine then what's the problem with placating the doomsayers?

As it turns out UEA's constant attempts to refuse to provide this info not only made them look guilty but indeed proved they were. I guess you're one of those idiots who believes what the authorities say no matter how big a bunch of lying hypocrites they turn out to be eh?

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Wild-eyed scientists

The problem is that, despite their claims of education in the matter of systematic enquiry, the "scientists" are often as "wild-eyed" and fanatical as those who oppose them. It's an understandable consequence of having spent years in some obscure field, then finding that others are taking an interest and poking holes in your methods and in the assumptions with which you've become so familiar that you hardly think about them any more.

Scientists have mortgages, wives and kids to support, like everybody else. As in any field, most of them aren't especially good at what they do. This shows up when they start fiddling the figures or trying to restrict publication of those articles which make them feel especially uncomfortable.

As for the "frustration" (sic) of scientists expected to expose the data which they've been paid to collect, they should perhaps remember that not only is it their job to expose it but it's particularly easy in this age of computer aids. Any reluctance to give up this information leads properly to the suspicion of deception.

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It wasn't the emails it was the data and the code...

The emails were a mere sideshow that occupied the scientifically illiterate media. The REAL smoking gun was the data and code that was also made public which showed what an utter shambles these models are. There was no apparent code control or data integrity control, there were "fixes" included in the code that appeared to be nothing more than fudge factors to "fix" the answers to what was expected and overall it seemed nobody really understood what the models were doing, as shown by the scary comments made in the 2000+ line readme file that was distributed.

This is what discredited the research, but since the topic was too complicated for the brain-dead liberal arts graduates that populate the mainstream media, it was barely reported on...

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Unhappy

@Mr Cheese

Who are these doomsayers?

"If UEA were convinced their research is genuine then what's the problem with placating the doomsayers?"

I'm happy to treat a six year old like a human being as much as the next person, but if the little shit is just tearing around the room, repeating everything I say in a mocking moronic tone, screaming like a falling bomb, and otherwise being an anti-social monster then I'm sure there would be many people standing next to me in refusing to engage (in anyway) with the wee fucktard. That all said I'm not drawing any analogies, just saying that I'd rather face down an entire play group of similarly wired kids than have to endure one anti-climate change troll, at least the kids might learn and grow in to something positive.

Anywho enjoy the rest of the solstice y'all!

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Flame

@DrXym - There mightn't be fraud but....

There mightn't be fraud but....

I read many of those emails, in fact the download zip is still on this PC (FOI2009.zip / 63,415KB), and I can definitely say that you don't have to be a climate scientist to realise that some of the scientific wording is pretty sloppy.

Years ago, when I was studying science, there's no way I'd have gotten away with such sloppiness. This isn't abbreviated email banter either--I do that in my profession too but it at least makes scientific sense to another technical reader--some of this stuff was just unacceptable (even if private correspondence), as it purports to convey scientific ideas.

Sloppy documentation ==> means sloppy experimentation ==> means sloppy science.

(That we're paying for.)

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Anonymous Coward

All the commentards had to do ...

.... is realise that the raw data was indeed publicly available.

You lot are currently 13 to 1 in favour of supporting factually incorrect statements.

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Anonymous Coward

You clearly don't do research

Every field attracts cranks, trolls, armchair professors and other irritants.

One doesn't usually engage with these people. They devote a lot of time and energy to accusing you of all sorts of evils and you'd never get any work done.

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Anonymous Coward

@GW

"some of the scientific wording is pretty sloppy"

Which scientific wording? For someone criticising someone for sloppiness you've not exactly provided gold-standard proof of your argument.

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Silver badge

Work/personal e-mails

I'm trying to work out what an FOI request to an academic department's e-mails would mean. I mean, I use the one e-mail address for both work and personal e-mails, and many personal e-mails are sent to the same people who I work with. Maybe I should just have a personal e-mail and use that for work purposes as well, and then this becomes pointless?

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Hmm...

"Maybe I should just have a personal e-mail and use that for work purposes as well, and then this becomes pointless?"

I'm fairly sure this would be against "company" policy in most cases.

I don't have it to hand, but our own policy basically says all company comms must go through company channels. So using your personal email for sending/receiving work emails is not allowed.

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Silver badge

I had a look

I had a brief look through our IT policy and didn't find anything. And is there a difference between a personal e-mail between colleagues, in which you discuss some research, and a work e-mail? I mean, academic research is ill-defined work, which we do at various times not in the office, so the line between work and personal stuff is blurred significantly.

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@DavCrav

The intent of asking for correspondence was to enable critics to quote mine, cherry pick and otherwise shout "CONSPIRACY!" even if there wasn't one. The requests were basically someone asking another person for a stick with which to beat them with and its clear from the leaked emails that scientists were pissed about it.

I wonder if biologists & paleontologists have to deal with similarly intrusive FOI requests from creationist flakes.

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Global warming

I don't know about FoI requests, but Global Warming has really been buggering up my trains the last couple of weeks.

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@ Dale3

Global Warming didn't do that, Climate Change did. Note the name change once the scientists couldn't hide the fact the planet is cooling and not warming

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repeat after me...climate is not weather...

weather is not climate.

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@MrCheese

The models suggested that extremes would become more common.

I.e. Some places would get hotter and drier, others would become colder and wetter.

One example *MAY* be increases in the amount of snow in northern Europe increasing in recent years, another *MAY* be floods in Queensland ('The Sunshine state').

However to attempt to negate the over-whelming scientific consensus with an argument over journalistic terminology suggests you are either trolling or gullible.

(BTW, your statement is also inaccurate, the average sufrace temperature of the earth has risen 0.74 ± 0.18 °C in the past 100 years, the 'hockey stick graph' has been repeatedly verified, tobacco is harmful to health, 1995 was not the hottest year on record (its likely to be 2010, which was hotter than 2009), the 'Little Ice Age' only affected parts of the globe, and the earth is not flat).

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@AGirlFromVenus

How do you measure climate change without measuring weather patterns?

ie snowy weather = weather , snow is also a by product of a cold climate (not exclusively but none the less), therefore they are inextricably linked.

I love hearing people say weather is not climate as it just reminds me how people will just repeat and repeat what they have been 'told'.

A snowy day may not a cold climate make, but 3 of the coldest winters (in my memory) in a row does a colder climate make

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Weather is not climate...

...unless it's some weather that can be blamed on global warming. So if we have a hot summer next year, brace yourselves for the torrent of uninformed punditry from the dumbed-down media.

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Go

Tourenttential

"...brace yourselves for the torrent of uninformed punditry from the dumbed-down media..."

I always fit my sowester and mac before opening the sluice gates of "news".

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in my memory 1963

was colder.

Meanwhile, the temperature where I am is currently 25 deg C and we are feeling cold becuase it was 36 recently.

It may help your understanding of climate vs weather if you consider that the Earth has two hemispheres, and that in order for one to have personal experience of changes in climate over several decades, onne has to have lived for several decades.

3 successive years is less than several decades.

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@Phil

It seems there are a lot of Reg readers who'd lap it up to. I wasn't expecting the parade of ignorance from the likes of MrCheese that has gone on in this thread.

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Anonymous Coward

@MrCheese

Say, does your name represent what's between your ears?

You do know that Climate Change is a shorthand term for long-term change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods of time, while Global Warming is shorthand for the increase in the average temperature of Earth's near-surface air and oceans since the mid-20th century don't you?

Just because the media doesn't know its arse from its elbow when it comes to reporting science (and just because you've read one too many conspiracy theory sites) doesn't mean the scientists involved in studying this stuff don't.

Both climate change and global warming exist. Global warming is the scientific, peer-reviewed consensus and is the current best-fit explanation for the change in climate happening at the moment.

The planet is getting hotter, not cooler.

Now go away and read some scientific documentation on the subject.

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Anonymous Coward

@Rafe

Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elements in a given region over a long period of time.

Note the bit where it says "a long period of time".

Now I know when you're age three three years is a long period of time but the phrase "a long period of time" doesn't mean "three years".

As for people repeating what they've been told - I expect you came up with your "entirely original views"</sarcasm> about what makes a colder climate all by yourself and didn't read them somewhere else at all.

Three of the coldest winters in a row /in Britain/ does not an overall /global/ colder climate make. Increased precipitation may occur as a result of increased /global/ temperature, extreme weather may occur as a result of increased /global/ temperature. Just because it's colder here doesn't mean the world is warmer overall.

What makes a colder climate is decreased overall global temperature. What we see when we look at the facts (rather than the contents of your mind) is that overall global temperature is rising and rising at a rate which is alarmingly quick in relation to fluctuations in temperature over the past few million years.

If you want you can continue to believe the earth is flat. Don't expect people not to laugh at you when it becomes patently clear it's an oblate spheroid.

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Alert

The problem is two fold.

The first issue is that the climate is indeed changing, but not in a way that merits the taxation attributable to "global warming" when its clear the average global temperature is faliing.

We had global warming to bring us out of an ice age, perhaps we are heading back that way, the problem is they cant tax us on the planet getting cooler so its better to hide this away and massage the figures and results for the public as a whole.

The second issue is scientific arrogance, much the same as when the Labour governments "research" on DNA retention turned out to nothing but a sham and fabrication, the hope was the wider public wouldnt notice and the researchers involved would get away with it. When governments fund research and scientists make up results the public will lose what little faith they have.

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there'll be another one in a minute

Whenever I think of flip-flopping I think of this:

http://www.foresight.org/nanodot/?p=3553

Whatever the latest facts, they'll change before long - and always have:

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Boffin

Freedom of Information

The idiots making the FOI requests are clearly not bright enough to read scientific journals. Were they to have an ounce of smarts, they'd realise such volumes give pretty detailed accounts of research by individual groups and researchers. Indeed, a researcher is measured by how many articles they have published, and the 'impact factor' of such articles. Sharing is the name of the game.

As a researcher myself, I will not feel obliged to answer in detail every FOI request thrust upon me, given that my time is split between negotiating research grants, protecting IP from corporations, managing students, teaching them, oh - and actually doing research. As far as I'm concerned the ICO can, in Glesga parlance, get it right up them.

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Not just a good idea, it's the law

@AC 22:08: If you're not interested in obeying the law regarding your funding, I'm sure it can be diverted to someone more law-abiding in future. Whether you "feel" it or not, you (or rather, your University) ARE obliged to answer the requests - it's exactly that arrogance which got UEA in trouble in the first place. They escaped punishment through a dodgy loophole of delaying tactics - this time. Hopefully, in future the ICO will take a much harsher line.

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Grenade

"As far as I'm concerned the ICO can, in Glesga parlance, get it right up them."

Great, so pay the fines or go to jail you arrogant little fuck.

If the FOI applies to you, it's because we pay your wages, sonny.

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Boffin

A little too Frank

How would that be? Any projects paid for by industry don't come under the FoI as you don't pay for them (indeed there are often legal agreements restricting what can be published,; and all publically funded research is available for scrutiny on the web and in journals - indeed we are obligated by research councils to publish results and engage with the public as much as possible.

The issue at stake here is how FoI requests are dealt with: if the information is already 'out there', I fail to see what an agenda-driven request for synopsis is, other than a waste of public money and researchers' time.

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AC@09:21

"if the information is already 'out there', "

That's the key point. The information was *not* out their and repeated efforts to get it "out there" were met with what were a variety of excuses.

Had *all* the information been made accessible no double some deniers would have constructed explanations which "proved" humans have nothing to do with climate change.

The rest of the scientific community (given *all* the raw data to process) could then go through *both* models to see what was more plausible.

However the evidence from the harry-readme-file is that it's hard to tell how much *original* data still exists (It's not clear to me if the data *is* available from the original sources or it's simply "gone.") and *exactly* what tools with what settings were applied to it to give the final *announced* result.

Human activity *has* changed climate on a relatively short timescale (CFC releases affecting ozone levels within c3 decades of production starting). I believe humans are affecting the global average temperature.

But that's my *belief* and I think the evidence (and its analysis methodology) needs a thorough review. This has not happened.

thumbs up for your PoV but it's based on a mistaken assumption.

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Alert

No conspiracy? No, apart from the conspiracies...

"Absolutely nothing in the emails suggested fraud, conspiracy or any of the other wild eyed allegations that anti global warmers imagined the emails said"

So the mails didn't demonstrate a covert backdoor group plot to prevent dissenting authors gettting published in key journals? Didn't include scientists swapping tips on how to hide data and emails from FOI requests? Didnt' include requests to similarly shape raw data into a matching pattern that hit model "backcasts" - 'hiding the decline'? There's three conspiracies revealed by climategate for you, just from memory. Oh,a nd thats' without the giant gaping conspiracy that is the "model" - packed with fudge factors that even the guy developing it can't find a reason for - other than to somehow match historical data.

What climategate revealed was that whatever sustains AGW, it is NOT science. If someone behaves in this way with their data, they ar enot a scients. What scientist *throws away* raw data FFS? WHO does that? No one does that. No one does that.

AGW is a scam.

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You'll laugh at this...

The main argument against complying with FOI requests seems to have been that the enquirers were a bit of a nuisance - basically because of what they might DO with the information.

Well here's something really amusing... The FOIA doesn't concern itself with what the enquirer wants the information for. You have to supply it to whoever asks, whatever they want it for.

Bit of a shock that isn't it?

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Happy

OT A weather and climate analogy.

Weather is like that old relative some of you have. The one whose smoked X cigarettes a day for the last n decades and still seems fit and well.

Climate is the detailed breakdown of mortality statistics that show *most* smokers *will* die of a cause which is worsened by or directly linked to smoking, suggesting that while quitting would not *ensure* they'd be alive today their chances of doing so would be a hell of a lot better.

Both are *literally* correct. One is comforting. The other offers a practical course of advice if you want to live longer.

BTW smoking and obesity may prove to be the 2 best mass screening tools to identify key genes for life prolongation. Anyone surviving to a significantly above average age with both of these problems should make an interesting DNA sequencing excercise.

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