Nov 2009 23

There has been quite a storm raging on the blogosphere over the last few days about a large batch of emails, climate data and other information that has allegedly been leaked or hacked from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit. It's not in the TPA's field or remit to go into the scientific debate but one aspect of the published correspondence is very much on our patch, and it is very revealing.

If the emails are to be believed, then it seems that the scientists at the CRU have been waging a running battle against releasing any information under the Freedom of Information Act. A number of people had been making requests for the release of their data and correspondence – a legitimate target for an FoI, particularly given the large amounts of taxpayers' money flowing into the CRU, the controversy of the topic and the sizeable impact on public policy that the Unit seeks to have.

For the requesters, the responses of the CRU seem to have been frustrating but standard – rejections of their requests on the varied grounds of commercial confidentiality, excessive time involved in gathering the data and pernickety definitional issues.

The emails reveal the horrendous attitude of the CRU towards these requests behind the scenes, and their furious efforts to defy and even break the FoI Act.

Here are a couple of key quotes:

Professor Phil Jones, Director of the CRU, explains how he lobbied to overturn UEA's FoI Officer's instruction to answer FoI requests and schmoozed the person responsible for FoI appeals:

"When the FOI requests began here, the FOI person said we had to abide by the requests. It took a couple of half hour sessions – one at a screen, to convince them otherwise showing them what CA [a popular "sceptic" website] was all about. Once they became aware of the types of people we were dealing with, everyone at UEA (in the registry and in the Environmental Sciences school – the head of school and a few others) became very supportive. I've got to know the FOI person quite well and the Chief Librarian – who deals with appeals. The VC [Vice Chancellor] is also aware of what is going on – at least for one of the requests, but probably doesn't know the number we're dealing with."

Prof Jones's colleague, Prof. Keith Briffa – who is a Reader at the CRU – spells out their attitude towards Freedom of Information quite neatly:

"I have been of the opinion right from the start of these FOI requests, that our private ,
inter-collegial discussion is just that – PRIVATE. Your communication with individual
colleagues was on the same basis as that for any other person and it discredits the IPCC
process not one iota not to reveal the details. On the contrary, submitting to these
"demands" undermines the wider scientific expectation of personal confidentiality . It is
for this reason, and not because we have or have not got anything to hide, that I believe
none of us should submit to these "requests"."

This is of course absolutely disgraceful behaviour on the part of these academics and their institution. They might have felt this was an imposition or an invasion, and they may have felt that their research should have been out of the grubby grasp of the general public, but the law is clear.

This is a rare insight into the attitude within many public bodies towards transparency, and the refusal to accept the principle of the FoIA is undoubtedly all too common. While the people and the media love FoI for the power it disseminates, those who have lost their privileged status still resent it deeply.

Even more serious than their appalling attitude is the instruction by Prof Jones to his colleagues to delete emails that are apparently subject to an FoI request.

On May 29th 2008, Prof Jones instructs colleagues to delete emails in a message helpfully titled "IPCC & FOI":

"Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise. He's not in at the moment – minor family crisis. Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don't have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise."

AR4 is an IPCC report that Keith Briffa and others at the CRU worked on together, and at least one FoI request on exactly this correspondence had apparently been submitted by a David Holland on May 5th 2008.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 expressly forbids – on pain of criminal conviction – destroying information that has been requested under FoI. As the Information Commissioner puts it:

If information is held when a FOIA request is received, destroying it outside of your normal records management policies will result in a breach of the Act. You must confirm that you hold the information and consider disclosure, subject to any exemption. It will also be a criminal offence to conceal or destroy information if this is done with the intention of preventing disclosure under either FOIA or EIR.

This offence is punishable with a fine of up to £5,000.

Tellingly, another email from Prof Jones later that year shows that UEA's internal FoI team had evidently become concerned about his secretive actions:

"I did get an email from the FOI person here early yesterday to tell me I shouldn't be deleting emails"

If the FoI team were concerned that Prof Jones might be breaking the law - and even committing a criminal offence - on an area that they are legally responsible for, they should have reported him to the Information Commissioner. Perhaps his flowering relationship with the FoI officer and the Chief Librarian precluded this.

Happily, he's never tried to become matey with us, so we're reporting him and his colleagues to the Information Commissioner this afternoon.

Irrespective of how important your subject area is, what your views on the topic might be, or how much you dislike the person making the request, Freedom of Information is too valuable and too important to just be ridden over roughshod like this.

Mark is a writer and political campaigner, ardent libertarian and eurosceptic.

  • Mike Rouse

    Bang on.

  • Nick

    I’ve also emailed the Vice Chancellor. I suspect he might be interested in the wool being pulled over his eyes, and that the CRU is exposing UEA to ridicule and prosecution

  • AndrewSouthLondon

    Bang on the money, articulate and lethally aimed.
    This is all funded from public money.Given the shoddy quality of their intellectual workmanship (The “read me” file and data management practices would shame any organisation) if I were a government agency funding their research I would be looking to ask for my money back.
    But those agencies forget its our money they have wasted commissioning climate research from this bunch of incompetents

  • Jim

    There needs to be a full, open and frank investigation, with forensic investigation of all the CRU servers to get to the bottom of this.
    IF the CRU have been deliberately or even inadvertently creating misleading data, due to personal bias, then we need to know about it BEFORE the entire planet is returned to the stone age.
    As it is, purely from a computer science standpoint (my area of expertise) the code released shows that the entire temperature reconstruction record is utterly unreliable. It is fixed to create a record that supports a warming trend, regardless of the data entered. That is not science, that is naked propaganda.
    If public money has been used to create this, then there needs to be a full and open and public investigation.

  • Paul

    Good stuff – but you have missed some of the most shocking quotes. For example from the elegantchaos website number 1107454306.txt,
    “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.”
    Also 1219239172.txt,
    “Keith/Tim still getting FOI requests as well as MOHC and Reading. All our FOI officers have been in discussions and are now using the same exceptions not to respond – advice they got from the Information Commissioner. As an aside and just between us, it seems that Brian Hoskins has withdrawn himself from the WG1 Lead nominations. It seems he doesn’t want to have to deal with this hassle. The FOI line we’re all using is this. IPCC is exempt from any countries FOI – the skeptics have been told this. Even though we (MOHC, CRU/UEA) possibly hold relevant info the IPCC is not part our remit (mission statement, aims etc) therefore we don’t have an obligation to pass it on.”

  • Ghillie

    I have also e-mailed the Vice Chancellor asking whether the 2 Professors – and anyone else – have been suspended pending an investigation into the allegations. After 30 years in public service, I know that allegations of this seriousness and potential impact should result in suspension. The V-C is an historian, so perhaps he will take a more upright view that some of these scientists appear to.

  • Richard

    The emails are less damning but easier to disseminate than the crucial HARRY_READ_ME.txt file that is in the documents folder. This details one poor programmers 3 year attempt to make sense of the truly shambolic data handling of the team and appears to suggest that the data was always made to fit the theory. Phrases like “I could make it up, so I did” and “we don;t know what we lost” are used to describe databases. More than once this Harry states that the databases are, and always have been, unreliable.
    This work became V3 of the CRU’s IPCC briefing.
    They lost some of the data, stored the rest so haphazardly that it was almost impossible to re-integrate, and the records they couldn’t find, it seems they simply invented.
    These people should be drummed out of academia and prosecuted.

  • JohnOfEnfield

    There is no need for any legal activity or suspensions or any of the (albeit excellent) formal ideas suggested above.
    Laughter, mirth & good old p**s-taking of the “Academics” involved by their colleagues, their seniors & providers of grants and ME and YOU as typical tax-payers should be more than enough. Would YOU employ any of these people or allow anyone else you could influence to do so?
    An “inconvenient truth” indeed. (Has anyone told Billionaire Gore yet?).

  • Bob in Devon

    It is beyond question that the climate is changing; that man is completely responsible is very definitely not! That is why I am delighted at the revelations of the CRU at the University of East Anglia.
    Complicit in this misrepresentation of the science is the BBC in its TV and radio output. For over 3 years I have been trying to elicit answers from both Mark Thompson (Director General) and Sir Michael Lyons (Trust Chairman). All I had received was sophistry and obfuscation, until I engaged the help of my MP, Nick Harvey.
    Recently it came to light that a report had been commissioned in June 2007 jointly by the Trust and BBC Board of Management entitled “From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel-Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century”. It concluded: ‘There may be now a broad scientific consensus that climate change is definitely happening and that it is at least predominantly man-made… the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus’.
    Despite this damning evidence from their own report, they steadfastly cling to the belief that their impartiality is intact as required by the BBC Charter. Such is their state of denial that Sir Michael Lyons has even tried to deliberately mislead Nick Harvey despite evidence I have to the contrary.
    In light of this I have posed the question, through Nick Harvey: “On whose authority did the BBC cease to be an impartial Public Service Broadcaster, as required by its Charter, and become the judge, jury and sponsor of such dangerously specious political dogma so eloquently described as ‘…the consensus…’?
    Answer comes there none! I believe it is time for the BBC to be subjected to an enquiry on this matter.

  • Richard

    At least 1 BBC employee is speaking about this, and he’s a weatherman…!
    Emails were out there on the 12th, suggests it wasn’t a hacker doesn’t it? Surely they’d have wanted to get the info up on the net well before Copenhagen…?

  • Paul

    All of this information is actually covered by the Environmental Information Regulations and not FOI. The EIR is better in many ways as it allows fewer exemptions from disclosure than FOI.

  • Chris

    Given that they are trying to extort billions of pounds from people and companies all over the world to “save the planet”, this surely amounts to the biggest financial fraud ever. Never mind a fine and a few years in jail, there are far bigger penalties on the horizon. One of them will tell all soon to save his miserable neck from prosecution.

  • Ayrdale

    From New Zealand… your actions are commendable. Well done.

  • Susmita Chatto

    Thanks TPA for pushing this. Little bit of coverage on Newsnight tonight but we do need more. FOI being denied is yet another sign of the sinister activity taking place around climate change dogma.

  • Roger

    Anthony Watts at WUWT blog has interesting 3rd theory on how the emails got out.

  • david craig

    It’s difficult to get a man (or woman) to do something when their salary depends on not doing it


    In the USA the founder of the” Weather Channel’ Mr .John Coleman is going to take Al Gore to court,because of the inaccurate information his ‘ Climate Change’ views.
    Should be interesting !
    It seems over 30,000 scientists aren’t to happy with Big AL GORE either.

  • Nick Fraser

    Michael Mann in his own words on the stolen CRU emails. On DeSmogBlog. Get the real, full story, at least from the author of the website. Google is your friend.

  • John Walker
  • David Stride

    I thought it was telling that “Professor” Jones’ succesful tactics to get his UEA FoI regulators and VC on-side was to explain “the types of people we were dealing with” – the type presumably who show an academic and scientific rigour and scepticism about the received wisdom on climate change. He sounds more like a confessor than a professor; climate change belief has taken on the characteristics of a religion with unbelievers deemed the wrong type of people to be allowed to debate the doctrine – sorry ‘facts’.
    If Jones, his co-conspirators, the VC and others exposed as complicit, remain in their posts one has to doubt whether UEA deserves to retain the title of ‘University’. Certainly, as an employer, I would doubt the value of any degree from such an institution.

  • Ian

    Although i’ve always been sceptical of the new religon of climate change being man made (i’m still waiting for the ice age that “experts” promised us 20 years age) this is worrying regardless which side of the argument you stand. How can scientists hide data and information that may or may not support their claims illegally without prosecution.
    Just as impotant Governments are using these claims to introduce laws and raise taxes.

  • Keith

    Just following on from Paul’s comment re the Environmental Information Regulations
    I wonder how we can tell if the CRU have received any EIR requests?

  • schumpeter

    It’s clear that the scientists were being subjected to a great deal of harassment and even threats. Maybe their response was not very professional, but it was understandable.
    However, no evidence has been presented that any data was suppressed or distorted, or that genuine researchers were refused access to the data.

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