Interesting Note on the FOIs

Eli Rabett has a great post over at Rabett Run on the FOI requests and the CRU data issue.

Here, for old time’s sake, is the link to the CA thread on the CRU data, in which Steve McIntyre urges people to issue FOI requests for confidentiality agreements.

Here is McI:

Let me review the request situation for readers. There are two institutions involved in the present round of FOI/EIR requests: CRU and the Met Office. Phil Jones of CRU collects station data and sends his “value added” version to the Met Office, who publish the HadCRU combined land-and-ocean index and also distribute the CRUTEM series online. [my emphasis — note the term “present round of FOI requests”]

I requested a copy of the “value added” version from the Met Office (marion.archer at metoffice.uk.gov) which has been refused for excuses provided in my last post. On June 25, 2009, learning that Phil Jones had sent a copy of the station data to Peter Webster of Georgia Tech, I sent a new FOI request to CRU ( david.palmer at uea.ac.uk) requesting the data in the form sent to Peter Webster. This too was refused today.

And later in the post:

This is the first time that we’ve heard that their supposed confidentiality agreements merely restrict “further transmission to non-academics”. A couple of observations on this. I’m sure that CRU will soon receive a similar request from someone to whom this excuse does not apply.[referring to McK?]

However, aside from that, there are other troubling aspects to this refusal. If there actually are confidentiality agreements, I would expect the relevant language to be framed in terms of “academic use” as opposed to guild membership i.e. I’d be surprised if the language were framed in terms of institutional affiliation as opposed to use. I’ve published relevant articles in peer reviewed literature, acted as an IPCC reviewer, been cited in IPCC AR4, been invited to present to a NAS panel – my use of data is “academic” by any legal standard.

Note: he’s clearly not an academic and he has stated that his goal is to “audit” the IPCC. It is not be become an academic. He doesn’t mention that most of his peer-reviewed work is in a journal (E&E) that is not a science journal and that publication of his work was rushed through by its self-admittedly biased editor and that all it takes to be an IPCC reviewer is to sign a confidentiality agreement. His McAuditing is not academic.

Secondly, over at the Met Office, they say “it cannot be determined which countries or stations data were given in confidence as records were not kept.” But over at CRU, they purport to “know” nuanced details of the contractual language of the confidentiality agreements – clauses that have the effect of justifying the refusal of the data.

Weak. The two are not mutually exclusive. It’s entirely possible to remember details of agreements but not have access to them. I remember my grade 4 report card quite well, but it is no longer in my possession.

What’s of interest is this:

Steve McIntyre

Posted Jul 24, 2009 at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Reply

I sent the following follow-up today:

Dear Mr Palmer,

I am not satisfied with your response to my request.

In your letter, you stated that the “Information is covered by a confidentiality agreement” and that the terms of this(these) agreements “prevent further transmission to non-academics”.

I requested the data for academic purposes. I have published relevant articles in peer-reviewed literature; I was a reviewer for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report; I have been invited to make presentations to a panel of the US National Research Council, at a Union session of the American Geophysical Union and to several universities. I undertake that my use of the data will be for “academic” and not commercial use. In addition, it is my expectation that any restrictive language in the relevant confidentiality agreements will apply only to the “use” of the data and my use is academic; I doubt that the restrictive language is explicitly framed in terms of affiliation. Accordingly, I request that you review the actual restrictive language in the various confidentiality agreements and, if the language, as I surmise, pertains to “use”, I request that you re-consider your decision and provide the requested data.

In addition, I hereby make a separate FOI request in in respect to the confidentiality agreement(s) upon which you based your decision for the following countries: Canada, United States, Australia, U.K., and Brazil:

1. the date of any applicable confidentiality agreements;
2. the parties to such confidentiality agreement, including the full name of any organization;
3. a copy of the section of the confidentiality agreement that “prevents further transmission to non-academics”.
4. a copy of the entire confidentiality agreement,

Thank you for your attention.

Yours truly,

Stephen McIntyre

And then this:

If you do so, please post up a copy of your letter so that we can keep track of requested countries.

I suggest that interested readers can participate by choosing 5 countries and sending the following FOI request to david.palmer at uea.ac.uk:

Dear Mr Palmer,

I hereby make a EIR/FOI request in respect to any confidentiality agreements)restricting transmission of CRUTEM data to non-academics involing the following countries: [insert 5 or so countries that are different from ones already requested]

1. the date of any applicable confidentiality agreements;
2. the parties to such confidentiality agreement, including the full name of any organization;
3. a copy of the section of the confidentiality agreement that “prevents further transmission to non-academics”.
4. a copy of the entire confidentiality agreement,

I am requesting this information for the purposes of academic research.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours truly,

yourname

What follows in the comment thread is request after request from CA readers.

Here is a link to the response to the FOIA request for the number of FOIAs to CRU.

The table below lists all FOIA requests we have received relating directly to the CRU or staff who work in the CRU from 1 January 2005 until 22 December 2009.

The following 58 requests were of a similar nature requesting details about the confidentiality agreements associated with data sources used by the CRU. Most of these requests were refused.

Here is a link to the page with a summary of the above.

Here is the request:

Dear University of East Anglia,

I request a list of FOI requests that have been made to UEA
relating to the Climate Research Unit, including the content of the
request, and its status (answered, turned down, pending, etc),
going back to the commencement of FOI.

Here, out of interest, are some emails that are pertinent:

At 17:07 29/07/2009, you wrote:

Hi, Phil,
Yes, Friday-Saturday I noticed that ClimateFraudit had renewed their
interest in you. I was thinking about sending an email of sympathy, but
I was busy preparing for a quick trip to Hawaii – I left Monday morning
and flew out Tuesday evening and am now in the Houston airport on my way
home.
Data that we can’t release is a tricky thing here at NCDC. Periodically,
Tom Karl will twist my arm to release data that would violate agreements
and therefore hurt us in the long run, so I would prefer that you don’t
specifically cite me or NCDC in this.
But I can give you a good alternative. You can point to the
Peterson-Manton article on regional climate change workshops. All those
workshops resulted in data being provided to the author of the
peer-reviewed paper with a strict promise that none of the data would be
released. So far as far as I know, we have all lived up to that
agreement – myself with the Caribbean data (so that is one example of
data I have that are not released by NCDC), Lucie and Malcolm for South
America, Enric for Central America, Xuebin for Middle Eastern data,
Albert for south/central Asian data, John Ceasar for SE Asia, Enric
again for central Africa, etc. The point being that such agreements are
common and are the only way that we have access to quantitative insights
into climate change in many parts of the world. Many countries don’t
mind the release of derived products such as your gridded field or
Xuebin’s ETCCDI indices, but very much object to the release of actual
data (which they might sell to potential users). Does that help?

Regarding AR4, I would like to be part of it. I have no idea what role
would be deemed appropriate. One thing I noticed with the CLAs in my
old chapter is that if one isn’t up to doing his part (too busy, or a
different concept of timeliness, or …) it can make for a difficult
job. You and I have worked well together before (e.g., GSN) so I’d be
delighted to work with you on it and I know you’d hold up your side of
the tasks. We touched on this briefly at the AOPC meeting. If I get an
opportunity, I would say yes.
But I also don’t know what the U.S. IPCC nominating approach would be or
even who decides that. There is an upcoming IPCC report on extremes and
impacts of extremes and I wasn’t privy to any insights into the U.S.
nominations other than when it was over it was announced in NCDC staff
notes that the nominations had been made. However, Kumar had earlier
asked if he could nominate me, so he did (I provided him with the details).
Regards,
Tom

Tom,

If you look on Climate Audit you will see that I’m all over it!
Our ftp site is regularly trawled as I guess yours is. It seems that
a Canadian along with two Americans copied some files we put there
for MOHC in early 2003. So saying they have the CRU data is not
quite correct. What they have is our raw data for CRUTEM2 which
went into Jones and Moberg (2003) – data through end of 2002.
Anyway enough of my problems – I have a question for you. I’m
going to write a small document for our web site to satisfy (probably the
wrong word) the 50 or so FOI/EIR requests we’ve had over the weekend.
I will put up the various agreements we have with Met Services.
The question – I think you told me one time that you had a file
containing all the data you couldn’t release (i.e. it’s not in GHCN). Presumably
this is not in your gridded datasets? Do you know off hand how much
data is in this category? Would NCDC mind if I mentioned that you
have such data – not the amount/locations/anything, just that there is some?

On something positive – attached is the outlines for the proposed Chs in AR5/WG1.
Ch1 is something Thomas thinks he can write himself – well with Qin Dahe, so
only 13 chapters. There are a lot of issues with overlaps between some of the
data chapters 2 with 3, 2 with 5 and 2 with 14.
I’m still thinking about whether to get involved. It would be 2 if I decide. At the
moment I’d say yes, but I might change my mind tomorrow! Nominations are
from Nov09 thru Jan10 with the selection made in April 10. Are you considering
getting involved?
I have got the IPCC Secretariat and Thomas to raise the FOI issues with
the full IPCC Plenary, which meets in Bali in September or October. Thomas
is fully aware of all the issues we’ve had here wrt Ch 6 last time, and others in
the US have had.
Cheers
Phil
Prof. Phil Jones
Climatic Research Unit Telephone +44 (0) 1603 592090
School of Environmental Sciences Fax +44 (0) 1603 507784

So, whaddya think?  Vexatious? Nuisance? Or legitimate academic interest?

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8 Responses to “Interesting Note on the FOIs”

  1. Susann,
    You are not going back far enough in your review of the history of the FOI requests. The first request for data was made by Warwick Hughes and Jones, displaying quite the anti-science attitude, just refused. Jones did so on the grounds Hughes would just try to find something wrong with the data. Well, yes. Science is supposed to be self-correcting. But that can only happen when scientists are open, transparent and uphold the standards of science. Jones did not. Others requested the data and Jones refused. Then the FOI requests for data began.

    (the next para is also written by me and appears on this blog. I’m going to copy and paste because it is pertinent here also)
    Then they used the FOI process and were told they could not provide the data because of certain confidentiality agreements with different countries. Then it came out they provided data to other researchers so they FOI’d the same data given to those people and were told they could not provide the data to non-academics. So an academic, Ross McKitrick, asked for the data and was refused because of the confidentiality agreements mentioned before. So then they FOI’d the confidentiality agreements and Phil Jones posted a few agreements on the website and said others were lost (the old my dog ate my homework excuse). The agreements posted on the website said nothing about not providing the data to non-academics (or to anyone else if I remember correctly). Then someone inside of CRU who knew they were breaking the law by not complying with the FOIs evidently released information he thought was pertinent to the FOI requests. This included emails. Once this all broke in the press, their defense was they were beseiged by FOI requests and they just wanted to focus on their work. It is a bogus excuse because the FOI requests never would have happened if they had just provided the data the first time they were asked.

    I will say that I believe I had a hand in this “round” of FOI requests Steve referred to. I’m quite proud of the fact. See my comment at http://climateaudit.org/2009/07/23/uk-met-offices-refuses-to-disclose-station-data-once-again/#comment-188433

    I did not actually use the term FOI, but per did just two comments later. What I provided was the reason to FOI the confidentiality statements. If we could determine what countries put this secrecy requirement on the data, perhaps we could appeal to their sense of science to release the data. I have to admit that I did not believe for a minute that Jones was telling the truth about these confidentiality agreements. And I was right about that. But the suggestion we contact the countries involved was my suggestion and it launched the round of FOI requests Steve discusses in this post.

    • You were actually wrong about the confidentiality agreements:

      http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/availability/agreements.pdf

      A few quite telling quotes:
      “The condition is that you do not use them commercially or give them to a third party.”

      “Data sets must not be passed on to third parties under any circumstances.”
      (and even worse “Once the project work using the data has been completed, copies of the datasets and software held by the end user should be deleted, unless permission has been obtained for them to be retained for some alternative use”

      “Please do not supply this data to third parties, unless authorized by us.”

      There you go, Jones telling the truth, Ron Cram not paying attention.

      Of course, all of this is essentially mute. McIntyre *could* have made his own temperature reconstruction. GISS did. NCDC did. Some NMSs have done so. THAT is how science advances.

      • I said the agreements did not say anything about release to non-academics. I mentioned my uncertainty about others.

        So, how much trouble is Phil Jones in for providing the data to Peter Webster?

        By supplying the agreements, it wass my idea to ask for the agreements by the way, Jones gives people the ability to go to the governments involved and ask them to do the right thing and release any restrictions on the data. Scientific data should never have restrictions on them in the first place.

        Regarding McIntyre, it is not his goal to reproduce his own reconstruction. His purpose is to find errors in the current ones. Science is supposed to be self-correcting. He is providing a very valuable service.

        • Regarding McIntyre, it is not his goal to reproduce his own reconstruction. His purpose is to find errors in the current ones. Science is supposed to be self-correcting. He is providing a very valuable service.

          Ron, that is either so amazingly disingenuous or naive. I can’t decide which.

          He has done nothing to improve climate science. In fact, given than nothing has changed in terms of the science, all he has done is bring a great amount of heat and NO light to the matter. His “poking holes” in climate science has achieved nothing, but it has led to the smearing of climate scientists and climate science in general. He has been a tool, witting or unwitting, of the denialists hoping to scuttle any climate legislation and raise unfounded doubt about AGW, no matter how.

          When I think that Phil Jones has received death threats over this — all because he wouldn’t give data to a energy exec and self-styled hole poker and rabble that follows him — data he was not legally allowed to give out due to confidentiality agreements — well, there are no words. As you say, McIntyre didn’t want the data for any academic or scientific purpose. As you admit, he wasn’t planning on doing anything with it except poke holes. He already had most of it. He could have got it all elsewhere if he wanted to do real science instead of harassment of scientists and discrediting of scientists.

          Which suggests the real motives behind his FOI assault.

        • If his goal is not to produce his own reconstruction, he’s not out to provide a valuable service to science. It’s the Briffa-Science 2004 (IIRC) all over: he *could* do something himself, and then use the same approach as Briffa to test what information can be obtained, but no, he just wants to repeat the analysis.

          That does not bring forward science. In particular (as Susann points out in less clear language) if that auditing is solely aimed at a certain group of people, while leaving the ‘other’ side free to come with nonsense.

    • Ron, you could have had all the data from other sources, isn’t that right?

  2. Ron Cram: “I said the agreements did not say anything about release to non-academics.”

    It’s right there in the agreement that was posted:

    “Arrangements have been set in place whereby bona fide academic researchers working on agreed NERC-endorsed scientific programmes may obtain access on favourable terms to UKMO data (and associated software). To streamline the process, UKMO is providing relevant datasets I software ‘wholesale’ to NERC and NERC will then undertake the subsequent sublicensing and distribution to individual scientists…

    …It is to be expected that ‘bona fide academic research’ using the data will eventually result in scientific publications in the open literature. ‘The Data Centres will request details of such publications in due course, and if they do not arise UKMO may seek further evidence that this was at least the intention at the outset of the research.”

    McIntyre is not a scientist. His work was not for bona fide academic research to be published in the peer reviewed literature (and before you say it, E&E is not such a journal, it’s own editor has said so).

    No issue as far as I can tell.

  3. Unfortunately, FOI and ‘academic interest’ really have little relation to each other. A basic principle behind most FOI legislation is that the burden of proof falls on the body asked for information, not the person asking for it. The requester does not usually have to give an explanation for their request, but if the information is not disclosed a valid reason has to be given. It matters little whether the requested information was/is to be used for academic purposes. The fact that a request, under FOI, was made is the salient point. How Steve McIntyre uses the information has little relevance under FOI. About time the science community understood that fact.

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