We’ve been following with interest David Holland’s efforts to obtain information on how IPCC review editors discharged their important duties under IPCC process, with the most recent progress report here. Here’s another update.
Reviewing the bidding a little, IPCC policies state unequivocally that all “written expert review comments” will be retained for a period of at least 5 years.
All written expert, and government review comments will be made available to reviewers on request during the review process and will be retained in an open archive in a location determined by the IPCC Secretariat on completion of the Report for a period of at least five years.
Despite this unequivocal policy, John Mitchell of the UK Met Office, Review Editor of AR4 Chapter 6, claims to have destroyed all his working papers and email relating to his work as an IPCC Review Editor prior to Jan 30, 2008, when David Holland’s first inquiry were made. David Holland has made a series of requests trying to exclude potential evasions by the UK Met Office.
Mitchell’s initial response was:
For my own part, I have not kept any working papers. There is no requirement to do so, given the extensive documentation already available from IPCC.
This response was untrue. IPCC regulations, with which Mitchell as a senior UK Met Office employee and IPCC Review Editor, was or ought to have been familiar, clearly require that all written expert comments (including his) be retained. So yes, there is a requirement to do so that Mitchell ignored.
We observed earlier that, in the modern day and age, it seemed inconceivable that Mitchell could have discharged his duties without any trace or ripple in the electronic pond. On April 1, 2008, Holland submitted an FOI request to the Met Office asking for all emails to and from Dr Mitchell in his capacity as IPCC Review Editor. This yielded a few emails responding to Holland’s January 31, 2008 request, but no emails or correspondence from the actual IPCC process. The Met Office response of May 1, 2008 stated:
This is all the information held by Dr Mitchell, on behalf of the Met Office regarding all of your questions asked.
To foreclose against the possibility that the Met Office was taking an extremely narrow view of the “questions asked”, Holland re-iterated his FOI request, asking for all correspondence between Dr Mitchell and various named IPCC authors and institutions.
Holland FOI Request, May 5, 2008
Dear Ms Archer,
Your ref: 07-04-2008-160851-014
Request for Information concerning the IPCC, 2007 WGI Chapter 6 Assessment Process
Thank you for your letter of May 1, 2008, according to which the Met Office did not identify any relevant correspondence prior to January 31, 2008 containing any mention of the Hockey Stick dispute. I am surprised that they claim that there is no such correspondence.
Accordingly, I hereby request the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and/or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004:
All letters, facsimile and email correspondence to or from Dr Mitchell in connection with his work as an IPCC Review Editor, including, but not limited to correspondence between Dr Mitchell and the following individuals involved in the assessment: Drs Susan Solomon, Jean Jouzel, Eystein Jansen, Jonathan Overpeck, Philip Jones, Keith R. Briffa, Jean-Claude Duplessy, Fortunat Joos, Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Daniel Olago, Bette Otto-Bliesner, W. Richard Peltier, Stefan Rahmstorf, Rengaswamy Ramesh, Dominique Raynaud, David Rind, Olga Solomina, Ricardo Villalba, De’er Zhang, and Timothy Osborn, and/or the following institutions: IPCC, IPCC Working Group I Technical Support Unit, IPCC Working Group II Technical Support Unit, DEFRA and/or CRU.
Please note that the above request is not limited to correspondence containing references to the Hockey Stick dispute, but for all correspondence to or from Dr Mitchell in his capacity as IPCC Review Editor.
Here is the Met Office response once again stonewalling the inquiry:
2 June 2008
Our ref: 06-05-2008-154502-011
Dear Mr Holland
Re: Freedom of Information
Your letter dated 5 May 2008 has been considered to be a request for information in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
You asked for all correspondence to or from Dr Mitchell in his capacity as IPCC Review Editor.
Information held by Dr Mitchell in respect of IPCC Review Editor has already been sent to you and he confirms that much of the business was done at the review meetings and as such there was no requirement for him to keep any material from the meetings. Any records and correspondence had already been deleted and the information is not held by the Met Office.
I hope this answers your enquiry. Your further enquiry is now receiving attention and I will respond to you as soon as possible.
If you are unhappy with this response or you wish to complain about any aspect of the handling of your request, then you should contact me in the first instance. If informal resolution is not possible and you are still dissatisfied then you may apply for an independent internal review by contacting the Director of Information Exploitation, 6th Floor, MOD Main Building, Whitehall, SW1A 2HB. Please note that any request for an internal review must be made within 40 working days of the date on which the attempt to reach informal resolution has come to an end.
If you are still unhappy following an internal review, you may take your complaint to the Information Commissioner under the provisions of Section 50 of the Freedom of Information Act. Please note that the Information Commissioner will not investigate your case until the MOD internal review process has been completed. Further details of the role and powers of the Information Commissioner can be found on the Commissioner’s website, http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk.
It seems inconceivable to me that neither the Met Office nor Mitchell can produce even a single email pertaining to his duties as Review Editor. They say that “any records and correspondence” had already been deleted. Lots of possible questions here. I presume that Mitchell’s correspondence with IPCC and IPCC authors used his Met Office email address.
You’d think that the Met Office, as a public institution, would have a document retention policy. Most public corporations have document retention policies, policies which set out dates at which documents are to be destroyed. This can be relevant in litigation. So I guess one question that arises out of this: does the Met Office have a document retention policy and, if so, what is it? This would be an obligation that is distinguishable from IPCC policies. Then one can ask: did Mitchell delete his correspondence in accordance with Met Office document retention policies or was his destruction of the documents in breach of Met Office document retention policies?
It also seems bizarre that the Met Office purports to have no record of Mitchell’s correspondence. If this is true, then isn’t there a security issue for the Met Office? Suppose that Mitchell, out of pure spite, decided one day to delete correspondence pertaining to a large Met Office contract. Would the Met Office be left naked?
Mitchell’s story about deleting his IPCC correspondence is surely very odd. As a senior Met Office scientist, he must receive a large volume of email. At the end of a calendar year, I personally bundle my year’s email that was extant at that date, into an archive and start a new slate. It’s easier to do that than to spend a lot of time parsing through a year’s email.
On June 4, 2008, Holland notified the Met Office that he was not satisfied with their response as follows:
Dear Ms Archer,
Your ref: 07-04-2008-160851-014, Request for Information concerning the IPCC, 2007 WGI Chapter 6 Assessment Process
Thank you for your letter of 2 June 2008. I am not satisfied with Dr Mitchell’s response to my FOIA Request, and I am formally advising you of it, and of my intention to follow the appeals process on this matter if we can not reach a mutually agreeable resolution.
Please advise me of the approximate date when Dr Mitchell claims to have deleted his emails and destroyed all his paper records. I would remind you that it was less than a year after the release of the IPCC WGI report when I first contacted Dr Mitchell and I find it surprising that as a busy senior professional, potentially with an ongoing professional relationship with the IPCC and its many participants, he would so soon seek to destroy his working papers. I am also puzzled as to why, as was disclosed in the email documents you sent me, Dr Mitchell felt it necessary to discuss by email how to deal with my request with several other long serving IPCC participants, if at the time he did not have any information to disclose in any case.
The last thing I want to do is to question the integrity of your Chief Scientist and would ask that you use whatever technical resources you have to establish that Dr Mitchell is not simply mistaken in his assertion that he has deleted all his relevant computer records and correspondence. I have in mind that an organisation of your standing and importance will have in place procedures and systems designed to guard against accidental and malicious deletion of computer files that are important to you. I would expect that as part of your due diligence procedures you would archive all deleted emails. Please check with your IT experts if, as I would expect, you have recoverable backups.
On June 4, 2008, Holland received an acknowledgement letter as follows:
Thank you for your letter dated 4th June 2008. Dr Mitchell is away from the office at present, he will be back in on 16th June and I cannot comment on the points you have raised. I will let him have your letter and will get back to you as soon as possible.
I hope this is acceptable to you.
So there’s some more to come on this story.