FOI and the "Unprecedented " Resignation of British Speaker

Readers have sometimes proposed that I try to enlist the support of a British MP for efforts to get information from the various stonewalling UK climate institutions, such as Fortress CRU. In fact, it seems that British MPs have had their own personal reasons for not supporting FOI. For the past 5 years, they have stonewalled FOI requests by journalist Heather Brooke for details of their expenses (2006 comment here). Speaker Michael Martin led the stonewalling campaign. Brooke challenged the MPs in court and, in May 2008, won a notable success. But a year later, even with a court victory, she was still no further ahead.

In the last couple of weeks, the ground suddenly shifted. Using a tried-and-true method (chequebook journalism), the Daily Telegraph purchased a disk with details of MP expenses. The reasons for the stonewalling became pretty clear. MPs expensed the public for things like repairs to the moat at the family castle of one MP to a subscription to Playboy Channel for the husband of another MP. No detail seemed too large or small not to be charged to the public. A climate scientist would have said that the situation was “worse than we thought”.

The worst of the trough-feeding arose over provisions entitling MPs to purchase and improve 2nd and 3rd homes at public expense, under the guise of being nearer Parliament or nearer their constituency, even if the 2nd home was only a few miles closer to Parliament than the original home. MPs as a class seem to have become small-time real estate speculators with the public underwriting the cost of their speculations, but not the capital gains. The public anger is not just about the chiseling, though the anger about the chiseling is real enough, but about the influence of these sorts of perqs and benefits and MPs as a class.

The exposure of the pigs at the trough has angered the British public and amused the rest of the world (e.g. CBC in Canada here.

One of the first casualties of the affair was Speaker Michael Martin, who had been administered the expense program and who had directed the prolonged litigation against revealing the expenses. Martin became the first speaker since the Little Ice Age to resign – in climate science, this is known as an “unprecedented” resignation.

After spending five years trying unsuccessfully to get the expenses, Heather Brooke was understandably a bit sour at being scooped by the Daily Telegraph merely buying the information, but gamely expressed some vindication at this sorry mess being exposed, observing sensibly:

But I don’t begrudge the paper. It is getting the story out in the most cost-effective way possible. What’s unforgiveable is that the House of Commons repeatedly obstructed legitimate requests and then delayed the expense publication date and that MPs went so far as to try to exempt themselves from their own law. I wonder, too, how much we would have actually seen if we’d waited for the Commons to publish, given that MPs were given a free hand to black out anything that was “personal” or a danger to their “security”. These terms have been so overused by MPs that I’ve no doubt that items such as cleaning the moat would have been removed for “security” reasons, as would the house-flipping scandal, as an invasion of MPs’ privacy…

And now MPs are feeling morose. Tough! They’ve had plenty of opportunities to do the right thing by parliament and by the people. At every juncture they behaved in the worst possible way. They refused legitimate requests, they wasted public money going to the high court, they delayed publication, they tried to exempt themselves from their own law, they succeeded in passing a law to keep secret their addresses from their constituents so as to hide the house flipping scandal …

As CA readers, David Holland, Willis Eschenbach and I have been given a variety of fanciful and untrue excuses by climate scientists stonewalling FOI requests. Within this reverse beauty contest, the excuses of Hadley Center executive John Mitchell for refusing to provide his Review Comments on IPCC AR4 chapter 6 are among the most colorful: first, Mitchell said that he had destroyed all his correspondence with IPCC; then he said that they were his personal property. David Holland then submitted FOI requests for Mitchell’s expenses for trips to IPCC destinations and information on whether he had done so on vacation time, while also confronting Hadley Center with their representations to the public on how Hadley Center scientists were doing the British public proud through their participation as Hadley Center employees in IPCC. So Hadley Center foraged around for a new excuse – this time arguing that releasing Mitchell’s review comments would compromise British relations with an international organization (IPCC), IPCC in the meantime having informed Hadley Center that it did not consent to the review comments being made public – ignoring provisions in the IPCC by-laws that require them to make such comments public. In administrative law terms, there is unfortunately no recourse against IPCC – an interesting legal question that we’ve pondered from time to time (also see Global Administrative Law blog here.)

We’ve also tried unsuccessfully to obtain Caspar Ammann’s secret review comments on chapter 6, which IPCC failed to include in their compilation of Review Comments and which Ammann and Fortress CRU have refused to make public.

It’s hard to picture exactly what’s in the Mitchell correspondence (or Ammann correspondence for that matter) that’s caused the parties to be so adamant about not disclosing comments that are properly part of the public record. In Mitchell’s case, I suspect that the reluctance arises not so much from the fact that anything particularly bad was said, but merely that the record would be embarrassingly empty – thereby showing (what I believe to be) an almost complete casualness to discharging any obligations as a Review Editor other than swanning off to IPCC destinations.

As long as we don’t know, it will of course be a mystery. A couple of weeks ago, MP expenses were a mystery as well.


60 Comments

  1. Posted May 21, 2009 at 8:59 AM | Permalink

    Even getting their GMST data is getting hard. Hadley hasn’t released the April GMST anomaly yet. It getting pretty late.

  2. Ade
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 9:24 AM | Permalink

    When the news started to leak out that MPs expenses were to be published, unexpurgated, in a national newspaper; there was an immediate and tangible sense of panic in Whitehall. Some MPs were said to be on suicide watch…

    At the time (and when the first few stories trickled out that fateful Monday), the whole thing had a bit of a “so what” ring about it. The expenses claimed were easy for the politicians to dismiss & pooh-pooh (e.g. Brown and the 6000UKP cleaning bill). What’s really been amazing about this story, however, is how it’s just grown & grown, and how the entire political class has been inexorably drawn into it.

    Our MPs have no credibility left, whatsoever.

    snip – piling on

  3. Mark T
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 9:56 AM | Permalink

    Hehe. As far as I know, US Congressmen (women) aren’t so flippant as to charge the people for a home near the office in DC. No, they simply charter private jets at the public expense.

    Mark

  4. Mark T
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 9:58 AM | Permalink

    -piling on

  5. David Watt
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 10:12 AM | Permalink

    One of the side effects of the Westminster MP’s behaviour is that their electoral support is slipping away to the smaller parties which with few if any MP’s were by and large uninvolved in the scandal.

    Notable amongst these is UKIP which apart from its distaste for the EU is the most climate sceptical of the British political parties.

    It would be good if they were successful as one of the great problems in opposing climate alarmism is that nearly all of our great political parties are scientifically illiterate and will believe pretty much anything they are told by self serving “official” science.

  6. MangoChutney
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 10:57 AM | Permalink

    I think MEP Heimer asked the question in parliament about Mitchells refusal to provide the information, but the answer he got back was unsatisfactory

  7. MangoChutney
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:07 AM | Permalink

    Sorry, that should have been Helmer and the question is here:

    http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+E-2008-5303+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

    Is the Commission aware of correspondence on climate issues between Dr John Mitchell, Chief Scientist of the Hadley Centre and Review Editor of AR4 Chapter 6, and the IPCC? Specifically, the correspondence which took place prior to 30 January 2008 and where reference was made to the so-called ‘hockey stick’ dispute?

    Is the Commission aware that the Met Office appears to be resisting requests for copies — for example, those requests made by David Holland — of this correspondence? For more information, please use the following link: http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=3208

    What action can the Commission take to ensure that this important correspondence, of great public interest, is published in a timely way?

    answer here:

    http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getAllAnswers.do?reference=E-2008-5303&language=EN

    Answer given by Mr Potočnik on behalf of the Commission

    The Commission has no knowledge of the correspondence exchanged between Dr J. Mitchell and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change nor is it aware of the reluctance of public bodies in the United Kingdom to disclose it.

    The European Community has no competence with regard to the implementation of freedom of information laws in the Member States. The Commission is therefore unable to take any action that would lead to disclosure of the requested correspondence.

    Looks like he asked the wrong people unfortunately

  8. AnonyMoose
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:15 AM | Permalink

    (also see Global Administrative Law blog here.)

    There seems to be a link missing here.

  9. Bob
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:23 AM | Permalink

    OK, your next move is simple. Take up a collection then pay someone to ‘leak’ the documents in question. I am sure there are a lot of deserving grad students and minions at these guys’ institutions who would be glad to supplement their miserly stipends with a little midnight hacking.

  10. Dishman
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

    What are they hiding?

    It may be as little as their own personal insecurities and fear of criticisms…

    or even less, not wanting to interrupt an obsession…

    but it’s really difficult to trust someone who isn’t open and honest.

  11. Mark Smith
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:30 AM | Permalink

    A climate scientist would have said that the situation was “worse than we thought”.
    …in climate science, this is known as an “unprecedented” resignation.

    I nearly spilt my coffee…these little nuggets of wit are beyond price.

    • Posted May 21, 2009 at 12:18 PM | Permalink

      Re: Mark Smith (#11),

      I’m just curious why those aren’t considered “piling on” and anything we say might be.

      • Posted May 21, 2009 at 1:29 PM | Permalink

        Re: Jeff Alberts (#14), One’s gotta laugh sometimes. I think it’s the rhythm of the whole thread you have to watch, a little’s ok but – whoops, that’s enough. Nothing personal. And we all overstep at times.

        • Posted May 21, 2009 at 1:56 PM | Permalink

          Re: Lucy Skywalker (#16),

          I love to laugh, but Steve’s entire post is piling on “climate scientists” when the post is about MPs. If we can’t pile on, why allow comments?

  12. Mike Bryant
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:45 AM | Permalink

    Hmmm…
    Maybe if a few checks were passed out to interns or assistants here in the USA there would be lots and lots of climate information available.

  13. Allen63
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 12:04 PM | Permalink

    I think information is being withheld principally to avoid the “bother” of criticism in most cases. I see that as a form of arrogance.

    But, I also sure much of the science is “shoddy” to a degree and would not hold up well to scrutiny. In that sense an arrogant scientist’s self confidence may be misplaced.

    Thing is, credible research is only credible if it is publicly documented to a degree that it can be easily replicated (by an expert possessing the wherewithal) — and is subsequently independently replicated. Consequently, the mere fact that adequate public documentation is lacking, discredits the undocumented research (as many have noted over and over).

  14. Ivan
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 1:36 PM | Permalink

    “Martin became the first speaker since the Little Ice Age to resign – in climate science, this is known as an “unprecedented” resignation.”

    You made my day.

  15. stan
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 1:36 PM | Permalink

    I think the point in Steve’s post is that the more political that science gets, the more scientists act like politicians.

    [And all of this is merely a reminder of a fundamental truth - power corrupts.]

  16. Eve N.
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 2:02 PM | Permalink

    Because they’re amusing. Let it go.

  17. Andrew
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 2:11 PM | Permalink

    What does a corrupt Labour Government have in common with a “top climate scientist”? Many will say certain things about politics, but now we can say “Non-disclosure” and not offend anyone.

    Stan is right. This is a case of power corrupting-and that scientists act like Pols is disturbing indeed.

  18. AdrianS
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 2:13 PM | Permalink

    I think the MP’s expenses saga just demonstrates people may not be trusted, also I think some of the “green loby” have got thier noses in the green trough. You cant trust climate scientists necessarily they will say what they ned to maintain lifestyle and fit in with other close associates
    All in All we need sites like this one to Audit whats is really going on. Good Work

  19. stephen richards
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 2:15 PM | Permalink

    The expenses problem is a mere penny in the proverbial fort knox in comparaison to the UN and EU members. They have also refused to publish but some information has trickled out.

    You can bet your bottom dollar that the UN IPCC expenses would make extremely interesting reading.

  20. Ian
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 2:33 PM | Permalink

    This entire post should be deleted, it does by implication suggest that the wayward behaviour of a bunch of tossers on the make is somehow equivalent to the robust scientific teamwork undertaken by true professionals at NASA, an organisation beyond reproach as they themselves say and demonstrate to the mm (or is that inch). I also resent the suggestion that those fine scientists at Hadley are somehow failing to release information, when I recall them releasing many projections of hotter than normal summers, colder than usual winters, barbecue summers and sticking to their principles well beyond the point that the people paying for them started laughing at them, that takes courage, and ignorance, something you don’t see the author of this blog doing.

    Ian

    • John Baltutis
      Posted May 21, 2009 at 3:49 PM | Permalink

      Re: Ian (#24),

      ROTFLMAO! Well stated.

    • Dave Dardinger
      Posted May 21, 2009 at 4:21 PM | Permalink

      Re: Ian (#24),

      demonstrate to the mm (or is that inch)

      Hmmm. Good thing you added the ()thought. I thought mm meant “mainstream media.”

  21. JohnB
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 4:34 PM | Permalink

    Freedom of Information (FOI) laws have little to do with open government. I have used the process in Australia. A great expense to all involved you receive a blacked out copy of something that you used to be able to, and expected your (then unpaid in australia) electoral representative to provide or if it was controversial to peruse or you behalf. There was no argument or heads rolled.

    FOI is designed as a breakwater to isolate the bureaucracy and politicians from the ocean of the great unwashed. It absorbs your energy in the hope you will go away and leave the information in the safe harbour to be spun at the custodian’s leisure.

  22. Pete
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 5:00 PM | Permalink

    A Tory MP on the BBC’s World At One programme blamed ‘the public’ and the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ for him having to step down:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8062205.stm

    ‘What right do the public have to interfere with my private life’ is a juicy quote from this individual’s appalling answers.

    Back on topic: it does echo what we read on this blog time and time again, in sum; how dare the people question my data, my use of data, my press releases based on that data.

    Certain climate modellers and a few climate scientists seem to take public scrutiny and public opinion as an unwelcome and unwanted intrusion on their crusade.

    They need to know that those pay taxes which in turn, in many cases, pay their wages have an important say in what they conclude, what they propose, and in what they do.

    They, like the UK’s MPs, seem to regard the great unwashed as precisely that: people who pay and that’s it. And the deal is they get told how how to live their lives while the MPs get to spend without any scrutiny because they are doing ‘the Lord’s work’.

    How DID they get to that position and what does that mindset reveal about them and their findings?

    Pete

    • stan
      Posted May 22, 2009 at 6:00 AM | Permalink

      Re: Pete (#27),

      They need to know that those pay taxes which in turn, in many cases, pay their wages have an important say in what they conclude, what they propose, and in what they do.

      I don’t disagree, but there are two different principles here that shouldn’t be confused.

      1) The work of those who are compensated from the public treasury should be available for the public to review. You take our money, we see your work.

      2) Those who seek to influence changes in public policy must allow their factual assertions to be investigated.

      Both of these apply to most climate scientists. The most important of the two, however, is the second. The public must have the opportunity to investigate the details of purported scientific studies, not because the public paid for the work (although that is also a valid reason, if true), but because the purported science is being cited for public policy changes. It would be equally true, if the purported science was conducted by a private entity with private funds.

      If you say that the law must be changed because your scientific study proves X, the public is entitled to review every aspect of your work or else your advocacy should properly by ignored.

      At present, we have a large number of people whose behavior, in sum, says “the world must change because we say so!”

  23. Posted May 21, 2009 at 6:40 PM | Permalink

    Steve

    As I’ve mentioned before I live close to the Hadley centre and we have a lively debate in the local newspaper which I know is read by people from the Hadley centre. Presumably as this is in the public domain it would be ok to incorporate it in my next letter? It won’t give you the information but it will make the public think.

    Incidentally, I think you might be amused by the Met offices latest job advert for a polar ice sheet modeller required because of the significant uncertainties that exist. There I was thinking the science is settled!

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/recruitment/vacancies/001758.html

    “A significant uncertainty in future projections of sea level is associated with dynamical changes in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and a key aspect of this uncertainty is the role of ice shelves, how they might respond to climate change, and the effect this could have on the ice sheets. The goal of the post is to contribute to improved scenarios of sea-level rise, which is an important aspect of climate change, with large coastal impacts.

    Specific job purpose
    Incorporate a model of ice shelves into the Met Office Hadley Centre climate model to develop a capability to make projections of rapid changes in ice sheets, thereby leading to improved scenarios of future sea-level rise.”

    TonyB

    • Gary A.
      Posted May 21, 2009 at 9:18 PM | Permalink

      Re: Tony Brown (#28),
      “thereby leading to improved scenarios of future sea-level rise.”

      No bias there….

    • tty
      Posted May 22, 2009 at 1:17 PM | Permalink

      Re: Tony Brown (#28),

      Very interesting job description:

      “…to develop a capability to make projections of rapid changes in ice sheets…”

      Considering that there is no empirical evidence that rapid changes in ice sheets are possible and a great deal of data that suggests that they are not, it suggests that whoever takes on that job had better belong to the true faith.

  24. Posted May 21, 2009 at 6:46 PM | Permalink

    You may be aware of UKIP who are particularly strong in our area -which covers the Hadley Centre-and have several MEP’s. Their policy is highly sceptical to climate change. Is it worth enlisting their help, assuming they still have their Mep’s after the next Euro election in a couple of weeks time, and assuming they have the power to ask for this sort of information? I have a few contacts if you were interested.

    Tonyb

  25. snowmaneasy
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:56 PM | Permalink

    Brown suspends ex-minister Elliot Morley for non-existent mortgage claim…”UK Climate change Envoy – Mr Morley’s interest in the environment, including a love of bird watching, was appreciated by Tony Blair, who made him an agriculture minister in 1997. By 2005, he had been promoted to the role of the world’s first climate change minister and earned respect among green groups. He was rewarded with his role as climate change envoy upon leaving the Government in 2006.

    After losing the title, he remains under pressure to resign his prestigious position as the chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee. Nadine Dorries, a Tory committee member, yesterday called on Mr Morley to quit the position until the standards commissioner completed his investigation.

    Close friends of Mr Morley hoped he could weather the storm and hold on to his position on the committee, an honour of which he is extremely proud. “He’s been committed to green issues for years. I think there is enough respect for him to allow him to keep hold of the committee,” one said.”

    Well there you go…Vote for Guy Fawkes the only man ever to enter parliament with honest intentions…..

    • Posted May 22, 2009 at 12:30 AM | Permalink

      Re: snowmaneasy (#31),

      Well there you go…Vote for Guy Fawkes the only man ever to enter parliament with honest intentions…..

      Well there is Oliver Cromwell’s entry on 20 April 1653, when he described the rump parliament in terms that seem to be remarkably timeless:

      “…It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

      “Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

      “Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d; your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings, and which by God’s help and the strength He has given me, I now come to do. …”

  26. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 12:30 AM | Permalink

    This thread is fascinating because of the social behaviour of the people concerned. Text books have been written about individual risk taking, yet it continues. Here we have some particulary large risks (like sacking) arising from trivial acts (like spending a minute amount of the public purse, knowingly, wrongly).

    People who act in this risky manner remind me of cliffs and tall buildings. A person can be quite comfortable if a rail is in place, but terrified if there is no rail. There is usually no chance to test if the rail is strong or weak enough. So long as it is there, people will go close to the edge.

    Regarding provision of sought climate data, the people who are close to the edge are those who thumb noses at FOI requests, no need for another list of them. The key would seem to be to “remove the rail” and to leave them exposed. The newspaper reporters who paid to have the British Parliament rail removed showed initiative.

    I’m racking my brain as to other ways to remove the rail. Anyone agree tactically? Anyone with ideas? Unconventional methods, but not below-the-belt methods outside Queensberry are allowed. Scientists don’t do that. The polite methods have met impolite rebuffs for long enough. Timing is just right following the Brit Parliament affair.

  27. Mark Fawcett
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 1:17 AM | Permalink

    I think it safe to say that the increased release of methane in the House of Commons may significantly contribute to ‘global climate change’.

  28. NickB
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 3:38 AM | Permalink

    I think the important point is that, for many years, MPs were largely seen to be paragons of virtue and the sole reason for that view was their profession. Indeed, an application for a UK passport requires countersignature by “a professional person or a person of good standing in the community”, and the list of suitable professions includes “Member of Parliament”.

    It is now patently obvious to even the most gullible that being an MP does not automatically bestow the quality of honesty on the post-holder. Similarly, the fact that someone is a “scientist” does not mean that they are necessarily an upright citizen. In both professions, indeed, in all professions, trust must be earned and honesty must be demonstrated. Thus, Mr McIntyre was right to draw attention to the similarities between the stonewalling of some climate scientists and the reluctance of UK MPs to reveal the details of their expense claims. Eventually, though, the truth always surfaces and those who try to prevent disclosure often pay a very high price (witness the departure of The Speaker).

    I’m not sure that I agree with Noel Coward’s view (as “Mr Bridger” in The Italian Job) that “Everybody in the world is bent”, but assuming someone to be honest and above board merely because of their job title is clearly illogical.

  29. Demesure
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 4:26 AM | Permalink

    “Brown suspends ex-minister Elliot Morley for non-existent mortgage claim… UK Climate change Envoy – Mr Morley’s ”
    ———————–
    Re: snowmaneasy (#31),
    Maybe he WILL have a house on shallow shores that WILL be devoured by climate change and has just applied the precautionnary principle of insuring it (with taxpayer’s money).

  30. Brian N
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 6:43 AM | Permalink

    If there is a problem with public bodies in the UK refusing to release information under the Freedom of Information Act, it is possible to appeal the decision – first to the body itself and then to the independent Information Commissioner (see http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/Yourrightsandresponsibilities/DG_4003239)

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted May 22, 2009 at 7:32 AM | Permalink

      Re: Brian N (#38),

      If you read Heather Brooke’s links, she spent 5 years appealing stonewalling and incurred tens of thousands of pounds (perhaps hundreds of thousands of pounds) of legal fees (provided pro bono fortunately) and still was unsuccessful. I don’t have the faintest interest in spending 5 years in UK FOI litigation.

      What is required is for the UK public to be angry about the refusals and to express that to their MPs, not 5 years of FOI litigation.

      Maybe it’s a good time right now – the MPs are probably feeling a little bruised about FOI and I doubt that many of them would go out of their way to protect the prima donnas at CRU or Hadley Center.

      • jim edwards
        Posted May 22, 2009 at 6:16 PM | Permalink

        Re: Steve McIntyre (#40),

        Nobody should expect you to shoulder the burden of litigation in a foreign country, but I doubt any FOI challenge to get data or expense reports of scientists released would encounter anywhere near the level of resistance that Ms. Brooke had to endure.

        First: Courts tend to be extremely deferential to legislatures, going out of their way to find their acts legal. In the US, Acts of Congress or state legislatures are presumed constitutional. Courts will be less protective of mere agencies with ministerial functions.

        Second: The information sought by Ms. Brooke was arguably more sensitive than defense or other national security data. As evidenced by the outcome, this stuff was recognizably dynamite. Judges don’t like to be responsible for the fall of a government, and politicians will fight like hell to hide this stuff. Climate data won’t seem so politically sensitive to judges who believe the alarmists’ position is unassailable. Parliament won’t fight to hide climate data, and the more agencies do so, the more people will wonder, “what are they hiding ?”

        Agency lawyers will seek to limit expenses over perceived unimportant battles. They might ask, “how expensive would it be to hand this over ?” Are the agency scientist going to tell their lawyer, “we built a house of cards and told everybody it was the Tower of London.”

  31. Steve McIntyre
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 7:25 AM | Permalink

    The link from a reader above to the reaction of an MP embarrassed by expense claims is revealing because the MP in question blames the government and the FOI Act for the problem and had a total lack of shame in his own conduct.

    MP: I’ve done nothing criminal. .. I have a very very large house. Some people say that it looks like Balmoral.. . It just does me nicely… It [The MP expense allowance] was there for claims for maintenance of your home and garden. I was never told otherwise…

    I had no pressure from the party … The pressure came from the constituents. ..They’re absolutely beside themselves with anger..

    Reporter
    : Why didn’t you anticipate the public reaction?

    MP: .. We have a wretched government here which has completely mucked up the system and caused the resignation of me and many others because it was this government that introduced the Freedom of Information Act. And it was this government that insisted on things that caught me on the wrong foot. What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None.

    Obviously to criticize this attitude is pretty low-hanging fruit. The MP has taken public money to improve his home and gardens. If he’d done so at his expense, then no one would have been “beside themselves with anger”. And no one is saying that this particular MP had acted illegally. The public’s anger is over the program that permitted these perqs and with the long-standing effort to conceal them from public scrutiny.

    And remarkably the MP sees nothing wrong with the program, only with the Freedom of Information Act – even though the information was not provided to the public under the Freedom of Information Act but through a leak. (A thought here – maybe the FOI Act did have something to do with the exposure after all – I wonder if they collated the information because of the FOI request?? )

    This vituperative anger at being accountable reminds me of the visceral anger of some climate scientists towards this blog, which is most intense on occasions when data refusals are exposed. In pre-blog days, I’d get very angry at this sort of refusals. One of the great benefits of having a popular blog is that, now if I get one of these refusals, I write a blog post on it and place the scientist in question in the daylight for a little while. If Santer wants to rise to the top of google rankings for a while on the basis of refusing to provide data, so be it.

    In our IJC submission, we commented on Santer’s refusal of data. Both reviewers considered this part of the article to be “non-scientific” and “political” – and one of the terms of any re-submission was that this part of the article be deleted. One reviewer made a similar point as the above MP – that Santer didn’t do anything illegal by refusing data:

    He notes that while those who believe in the open dissemination of climate data could consider Santer’s stance unfortunate, Santer did not in fact violate any legal or professional obligation.

    I’m not convinced that the reviewer is correct in terms of his legal and professional obligations, considering the fact that he is at a DOE-funded institution, but the issue is somewhat moot given PCMDI’s decision to provide Santer’s monthly T2 and T2LT data. Like the MP, the reviewer misses the point – the MP’s expenditures may have been “legal” in the sense that he was not acting criminally in taking advantage of the expense reimbursement program. Even if we stipulate that Santer was not acting illegally in terms of refusing to provide data, both the scientific public and the wider public are entitled to question the terms of a program that permits the refusal of data – just as the British public is questioning a program that permits MPs to improve multiple properties at public expense.

    The lack of understanding of many climate scientists on the data issue – regarding their data as their private property – is unwinnable when they’ve collected the data at public expense and their journal articles are being cited in public policy discussions. It’s crazy for IPCC to countenance such prima donna behavior. They should adopt policies that simply take this sort of situation off the table. I raised this issue when I first got involved in this field. They’ve done nothing to change their policies, but they should.

    Unlike many readers, I do not regard the data refusals as evidence of anything more than prima donna behavior. I do not regard it as a smoking gun or as meaning that everything derived from such refused data is “wrong”. Equally, there’s no public benefit in acquiescing in such refusals.

    • John
      Posted May 22, 2009 at 12:16 PM | Permalink

      Re: Steve McIntyre (#39),

      One thing that we – who practice in any scientific field – have to remember and admit to ourselves and our colleagues, is that the sole reason we practice a science is that we are confident our reasoning, our explanations and capacity to understand the puzzles we love will be better than the next fellow’s. That is one of the critical “human” elements in science. The scientific method properly applied is a means of limiting the embarrassment that attitude, unsupported by real evidence and empirical data, can cause. Forgetting that leads to embarrassment on a grand scale. If we let our dillusionary ideas about the unique significance of our ideas and the limitations of our colleagues ability to understand influence our intellectual honesty, we meander from science into pseudoscience.

      snip

  32. stan
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 9:33 AM | Permalink

    I don’t know how anyone could argue that not providing data is not an ethical problem. If a scientist fails to provide everything needed to audit or replicate his study, his study should be completely ignored. He is providing, in effect, nothing more than his unsubstantiated opinion. He is saying — “I’m a scientist. I say X. You must trust whatever I say. You must have complete faith in my honesty and my infallibility. Therefore, X is true. Questions will not be tolerated.”

    Not only is he saying it, but any other scientist who cites his unsubstantiated opinion is saying it as well.

    If they won’t put up their work for scrutiny, they should be told to shut up. Put up or shut up. Ethics and morality demand no less.

  33. GTFrank
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 10:19 AM | Permalink

    reminds me of:

    Phil Jones of “We have 25 years invested in this. Why should we make our data available to you, when your objective is to find something wrong with it?” - a comment, by the way, not made to me but to another person and long before the start of CA.

    Is “the rest of the story” available. I did a quick search but did not find “the rest of the story”

    Another Brick in the Wall « Climate AuditBriffa, after all, is Phil Jones’ closest colleague at CRU, the Phil Jones of “We have 25 years invested in this. Why should we make our data available to …
    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=4554 – 85k – Cached – Similar pages


  34. Arthur Dent
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 10:47 AM | Permalink

    The information that is being used by the Daily Telegraph is derived from a hard disc stolen from the Palace of Westminster and bought by the newspaper for a sum thought to be in the region of $350,000. The hard disc itself was assembled to provide the information that the High Court insisted should be published as a result of the FOI request. Note the House of Commons fought tooth and nail through the courts to prevent this happening.

    Anthony Steen is my MP and I suspect that he has been very selectively quoted by the BBC, who are not known to be friendly to the Conservatives. The interview was made late at night after a very long day (and I suspect after several glasses). I am sure he said what has been reported but I suspect that the whole interview would provide a very different impression.

    • Dave Andrews
      Posted May 23, 2009 at 12:42 PM | Permalink

      Re: Arthur Dent (#43),

      Arthur, you have been spending too much time with Zaphod Beeblebrox. Come back to earth!

  35. David Holland
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 5:38 PM | Permalink

    I feel should give a brief update on my requests for ‘environmental information’. I think climate change is an environmental matter which is covered by the Aarhus Convention, Directive 2003/4/EC and the British Environmental Information Regulations 2004. You can google these and figure out what if anything about AR4 or AR5 might not be covered. The trouble with the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 for The Met Office, CRU, Oxford, East Anglia, Reading and the Open Universities is that there is a presumption of disclosure and very few reasons not to disclose. The Aarhus Convention very powerful and you should all read it.

    So the Met Office say that what I want is not environmental information because their Chief Scientist was sent round the World to edit and structure the IPCC report. Right! This means that the Under Secretary for State for Defence can sign a certificate under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to say it would not be a good idea to release the information as it might inhibit a free and frank discussion. UEA got their tame “qualified person” to say the same. On the same piece of information Reading say they definitely got it, did not delete it but don’t have it any more. Right! Oxford just say it is actionably confidential. Everyone does as “the IPCC” says. Eventually (after 12 months) “the IPCC” say one piece is OK so Oxford and the Met office let me have it. The rest is still confidential. This is it:

    From: wgl-ar4-re-bounces@joss.ucar.edu [mailto:wgl-ar4-re-bounces@joss.ucar.edu] On Behalf Of IPCC-WG1
    Sent: 03 July 2006 16:30
    To: Wgi-ar4-las@joss.ucar.edu; wgi-ar4-re@joss.ucar.edu
    Subject: [Wgl-ar4-re] IPCC Working Group I Guidelines Document onPublication Deadlines

    Dear Colleague,

    Following the Government and Expert review of the Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, the attached guidelines are being provided to clarify how recent scientific literature related to review comments may be included in the final draft. Please feel free to distribute this information among your colleagues.

    Thank you for your interest in the work of the IPCC.

    Best regards, WG1 TSU

    ~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    IPCC WGI TSU
    NOAA Chemical Sciences Division
    325 Broadway DSRC CSD08
    Boulder, CO 80305, USA
    Phone: +1 303 497 7072
    Fax: +1 303 497 5686/5628
    Email: ipcc-wgl@al.noaa.gov

    RecentLiterature-Final.pdf

    This was sent on 3 July 06 to Lead Authors and Review Editors. Expert Reviewers got it, if they noticed, on 4 July. Note that this supposedly confidential document sent nearly 700 people said “Please feel free to distribute this information among your colleagues.” Brilliant psychology. If you got this on Independence Day a month after you had finished your Expert Reviewer work on AR4 would you bother to even open the attachment? Why would you? What difference could it make? Look here.

    However the battle continues to get the real information. So far the Information Commissioner’s Office has tried to throw out two of my complaints and is sitting on the rest. The ICO is under resourced and overloaded and the EIR is a lot more trouble for them than the FOIA. We may have to go through two years of guerilla war but you can all join in. The point is not AR4 but to get precedence so as to get into AR5 information as soon as it is held. I doubt this point has escaped our friends at the IPCC. How many of you know the IPCC has been undertaking a consultation on “The future of the IPCC”? If you are in Europe did they ask you for your views? They should have.

    On the bright side, if (and I think its when) the ICO does decide that ‘Review Editor’ is a job title not a job description, and that it was all an environmental matter; telling porkies to prevent disclosure, and (since the Met Office have now disclosed stuff) we know they had it all along, can get you a £5000 fine under section 19 of the EIR.

  36. ianl
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 6:03 PM | Permalink

    Yes, the story detailing UK MP’s murky expenses on the taxpayer is entertaining. Not surprising, just mildly amusing (I mean, who would have thought, now ? …)

    Most of the comments here quite miss the point, however. The edifying truth of this “exposure” is that the only way this information became public was by exploiting someone else’s greed – does anyone really think that the UK Daily Telegraph systematically polled through the bureaucracy offering a large reward for the data ? Of course the paper was contacted. The person doing the contacting was motivated by the age-old human driver of envy. FOI, huffen-n-puffen morality, public justice … none of these had a thing to do with it. Just plain old envy

    If we want the detailed, unexpurgated data and modelling algorithms from AGW (and I certainly do), then we have hope – human nature is quite predictable. Rupert Murdoch’s Editors are constantly examining this to increase ratings/circulation at splurge rate

    A more amusing spin-off from the UK Daily Telegraph episode has occurred in Aus, where the media outlets who self-characterise as “moral and above board” (huffen-n-puffen morality) are simply unable to bring themselves to admit outright how the UK information became public. Now that I do find very entertaining.

    • DaveR
      Posted May 23, 2009 at 3:47 AM | Permalink

      Re: ianl (#47),

      The edifying truth of this “exposure” is that the only way this information became public was by exploiting someone else’s greed

      Whistleblower speaks

      • ianl
        Posted May 23, 2009 at 7:03 AM | Permalink

        Re: DaveR (#49),
        Oh yes, of course. he didn’t accept any payment at all, did he ? In Aus, we describe your reply as “come in, spinner”

        But you’ve missed my point as well – I’m not at all miffed by the mercenary, envious motive behind the sale. I suggest such motive is the most reliable for aquiring information that its’ keepers are determined to hide. And twas ever thus.

  37. Dodgy Geezer
    Posted May 24, 2009 at 3:14 AM | Permalink

    The story behind this expenses debacle is of interest.

    In 1971 the Heath government was pressured to raise MP’s salaries at a time when the rest of the country were tightening their belts. Since he was politically unable to up their wages, he introduced a very generous expenses regime, and indicated (internally) that this should be taken in liew of a pay rise. Over the years the MPs expenses have become so much a part of their remuneration that the Fees Office will work with each MP to ensure that they claim the maximum possible, and will draw attention to any area where the MP might be not claiming as much as they could. This is why MPs are providing these juicy quotes along the lines of ‘fiddling my expenses is my right’ which we are all enjoying so much…

    snip

  38. slownewsday
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 11:51 PM | Permalink

    “thereby showing (what I believe to be) an almost complete casualness to discharging any obligations as a Review Editor other than swanning off to IPCC destinations.”

    Nasty little bitch, aren’t you. You don’t like that? Don’t be one. You have a vivid imagination, and show no compunction in using to to denigrate people when you have no actual evidence of anything.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 9:10 AM | Permalink

      Re: slownewsday (#53),

      We have a considerable amount of evidence in respect to Dr Mitchell. Had Mitchell been diligent as a Review Editor, he could have produced documentation on how he discharged his duties, including his correspondence on the controversial hockey stick section (which he acknowledged as a problem).

      He’s not only refused but has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid disclosing his comments as IPCC Review Editor, which have been withheld in breach of IPCC openness policies.

      First he said that he had destroyed all his email correspondence as IPCC Review Editor- I don’t believe this. I do not believe that a Hadley Center executive would destroy his correspondence or that Hadley Center wouldn’t have backup in any event.

      Then he untruthfully said that he had acted as IPCC Review Editor in a “personal” capacity and therefore didn’t have to disclose his comments to FOI. But upon FOI request, it turned out that he had been paid to attend meetings and been reimbursed for his expenses. So this was untrue as well.

      So they found a new excuse to withhold the Review Comments. It might interfere with relations with an international organization – IPCC. But IPCC policies state that comments are to be public.

      My criticism of Mitchell is not made casually or without considerable circumstantial evidence. If he produces his Review Editor comments and they demonstrate that he was diligent in his discharge of his duties, then I’ll withdraw the remarks. Right now, it appears that he was little more than an extra wheel.

  39. Pierre Gosselin
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 2:25 AM | Permalink

    It gets even better…

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2448374/MEPs-massive-expenses-revealed-by-Sun.html

  40. harold
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 6:58 AM | Permalink

    It’s good to see that FOI requests are giving a real boost to Investigative Journalism. And it is funny to see how a modest FOI request by Heather Brooke in 2003 is playing out. Last summer there was a storm in a teacup about MEP expenses, a clip of MEP’s signing the attendance registry at 07.00 to get their 284 euro fee:

  41. Posted May 27, 2009 at 4:01 PM | Permalink

    Just to show we retain a sense of humour here are 19 cartoons regarding the expenses row courtesy of Matt of the Telegraph

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5297361/MPs-expenses-by-Matt.html?image=4

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