ICO Submission to Parliamentary Committee

The presentations to the UK Parliamentary Committee are online and many are very interesting.

Take a look at the submission by UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas here who adhere nicely to the policy issues. Here is part of his testimony – testimony that is far more compelling than the flaccid prevarications coming from the likes of Ralph Cicerone and Gerry North:

3.2 … The public must be satisfied that publicly-funded universities, as with any other public authority in receipt of public funding, are properly accountable, adopt systems of good governance and can inspire public trust and confidence in their work and operations. The FOIA, by requiring transparency and open access, allows the public to scrutinize the actions and decisions taken by public institutions. Failure to respond or to respond properly to FOIA requests undermines public confidence in public institutions. The fact that the FOIA requests relate to complex scientific data does not detract from this proposition or excuse non-compliance. The public, even if they can not themselves scrutinize the data, want to ensure that there is a meaningful informed debate especially in respect of issues that are of great public importance currently and for generations to come.

3.3 It can also be said that failure to fulfill FOIA obligations undermines the development of public policy. The CRU is a leading climate research centre and its work has been incorporated into the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

3.4 Where public policy is based on science, the public expect the science to be the best science available and that the scientists imparting that science act impartially. Scientists must adopt high standards of ethics and scientific integrity, and allow their work to be peer reviewed, subject to appropriate safeguards of intellectual property rights.

3.5 This is especially the case in new areas of science such as climate change research, where it is clear the results are directly influencing the development of public policy. (Indeed, FOIA makes special provision for the easier disclosure of statistical data where the section 36 exemption could otherwise apply – see section 36(4)). Access to the original data, computer models and an explanation of the analytical methods used is necessary to ensure that results are reproducible. Any attempts to limit peer review, to omit or distort scientific data or to limit access to data sets, models or methodologies used and thus frustrating any review of the science would lead to legitimate questioning of the conclusions asserted. In the wider context of public sector transparency, there is a risk that attempts to withhold the disclosure of information without good reason will increasingly be characterised in terms of “something to hide.”


16 Comments

  1. Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 11:32 AM | Permalink

    That certainly says it well – I couldn’t ask for more.

  2. Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 11:37 AM | Permalink

    Richard Thomas’ statement of 3.5 above in addition to public accountability…nice policies if adhered to.

    I’ll add his #7:

    7. Recommendations
    7.1 Based on my current knowledge of the issues before the Committee, I suggest that the Committee might conclude that:
    (a) the legislation should be amended so that a prosecution under section 77 of FOIA or Regulation 19 of EIR could be brought within six months of evidence of the offence coming to the Information Commissioner’s knowledge;
    (b) the Information Commissioner – not the Muir Russell Review Team – should make any rulings on the validity of FOI / EIR requests; and
    (c) the Information Commissioner should be invited to extend the “Definition Document” for Universities so that – with any necessary exceptions – publicly-funded statistical or factual data and research findings should be proactively disclosed as the norm.

    It looks like he volunteered to make some expert decisions wrt FOI/EIR requests so maybe the committee will pass on their information to him and defer decisions on that issue until he has a chance for further comment.

  3. Brooks Hurd
    Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

    We need to determine how to get the deans at Penn State to read and understand this.

  4. johnh
    Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 12:27 PM | Permalink

    This is from the Physics Society submission

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/memo/climatedata/uc3902.htm

    2. The CRU e-mails as published on the internet provide prima facie evidence of determined and co-ordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions and freedom of information law. The principle that scientists should be willing to expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others, which requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials, is vital.

  5. Craig Loehle
    Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 12:37 PM | Permalink

    Wow. My hat off to Thomas. I don’t detect weasel words at all (no offense to all the weasels out there).

  6. Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 12:51 PM | Permalink

    industry stooges.

  7. Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:41 PM | Permalink

    Why would they think that if the Public can not themselves scrutinize the data, want to ensure that there is a meaningful informed debate especially in respect of issues that are of great public importance currently and for generations to come?

    • Adamson
      Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 1:50 AM | Permalink

      He is not saying that members of the public are incompetent to assess the data. He is just saying that it doesn’t matter whether members of the public are able to assess the data or not, for whatever reason, that the process of disclosure is important to maintain public trust.

  8. Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:48 PM | Permalink

    Yep, it was the first one I clicked on. Looking good for Monday.

  9. OYD
    Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:53 PM | Permalink

    Slowly but sureky we are getting somewhere. Now the so called scientist who after the leaks signed a statement to insist that the science is settled may have to think again

  10. Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 5:11 PM | Permalink

    1. To substantiate Richard Thomas’ declaration that Hunton & Williams has clients, and the Centre has members, with an interest in climate change issues, we can find, on Hunton’s own site, that:

    Hunton hasn’t cracked the top 25 earners on K Street yet, but revenues have more than tripled since the firm decided to focus its lobbying efforts around energy and environmental issues.

    V. Hunton’s own site : http://bit.ly/9J64hu

    2. We can also read, in the section entitled FACTUAL BACKGROUND of the memorandum:

    I [Richard Thomas] understand that on November 17, 2009, meteorological station data used for research by CRU and approximately 1,000 emails sent or received by members of the CRU were posted on the internet by a person purporting to be a whistle blower. I have not had any opportunity to familiarise myself with the detailed content of this information, but it has clearly led to questions about the integrity of the climate science research published by CRU.

    From these two sentences, we can observe that one can: purport a fact; question the climate science research integrity without familiarizing oneself with the detailed content of the incriminating emails; use expressions like “purporting” and “not having the opportunity to familiarize oneself” without using weasel words.

    • geronimo
      Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 2:31 AM | Permalink

      Willard:”From these two sentences, we can observe that one can: purport a fact; question the climate science research integrity without familiarizing oneself with the detailed content of the incriminating emails; use expressions like “purporting” and “not having the opportunity to familiarize oneself” without using weasel words.”

      You’re not British are you. If you were you’d read section 3 in a different light, there is not one accusation of malfeasance, he is merely telling the committee the law and allowing them to judge the prima facie evidence in the emails against that backcloth.

      Like you, having read the emails I think there is prima facie evidence of malfeasance and I guess, like the ICO, I take the “reasonable person” approach as to how the committee should take the evidence. Having read the emails, would any reasonable person assume malfeasance? You bet they would, so what he’s done is remind the members of the committee of there statutory duty to come to a conclusion that resonates with the evidence.

      • Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 10:45 AM | Permalink

        Geronimo,

        Nowhere did I say that Thomas accused someone of malfeasance. The fact that you think there was malfeasance is besides that point. So the questions about malfeasance are simply coatracked in this discussion.

        I was merely stating the obvious: purporting a fact is strange, as usually one states facts; questioning the integrity without delving into the issue of malfeasance is moot; the easiest easy to avoid weasel words is to use all the caveats provided by language conventions.

        But please have a ball and pursue your inquiry about “malfeasance”, notwithstanding the fact that it’s besides Thomas’ point. Pound it, it carries an important sound. Malfeasance, malfeasance, malfeasance.

  11. Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 6:53 AM | Permalink

    Here is the web page with all the submissions – “memoranda”.

  12. Bill Newstead
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 8:10 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for publishing this extract. As a retired British civil servant I read it with great pleasure; an excellent example of inflicting grievous bodily harm in the most civilised and cultured way. The ICO’s emphasis on properly accounting for public funds and the impact on public policy will be deadly in the context of a parliamentary inquiry. This one is going to hit well below the waterline.

  13. Posted Mar 19, 2010 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

    In case someone missed that interesting article about the IOP submission:

    http://bit.ly/baNSPr

    whose lead states that:

    Evidence from a respected scientific body to a parliamentary inquiry examining the behaviour of climate-change scientists, was drawn from an energy industry consultant who argues that global warming is a religion, the Guardian can reveal.

    More background information:

    http://bit.ly/9Xz9Jl

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