Another Trick from the U of East Anglia

Volume II of the Report of the UK Science and Technology Committee – here - contains supplementary answers by the University of East Anglia that have thus far not attracted commentary. The University’s answer to a question about the July 2009 FOI requests was untruthful in important respects.

The Committee asked:

When it emerged, last July, that the CRU were facing “an unprecedented, and frankly administratively overwhelming, deluge of FoIA requests” [UEA memo, Para 3.7.4] did the University provide extra resources to assist the Unit? If so, what resources were offered?

The University’s answer (with the critical sentences bolded by me):

Within the University’s Information Services Division (ISD) additional support was provided to the University’s Information Policy Compliance Manager (IPCM) who handles FOI requests. This included rescheduling workloads to allow him to concentrate on the CRU FOI requests and diverting secretarial support to provide additional resource. Given the high volume of requests received, the Director of Information Services (DoIS) also took an active role in the first stage of a number of requests, thus providing additional support to the IPCM. (Should any cases where the DoIS was directly involved in the first stage be appealed then we have arranged for the PVC Academic to adjudicate to ensure impartiality). ISD also fast-tracked the merging of the Security Policy and Compliance team to ensure that a fully trained back-up to the IPCM was available.

Alongside the IPCM providing significant support to staff in CRU in dealing with requests, the Science Faculty provided additional administrative support, including that of the Director of Faculty Administration, the most senior member of the Faculty’s administrative staff.

It should be noted however that the specialist nature of many of the requests required scientific knowledge and understanding of the subject area in order to provide the details. Despite the additional administrative resources provided, the requirement to respond to the 61 requests received in July 2009 impacted considerably upon the work of CRU
.

I’ll discuss two issues arising from the University’s answer:

1. Was “scientific knowledge” required in order to answer the July 2009 FOI requests?
2. Did the requirement to respond to the 61 requests in July 2009 “impact considerably upon the work of CRU”?

Was “scientific knowledge” required in order to answer the July 2009 FOI requests?

In a word, no.

Contrary to the University’s statement to the Parliamentary Committee, the July 2009 FOI requests did not require “scientific knowledge” in order to respond.

The 61 or so July 2009 FOI requests arose out of the University’s untruthful statement that confidentiality agreements with national meteorological services prevented them from providing the station data that they had just sent to Peter Webster of Georgia Tech to a “non-academic”. (In November 2009, the University conceded that this answer was untrue, though they continued to refuse on other grounds.) As a result, CA readers asked the University for copies of confidential agreements with various named countries. For example, here is my FOI request for five confidentiality agreements (see here)

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.

The other FOI requests were similar – only for different countries.

One obviously doesn’t need “scientific knowledge” to provide the date of a confidentiality agreement or a copy of the confidentiality agreement. The University’s testimony to the Committee that “scientific knowledge” was required to respond to these FOI requests was completely untrue.

Did the requirement to respond to the 61 requests in July 2009 “impact considerably upon the work of CRU”?

Again, in a word, no. The Climategate Letters themselves provide proof.

On July 29, 2009 (991. 1248902393.txt), Phil Jones wrote to Tom Peterson of NOAA saying:

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.

A “small document for our website”.

The document was indeed “small” (1257 words) and four “agreements” (none of which was on point as to the supposed clause pertaining to non-academics.) The “small document” is online at CRU here. It was reported at CA on August 11, 2009 here, here and here (among others).

Other than “small document”, CRU merely sent a form letters to the 61 requesters refusing their requests and directing them to the webpage.

Contrary to the assertions of the University, the requirement to respond to the 61 requests received in July 2009 did not “impact considerably upon the work of CRU.”

Thus, in two critical respects, the University’s supplementary answer to the Parliamentary Committee was untrue. In Gavin’s Schmidt’s terminology, this was a “good way to solve a problem” i.e. a trick.

Postscript – Jones Lobbies IPCC
A Climategate letter (998. 1249045162.txt) shows that Jones concurrently (in late July 2009) got:

“IPCC Secretariat and Thomas [Stocker?] 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.”

We don’t know precisely what Jones was lobbying the “IPCC and Thomas” to do – there are no further details in the Climategate Letters – but somehow I doubt that Jones was lobbying for improved disclosure. Definitely a dig-here.


18 Comments

  1. PJB
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

    One can only hope that an investigative journalist (if they still exist) –

    snip – overeditorializing

  2. pesadilla
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 11:13 AM | Permalink

    I know that you are trying desperately to follow your own ethical code, but unthuths are lies(a rose by any other name) and lie is deceitful. My point is that there is a limit to how many times you can soften the truth. Having read all the e-mails, there is no doubt in my mind that these so called scientists were – snip –

  3. David Holland
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 12:15 PM | Permalink

    At the risk of a snip I will point out that UEA are being economic with the actuality when they state:

    Given the high volume of requests received, the Director of Information Services (DoIS) also took an active role in the first stage of a number of requests, thus providing additional support to the IPCM. (Should any cases where the DoIS was directly involved in the first stage be appealed then we have arranged for the PVC Academic to adjudicate to ensure impartiality).

    Emails between the IPCM and the DoIS disclosed to me under a subject access request show that in 2008, before the deluge, the DoIS took an active role from the start with my request then rubber stamped the IPCM’s decision. Mind you, if the PVC is who I think it is he would have done the same!

  4. Posted May 31, 2010 at 1:44 PM | Permalink

    So, there exists a master list of all the local met offices and their policies? If so you could have looked the information up yourself.

    In other words, the choices were to get some administrative assistant or PIO to

    a. Find the correct (and correct here means the people with whom the CRU reached the sharing agreement, which means, willy nilly the deluge would have tied up the CRU) contact address for all the met offices

    b. Contact them and ask for their current policy

    c. Then ask whether there had been any changes in the years since the met office started to share the data with the CRU.

    or

    d. Tie up the time of CRU going through all their files, seriously impacting their work.

    Given that at least parts of the data were shared by private agreement, to get correct answers required tying up the time of those who got the data in the first place, e.g. Phil Jones.

    whatever

    Steve – puh-leeze. The University did none of those things. By their own admission, they merely published a “short webpage” and sent out form letters. And it is evident that no “scientific knowledge” is required to determine the date of a confidentiality agreement. You’re just making things up.

    • Neil Fisher
      Posted May 31, 2010 at 5:05 PM | Permalink

      Eli, you forgot one thing – they could have responded to the original request for MET data. Had they done so, then approximately 98% (by CRU’s reckoning) could have been supplied immediately and only 2% would have required further investigation. It is clear that once sufficient pressure was brought to bear that this was/is do-able – as far as I can see, the only thing that stopped them in the first place was some combination of sheer bloody-mindedness and, by their own admission, sloppy record keeping. Neither seems like an acceptable excuse to me and would certainly not be acceptable in any other case where there were significant impacts to society in general or where public funds and/or public policy were concerned.

    • steven Mosher
      Posted May 31, 2010 at 10:27 PM | Permalink

      “So, there exists a master list of all the local met offices and their policies? If so you could have looked the information up yourself.”

      Assuming such a list exists it is entirely besides the point. The point is this. CRU are obligated to keep good records. CRU refused to supply the temperature data under false pretenses. We could have done any number of things. We chose to exercise our rights under law and request the information. What we COULD HAVE DONE has no bearing on what we are allowed to do under law and what CRU obligations are under law. The Sad fact is that CRU got themselves MORE WORK by choosing the path they chose. You should see the effort they had to go through to put out the requests to the various METS. I have some of that correspondence, under FOIA of course

      the simple fact is the effort cost jones less than 18 hours. I know because my request was denied because they thought it would take more than 18 hours to comply with it. Jones kept shitty records. he claims this as an excuse. Fine. If that cost him some time, perhaps he should have stayed in the office the afternoon of Nov 12th instead of leaving early. maybe he would have caught the whistleblower

    • Hoi Polloi
      Posted Jun 1, 2010 at 3:47 AM | Permalink

      This Halpern guy writes such funny pieces. It’s almost comedy…

  5. David Holland
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 1:56 PM | Permalink

    Eli, I think station data is information on the state of the environment and as such under European law is subject to the presumption of disclosure even if received in confidence. The agreements were window dressing.

    Steve - David, while I understand this point, it is not really germane to the questions of whether the University, shall we say, tricked the Committee by (1) saying that scientific knowledge was required to establish the dates of confidentiality agreements; or (2) that the preparation of the “short webpage” and 61 form letters had a considerable “impact” on CRU’s work.

  6. Steve McIntyre
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 2:17 PM | Permalink

    I changed the title of this post to use the term “Trick” rather than untruthfulness – since the term trick is now time-honored in climate science. I also added a sentence referring to Gavin Schmidt’s definition of a trick in climate science as a “good way to solve a problem”. Most communities would not regard untruthful answers to a Parliamentary Committee as a “good way to solve a problem”, but the Team is a bit unusual in that respect – note Eli Rabett’s preceding comment supporting the University’s testimony.

    • Dave Andrews
      Posted May 31, 2010 at 2:29 PM | Permalink

      Talking of untruthfulness why doesn’t Eli like to be known as Josh Halpern?

      • GrantB
        Posted May 31, 2010 at 10:16 PM | Permalink

        I’m surprised Eli even bothers posting at all after the thorough caning he received from VS on Bart Verheggen’s famous ARIMA blog thread. . See Eli’s effort at March 7, 05:52 and VS’s response at March 7, 19:06

    • Posted Jun 1, 2010 at 2:59 AM | Permalink

      I only saw the improved version. As Pat Frank says elsewhere, the drollery is reaching epic proportions. Tricks, damned tricks and statistics, as Twain would surely have put it if he’d had the relevant departments of UEA as inspiration.

  7. bubbagyro
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 5:43 PM | Permalink

    I can see why these guys are in climastrology or whatever they call their “science”. They are not even good at stonewalling or simple clerical work.

  8. Craig Loehle
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 7:10 PM | Permalink

    Maybe they were telling the truth and they think sending out 61 form letters is a lot of work. Some people don’t get much done in a day…

    • Posted May 31, 2010 at 11:58 PM | Permalink

      OTOH, considering that this was included in a “Further supplementary memorandum” and presumably written after their “performance” for the Committee, perhaps this was simply a “fudge” to uh … hide the decline in their credibility!

  9. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 9:12 PM | Permalink

    Before the July 2009 FOI requests that you mention, there were other FOI requests that to be fair, should be added to the workload. e.g.

    1228330629.txt

    From: Phil Jones
    To: santer1@llnl.gov, Tom Wigley
    Subject: Re: Schles suggestion
    Date: Wed Dec 3 13:57:09 2008
    Cc: mann , Gavin Schmidt , Karl Taylor , peter gleckler

    Ben,
    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 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 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. We are in double figures.

    ALREADY IN DOUBLE FIGURES BY DEC 2008.

    Here is a response from UEA to me, with Q and A alternating. (I have shorthened it here).

    “David Palmer
    Information Policy & Compliance Manager
    University of East Anglia
    Response to Freedom of Information request (FOI_09-137)
    I have two questions which relate to copyright in particular and the sharing of information in general.
    Does the University of East Anglia, or any of its employees, or Parties sensibly related to the University, have a primary agreement to share data with the BOM?
    No, we do not have any such agreements with the Bureau of Meteorology
    Does the University of East Anglia, or any of its employees, or Parties sensibly related to the University, have a secondary agreement to share data from the BOM with third parties, beyond fair use provisions?
    No, we do not have any such agreements with the Bureau of Meteorology.”

    No science needed, not very demanding as you note.

    I’m more worried when CRU knowingly uses info that it should not.

    Part of Climategate 1237496573.txt from P Jones as an aside to “Paul” in an email to Ben Santer date 19 March 2009.

    “Another issue that should be considered as well is this.
    With many papers, we’re using Met Office observations. We’ve abstracted these
    from BADC to use them in the papers. We’re not allowed to make these available
    to others. We’d need to get the Met Office’s permission in all cases.”

  10. Posted Jun 1, 2010 at 2:43 AM | Permalink

    In the interests of fairness (sort of) perhaps I should admit that my request might have involved some work by a researcher had one actually bothered to try and meet it instead of telling the IPCM to fob me off with evasions and half-truths.

    My request was:

    I hereby make a EIR/FOI request in respect of the surviving raw data
    for the CRUTEM project.

    Based on the webpage http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/availability/
    and in particular the following statement

    > Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun
    > new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an
    > individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant
    > that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series
    > after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data
    > but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.

    it seems like CRU have discarded some, but not all, raw data and that
    in addition some, but not all, of the raw data they have may be
    covered by a confidentiality agreement.

    I therefore request
    1) such raw data as exists and is not subject to a confidentiality agreement
    2) a list of stations (and dates if partial data exists) where such
    raw data is known to be lost
    and
    3) a list of stations and data providers (ie. national meterological
    organizations) for such data that exists but is under a
    confidentiality agreement.

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

    The catch was that, as we now know, there was no policy of data retention, archiving or record keeping and hence this request was impossible to fulfill.

    Had there been some reasonable data retention policy, and indeed had there been some data retained, meeting my request would have been the work of perhaps an hour by a secretary of perhaps an IT technician. As it was though it would seem likely that the only person who really knew where the data might have been was Phil Jones himself (though maybe ‘Harry’ could have dug up some of it) and putting it together would have been a non trivial task because it would have been scattered all over the place.

  11. R. Craigen
    Posted Jun 3, 2010 at 9:30 AM | Permalink

    What I’d like to know is how many of those 31 FOI requests were the direct result of refusals to comply with earlier requests? Having watched discussion among some of those making requests as to what generated the need for this information, a significant portion was simply the vacuum caused by earlier refusals, and the interest in getting information generated by their steadfast refusal — ie they are refusing to divulge, therefore there is information of value to be had.

    In other words, whatever there is blameworthy in the ill effects these FOI requests had on their work should largely be laid at the feet of CRU principals.

    Steve: All of the 61 requests resulted from prior obstruction – they were not for data, but for confidentiality agreements that supposedly contained a clause prohibiting distribution of station data to “non-academics”. As has been discussed at length, there were no such agreements and all the 61 requests were refused with form letters and a short webpage put up. Climate scientists have spread much disinformation about this.

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