The IPCC Doctrine of Implicit Confidentiality

In their most refusal of David Holland’s FOI request for IPCC review comments, the U of East Anglia relied on a supposed IPCC doctrine of implicit confidentiality – a doctrine that is more or less equivalent to “omerta”. Even for the University of East Anglia, the provenance of this doctrine is remarkable. Acton and Trevor Davies must have sniggered.

In their refusal, UEA stated:

The fact that the IPCC has clear protocols for what information is to be in the public domain also points to the implicit assumption that, as the requested information is outside those protocols, it has never been intended to be publicly available.

They apply the alleged doctrine of IPCC implied confidentiality to impute confidentiality to Annex C1 authors who did not claim it when requested. For example, they say of John Fyfe, Lead Author of a different chapter:

John Fyfe LA for Chap 8 of WG1: Did not clarify his position regarding confidentiality, but this is implicitly assumed following IPCC procedure

The doctrine of implied confidentiality in the running text is derived from the statement in Annex C2, which stated:

By explicitly indicating what materials should be openly archived, the IPCC implicitly indicated that other materials should not be disclosed.

If anyone is to speak on behalf of IPCC, it is the IPCC secretariat. However, in the 32nd meeting in Busan in October 2010, only a few weeks prior to the UEA refusal, the IPCC secretariat stated that, while the rights and responsibilities of IPCC cadres under national FOI and the Aarhus Convention needs to be clarified, the IPCC itself cannot provide individual legal advice:

E2. The rights and responsibilities of all those involved in IPCC activities under the Aarhus Convention and in relation to requests under national Freedom of Information legislation needs to be clarified for the various groups: elected officials (Bureau), staff of the Secretariat, TSU staff, and experts involved in IPCC activities. However, IPCC cannot provide individual legal advice.

I’ll discuss the merit (or rather lack of merit) of the doctrine of “implied” confidentiality on another occasion. Today, I’ll answer a smaller question: if the IPCC declined to interpret its procedures for FOI requests, who was the authority for the novel doctrine of “implied” confidentiality? The remarkable answer:

Only Acton’s University of East Anglia, as advocates of the Team, would have the temerity to use Phil Jones as a supposed authority on IPCC procedures in a proceeding affecting his own request to delete-all-emails. Having passed off Oxburgh and Muir Russell as “inquiries”, they seem to feel that they can get away with anything. Now that no one could touch them, using Phil Jones as an authority on undocumented and previously unknown procedures was a masterful touch sure to irritate their critics. Who better than Phil Jones to act as authority on omerta among the Team? Acton and Trevor Davies must have laughed.


  1. Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 10:47 AM | Permalink

    Lucy and the football was more fun, and truthful.

  2. justbeau
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 11:04 AM | Permalink

    UEA displays typical smallness. The way to persuade others that climate change is a genuine issue is to be transparent. By implication, UEA does not respect the topic of climate.

    • stan
      Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:46 PM | Permalink

      “small” — exactly what came to mind as I read Steve’s post. These people cannot possibly understand the big picture. Everything they do — strategically, tactically, personally — shouts small minds, with small goals using small means to accomplish little.

  3. pax
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 11:11 AM | Permalink

    I must admit, they do indeed have remarkable skill at UEA. Impressive.

  4. LearDog
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 11:39 AM | Permalink

    The pure cheek….

    Keep after them Steve – it is the story that keeps on giving ! Astonishing really …..

  5. LearDog
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 11:41 AM | Permalink

    Mods – please insert the word ‘recent’ in the opening sentence before ‘refusal’

  6. Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:00 PM | Permalink

    snip – OT venting

    • kim
      Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:28 PM | Permalink

      It’s not the crime, hon, it’s the cover-up.

    • Steven Mosher
      Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 2:27 PM | Permalink

      Re: thefordprefect (Nov 28 12:00),

      What was Jones purpose in asking emails to be deleted?

      Future generations will want to know why he delayed denied and perhaps destroyed information
      that doesnt matter to the core science. why would one man take actions that put doubt in the public’s mind, when he knew it would?

      He knew full well in 2005 that Mann’s antics caused headlines and scathing editorials in the US press.
      Briffa sent him the clippings. Briffa even explained that these denials gave the skeptics a good head of steam.
      In full knowledge of the fact that denying data to skeptics caused headlines and public confusion
      he proceeded to follow mann’s twisted path of denial.Did he want his own headlines? Who knows. Subsequently, he pushed further than Mann ever did. He denied legal
      requests for data. And he at least contemplated and gave orders to
      others to similiarly violate the law and scientific obligations. The damage he did to the cause far outweighs any supposed damage the release of information would cause.

      my purpose in pushing on this matter may differ from Steve’s. I do it because people who lie when they don’t have to fascinate me. The people who defend them are boring and predictable. It’s the insanity of Jones’s actions that have me curious.

      Steve Mc: and as a result, the failure of the “inquiries” to inquire and the failure of the investigations” to investigate merely prolongs the story as the main questions remain unanswered. Now that Jones has emerged from the whitewashes unrepentant, the public will never get the answer that it was entitled to.

      • ianl8888
        Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 4:41 PM | Permalink


        “It’s the insanity of Jones’s actions that have me curious.”

        Try vanity – it’s the Achilles Heel of homo sapiens, especially politicians and academics

        • PhilH
          Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 5:29 PM | Permalink

          I don’t think so. I think it is hubris compounded by stupidity.

        • ianl8888
          Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 10:16 PM | Permalink

          OT, but

          hubris = excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance (just Google it)

          ie. vanity (excessive pride in one’s abilities, achievements)

          Using “hubris” suggests some overlay of Greek tragedy, which is definitely missing from this situation

        • jorge kafkazar
          Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 4:09 PM | Permalink

          We’ve not reached Act V, Scene 3, yet, Ian.

        • Steven Mosher
          Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 8:41 PM | Permalink

          Re: ianl8888 (Nov 28 16:41), well the vanity of creatures that arose from the muck is insane. One would think that a scientific education would cure apes of vanity.

        • sleeper
          Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 5:35 PM | Permalink

          Re: Steven Mosher (Nov 28 20:41),
          The local pride probably kept vanity among the apes in check.

      • Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 6:45 PM | Permalink
        …(i) Research data is defined as the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings, but not any of the following: Preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers, plans for future research, peer reviews, or communications with colleagues. This “recorded” material excludes physical objects ( e.g. , laboratory samples). Research data also do not include:

        Can you point to any FOIA statement that negates this?

        US emails do not fall into FOI even destroying them would not be illegal.

        McIntyre – just WHAT is the public entitled to???? An answer would be nice before you delete this post too.

        [Editor’s note in 2021: TFP’s “quote” actually only extends to “research findings” — the rest is entirely his own invention. He failed to list what was actually excluded (“trade secrets, commercial information, personnel and medical information”) nor the following sentence, which disproves his own imagined exclusions: the new rule applies to all “research data relating to published research findings.” Clearly, everything that influences (ie relates to) what is published is not protected. (link to original)]

    • harry
      Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 5:24 PM | Permalink

      snip – venting

  7. Barclay E MacDonald
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:09 PM | Permalink

    So am I correct in deducing that the assumed UAE default position is secrecy not openness? Seems like it should be the other way around, but thats just my opinion. And I’ll leave it to someone else to respond to the endless assumptions of thefordprefect.

  8. chip
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:12 PM | Permalink

    “I think that you need to ask yourself where you are leading with all of this and to what purpose you are pursuing these people and the UEA.”

    I think the truth is sufficient as a purpose.

  9. Hector M.
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:24 PM | Permalink

    I do not thing Steve McIntyre is after ruining reputations or persecute people. His permanent position has been that no allegation of crime is useful in this context. His only and often-repeated aim throughout all these years has been to get the actual data and procedures used by climate scientists on specific scientific issues, to check the accuracy of the conclusions reached. FOI request were only filed once all other means failed. In follow-up threads (like this one), he has also remarked on the faulty logic applied by the “Team” scientists and by UEA officials in dealing with the issue. This, in my opinion, is a relevant argument to show that transparency is not something actually pursued or desired by the aforementioned scientists and officers: they look for every possible trick they may find to hide not only unexpected “declines”, but also every other piece of information that could conceivably reveal any weakness in their scientific conclusions, or in the way the IPCC reports are actually done, which is very opposite of correct scientific behavior, if I’m allowed to express my opinion. Remarking on this attitude of the concerned institutions and scientists is like trying to show in court that a witness is a hostile one, something totally legitimate in court procedures.

  10. Brian H
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:29 PM | Permalink

    Edit note:
    Steve, first sentence: “In their most [recent] refusal …”

  11. Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:36 PM | Permalink

    I too pay my taxes
    I am appalled at how much of them have been spent on enquiries that were not needed. Much more that the CRU recieves in a year!

    • Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 4:21 PM | Permalink

      The money spent on the inquiries could have paid for quite a few scientists (at post-doc salaries). If the UEA were confident in the science, the UEA would have invested in science. However, it is clear that the UEA needed to invest in PR (Mike Granatt and Muir Russell, Oxburgh, etc.) in order to protect their third rate fiefdom.

    • JohnH
      Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 4:47 AM | Permalink

      Instead of complaining asbout the cost of the inquires try complaining about the actions that caused the need for the inquiries. And if they wanted better and lower cost inquiries they just had to ask Steve, but that would have given the wrong answer !!!

    • curious
      Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 8:20 AM | Permalink

      Properly functioning inquiries are an essential safeguard of democracy. Whilst you are at ease with the practice of science at CRU many are not – the thing to be appalled by is the fact the inquiries were so insubstantial and unconvincing as well as being such poor value for taxpayers money.

    • Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 7:36 AM | Permalink

      Doesn’t look like CRU will be getting any more from the MET anyway:

  12. James Shutiak
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:37 PM | Permalink

    The actions of the people involved in the “hearings” at UEA re Jones and Uof Pennsylvania re Mann only serve to reconfirm my opinion regarding the work of Jones, Mann et al and the IPCC process.

  13. Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:38 PM | Permalink


  14. MarkB
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 1:49 PM | Permalink

    I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which George is confronted by his boss at work with having had sex on his desk with the cleaning lady. His response is – to paraphrase – “If I had been told when I was hired that this was against the rules, I would never have done it!”

    So anything not explicitly forbidden is allowed, and – in this case – anything not explicitly to be made public is allowed to be kept secret. Typical ‘George’ logic.

  15. Richard Patton
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 2:28 PM | Permalink

    Sounds to me like the sign one sees to the entrance of an ant colony: “That which is not expressly allowed is forbidden.”

  16. Solomon Green
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 2:32 PM | Permalink

    Surely, the way to test the UEA’s position is to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner. The process requires the complaint first to go through the UEA’s own complaints procedure. Who knows they might uphold Mr. Holland’s FOI request (and pigs might fly!), but my experience of the Commissioner is that he is totally independent and my experience of the Information Tribunal is that it is not afraid to rebuke the Commissioner if he does not comly with the Act.

    I am sure that David Holland already knows all this so I would be interested in learning what steps he is taking.

  17. John Whitman
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 3:45 PM | Permalink

    McIntyre says: “Only Acton’s University of East Anglia, as advocates of the Team, would have the temerity to use Phil Jones as a supposed authority on IPCC procedures in a proceeding affecting his own request to delete-all-emails. Having passed off Oxburgh and Muir Russell as “inquiries”, they seem to feel that they can get away with anything. Now that no one could touch them, using Phil Jones as an authority on undocumented and previously unknown procedures was a masterful touch sure to irritate their critics. Who better than Phil Jones to act as authority on omerta among the Team? Acton and Trevor Davies must have laughed.”


    Steve McIntyre,

    First, your series of UEA/CRU related post over the long 4 day US holiday weekend were wonderful. Great work on you part, thank you more than I can say.

    The bizarre behavior of UEA/CRU and those involved in the subsequent investigations is chilling because these are scientists orchestrating it. It casts an increased concern about everything associated with the process leading up to the IPCC AR4 (and earlier assessments) and the ongoing AR5 preps.

    Audit indeed!

    Where does intent to deceive reside with the UEA/CRU and IPCC? I do not yet know but I will continue to probe.


  18. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 5:13 PM | Permalink

    Folks, it is a longstanding blog policy that there is no purpose in trying to debate the “big picture” issue of AGW in one-paragraph declamations. EVery thread then becomes the same within 10 comments. If someone offends against this blog policy, please observe the blog policy anyway and please do not respond.

    I’ve deleted a number of comments on this basis and probably could have deleted more.

    Please restrict comments on this thread to ones that pertain to or are closely related to UEA’s use of Jones as an authority for the IPCC doctrine of implicit confidentiality.

  19. Alfred Burdett
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 5:41 PM | Permalink

    Climategate continues because many players either fail to understand the scientific method or seek to corrupt it. In particular, the failure, or the corruption, amounts to a rejection of the first principal of scientific discourse which is that acceptable claims must be supported by evidence in the public domain (i.e., the data must be presented and a valid account provided of how the data were obtained and how they can, in principle, be replicated).

    What is objectionable in the conduct of some of those embroiled in the Climategate story is their efforts to: (a) force acceptance of claims inadequately supported by data or methodological information in the public domain, and (b) suppress claims counter to their own by denying the authors of those claims access to the public domain, i.e., the peer-reviewed literature.

    It is unfortunate and ironic that the issue has been obscured by the intervention of, among other non-scientists, the Honorable Edward David Joseph Lyon-Dalberg-Acton, FRSHistS, Vice-Chancellor of the UEA and descendant of Lod Acton, the man best known for the remark that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    One suspects that efforts of the Honorable Vice-Chancellor are not intended to apply his influence in conformity with the principle enunciated by his distinguished ancestor, but rather that he is making a botch of things because he is simply ignorant of the scientific method — as are, one may reasonably assume, the likes of Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Al Gore and Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering graduate and IPCC Chair Dr. Rajendra Pachauri.

    The best hope for an early resolution of the issues raised by competent climate science critics such as Steve McIntyre is for the non-scientists to get out of the light and allow an open scientific debate to proceed.

    As advocated elsewhere, I believe that resolution might in some perhaps small but signficant degree be facilitated if David Acton were to offer Steve appointment at UEA as visiting (occasional, presumably) distinguished scholar, professor, whatever with a view to collaboration with Phil Jones in overseeing a re-evaluation of the surface temperature records that have been assembled by the CRU.

    Phil Jones may be partisan, but I rather doubt that he is a fool or a crook. The possibility of a fruitful outcome to the collaboration proposed would, therefore, seem to be excellent.

  20. Alfred Burdett
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 6:13 PM | Permalink

    My previous comment was drafted without sight of Steve’s request for focus on “UEA’s use of Jones as an authority for the IPCC doctrine of implicit confidentiality.”

    However, my broad contention that Climategate reflects a distortion of the scientific process, is consistent with concern over the application of confidentiality rules to techical discussion of IPCC reports.

    Although rules of confidentiality have an accepted place in science, their application to inhibit doubt or skepticism about the “accepted science” of climate change is clearly a novel and unhealthy departure from the normal process of scientific debate.

  21. KnR
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 6:40 PM | Permalink

    IPCC policys cannot over rule the law of any land those policys work in , therefore CRU requirements under the FOI are in no way affected by claims of just following IPCC rules. The FOI is the law it is a legal bbligation placed on companies working in the UK. If UEA think they can play fast and loose they may find that the information commissioner does not take kindly to their games nor to any claims from the CRU that they do not have to follow the law of the land .

  22. theduke
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 9:32 PM | Permalink

    The IPCC was founded on principles of openness and transparency because as an international body seeking respect and legitimacy it needed to assure everyone that it would be beyond reproach. Because they are generally comprised of appointees, international bodies are not accountable to voters anywhere. Once empowered, who can stop them should they exceed their mandate and violate ethical and, as may be the case here, legal norms? Thus at their inception you have these bodies promising everything as it regards accountability, openness, transparency and virtue.

    It must be a law of nature that all human organizations that operate without any apparent or effective oversight eventually find themselves acting outside the law or established ethical norms. As their power grows, so does their recklessness.

    So with this episode, in which the UEA apparently thinks it can violate the intent if not the letter of the FOI law, we have a university taking a huge gamble by staking its reputation on the reputation of a few tainted scientists of theirs who also work for the IPCC.

    If the IPCC continues to decline in prestige, so will the prestige of the UEA. (Note to the fordprefect: that won’t be Steve McIntyre’s fault.)

    Like most people here, I think the university needs to re-examine it’s ever-evolving policy and act in accordance with the intent of the FOI legislation and not dubious interpretations provided it by the likes of Phil Jones.

  23. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 10:41 PM | Permalink

    From the thread introduction we have:

    “I’ll discuss the merit (or rather lack of merit) of the doctrine of “implied” confidentiality on another occasion. Today, I’ll answer a smaller question: if the IPCC declined to interpret its procedures for FOI requests, who was the authority for the novel doctrine of “implied” confidentiality?”

    It would appear that what is being used here is faux legal gobbledygook. I wonder whether these contrived answers are passed through legal counsel. The obvious reason for the use of these devices is to delay the process, and in effect say that you will not get the information you request unless you are willing to go through an expensive and drawn out legal battle where a sympathetic judge may rule our favor.
    And then there is the bane of the public relations obsessed scientists and administrators: the insider leaks from those inside who have had enough. I suspect the leaks are and will be more embarrassing than providing the information up front.

    I suspect the answer to the question from the thread could have been anybody that would conveniently fit the contrivance.

  24. David Holland
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 4:08 AM | Permalink

    I think Jones was just articulating the policy that had evolved among the Bureau and working groups. As theduke says the IPCC, as international organisation under UN auspices, could hardly prescribe confidentiality for its assessments. A search for “confid” in the Principles Governing IPCC Work and their Appendix A Procedures shows there is no instruction from the IPCC to its volunteer Bureau and Working Groups to keep anything confidential.

    I suspect that we will find by FoIA requests that AR5 WGI has issued such instructions but remember so did Solomon in leaked email 1141226255.

    • Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 9:13 AM | Permalink

      Here are Solomon’s “instruction” in that “leaked” email 1141226255:

      > As you will all be well aware, all of our findings are currently under development and
      cannot be quoted or cited until the report is officially finalized at the end of January,
      2007. Please do not give anyone the impression that you can currently represent
      information on behalf of the IPCC, or provide information about the draft material in the
      report. To do so would be not only a great discourtesy to your colleagues but may allow
      others to question the credibility of the IPCC process.

      Let the lawyers determine if that counts as “instruction to keep anything confidential.”

      Salomon is wrong: both disclosing and not disclosing the draft material “allow others to question the credibility of the IPCC process.”

      Yet another Procrustean bed.

    • Ed Waage
      Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 2:18 PM | Permalink

      Here is the draft AR4 Synthesis Report

      Click to access inf1.pdf

      where the statement is made on each page of comments submitted by national governments: “Comments from Governments and Organizations – Confidential, Do Not Cite or Quote”

      It is relevant that these comments are now available after the publication of the final document. Applying the same logic to the working group review comments, they should now be available for public inspection as well after publication of the final report.

      In addition, the InterAcademy Council review of the IPCC has a confidentiality statement in it on page vii:

      Click to access IAC%20Report.pdf

      where it states: “The review procedure and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.”

      However, it too is now available for perusal after final publication.

  25. curious
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 8:23 AM | Permalink

    Me at “Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 8:20 AM” is a response to Ford at “Posted Nov 28, 2010 at 12:36 PM”.

  26. Mac
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 10:06 AM | Permalink

    It is the exposure of such behaviour that discredits CRU, UEA, Russell, Oxburgh and the IPCC. That is the key point in this debate. The science falls when the credibility of the scientists have been shredded by their own deeds.

    Remember, skeptics don’t have to make arguments when they can simply point to the behaviour of those such as Phil Jones.

  27. bill
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 10:55 AM | Permalink

    Yes the cost of the inquiries, the cost of handling the FOI requests, indeed, all issues. But you want to talk about cost, just suppose, for the sake of argument, that UEA’s science was not right, but public policy was built on it: and consider what the costs of that public policy might have turned out to have been. Little costs today, bad; massive costs tomorrow, worse.

  28. mpaul
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 11:59 AM | Permalink

    The ‘omerta’ explanation makes sense. Recall that just prior to the release of the climategate emails, a group of us requested copies of the alleged “Confidentiality Agreements” that CRU claimed existed between CRU and the data publishers. CRU argued that they did not actually have any such written agreements, rather they were relying on (what amounts to) a secret and unwritten oath not to release the data. Omerta indeed!

    But I don’t see an omerta exemption in the FOI Act. It seems to me that such an exemption would be useful in denying all FOI requests.

  29. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 12:36 PM | Permalink

    IPCC omerta (using this precise term) was mentioned at klimazweibel here about 10 days ago.

  30. Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 6:34 PM | Permalink

    ‘Scuse me for butting in, the Royal Society has opened it’s digital archive is till open for tonight and tomorrow only. free downloads for all. I just found a bunch of interesting dendro and solar stuff from 1990. You can search by author too.

    Have at it! 🙂


  31. Chris E
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 6:45 PM | Permalink

    Neither you nor I nor anyone else alone will ever understand the complexities of the global climate and economic systems well enough to make good policy; policymakers are forced to rely on expert opinion (i.e. arguing from authority). If those experts are not above reproach in their professional conduct, no good can come of it. At times this website does have a slight smell of witch-hunt about it, but in the absence of any effective official gategeepers for scientific professionalism then CA does perform a much-needed role.

    Like any science, the field of ‘climate-change’ is built brick-by-brick from from the bottom. There’s no doubt that Phil Jones represents a very large brick in the foundations of the field, and so intense scrutiny of his work is justified. For Dr Jones to resist this scrutiny in unavoidably suspicious. That said, academic politics and grant-chasing is a dirty business, and I’d imagine it would be fairly easy for an innocent up-and-coming academic to progressively dig themselves into a deeper and deeper hole. All the more reason for maximum public exposure, as a salutory lesson for the next generation of science workers.

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