Judy Curry has written many posts on “climate communications”, linking to a small academic industry to which Andy Revkin, Keith Kloor and others pay attention to. Whenever I read one of these articles, I cannot help thinking that academic concepts of “communication” are forged far too much by their day-to-day experience with essentially captive audiences of students, and not enough from experience with customers or investors, i.e. adults with other interests and opportunities not subject to control or grading.
I’ll reflect on this in connection with the most recent East Anglia refusal of my FOI request for the Yamal regional chronology referred to in a Climategate email of April 2006.
In this paper, we therefore aim to supplement previous discussions of appeals to peripheral processing with a discussion of how climate scientists can give their audiences good reasons for trust, thus appealing to their audiences’ central processing/critical thinking. What are good reasons for trust? This has been the subject of significant recent scholarship in philosophy, political theory, and argumentation theory. These fields use humanistic methods such as conceptual analysis and pragmatic reconstruction to build theories of the kinds of reasons for trust which are likely to survive even harsh critical scrutiny. While social scientific methods can show us what heuristics audiences in fact are using–an empirical question–philosophical methods can show us what reasons audiences ought to accept as good–a normative or value question.
I must say that I was less impressed than Judy by this article -I think that she tends to be over-impressed by philosophical jargon, but that’s another story. (And, for my sins, I actually took philosophy courses at Oxford, then a leading center of philosophy.)
Goodwin observed (in my opinion) platitudinously that
“It has long been recognized that the impact of any message is in part due to the trust the recipients place in the messenger.
She provides a variety of footnotes to social science literature as documentation, but the point is kindergarten to anyone with experience in practical affairs. I’m sure that one could find more compelling citations in classical literature as in recent social science journals.
Judy’s recent post linked back to an exchange between her and Willis Eschenbach in the early days of Climategate that (I think) illustrates the difference between the approach of an academic (though in Judy’s case, she manages a large department and is very practical) and a business person (though in Willis’ case, his academic interests are an important part of his life), an exchange in which both parties were polite to one another.
Judy argued that the rebuilding trust was primarily a matter of “better communication”:
To rebuild trust, climate scientists need to better communicate their ideas to the public, particularly regarding uncertainty. The blogosphere can be valuable in this regard.
Willis, on the other hand, took a position that anyone in business understands: if someone is dishonest with you in business, you are never going to trust them again. That’s just the way it is. You may have no alternative other than to deal with them, but you’ll never trust them. Nor does it mean that everything that they say is wrong. It just means that you will no longer believe them on their word. And honesty in Willis’ world means (in my terminology) “full, true and plain disclosure”. Willis rebuked the climate “community” for standing by when Jones famously refused Warwick Hughes’ data request:
Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?
Willis also criticized institutions like NAS and AAAS for their failure to police itself when confronted with such conduct. (Actually, Ralph Cicerone of NAS did not merely stand by; in establishing the terms of reference of the NAS panel in 2006, he sabotaged examination of this issue, an issue that the Science Committee had asked to be examined.)
Willis’ quotation left out the next sentence, which is important for today’s post (see here):
Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it? There’s IPR [intellectual property rights] to consider.
I will return to supposed “intellectual property rights” and CRU below.
Goodwin briefly departed from academic jargon with one suggestion for trying to move the debate forward by suggesting that climate scientists voluntarily assume “extra responsibility” as follows:
A simple instance of this practical logic is the used car dealer who can reasonably be suspected of peddling lemons, but who succeeds in persuading some customers to buy by offering an extended guarantee. This enforceable undertaking of extra responsibility creates for his audience a new reason to trust him…
I don’t think that Goodwin necessarily understood the connection of this point to the battleground issue of data obstruction by climate scientists. If she did, she didn’t mention the connection in her article. However, if CRU doesn’t want to be suspected of “peddling lemons”, to borrow Goodwin’s term, they cannot at the same time refuse to produce data on the grounds of “IPR”.
Earlier this year, I submitted an FOI request for the Yamal/Polar Urals regional chronology referred to in a Climategate email of April 2006. Obviously this chronology should have been obtained and examined by Muir Russell and/or Oxburgh but it wasn’t. In my FOI request, I asked for (1) the URALS regional chronology referred to in the email; (2) a list of identifiers for the measurement data sets used in the calculation (3) a list of the measurement data sets used in the “long” Polar Urals chronology referred to in the email.
In their first refusal, CRU/UEA refused all three on the grounds that (1) the chronology and the lists of sites were “incomplete” i.e. works in progress (even though the chronology had not been altered since 2006; (2) that the chronology and lists of sites were “intellectual property” and disclosing this intellectual property to me would adversely affect the ability of CRU/UEA to get grants and publish articles in prestigious journals; (3) identifiers for the various sites were among the sites listed at the NOAA Paleo website and/or Russian websites.
In their most recent refusal of my appeal, they continued to refuse to provide the regional chronology and list of sites for the regional chronology but abandoned some of the previous arguments. The ICO recently ruled in the CRUTEM applications of Jonathan Jones and Don Keiller that an institution could not, in effect, say that the site identifiers were somewhere in the London telephone book. In my appeal, Colam-French acknowledged that saying that the identifiers were somewhere on the internet did not qualify as an FOI exemption. (Nor should it have been presented as such in the first place.)
Colam-French also acknowledged that CRU’s refusal to identify the sites in the “long” Polar Urals chronology was bogus. Here my interest was whether they had included the additional Polar Urals measurement data set that became available in 1999 (referred to in Climategate emails to Briffa) and which, when incorporated, resulted in a noticeable MWP (as reported at CA a number of years ago. In their original refusal, they had said that this list was “incomplete” and “intellectual property”. It turns out that these assertions were untrue. According to the new information, the “long” 2006 Polar Urals data set used in the regional chronology did not include the additional Polar Urals measurement data that Briffa was told about in 1999. They said that it was just the data used in the 1995 study, after all, and abandoned the previous excuses of the list being “incomplete” and “intellectual property”.
On the list of sites used in the URALS regional chronology, they abandoned their claim that this was “incomplete”, but continued to insist that it was “intellectual property” and exempt from FOI on those grounds.
As to the URALS regional chronology, they argued both that it was intellectual property and that it was “incomplete”. They argued that a chronology was “incomplete” unless accompanied by metadata, including measurement data. (Given past refusals by CRU/UEA to archive measurement data for their prominent chronologies for Taimyr, Tornetrask and Yamal, it seems to me that this excuse is total hypocrisy, but that’s a story for another day.) In this particular case, however, they have elsewhere said that the measurement data is already online and that the list of sites is complete. ICO policy is rather unsympathetic to incompleteness excuses where the incompleteness can be easily remedied by providing the associated metadata. This excuse seems unlikely to be sustained.
The key argument is then “intellectual property” – the same argument that Jones referred to back in 2005 in refusing Warwick Hughes.
CRU/UEA have now undertaken to report the 2006 regional chronology as part of an article planned for late 2012 and argue that disclosure of the 2006 regional chronology at present would have a direct adverse impact on their ability to publish their results in a prestigious journal. (They don’t explain why this information would be so adverse, while their October 2009 web article wouldn’t, but again that is a different story.) In my opinion, the 2006 regional chronology should have been reported as part of Briffa et al 2008 (from which the present dispute originates.)
In my appeal, I’ll argue all of the above points.
However, for the purposes of today’s post, let’s consider CRU’s reliance on the IPR exemption and its relation to the problem of “trust” in CRU. I’ll be perfectly frank about my own attitude towards them: I no longer “trust” anything from CRU/University of East Anglia. That doesn’t mean that I assume that it’s “wrong” – just that I don’t trust it. Moreover, I do not expect anything from them (or from obvious others) to be “full, true and plain disclosure”; I expect everything to be parsed like the fine print of a contract with an unscrupulous leasing company. Buyer beware. That’s the problem for the climate “community” with the many readers of climate blogs and, in my opinion, is at the heart of the problem with the wider community. And, as Willis observed, once trust is forfeited, it’s not easily regained. And it’s foolish to think that it can be regained merely by telling the “story” in a more forceful way,
And if they want to “rebuild trust”, hiding their 2006 Yamal regional chronology on the grounds of “IPR” is a bad way to go about it.
If there were any adult supervision in the climate community, it would start, not with polysyllabic ruminations about climate communications, but with practical measures to stop pointlessly counterproductive conduct by members of the community. The first thing that any business lawyer would ask a corporation in a similar dispute is: even if you’re right about FOI and IPR, is there any point to getting into this fight? How do you expect to win trust, when you’re refusing to show the data? why not give them the data voluntarily even if you’re not obliged under FOI (which you might be anyway)? And is this really a good case to take a stand on? Maybe you’ll lose and the precedent will hurt you in cases that you might have won.
Of any institution in the world right now, CRU has the least justification and right to engage in obstructive FOI litigation. It should be the climate “community” – not climate blogs – that should be dissuading this madness.
However, as Willis observed, the community stands mute. None of them wrote to Michael Mann or Phil Jones six years to urge them to provide data and none of them are writing to CRU now. It’s time for them to write East Anglia and urge them to come to their senses. Tell them to provide data that they’re asked for without fighting it every inch of the way.