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The East Anglia publication scheme

Steve McIntyre has posted up an interesting article about the complaints made by Nature in its Climategate editorial, namely that scientists were being overwhelmed by freedom of information requests. As he points out, the actual number of requests made so far has been very small, a point reinforced by a brief perusal of, the portal for many FoI requests to UK public bodies. Prior to Climategate, there were only ten FoI requests to UEA. This doesn't preclude there being requests made through other channels, but it does at least suggest that the problem is rather smaller in scale than Nature would have us believe.

But in many ways, this is besides the point. As well as the Freedom of Information Act, CRU information falls under the terms of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. These require public bodies to:

(a) progressively make the information available to the public by electronic means which are easily accessible; and

(b) take reasonable steps to organize the information relevant to its functions with a view to the active and systematic dissemination to the public of the information.

As far as I can see, the University of East Anglia, in common with many other UK universities, has failed to set up the legally mandated publication scheme. In other words, the alleged burdensome level of FoI requests has only been necessary because those scientists' have been flouting the law.

A similar point is made in the comments at CA by the economist Richard Tol:

I bet that I get far fewer requests for information (2-3 a week) than my colleagues in climate science proper. I do find these requests disruptive, because it means taking your mind of the data you’re working on and focussing on data you worked on years ago. I have a simple solution for that: I post all relevant data on my website. As the data is in the public domain anyway per the various freedom of information acts that govern my work, I might as well put the data there.

So it's simple. Publish everything as you go and you not only comply with the law but you make your life simpler in the long run.

I've put in a further FoI request to East Anglia, asking what steps they have taken to ensure compliance with the terms of EIR. In the meantime, the ecowarriors at Nature might do better to direct their ire at climatologists who flout the law rather than sceptics who are forced to use FoI to unearth the information that is being withheld.


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Reader Comments (25)

I wonder if it could be argued that the EIA requires dissemination only of the "value added" data, and even that in summary? The Act seems to be concerned with informing "the public" who are not equipped to digest the mass of raw data.
Primary data is covered by the disclosure policies of granting bodies, journals, the IPCC etc. It ought, of course, to be available for the asking and not need FoI invoked.

Dec 30, 2009 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptical Chymist

For "Act" read "Regulations". Sorry :-)

Dec 30, 2009 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptical Chymist

Put your finger right on the spot.

I worked for the police when the FOIA was introduced and getting that sorted was our top priority.

I can't believe that these institutions haven't sorted this after all these years. FFS.

Dec 30, 2009 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterPlato

On a point of detail I read the 2 posts by Steve McIntyre as the first 2 in a series of posts so I think you are premature in stating there were only 10 requests. We know there was a large set of requests generated in the Summer which Steve indicates will be dealt with later. i expect that when he gets to this years mass set of FOIA requests which were trying to identify which Countries were operating non disclosure that we will get some further arguments that will be heated.

Personally I dont have an issue with raising of FOIA requests where information is being withheld because that is what the process is there to address. The process should then determine if the request is reasonable or if there is a good reason for withholding. In the main nobody appears to dispute that there is data being withheld so the argument should then hinge on whether it is legitimate to withhold. Climategate has highlighted that some reasons for non disclosure were not legitimate.

I am not clear why Nature believes it is in their interest to make the editorial because it adds to the impression that major journals are culpable in a desire to restrict the information that should be legitimatly available for public scrutiny.

[BH adds: Clive, the 10 are the ones on the WhatDoTheyKnow website. This is not the only way to send requests to UEA. It is evidence that UEA is not suffering an undue burden of FoI requests, but it is not conclusive. There may be lots of requests sent through other channels.]

Dec 30, 2009 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterclivere

"a public authority ...": is it clear that Universities count as such?

Dec 30, 2009 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

dearime Most univetsities in the UK are classified as public authorities including UEA. See their FOIA Information page.

Dec 30, 2009 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

I should guess that many of the FOI requests are duplicates, so posting the information online in response to the first application kills several birds with one stone.

No burden arises, except to those whose work is suspect.

Dec 30, 2009 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Wood

Echoing what others have said, the FOI meme is beside the point.

1. The journals should require all data, metadata, and (non-trivial) code be archived when work is published.

2. The results of publicly funded work should be publicly available.

There simply is no case for withholding information, IMHO.

Dec 30, 2009 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterkdk33

The editorial suprised me. Nature looks quite political which doesn't do much for an objective science image. Not that I have actually had cause to read it for a long time so maybe that is not unusual.

Dec 30, 2009 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheSkyIsFalling

Nature has become a political propaganda organ much like Pravda was for the Soviet Union in years gone by. And as for objectivity of science under such a regime, I merely have to point to Lysenko and the terrible harm he did to Soviet agriculture.

I would have expected more of those running Nature, the journal that first published Watson and Crick:
A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid
Watson J.D. and Crick F.H.C.
Nature 171, 737-738 (1953)

Dec 30, 2009 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Quite apart from the benefit to all of posting data as Richard Tol suggests, I don't see why fulfilling a hundred FoI requests on related topics takes much longer than fulfilling just the one. Once you have looked out what has been asked for, it is easily forwarded to other parties.

In the past, when I've requested information under FoEI regs from UK bodies for research purposes, I've agreed more than once to accept what was prepared to fulfill a different request.

There's a world of difference between holding a public body to account and bullying a clerk in the admin office. I don't believe the Nature claim. But neither does anyone else, I suppose.

Dec 30, 2009 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave B

Bishop - I totally agree re: the power and value of the EIR and I'm pleased to see you highlight it.

I would also like to make a plea to any journalists who are following this situation to pick up the cudgels on behalf of full and proper compliance with FOI and EIR. IMO these are essential tools for democracy and any journalist worth his salt should be up in arms over the flagrant disregard with which they are being treated. Heads should be rolling at UEA.

Similarly, any scientist should be nothing less than disgusted by the "advertorial" issued by Nature.

Dec 30, 2009 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Bishop Hill - re your inline comment to my post.

The point I was making is that the number of FOIA requests generated by the internet campaign that was co-ordinated through CA was quite substantial. This will be a battleground topic assuming Steve addresses it. Some of the warmers were criticising Lucia at the Blackboard for joining in and feelings were running quite high on both sides.

Personally I am neutral on whether it was the best tactic at the time. Another tactic would have been to escalate due to lack of satisfaction with the response. I am led to believe that options are available for appeal if the response is not satisfactory.

I always try to establish who is being reasonable or unreasonable and also look for cause vs effect. For me I did not see any request by Steve M or others as unreasonable. I have seen unreasonable behaviour in the way that requests were refused and this was reinforced by details exposed by Climategate. I occasionally disagree with Steve on how he views or handles things on some other issues but not so far in the area of FOIA.

Dec 30, 2009 at 6:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterclivere


OK. It's worth noting that the legislation covers large split requests, so it should not have been an issue anyway. The fact that there were only three relevant agreements means that even with a large number of requests the overall workload for CRU was not burdensome.

Dec 30, 2009 at 6:41 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Let's keep in mind that the "huge" number of FOIA requests received in 2009 were due to CRU and UKMet's claims that data was held under "confidentiality agreements". Specifically, they claimed that such agreements only allowed for data to be released to "academic researchers". Such a specific claim requires a specific request for the language of the confidentiality agreement.

The nature of that claim required requests to be made for each and every country, since "give me any confidentiality agreements you have" would have been viewed as too vague.

As you sow so shall you reap.

Dec 30, 2009 at 9:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn M

So, there is the FOI, the EIR, and also the new data portal the UK Government is supposed to be launching in January. See
Surely there are enough indicators now that access to data should be assumed to be a default position, and not the opposite which is the way most Government and Local Authorities have been used to behaving. I'm not convinced however that the culture will change just because there are regulations in place. This is the Civil Service we're dealing with.

Dec 30, 2009 at 9:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

The excessive burden of FOIA requests followed from the pointless refusal to comply in the first place.
I had a running battle with a local council for about three months while their Chief Exec did everything he could to deny me the information I needed. Eventually the Commissioner ruled in my favour and the CE promptly redacted all the relevant bits. He was finally obliged to release the information I wanted.
He knew and I knew that he would have to eventually. God knows why he didn't do it in the first place.
CRU staff have been behaving like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Denial; denial; denial.
Whether the data are "clean" or not or whether they say anything about CO2 and global warming is no longer the issue.
Jones' quotes and his behaviour suggest at best someone who fears, and at worst someone who knows, that his data will not stand up to independent scrutiny.

Dec 30, 2009 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

The simple truth is the journals, including Nature, are responsible for the situation with FOI requests by not following their own archiving policy. The editorial is a distraction, a propaganda piece, that attempts to distract by demonizing those who question the wisdom of the self-anointed keepers of the truth. The anointed are sufficiently convinced of their own superiority that they don't believe the rules apply to them.

Dec 31, 2009 at 3:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterGreg F

A bizarre thing about your post is the assertion that FOI requests have been few and non-troubling, and then this:
"I've put in a further FoI request to East Anglia, asking what steps they have taken to ensure compliance with the terms of EIR."

This use of FOI for legalistic cross-examining is most certainly time-consuming.

Dec 31, 2009 at 6:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterNick Stokes


I wasn't unaware of the irony, but it's worth pointing out that this is an issue for senior UEA staff rather than climate scientists, so the new request will not add to Phil Jones' (allegedly) intolerable burden.

Dec 31, 2009 at 7:21 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Jones is on "gardening leave" right now.

Dec 31, 2009 at 8:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

clivere has a good point about judging the number of FoI requests by using "whatdotheyknow". I have processed over 360 requests since the Act came into force and of those only about 20 have been through that website.

Dec 31, 2009 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered Commenterjackangove

Jack Hughes

Phil Jones has stepped down as director, but I think he's still working.

Dec 31, 2009 at 9:47 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill


This is relevant


Dec 31, 2009 at 9:48 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I agree with what you say. However, the FOI question is a bit of a sideshow. Considering the importance of the conclusions it was absolutely incumbent on the researchers to make their original data public. That was a requirement of the journals in which they published. But more importantly, it is absolutely essential for their conclusions to be replicated. Without replication no authority should have accepted them as valid science.

Dec 31, 2009 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

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