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Vexatious behaviour

Eli Rabett is trying to argue that the requests put into the University of East Anglia were vexatious and also that they were turned down. Now, I know something about this, having put in one of the requests myself, although I was not part of the coordinated effort to ask for them five countries at a time. I just took the blunt approach and asked for all of them.

What is interesting is that neither my broad sweep nor the piecemeal requests were rejected as such. While everyone got a response that was in the form of a rejection, the grounds given were not that the request was vexatious. Each of us was in fact directed to a new webpage where the information we had asked for (or at least the paltry collection of available agreements that UEA could find) was to be found. The grounds for the rejection were therefore that the information was publicly available already.

The FoI Act allows public authorities to treat requests made obviously in concert as a single request, at which point it is possible to reject them as vexatious or demand payment as the circumstances demand. The fact that neither of these things happened shows that Eli's supposition that the requests were burdensome is wrong.


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Reader Comments (14)

As I recall, Eli rabett is one of the unpleasant team of supporters (along with Dhogaza, Ray Ladbury and one or two others) at RealClimate. I don't go there anymore after seeing too many nasty remarks. Perhaps I am being too unkind to him and he is one of the less unpleasant characters (it's the memory you know).

Feb 9, 2010 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

You are basically right, but Eli does have a small valid point about request 09-97, even if he does both over- and mis-state it.

Feb 9, 2010 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

If you take 09-97 out of context, heaven forfend, this might appear to be so. However, context is all and this FOI request was only initiated after Jones and co gave a metaphorical two fingers to Steve McIntyre by saying that they couldn't release the data (that they had lost?) because they were covered by a myriad of confidentiality agreements whose existence up to that point had never been mentioned. Not surprising since only three existed, theywere somewhat anbiguous and they hadn't prevented Jones giving the data to a "friendly" academic. Remember Dr Jones initially said I won't give you the data because you want to find something wrong with it, not I can't give you the data because of confidentiality agreements.

CRU were not "overwhelmed" with FOIs, they simply dug themeselves into a bigger and bigger hole when they turned the first one down on wholly spurious grounds. They subsequently got what they deserved

Feb 9, 2010 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Arthur, when interpreting my posts bear in mind that requests 09-117 and 09-160 are me! Full details of my experiences are at Climate Audit.

Feb 9, 2010 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Eli Rabett always talks/writes in the 3rd person. This is pretty strange and gives me the creeps.

Feb 9, 2010 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

As one of the "requesters", I'd agree that there was no intimation that my request was "vexatious". On the contrary I received very polite and friendly treatment from the Information Policy & Compliance Manager. Indeed he signed off his emails to me in a cheerful "Cheers Dave" mode, and furthermore, following a query I put in about my official response, he replied in a perfectly sensible non-formal, non Sir Humphrey bureaucratic tone. I think it would be unfair to post his comments here as I felt he was genuinely attempting to be helpful to me "off the record".

Now it might be that "Dave" is just an exceptional human being who is able to maintain his best manners, patience, and mood when sorely tested. On the other hand, another explanation might be just that these FOI requests were NOT in fact some dreadful and vexatious burden on UEA. Certainly not such as might stir suicidal thoughts amongst the denizens of the ivory towers.

It tickled me that in the course of being interviewed by Plod, the murder detective moonlighting as a data breach investigator launched into a lengthy diatribe that I can roughly summarise as "if these academics think these FOI requests were a burden, they should spend some time in the force. Then they'd learn the difference between a light dusting of FOI requests and a blizzard!"

Feb 9, 2010 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard M

I will note that rabbits are obligate coprophages.

Feb 9, 2010 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterCrusty The Clown

as cthulhu explained in the comments at Rabett Run

My MP3 collection contains some copyrighted music I have purchased and some non-copyrighted music. Over the years I have forgotten which MP3s have copyright and which have not and it would now be time consuming for me to separate the two.

Out of the blue an acquaintance sends me an email asking for me to send him my MP3 collection.

I know this acquaintance runs a website where he is apt to publish the MP3s I send him. If I supply him I could get into trouble. I am not a lawyer, I just don't want this hassle.

So I send a reply back to him saying legal agreements prevent me from sending him the MP3s.

After a while he sends me another message, informing me that he talked to my Sister who admits to have been given MP3s by me in the past. Therefore how can I claim legal agreements prevent such a release? He repeats his request I send him my MP3s.

I reply that the legal agreements only allow me to send MP3s to my family. This isn't technically true I think, but giving it to someone I trust to not publish the music publically on a website is a far cry from handing them over to someone I suspect will do so.

Hearing that I only send MP3s to family members, he comically contacts my second cousin once removed and gets him to contact me and ask for the MP3s.

Knowing that this cousin is just going to forward the MP3s to my acquaintance, I refuse and go back to my original stance that legal agreements preclude the release.

He now demands I send him the legal smallprint encoded in the metadata of each MP3 to prove such legal agreements exist.

I just cannot be bothered with this. It's pathetic. If he really wanted the MP3s so much why doesn't he go and buy them himself?

I send him some smallprint anyway. He replies that some of the smallprint doesn't even say it's copyrighted. I am not entirely surprised, I didn't waste time checking all of it for the sake of someone who is simply wasting my time.

He demands I at least send him the non-copyrighted MP3s.

Do I want to sift through my collection reading small print to decide which is copyrighted and which is not? Not for this asshole.

I shoot him an email simply stating the release would harm my relations with the law.

He gets uptight at this and bad-mouths me on his website, telling his regulars how my "story has changed". Sure it has, but understandably. Nevertheless he riles up enough of his website regulars and gets dozens of them to spam my inbox with requests for MP3s.

What a bastard.

Feb 9, 2010 at 9:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterEli Rabett

I smell a rat with these cries of "vexatious FOI requests in incredible numbers" since I have never seen any specific numbers of FOI requests received, neither by the CRU in Britain nor by NASA in the states.

If there were really excessive numbers of requests, how about some specifics?: I worked for a US govt agency, National Labor Relations Board, and the agency HQ kept detailed stats on numbers of requests, degree of info provided, time spent in replying, etc. NASA for sure has this info already maintained.

Feb 9, 2010 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Cunningham

Of course it doesn't matter that the relevant MP3's were acquired with his government grant and should have been kept separate from the rest of his collection pending subsequent release following his publication.

Feb 9, 2010 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterGilbert


The MP3s may be yours. The data does not belong to Jones.

And if it was vexatious, there's a get-out in the legislation.

Feb 9, 2010 at 10:57 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

OK, I had not read Rabett's piece. So there were 58 FOI requests in 5 years, or less than one per month. this is hardly an extreme workload, my small office of 3 agents and one secretary probably gone one FOIA per month, each one focussing on a single case. this required an agent to go through all the documents in the case, scrutinizing each one at a time.

Feb 9, 2010 at 11:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Cunningham

The analogy to MP3's is a good one. Unfortunately Phil Jones treated his data with as little regard as a personal MP3 collection. The lesson for scientists is to treat publicly funded data better than a personal MP3 collection. There should be transparency and if there is a valid legal agreement in place that prohibits the release of data scientists should do a better job than the average person maintaining their music.

Of course the difference is that the average person can simply say "No" to the request for music, but a scientist responding to FIOA requests has a legal obligation that must be met. And as the IOC ruled Phil Jones and UEA were found guilty of not meeting their obligations under UK FOIA law.

Feb 10, 2010 at 7:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimR

What has happened to the bunny?!

He now writes in the first person. Is he losing his composure?

Feb 11, 2010 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterMogumbo Gono

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