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« They're all a comin'! | Main | Geoscientist magazine on HSI »
Wednesday
Jul282010

Weasel words

The University of East Anglia has just announced that it is to become involved in a major new initiative in data openness - I kid you not.

Climate scientists at the University of East Anglia will soon be demonstrating new methods of providing open access to research data - thanks to a major new investment from JISC to improve the way UK university researchers manage their data.

JISC, for those of you who don't know, is the Joint Information Systems Committee, a government body that pays for IT projects. But look out for the weasel words in this next bit...

The UEA team, led by Dr Tim Osborn, is one of eight departments around the country who will be working towards models of better data management practice and making data more openly available for reuse in universities across the UK.

Surely they are not going to try to get away with that...?

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Reader Comments (28)

"Surely they are not going to try to get away with that...?"

Surely you don't think they won't try?

Jul 28, 2010 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

They got away with just about everything else.

Jul 28, 2010 at 8:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe North Briton

That’s openness and transparency UEA style. All openness is equal except some openness is more closed than open.

Jul 28, 2010 at 8:26 AM | Unregistered Commentermartyn

Good grief! Can't get this tune out of my head as I read this (with apologies to Pete Seeger):

Where has all the data gone, long time passing?
Where has all the data gone, long time ago?
Where has all the data gone?
CRU have picked them, every one
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Jul 28, 2010 at 8:50 AM | Unregistered Commenterhro001

Although profound suspicion of CRU is usually a good default position, the statement about "making data more openly available for reuse in universities across the UK" sounds like JISC speak to me.

Jul 28, 2010 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

FOI does not require the user to do anything other than request the data, nor to have any particular characteristics. I don't know whether any restriction to Universities only would be actually unlawful, but its unlikely to withstand an FOI request. And it would only take one ruling by the Commissioner to bring the whole edifice crashing down.

Another one for Graham Stringer?

Jul 28, 2010 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

I think it would require primary legislation, but I wouldn't put it beyond the universities to lobby for it.

Jul 28, 2010 at 9:36 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

No problem to laterally thinking minds! Two precedents: remember that the original universities were set up by the church [i.e. Bishops :) ], and they've just announced a new private university:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10756830

So.... Bishop Hill University anyone?

Jul 28, 2010 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

I think it would require primary legislation, but I wouldn't put it beyond the universities to lobby for it.

Check out chapter 10 paragraph 34 of the Russell report (pp. 94-95).

In the final OMB guidelines[10], recognising these concerns, 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. The Review recommends that the ICO should hold consultations
on a similar distinction for the UK FoIA/EIR.

Of course any attempt to restrict access to data for replication would be taking things further again, but the idea of restricting FOIA and EIR's applicability to academics has already been seriously proposed.

Jul 28, 2010 at 10:00 AM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Could they be heading along this road for a refusal to disclose if the info is being used elsewhere?

PART II
EXEMPT INFORMATION
22 Information intended for future publication
(1) Information is exempt information if—
(a) the information is held by the public authority with a view to its publication, by the authority or any other person, at some future date (whether determined or not),
(b) the information was already held with a view to such publication at the time when the request for information was made, and
(c) it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information should be withheld from disclosure until the date referred to in paragraph (a).
(2) The duty to confirm or deny does not arise if, or to the extent that, compliance with section 1(1)(a) would involve the disclosure of any information (whether or not already recorded) which falls within subsection (1).

Jul 28, 2010 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered Commentermartyn

The real question is , what data will be avaiable , the raw or the post manipulation.?
You can make numbesr dance to any tune , but its a lot harder to prove what tune was used and how well it it was played if you don't know what the oringal numbers where.

Jul 28, 2010 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

"will be working towards models of better data management practice "

I think this means they're not actually going to share data, they're just going to model what sharing would look like!

And we all know models are better that the real thing!

Jul 28, 2010 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Not unexpected. Now that the Science has been thoroughly investigated and vindicated, it's now time for the spring-cleaning.
Admissions of Mea Culpa by the Academics, when charged with poor housekeeping, were sufficient to satisfy both the need to demonstrate that Justice had been done and that these brilliant but absent-minded researchers needed help with the mudanities of managment.
Teams, of transparent-data-probity experts, are being head-hunted at this very moment. Money well spent I would say. I just hope it's better funded than Gavin's employers (NASA, Fenton?) who are so impoverished that they can only afford 0.25 of an employee for his vital QA function.
Soon we will be deluged with a veritable flood of numbers to do with matters climatic.
Frog populations in Panama, body mass of Marmosets, incidence of diabetes in Dundee and so on. The list is endless although Numberwatch has tried.
FOI, on matters scientific, will not be needed so all those lovely boffins can get on with saving Gaia without being pestered by Canadian Gadflys.
May God forgive us!

Jul 28, 2010 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterroyfomr

So they've managed to use their previous denial of access as a means to get additional public funding for improving access. In reality it will be just another little academic empire based around a database that will only contain the data people choose to make public, and of course it will require on-going funding. What they call a nice little earner in the trade.

Jul 28, 2010 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterLiam

New Scientist has a slightly different take on what might be the same story. Apparently a different sponsor, and no mention of any access restrictions.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727710.101-climategate-data-sets-to-be-made-public.html

Jul 28, 2010 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Meanwhile, some of us have suspicions why Paul Dennis's blog Harmonicoscillator suddenly froze in February, and remains in that wintery state.

Jul 28, 2010 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Does that mean I will be able to access UEA data from the University that I work at?

Jul 28, 2010 at 2:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Biggs

Pharos

I have had some email correspondence with Dennis. He says he has just been diverted by other things.

Jul 28, 2010 at 3:18 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

To confirm what the Bishop says there is nothing suspicious about my lack of activity beyond being very busy with other projects. I'm optimistic of finding time over the summer to resurrect the blog and to instigate my open notebook science project. At the moment I'm searching for the most appropriate platform for this (Wiki etc.).

As soon as I'm ready to restart I'll announce it here if the Bishop is agreeable to this suggestion.

Jul 28, 2010 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

I've emailed JISC to clarify the question of who will have access to the data.

Jul 28, 2010 at 4:17 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

These people cannot open their mouths without sticking a foot in. There is no such thing as data management in science. There is management of data and methods, especially when "methods" include statistics and computer programs designed specifically to massage the data. To this day, McIntyre continues his kind and patient effort of explaining to Mann that his use of statistics is idiosyncratic, at best, and that he, Mann, has the duty as scientist to make his statistical methods intelligible to other interested scientists. No Climategater understands scientific method. It is the duty of the scientist to clarify his hypotheses, evidence, and methods so that interested scientists can understand them. When asked to do their duty, Climategaters respond in the manner of a teenager who has been asked to clean his room.

Jul 28, 2010 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

These people cannot open their mouths without sticking a foot in. There is no such thing as data management in science. There is management of data and methods, especially when "methods" include statistics and computer programs designed specifically to massage the data. To this day, McIntyre continues his kind and patient effort of explaining to Mann that his use of statistics is idiosyncratic, at best, and that he, Mann, has the duty as scientist to make his statistical methods intelligible to other interested scientists. No Climategater understands scientific method. It is the duty of the scientist to clarify his hypotheses, evidence, and methods so that interested scientists can understand them. When asked to do their duty, Climategaters respond in the manner of a teenager who has been asked to clean his room.

Jul 28, 2010 at 4:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Who was it that said

this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon working towards the moon and returning him safely to the Earth working towards a model of returning him safely to the Earth.

Jul 28, 2010 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Martyn, I wondered the same, and why CRU hadn't tried that approach before given it's intent was to provide some exclusivity pre-publication for academics and others. Problem is

"(a) the information is held by the public authority with a view to its publication, by the authority or any other person, at some future date (whether determined or not),"

leaves 'future date' very open ended. I'm guessing if they'd sought advice from the ICO, they may have been told that once published, data used in the publication becomes discoverable under FOI or EIR. Possible risk is public funded data could be suppressed by delaying publication indefinitely if there's no reasonable time limit on that condition. I'm going to ask the ICO about that one.

On the JISC thing, I think this is just an extension on existing work to add data warehousing as a service to JANET. Rees's comments about making data available to 'qualified' applicants is possibly more concerning, although doesn't match current FOI or EIR law.

Jul 28, 2010 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

@ Jack Hughes

That's brilliant. I will use President Kennedy's "man on the moon" speach as a measure against all future assurances that I'm given. On any matter.

It does rather sort the men from the boys.

Jul 28, 2010 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered Commentertimheyes

Indeed! Nice one Jack ^.^

Jul 28, 2010 at 8:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDung

Strange how 3 or 4 words make all the difference


http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2010/july/homepagenews/climatedataproject

The UEA team, led by Dr Tim Osborn, is one of eight departments around the country who will be working towards models of better data management practice and making data more openly available for reuse by universities and other interested parties.


http://www.scitech.ac.uk/News+and+Events/19173.aspx

The UEA team, led by Dr Tim Osborn, is one of eight departments around the country who will be working towards models of better data management practice and making data more openly available for reuse in universities across the UK.

Jul 28, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered Commentermartyn

That's wonderful. If I work or study (almost forgot that bit) at a university, I'll be able to get the same dodgy data from CRU that they get FROM GHCN! (And I can anyway, even though I don't work in a university.)

Progress indeed.

Oh, and if anyone's got any tips for Harry, they'd like that too.

Jul 28, 2010 at 10:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Dunford

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