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« Speccy on Beddington | Main | Contradictory Chris »
Thursday
Jul212011

UEA response to EIR requests – it depends who you are

This is a guest post by Richard Brearley.

This post is written to publicise an interesting anomaly in UEA’s treatment of requests sent to it under the Environmental Information Regulations.

Readers should know that my interest is only in compliance with EIR Regulations.  I am neither qualified nor sufficiently knowledgeable to get to the meat of some of the requests for data from UEA or to understand it even if it is disclosed.  I am a lawyer by training and the recent QUB and UEA ICO cases have interested me greatly – they have shown a strong reluctance on the part of these publicly funded organisations to retain for their own benefit the work for which we have all paid.  Thus is identified a friction between what those institutions consider to be their valid interests and what the Regulations provide – public access.  I have become highly interested in the way in which these interests are balanced and my preference is in favour of public access, (which is under the Regulations the presumption from where we all start), to information created or produced with tax payer money.

Readers may remember Steve McIntyre’s EIR request to UEA (UEA ref: FOI_11-047; EIR_11-004) relating to the “URALS” as referred to in the 2006 email from Dr Osborn (see below).  I read Mr McIntyre’s posts on this and as a UK resident concerned about the apparent repeated failure of tax funded scientists to reveal data, etc., and in the interests of properly transparent science, I decided to lodge an identical request to that lodged by Mr McIntyre.  I felt that I might be able to monitor and pursue such a request more easily being both resident here in the UK and also a solicitor who might have a reasonable understanding of the relevant law and who would be able to deal with any future hearings myself. 

My request (UEA ref: FOI_11-113; EIR_11-010) was as follows:

Dear Sirs,

Re – Freedom of Information / Environmental Information Regulations request

Please accept this letter as a request under the above legislation/regulations.

My request arises from the following email of 28.4.2006:

Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006
To: philip.brohan
From: Tim Osborn
Subject: Re: Standardisation uncertainty for tree-ring series
Cc: Keith Briffa,simon.tett
Hi Philip,
we have three “groups” of trees:

“SCAND” (which includes the Tornetrask and Finland multi-millennial chronologies, but also some shorter chronologies from the same region). These trees fall mainly within the 3 boxes centred at: 17.5E, 67.5N;22.5E, 67.5N; 27.5E, 67.5N
“URALS” (which includes the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies, plus other shorter ones). These fall mainly within these 3 boxes: 52.5E, 67.5N; 62.5E, 62.5N (note this is the only one not at 67.5N); 67.5E, 67.5N

“TAIMYR” (which includes the Taimyr long chronology, plus other shorter ones). These fall mainly within these 4 boxes: 87.5E, 67.5N; 102.5E, 67.5N; 112.5E, 67.5N; 122.5E, 67.5N
We do some analysis at the group scale, and for this we take the JJA temperatures from each box and average to the group scale to obtain a single series from each of SCAND, URALS and TAIMY.

We do some analysis at the overall scale, and for this we take these three group temperature series and average them to get an overall NW Eurasia temperature for boxes with tree chronologies in them.

We did also try using a wider average for the region, including all LAND temperatures from grid boxes within a rectangular region from 12.5E to 127.5E and from 57.5N to 72.5N, but I don’t think it correlated so well against the tree-ring width data (I can’t remember the exact correlations), so we didn’t pursue that.

Does that give you enough information to be going on with? I’d recommend using CRUTEM3 rather than HadCRUT3, because the correlations seem to deteriorate with the inclusion of SST data in some cases — though of course you can look into this yourself.
Cheers
Tim

I would be grateful to receive from you:

1) A digital version of the series for the “group of trees” described in the email as “URALS” (which includes the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies, plus other shorter ones).”;

2) A list of all the measurement data sets used to compile this series “URALS”, including the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies and the shorter ones, with each data set denoted by ITRDB identification or equivalent;

3) A digital version of the measurement data used in this series “URALS”.

 

 

Yours faithfully……

 

Mr McIntyre’s slightly earlier request to UEA was in identical terms. 

My original request was refused based on the now familiar grounds that UEA has deployed in a previous ICO case which was recently reported and in respect of  which there was some recent blogging comment and activity (see the Professor Jones case):

http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/decisionnotices/2011/fer_0282488.ashx

and on the grounds deployed by QUB in the Keenan case:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/decisionnotices/2010/FS_50163282.ashx

and I submitted a request for an internal appeal which is currently being processed by UEA.

However, in my appeal to UEA for internal consideration I made clear amongst other things that it had not properly identified the information I was requesting and had in fact unilaterally interpreted my request (contrary to Regulation 9) as being for 1001 bootstraps.  UEA had responded by refusing to provide information I had not asked for and of course under Regulation 9 the public authority is obliged to clarify any request that might be ambiguous – although in the request I had only used the “nomenclature” used by UEA itself (and which point I made in my appeal), asking UEA to clarify this).  The issue arose from the email of 2006.  There is, I accept, room for interpretation of what Dr Osborn was actually talking about in that email.  The later comments therein certainly make clear that there are three group temperature series which are worked on at the group scale and that these three series are then averaged to obtain a single result.  I put this to UEA and their response was as follows:

Dear Mr Brearley

ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION REGULATIONS 2004 – INFORMATION

REQUEST (FOI_11-113; EIR_11-010)

Further to your letter of 29 June 2011 and our response and 30 June 2011, we are writing to take you up on your suggestion that we communicate further in order to clarify your request and the grounds of your appeal.

It is very clear that you feel that we have not provided you with what you believe you were actually requesting. Therefore, as the information requested is very much based on an email from Dr. Osborn in 2006, we have consulted with Dr. Osborn again to further clarify what he was actually referring to in his email.

In your letter of 29 June you contend that “...the email does clearly identify a “series” for the “group of trees” referred to as URALS” and go on to assert that “Dr Osborne is clearly referring to analysis at the group scale (i.e. each of the three groups of trees), and also to three group temperature series, one under each of the group labels, SCAND, URALS and TAIMY. Obviously one of these series is “URALS”. It is clear that these three series are then averaged to produce a single series. URALS at that time is clearly a discrete group temperature series, individually comprised of the information I have asked for, namely the temperature series your university labels “URALS (which includes the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies plus other shorter ones)”, and the identification and measurement information relevant to it covered by my requests 2 and 3.” (our emphasis)

We have shared your comments with Dr. Osborn, who responds that the label ‘URALS’ in his email of 2006 referred both to ring-width measurement data for a group of trees in this region (encompassing part of the East Ural Mts and the adjacent Yamal peninsula) and to thermometer-based temperature data for the same region; i.e.

(1) A composite (more usually called a chronology) of selected treering measurements from this region.

(2) A composite (more usually called an average) of temperatures measured by thermometers from this region.

We accept that your original request was not for the 1001 bootstrap composites (also referred to in the 2006 email), which was our initial interpretation. Your original request mentioned “groups of trees” but did not mention “temperature series”, which leads us to interpret your request as being for item (1) as defined above by Dr. Osborn, in addition to the associated measurement data. However, in your appeal you make repeated reference to “temperature series”, which suggests that your request is for item (2). Please would you confirm whether you are requesting item (1) or (2), both, or something else? Once we are certain of what you are seeking, we can then provide a proper response to both your original request and your appeal. Please quote our reference given at the head of this letter in all correspondence.

Yours sincerely

I responded to UEA and thanked them for taking the time to clarify the position.  I was obviously pleased that Dr Osborn was in fact able to properly identify what he was referring to in the email and that it comprised discrete information that was identifiable and that we all now knew what we were talking about.  This, I considered, was a helpful response that enabled me to consider the position and clarify my requests – all in line with the Regulations and UEA was properly addressing its obligations.  I asked that both items in 1) and 2) in their letter should be considered as part of my request and should be included in my internal appeal.

My requests may well be denied at internal appeal stage and will, if so, move to the ICO.  That, however, is not the point of this post.

In early July I corresponded briefly with Mr McIntyre to see how he was getting on with his request.  Mr McIntyre made an identical request which was denied on identical grounds to my own.  He also in his internal appeal rejected UEA’s unilateral interpretation of his request as being for 1001 bootstraps, reiterating what he considered that he was asking for.

Again, in Mr McIntyre’s case as in mine, UEA went to Dr Osborne for clarification of what the 2006 email was in fact referring to.

The letter to me (set out above) identifying what Dr Osborn was referring to in his email is dated 15.7.2011.  The letter to Mr McIntyre setting out Dr Osborn’s recollection of what he was referring to in the same 2006 email, and from which the below extract is taken, is dated 18.7.2011.  Dr Osborne’s recollection was rather different in respect of Mr McIntyre’s request.

This time UEA responded to Mr McIntyre as follows (and Mr McIntyre has agreed to publication here of relevant parts of UEA’s letter to him):

Your request is based on information in an illegally obtained email that was not written as a public document and therefore I have asked Dr Osborn as the author of the email to explain what his email was referring to, his response is below:

It is worth clarifying here that although the original email described “Yamal and Polar Urals chronologies” the intended meaning was “trees from the sites that have previously been used to construct long chronologies called Yamal and Polar Urals, plus other shorter ones.” Thus it was not referring to chronologies but to groups of trees. The wording in the email may have led the requester to believe that new chronologies for Yamal and Polar Urals had been produced at that time.

The email you refer to is ambiguous and as Mr Palmer observed in his response “No such composite was attached to or identified by the 2006 email”. The fact that the email does not identify a composite makes it difficult for me to determine what information you are actually requesting.

 

“On this point in your appeal you have said:

 You state that the requested chronology was not attached to the email. This is irrelevant to my request. Dr Osborn knew what he was referring to in the email and is in a position to identify the chronology in question.

As you have observed, Dr Osborn, as the author of the email, is best placed to identify the chronology that you have requested. As part of considering your appeal Dr Osborn has provided me with the following information which is pertinent to our assumption that your request was for the 1,001 bootstraps:

The requester is incorrect: it is relevant that no data were attached to the email and although I do know what I was referring to in the email, this does not necessarily mean that I can identify the requested chronology. UEA’s response noted that “No such composite was attached to or identified by the 2006 email”. The requester has selected just one half of this statement to support his criticism, but in fact both elements must be considered together to come to a fair evaluation of their relevance.

The original request is ambiguous for two reasons.

Firstly, the email identified as 1146252894.txt refers to groups of trees, to temperature data from the regions where the trees were sampled, and to a future plan to process the measurement data from the groups of trees to produce proxy series and many bootstrap estimates of these series. It is only an inference that a regional chronology was later produced for the URALS group of trees. Our initial search for information relevant to this request suggested that this inference was false.

Second, the email was discussing ongoing work, which began in 2005, continued through 2006 and 2007, and to which we have recently returned. During that work, we have produced a number of different regional chronologies for the ‘greater Urals’ region involving multiple methods of selecting, processing and aggregating the measurement data. Some of these regional chronologies have been retained and some have not. The only identification of the requested information is from email 1146252894.txt, but because this only refers to future plans to produce a regional chronology from the URALS group of trees, this is not a unique identification of which – if any – of our working files might contain the requested information. Had the requester asked for a regional chronology that had actually been published, then identification would have been more straightforward because the request could have asked for the specific published version. Similarly, had Dr Osborn attached a specific version to the email 1146252894.txt then this would also have provided a unique identification of the information being requested.

That is why it is relevant that no data were attached to the email, because attached data would have avoided this ambiguity in identifying the requested information.

In your appeal you have clarified that you are seeking the URALS regional chronology, unfortunately there remains some ambiguity because the email refers to a future plan to produce such a chronology rather than to a chronology that had already been produced. Dr Osborn has explained to me that:

Regional chronologies have subsequently been produced from various data in the ‘greater Urals’ area of northern Siberia, and one of those might be based on the URALS group of trees referred to in the email.

Dr Osborn has provided the following further information on the approach he took in trying to locate whether the information you requested was held by us:

Although the request is (unavoidably) ambiguous with regard to which – if any – of our working files might contain the requested information, we did undertake a search for material that might match the request. We did not identify a file containing a single non-bootstrap regional chronology, and could not recollect that such a regional chronology had been produced from the group of trees identified as URALS in email 1146252894.txt. We did, however, identify a file that we believed to contain 1001 bootstrap estimates of a regional chronology derived from a URALS group of trees that were produced a few weeks after email 1146252894.txt was sent (note that this is deliberately described as “a” URALS group of trees rather than “the” URALS group of trees, since the definition of which group of trees form the basis for a regional chronology for this region has evolved over the course of this research).

The decision to proceed with the interpretation that the set of 1,001 bootstrap estimates of a regional chronology was the closest match to what had been requested was made purely in an attempt to be helpful to the requester and because the requester may not have been able to clarify his request anyway,  given that the information that he sought does not have any precise identification.

In investigating your appeal a further search has been undertaken and it has become clear that the first time series out of the 1001 bootstraps is actually a single (nonbootstrap) chronology. However the ambiguity that remains around your request means that I cannot be certain that this single chronology is the one that you are requesting, nonetheless in absence of any other chronology I will assume that this is the one that you seek.

Of course readers will immediately identify the difference in tone – reference to an “illegally obtained email”, etc., and the fact that in the case of Mr McIntyre’s request Dr Osborn was not readily able to identify what his 2006 email was referring to.    Why, I wonder, do 2  identical requests result in two such different responses?

It must be the case that one must expect an identical request to receive identical treatment, particularly in the basic and preliminary context of identifying the information requested.  In my view this is probably a manifestation of UEA’s documented approach that it should not be expected to comply with requests which are based, in my observations, on its assessment of the assumed motive of requesters of information – an entirely invalid consideration under the Regulations.  Some will argue that this response is purely based on the fact that it was Mr McIntyre who was the requester of the information.  The Regulations do in large part depend on public authorities openly responding to requests and if, as may be the case here, there is obfuscation operating within public authorities in response to requests that they don’t like, then where does that leave us? The Regulations provide numerous exceptions upon which requests can be refused and no-one has any argument about the fact that parties are entitled to make those arguments.  What the Regulations do not do is allow a public authority to obfuscate on requests from people they do not like.

But what do we say about this situation?  Is it the case that every requester that UEA may have suspicions about is destined to end up before the ICO?  That approach is not compliant with the Regulations and is to be deprecated against the backdrop of a very clear and well implemented regime of public access to information held by public authorities.  The FOI/EIR regime is now long established.  What can be the justification for public authorities apparently treating identical requests differently based on who the requester of information is and what motives the public authority, rightly or wrongly, attributes to the requester?  The Regulations are blind to motive for a reason.  It is not the public authority’s concerns about disclosure that matter – at all.  It is the right of access to information granted to the public at large that matters and UEA is setting itself up to be dragged kicking and screaming, at great cost to itself, into this reality.  At some point this issue will be resolved, either by UEA, or by a judge – and at what cost to UEA’s reputation if it has to be by a judge?

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Reader Comments (25)

"...they have shown a strong reluctance on the part of these publicly funded organisations to retain for their own benefit the work for which we have all paid"

Sorry all - this should read "desire" instead of "reluctance" - I will proof read in future :)

Jul 21, 2011 at 5:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Brearley

Mr McIntyre has been a thorn in CRU's side for sometime , while climate science has show itself to be area area where vindictiveness seem to be a career enhancing aspect. Even if you don't have the ability in the science Mr McIntyre has show how being a expert in other area still allows you to make good judgements about what organization like CRU get up to. Indeed its been seen quite often that its the maths or statistics which are caught out the 'Team' in their work. As FOI and EIR are very much legal issues , they have no bias on subject , you can still play a useful role by holding their feet to the fire.

Jul 21, 2011 at 6:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

As the main non-CRU person in the Climategate emails its strange how all of the 'Inquiries' steadfastly refused to ask Steve Mc any questions or his opinions, ignored his submissions and acted as if he did not exist. Got the distinct impression they were afraid to let the cat out of the bag as the pack of cards would otherwise tumble.

Jul 21, 2011 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of fresh air

The future of Humanity is in the hands of capricious people with an axe to grind always at the ready. How comforting.

Jul 21, 2011 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

This is consistent with the contempt Phil Jones and CRU shows for FOI, the relevant emails being this one

"Think I've managed to persuade UEA to ignore all further FOIA requests if the people have anything to do with Climate Audit."

and this one

"When the FOI requests began here, the FOI person said we had to abide by the requests. It took a couple of half hour sessions - one at a screen, to convince them otherwise showing them what CA was all about. "

But it is interesting to see that they are still carrying on this way now, despite being criticised by the reviews on this exact issue.

Jul 21, 2011 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaulM

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Jul 21, 2011 at 7:01 PM | Unregistered Commentermojo

"This, I considered, was a helpful response"

I bet it doesn't happen again now they know you were liaising with their nemesis ;)

Jul 21, 2011 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

You're probably right, but thats my point Frosty,

There is no basis within this legal framework that it should matter at all. In any event the ICO or above that, the high court, has the final say.

Jul 21, 2011 at 8:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Brearley

IRT to why the 'reviews' of the CRU never actually reviewed either the CRU or even asked for evidence, just note taht the first thing the CRU did after the leak was to hire an insider to help suppress the reviews and limit the exposure of the CRU to the media.
They made a very good choice and succeeded pretty well, all things considered.

Jul 21, 2011 at 9:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

@Richard Brearley

Very interesting to date, but:

"In any event the ICO or above that, the high court, has the final say."

How do you get there from here ? What is the next step, please ?

Jul 21, 2011 at 11:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate, with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

I imagine that within the UEA FOI and EIR requests are a nuisance and are accorded low priority. Actually having to divert the likes of Jones, Osborn or Briffa from their proper work of furthering the university’s interests by attempting to establish a so-called scientific basis to justify the government’s continued espousal of the green religion has, I think, routinely been deferred or sometimes avoided by referral of requests to appeal, willful misinterpretation, simple delays and, I expect, other obfuscations. They have staff to deal with requests and so long as they are not overstretched, the university’s administration must feel well satisfied.

But by now they must have quite a track record for this sort of behaviour.

Does having a record of repeated failures of appeals, willful misunderstandings, delays etc constitute an offence of itself? If so, what are the penalties and who would be responsible for investigation, prosecution and judgement?
Or does the existence of such a record enable the commissioner or judge to impose punishment over and above the remedy appropriate to the single case before him?

Jul 22, 2011 at 3:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

PaulM - it wasn't just UEA that Prof Jones persuaded to ignore all further FOIA requests if the people had anything to do with Climate Audit. Our own Dr David Jones of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre was persuaded as well. This is an Australian taxpayer funded organisation and this type of snivelling, underhand decision by one of its heads is totally disgraceful. From the same email you cited -

2. I had an email from David Jones of the Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, Melbourne, Australia. He said they are ignoring anybody who has dealings with Climate Audit

Jul 22, 2011 at 4:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrantB

@Ianl8888

First step is a complaint to the ICO. If you go tho its website and choose Complaints and then EIR it tells you what to do.

Jul 22, 2011 at 7:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Brearley

How does one illegally obtain something which is in the public domain?

Jul 22, 2011 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Cruickshank

Richard Brearley,

my understanding of your post is that you claim that identical EIR requests to UEA have been dealt with in non-identical ways, and that you infer from this that UEA were "apparently treating identical requests differently based on who the requester of information is and what motives the public authority, rightly or wrongly, attributes to the requester".

Your argument is undermined because you have claimed that the requests (and here I include the whole correspondence associated with each request) are identical. They are not.

I would say that your initial request was very similar to Mr McIntyre's. I would also say that the UEA response to both your initial requests was very similar. Thus no evidence of different treatment.

Your request for an internal appeal differed significantly from Mr McIntyre's. Your appeal indicated that you were requesting temperature data, whereas both initial requests appeared to be for tree-ring data and my recollection of Mr McIntyre's appeal is that he was still requesting tree-ring data.

Thus UEA have, so far, dealt with the appeals differently but not because of who made the appeals but because the appeals were different. I don't understand why you claim that these were "identical".

I think it is entirely appropriate that UEA would request clarification from you when you initially appear to request tree-ring data and then appear to switch to temperature data. I don't think that was necessary with Mr McIntyre's appeal because it was clear that he was still requesting tree-ring data.

Please note that I am giving my personal view, not any official view of UEA.

Jul 22, 2011 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Osborn

Very well done, Mr Brearley, to generate a response from Dr Osborn.

Jul 22, 2011 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Thank you Dr Osborne for taking the time to comment here.


Here is the text of Mr McIntyre’s request:


Climategate email 684. 1146252894.txt of Apr 28, 2006 refers to a tree ring composite
identified as follows:
"URALS" (which includes the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies, plus other
shorter ones).
Could you please provide me a digital version of this series together with a list of all the
measurement data sets used to make this composite, denoting each data set by ITRDB
identification or equivalent. For the Polar Urals site, would you please identify the
individual data sets used by ITRDB identification or equivalent. If any of the data is not
in a public archive, please provide the measurement data.
It would probably simplify matters if you also provided the measurement data used for
the “URALS” chronology in a digital form.


Here is the text of my request:

I would be grateful to receive from you:
1) A digital version of the series for the “group of trees” described in the email as
“URALS” (which includes the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies, plus other
shorter ones)”

2) A list of all the measurement data sets used to compile this series “URALS”, including
the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies and the shorter ones, with each data set
denoted by ITRDB identification or equivalent;

3) A digital version of the measurement data used in this series

I used the term “group of trees” referred to as URALS since your email refers to groups of trees.

Mr McIntyre is specifically referring to a tree ring composite identified as URALS and asked for a digital version of that series.

I asked for a digital version for the group of trees called URALS.

The requests are identical, save for the fact that Mr McIntyre used the term composite – I did not. Our appeals were exactly the same, I now know, based on the fact that we both stated that UEA had unilaterally decided the requests were for 1001 bootstraps which were not what was requested. (Also see my NB below).

As far as what the email meant, well - you meant what you meant when you wrote the email, surely?

The terms of anyone’s appeal are not relevant. You were asked by UEA (as it states in both refusal notices), to explain what you were referring to in the email – (not to explain in the context of any request, but to explain the email – I am quite willing to post this correspondence if necessary). You gave different answers on different occasions. Although I have framed my post in terms of different responses to identical requests (which I maintain to be the case), the simple reality is that what I might have written in my request or appeal or what Mr McIntyre wrote in his own are not decisive of what your email was referring to, some 5 years earlier.

Your explanation, apparently without equivocation or qualification, in respect of my request was that URALS, as set out in your email, referred to:

(1) A composite (more usually called a chronology) of selected treering measurements from this region.
(2) A composite (more usually called an average) of temperatures measured by thermometers from this region.
I didn’t even specifically ask for a composite – (the various terminologies, series, composite, bootstrap, are all lost on me). Mr McIntyre did specifically ask for a tree ring composite, in fact the very thing that you have stated in relation to my request was referred to by you in the email.

And yet your explanation of the meaning of your email in respect of Mr McIntyre’s request has not referred to a composite – even though he specifically asked for this - but is, with respect, a statement full of uncertainty about what the email could have meant and a concurrent exposition of what it did not mean.


NB. Please re-read my appeal – I refer to temperature because I am quoting your email referring to “temperature series” as a means of persuading UEA that you were in fact referring in the email to information identifiable by you at that time– the use of the words temperature did not “re-frame” my appeal, but were part of a rather bizarre process of persuading your university that you might have had something specific in mind when you wrote it.

With regards,

Richard Brearley

Jul 22, 2011 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Brearley

Apologies Dr Osborn - I neglected to add:

You say:

"I think it is entirely appropriate that UEA would request clarification from you when you initially appear to request tree-ring data and then appear to switch to temperature data."

Just to clarify - UEA did not seek any clarification relating to an apparent switch as you state. It refused the request without seeking any clarification (having made, without any consultation, a unilateral interpretation of the request as being for 1001 bootstraps). It was only in my appeal that I referred to its failure to comply with Regulation 9 which requires it to assist me in clarifying my request if it is considered ambiguous that it then sought clarification. The "switch", as you call it, to temperature data is referred to above and was part of the appeal - not the original denied request.

Jul 22, 2011 at 8:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Brearley

Richard Brearley,

thank you for your follow-up discussion of these issues. I will, as before, restrict myself to commenting on your assertion that UEA has treated identical requests differently according to who the requester is, which is an assertion that I do not think is well founded and thus is an unfair criticism in my view.

(1) In your follow-up comments you state that "UEA did not seek any clarification relating to an apparent switch as you state. It refused the request without seeking any clarification". I did not say that UEA sought clarification prior to refusing your request. It is clear that UEA sought clarification only after receiving your appeal.

The point on which clarification was sought was whether you were seeking tree-ring or instrumental (thermometer) temperature data. Since your EIR request did not mention temperature data and appeared to ask only for data associated with trees, UEA proceeded on the basis of that your were requesting tree-ring data.

(a) Are you suggesting that UEA should have sought clarification on this matter at that time of your request? Would that mean that whenever an EIR request is submitted to UEA that only asks for tree-ring data, UEA should respond by asking: "are you sure you don't want temperature data?"

(b) If you are not suggesting that, then perhaps you are suggesting that UEA should not have sought clarification from you on this matter following the submission of your appeal, despite that mentioning temperature series for the first time?

(c) Or perhaps you are suggesting that UEA should have requested similar clarification from Mr McIntyre even though I don't think he ever suggested that he might be requesting temperature data?

I'm really struggling to to understand why you think this issue of UEA seeking clarification from you but not from Mr McIntyre means that the two of you have been treated differently from each other. The situations are different not "identical".


(2) Perhaps my second point will help clarify things further. If I understand correctly, you think that (a) we weren't able to identify the information requested by Mr McIntyre, but (b) we were able to identify the information requested by you. If true, then this might well seem odd given that your initial requests were very similar. However I don't think it is true.

In response to Mr McIntyre's appeal, UEA indicated that it was rather difficult to unambiguously identify the requested information though we have made a likely identification. This ambiguity is not something that Mr McIntyre could really have clarified, since it arises from the fact that there is no clear identifier of the requested data, just a discussion in an email of a future plan to do some work which would generate some data. The reference to the fact the email was illegally obtained was, I suppose, to drive home the point that it was not intended as a precise public record of a specific dataset, a point which I think is fair to emphasize.

In response to your appeal, I was asked to clarify whether I was talking about tree-ring data or temperature data in my 2006 email. This I did. The items (1) and (2) [tree-ring and temperature data] mentioned in the UEA clarification letter to you are not identifying specific information. We hadn't even reached that stage yet! They were just identifying the type of information referred to in my email, in the hope of finding out what type of information you were requesting. Now that UEA have received your clarification on this, we can now proceed to trying to identify the specific information that you have requested. For the same reasons noted in my previous paragraph, this may be difficult.

If, as you say, this is the same specific information that Mr McIntyre requested then I would presume that your request will again be treated in the same way as Mr McIntyre's was. However that is for UEA to decide.

I don't see any support for your suggestion that the two of your were treated differently by UEA.

If your only support for this was the suggestion that I could identify the specific information in your case with less ambiguity than in Mr McIntyre's case, then I'm afraid that you are mistaken. I did of course know what I meant in the 2006 email. However, linking that 5 years later to a specific file of data that wasn't even generated at the time of the email is where the difficulty arises. As in the case of Mr McIntyre, we will do our best to do so.

I hope this rather lengthy explanation is helpful and is received in the spirit with which it was written.

As before, these are my personal views and do not necessarily represent the official view of UEA.

Jul 22, 2011 at 11:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Osborn

Dr Osborn thank you again.

I was requesting tree ring data - "URALS" (which includes the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies, plus other shorter ones).

Eventually UEA confirmed that your email related, amongst other things, to:
(1) A composite (more usually called a chronology) of selected treering measurements from this region.

Temperature data only became referred to as part of UEA's clarification because I quoted the words of your email to suggest that there were specific items of information that you were referring to in that email. This did not reframe my request but pointed out to UEA one example where you were referring to specific information within the email and therefore ought to be able to identify what that was. Please do not forget that UEA originally refused both requests on the basis that "A digital version of “the series” for the “group of trees” identified as “URALS” was neither attached to nor identified by the 2006 email". No effort was made at all at this stage to seek to identify what that information was or what information you were referring to in that email.

I do not think the issue is that the requests have been treated differently because clarification was sought in one and not in the other. I think any reasonable person reading the email would anticipate that you are referring to tree ring data, and indeed you have confirmed this and yet it has been identified in my request and not in McIntyre's. You now clarify that even though you identified it in my request, you are not identifying specific information and therefore the answer I will get will be the same as Mr McIntyre. That maybe the case and I am grateful for the clarification. However, this is still not a basis for either request to be refused.

You say further that "the items (1) and (2) [tree-ring and temperature data] mentioned in the UEA clarification letter to you are not identifying specific information. We hadn't even reached that stage yet!"

Surprisingly you now appear to be saying that there is no such 2006 chronology (if I am correct this is the first time this has been said) and the email refers to a type of information that would be worked on in future. Indeed you say the email is "just a discussion in an email of a future plan to do some work which would generate some data". With respect that is not the plain meaning of the email and on any reading this rather contorts the language. Your email clearly refers to work you have done/are doing and not only to work you intend to do in future. You had clearly done work by this stage - your email is not in the slightest ambiguous on that and indeed you confirm this to be the case. All of that work is subject to EIR, subject again to any exceptions that are engaged.

Indeed even if the email refers to future work that work has now been done if not in total, then in part. That work is still identified by the requests and is subject to EIR, again subject to any excpetions that are engaged. The fact that the email might, on your assertion, relate to future work matters not at all. The request is to be considered by UEA relating to information held at the time of the request. If you have that information now, but didn't in 2005, then it is subject to EIR and my request is properly framed and your email is simply a vehicle to identify that information now held by UEA.

I am left rather wondering why UEA confirmed to me that your email related to items 1) and 2) as identified by you, asked me which of these I wanted, if only to tell me later (perhaps in a further refusal) that there was no such information in 2005, when that is not a decisive issue in respect of the request.

In any event we are coming close to arguing our case in public when it will ultimately need to be decided by the ICO.

Thank you again for your comments and they have been most helpful.

Regards,

Richard Brearley

Jul 23, 2011 at 8:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Brearley

@Mojo: Dylan. Brilliant quote. But I prefer:

"Money doesn't talk, it swears."

@Richard Brearley: Wonderful post. Great story. Happy ending, one hopes. And, as we're quoting famous people, remember what Churchill said after the Battle of El Alamein...

Jul 23, 2011 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

@Snotrocket:

"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Very apt :)

Jul 23, 2011 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Brearley

Dr Osborne
Refusal of FOI may well have the backing of law, but the more UEA persists in refusing to give the public the information it has paid for, the more certain it is that UEA in the business of science fraud.

Jul 24, 2011 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterPunksta

Why the difference in treatment between the response you got from CRU
and the one they sent to Steve McIntyre ?

They think Steve is less likely to file an appeal with the Information Commissioner.

They now know that if they can make the tinyiest differention between one
request and another reqest from a separate source, they will be treated by
the ICO as totally separate cases.

If it's not a duplicate request, and they lose your appeal, they don't have to
make the material available to anyone else. Generally, multiple requests
for the same material would result in making the stuff publically available
on an open website... which they don't want to be forced/ordered to do.

They like causing potetial requestors make duplicate or triplicate efforts
to obtain the same information. They want to be able to point to all those
"harrassing" duplicate FOI requests to garner sympathy and perhaps a change
in the laws.


Richard, hopefully you, Steve amd others will keep on keeping on.

Jul 24, 2011 at 8:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterR.S.Brown

I find it interesting that Mr Osborn is trying to draw a distinction between tree-ring data and temperature data. Is the treemometer finally dead?

Jul 24, 2011 at 11:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

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