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The advance of secret science

The Intellectual Property Bill has now been published, and this includes the amendment to the FOI Act relating to scientific research that came out of the post-legislative review that was discussed at BH last year.

At first glance, the government seem to have adopted the Scottish approach to the issue - indeed the wording of the bill closely resembles that in the Scottish Act. This allows information to be withheld where it is held as part of an ongoing research programme with a view to future publication.

There is, however, one significant difference. In Scotland future publication means "within 12 weeks". In the new bill, there is no time limit defined. I think what this means is that universities will be able to defer release of data and code indefinitely, by saying that the information is still being used. One is reminded of the claim by Queens University Belfast that the tree ring data Doug Keenan wanted was (a) still in use decades after collection and (b) inaccessible because it was held on paper.

While climate data should still be disclosable under EIR, the bill look looks very much as though it represents a triumph of the scientific establishment over the public interest.

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Reader Comments (18)

All the lip service paid to open government and freedom of information is so much hot air. The technocracy is desperate to keep the evidence of its malfeasance under wraps. The answer of course is to withhold funding.

No public access - no public money. Simples.

May 14, 2013 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

The bill looks very much as though it represents a triumph of the *pseudoscientific* establishment over the public interest

May 14, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndré van Delft

Every climate scientist who puts intellectual property rights above the transparency and credibility of the science is admitting that the planet is not in danger. Either that or they are putting their own financial betterment above the lives of their children and grandchildren.

May 14, 2013 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Rog Tallbloke

The more public money there is the more the weirdos we elect to tell us how to run our lives can make bonfires of the stuff. Let's have less public money to begin with.

May 14, 2013 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

So what is the practical difference between stating, legally, that publically funded data can be retained for research purposes indefinately, exempt from the FOIA and simply giving publiaclly funded data the status of private information.

Your money, their asset.

May 14, 2013 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

What a nice racket, give them public, our money, to research but let them keep their results secret, who do these troughers think they are? They are attending to public sector jobs so are our servants, not our masters.

May 14, 2013 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterDerek Buxton

Let's not go over the top here, if they have data they've collected, or acquired that they intend to use in a paper, then it's only fair that they should be allowed to keep it under wraps until it's used. Once used then it's incumbent upon them to provide it with the paper or on FOIA.

If they don't intend to use it, and it's been collected/acquired at public expense (I believe 12 weeks is too short a period) then they should be given 12 months before it's made publically available. Time enough to prepare a paper.

May 14, 2013 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Just another proof if one were needed that the whole concept of intellectual property, the principle that an abstraction existing in someone's mind can be owned, is nothing less than preposterous. IP rights only exist at the behest of politicians who insist on sucking up to certain sectional interests. In this case the sectional interest in question seems to one of the nastiest of all, bent climatistas who have spent years deceiving the public and have much to lose if they are publicly unmasked together with their allies in the Westminster village.

Just how far are the warmists prepared to go to protect their rights in the demon plant food religion?

May 14, 2013 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

If this so called "intellectual property", funded by the public, is not made public for public scrutiny it should never be the basis of any state policy. Bit like no taxation without representation. Simple as that. It's time we took our higher education institutions to task. Some are behaving like mafia lawyers.

May 14, 2013 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterceetee

If a publicly funded paper comes out then so should the data and method, if it doesn't then it does not matter.

May 14, 2013 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Whale

The corruption we see in climate science is actually a manifestation of deeper problems. This bill and bills like it are open invitations to bad practices in many areas, not just the sad area of cliamte science.

May 14, 2013 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

Martin Reed -
As much as I agree with your sentiments on reducing the flow of public expenditures (9:52 AM), I disagree with your low opinion of intellectual property (10:18 AM). I think the patent system is an excellent method of providing an incentive to publish ideas (inventions), allowing the inventor to profit but in the longer term benefiting the public.

I agree with geronimo that a year is a more reasonable period to offer exclusivity of the data. Of course, even if the raw data is made public via FoI, that wouldn't preclude the researcher from publishing his analysis.

May 14, 2013 at 2:54 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Please don't get confused between IP and patents. The fundamental point about a patent is that the information is immediately put into the public domain, the originator then has exclusive rights to 'profit' from the invention for a period of time, but all other scientists and engineers can see what has been done.

What is being proposed here is that data generated at public expense can be kept secret for as long as the originator wants, whilst publications arising from that data may be presented as 'fact' without anyone else being able to check their validity.

May 14, 2013 at 4:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent


Stephan Kinsella, who was a patent lawyer blew IP rights away a few years back, at least for some of those of a libertarian persuasion, with his "Against Intellectual Property". Here he speaks on how Intellectual Property hampers capitalism:

May 14, 2013 at 4:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

Martin Reed -
Thanks for the link. While an interesting speech, I did not find it convincing. The parallel to monopoly I thought weak; while one can view a patent or copyright as a monopoly -- certainly it is an exclusive policy -- it is an exclusive right to one's own creations. Kinsella did not address that aspect at all. I agree with some of Kinsella's criticisms such as the patent portfolio battles which seem only to serve the interests of the lawyers involved. But I view that as more down to having set too low a bar for the granting of patents, such that every small marginal improvement is patented, even though many of them are "obvious to one skilled in the art". So company X's new product in a domain happens to use a feature which company Y patented the year before, and then company Y's new product uses X's patented improvement. Whichever company sues the other then finds a countersuit, which is typically settled with a cross-licensing agreement, sometimes accompanied by a payment from the company with the smaller patent portfolio.

At any rate, this is wandering a little far from the topic of the post, so while I offer you the last word, we should probably desist beyond that. And thanks again for the link, I especially enjoyed the historical footnotes going all the way back to Greece.

May 14, 2013 at 8:10 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

May 14, 2013 at 10:09 AM | Geronimo

I agree, 12 weeks is far too short a time to benefit from the hard graft of grinding out the data.
The prestige comes from what you do with the data. If you don't have time to benefit from the slog then it will discourage people going from going back to the well and getting empirical data.

My feeling was six months exclusive rights. You say twelve months exclusive rights. I could be persuaded you are right.

But no time limit at all is a privateers charter.
Academic institutions do compete for funding; they won't share without compulsion.
Idealists will be starved out.

May 14, 2013 at 9:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterM Courtney


In answer to your post I have to admit I don't see why the grant of a license to the exclusive use of something is not the provision of a monopoly. The original treatise I mentioned is the most effective argument against IP and goes into this issue and its ramifications in much more detail.

As regards the concept of "someone's idea", before the idea is released one way or another into the public domain that may be a sound description of the situation. However once the concept is widely known it exists in the minds of all those who have been exposed to it. Hence they are in possession of it to all intents and purposes. Their possible subsequent use of the concept in no way penalises the originator (unless governments intervene) so all gain. In every respect this is contrary to property rights in physical objects where the unauthorised use of another individual's property immediately imposes costs of one kind and another on that individual (e.g. they are denied its utility). However worse still, and Kinsella explains this in the original text, IP is crucially dependent on IP rights holders being able to assume control of real property owned by other individuals in pursuance of their IP "rights".

There is a lot more to this than a short talk can go into. The very fact that the system works overwhelmingly to the benefit of large corporations that are able to afford armies of legal practitioners yet is beyond the means of almost all inventors, the actual originators of concepts, is enough in itself to be worrisome and to call its soundness into question from the outset even before its philosophical underpinnings are studied in depth.

May 14, 2013 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

Odd that given the issue is 'so important', that the 'sceince is settlled ' and that there is 'no time to lose , that they are so very keen on secracy when it comes to information that can surley only support these ideas. You would have thougth they be kicking peoples door's down to give them the informatio has its 'the most important issue ever '

The smarter 'greens' will have worked out this 'ongoing research will also provide cover for lots of things they don't like , such has GM. So don't be surpised if some greens are not happy about it either .

May 14, 2013 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

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