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Regulator capture

This is a guest post by David Holland.

BH readers may recall my reporting of Peter Wadhams' unprofessional IPCC Review Editor's report, which featured his spat with MP Peter Lilley. At the time I had received in confidence, from outside the UK, a copy of his then unpublished report. I had also been reliably advised that Thomas Stocker had no intention of releasing any of the Working Group One Review Editors’ reports. For this reason I had made FOI requests at the Universities of Reading and Cambridge.

Reading promptly and fully disclosed the reports of the two Review Editors affiliated to it. Wadhams' university, however, deployed the 'Mitchell' defense, namely that he worked for the IPCC on a personal basis. Stocker did eventually release some, but not all, of the RE reports but the names of Lilley and Paxman which had been shown to government representatives were redacted from Wadhams'.

In a sign that the Information Commissioner's Office appears to have tired of climate change FoI complaints, on Friday, I received its blunt Decision Notice FS50527006. Basically the ICO asked Cambridge if Wadhams had worked for the IPCC in a personal capacity and Cambridge asked Wadhams if he had. That appears to be the extent of the due process. So far as can be seen no examination of Wadhams’ files took place to establish whether or not the information held was relevant to his University duties. In paragraph 11 of its Decision Notice the ICO states:

11. As regards part 1 of the request for the ARS WG1 Review Editors Reports ("the reports) the University explained that it had made proper enquiry of the professor referred to by the complainant and that he stated that the work undertaken for the IPCC had been undertaken by him personally on a voluntary basis and that he considered the reports to be confidential to the IPCC secretariat. It went on to say that the work does not form any part of his University duties and consequently, even if the information were held within the University, it is not held to any extent for its own purposes. The University concluded that the reports were not in the University's possession under the EIR because the information was not held to any extent for the purposes of the University.

This is reminiscent of Brian Hoskins’ repeated claim that the University of Reading did not hold any information relating to his work as a Review Editor of AR4. In that case the university’s FoI manager admitted that he had never been allowed to see Hoskins’ files and make his own jugment. Following Climategate and the ICO’s embarrassment over its lack of vigour Hoskins decided that he had misinterpreted what was being asked and released some 368 emails.

If unchallenged, the Cambridge decision notice could spell the end of many FoI requests for important information on the IPCC process, as almost anyone can claim that they work for for the IPCC in a personal capacity. The fact remains that Wadhams and virtually all British participants in the IPCC process are nominated by the British government, which also pays all their expenses. They also continue to draw their normal salaries almost invariably from the public purse.

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Reader Comments (37)

The decision of the ICO doesn't strike me as unreasonable: if Cambridge swears blind that they don't actually hold the information then there's not a lot the ICO can do unless you have direct evidence that they do.

I think you can reasonably criticise Cambridge over this, but not the ICO.

Apr 14, 2014 at 2:10 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Odd how such 'settled science' needs to use much smoke and mirrors, especial given how important we told AGW is.
You would think they would do all they could to release the information which could 'only further their cause ' unless of course it would not ?

Apr 14, 2014 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR


Perhaps worth pointing out that the headline is mine rather than David H's.

Apr 14, 2014 at 2:30 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Actually it tells its own story. What is it in the iPCC work that is confidential? and why is it confidential? this is, after all, a scientific body doing scientific work, what on earth is it that they believe can damage either scientists, or the IPCC? So much for transparency in science.

Apr 14, 2014 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

It's not that difficult. If the work is being done in a personal capacity, then it must not be paid for by the University out of government funds. It must be commissioned and paid for privately. And the payment must be reported to the tax authorities as part of the researchers' annual remuneration.

If that does not happen, or if an appropriate market figure is not charged, then the work was not done privately.

Apr 14, 2014 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

BUT if that work is being undertaken on University premises using University resources (computers, storage space, admin resources etc) then dies this make the argument a moot point?

If the data is on the universities IT infrastructure then shouldn't it be discoverable under FOI legislation?


Apr 14, 2014 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

I remember another group of people who fought tooth and nail to avoid FOI requests... hmm who was it? MPs! And what happened to those who were most obstructive?

If people act like crooks they get viewed that way.

Apr 14, 2014 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"It went on to say that the work does not form any part of his University duties and consequently, even if the information were held within the University, it is not held to any extent for its own purposes."

But is he being paid by the university whilst he is working on aspects of the IPCC and is he using the university facilities? Surely then it is publicly funded work. It may not be part of his universtty duties as laid out in a job description, but he is working under the auspices of the university. The university is playing semantics.

I bet Peter Wadhams has a lot to hide knowing his alarmist position and his closeness to environmentalists!.

Apr 14, 2014 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

I share your concerns David.

This could firmly and legally place the IPCC out in some publically financed Twilight Zone, issuin "authorative reports" tha we must heed, but no way to see what is going on to produce those reports.

Apr 14, 2014 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

What should astonish and disgust all observers is that the IPCC should claim confidentiality for ANY of its documents, reviews, or comunications of any kind.

I realize this point is distinct (ok, OT) from the current thread, but how on earth can anyone purport to defend confidentiality (secrecy) in the IPCC???

This is a publicly funded allegedly scientific body supposed to be addressing the greatest calamity (sic) in human history. There should not be a shred of secrecy in ANY of its work. The public has every right to know all that goes into IPCC recipes..... not just the sauces which result.

Consider what the (thoroughly dishonest) Chairman Pachauri of the IPCC has claimed:

"The IPCC is a totally transparent organization…Whatever we do is available for scrutiny at every stage."

This is bureaucratic farce. With OUR money, in order to lobby and influence OUR governments, in order to determine the largest (proposed) public expenditures and coordinated policy shifts in human history.

Oh, yeah, let it be done by the "personal" private communications of unaccountable scientists and bureaucrats.

p.s. The above is not ***my***'. "conspiracy ideation" (thanks, Lewandowsky).... it is a simple summary of the stated policies and practices of the IPCC itself.

Apr 14, 2014 at 3:34 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

I think your conclusion is correct. A professor who volunteers for work does so in a personal capacity and the university has no standing whatsoever in regard to any legal process in regard to that work.

FOIA does not operate in respect to professors who work for the IPCC.

This is outrageous but not for the reason you state.

What is outrageous is that we have a official UN body lobbying the governments of the world to modify their economies and their political systems to comply with predictions of scientists engaged on a personal and confidential basis.

The data the scientists use, at least in the form in which they use it after processing, is considered proprietary as is the computer code used to manage the data in support of their theories and their conclusions.

What are we to make of this semi-secret enterprise which the chairman of the IPCC claims falsely to be transparent?

Is the IPCC at its highest level any different from any other cabal? That really is the question and the problem to be resolved, perhaps only by reforming both the institution and its terms of reference.

Apr 14, 2014 at 3:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterFred Colbourne


In the UEA Georgia Tech case as well as in my re-run of my FoI to Briffa the Judge ordered expensive and substantial searches and the Commissioner can issue powerful 'enforcement notices' should he choose to. I suspect it is easier and less expensive for him to leave it to the complainant to go to the Tribunal than have to defend his decision against a set of public authorities who seem determined to resist, at any cost, any and all disclosures to those individuals they see as challenging a major income stream.

Apr 14, 2014 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

Lewandowsky has done an AMA on reddit.

Sick-bags at the ready.

Apr 14, 2014 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBill

For the benefit of any new BH readers, it may be worth repeating that the IPCC is run by governments that decide the rules, which very clearly require the volunteer experts to work on an open and transparent basis. The fault lies in the failure of the governments to enforce their rules coupled with the fact that their chosen representatives have gone native and do pretty much what the experts want.

Apr 14, 2014 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

Cambridge says it has an operating budget of about £1 B annually of which about 1/3 is Govt contributions for research grants, teaching salaries etc, etc. Wadhams research and class time would no doubt fall under that public contribution. He's an overt alarmist and seems to have that strange fossil-fuel funded paranoia about those who dispute his pronouncements. He will not want his emails released of course.
The ICO though should be shown where Wadhams has returned his govt portion salary and research money during the voluntary time he spent with the IPCC and to account for it, otherwise it's an untrue assertion in his excuse and Cambridge is aiding in an obstruction.

Wadhams is now no doubt nervously awaiting summer 2015, when he says the Arctic ice will disappear because of his empirical based predictions (whatever that means) from his 40 years of Arctic research. You can see his dilemma - 40 years of work leading to an absolute certainty he can see the future and it's dire! If he's wrong he might be thought to have wasted his whole research career.
I'm thinking he has 18 months to come up with an "excuse" and this whole email thing is simply too distracting!

Apr 14, 2014 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

If Wadhams used University resources in a personal capacity, then (a) he should be taxed as receiving 'benefit in kind'; and, (b) the University should be obliged to disclose non-professional use of its resources.

Apr 14, 2014 at 4:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

There maybe a precedant (MP or Lord etc.) somewhere of someone claiming to do volunteer work from a government office, with government phone, and government email account. Surely The rule is that such volunteer business should be separated out and done on a separate email account in your own time.
.. Seems to me Cambridge U staff can't have it both ways i.e. their time be basically funded by taxpayer, yet info remaining personal & private.

Bet if jt was the otherway then they'd argue yes the work was done voluntarily, but I used a personal email address whild I was in my job time so that has to remain secret cos its a commercial interest.

Apr 14, 2014 at 4:37 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

If the IPCC work is not transparent, then it cannot be proved to be valid. If it cannot be proved valid, why should any of it be believed? Blocked FOI requests are proof enough that there is something to hide. Why is anyone basing any decisions on anything the IPCC says????

Apr 14, 2014 at 4:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Caryl

David, from my limited, but successful, experience with FOI and Tribunal, I would make an appeal to the Commisioner to review his ruling, citing the fact that neither Wadhams, nor Cambridge University have provided any evidence to back their assertions that the IPPC work was "personal".
They need to show that Wadhams was not being paid by the University, working on the IPCC material during "normal" office hours, or using the University's IT network.
If any of these cannot be shown, the ICO must grant your appeal.

Apr 14, 2014 at 4:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Skiphil: +1

David Holland: likewise. Same point in fact. FoI requests after the fact should never be needed. This should be the most open process on the planet.

Apr 14, 2014 at 5:07 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

|@Fred Colbourne Apr 14, 2014 at 3:37 PM

Precisely, and what resources did he use? Uni stuff or that of the IPCC?

I guess Peter Lilley has been informed?

Apr 14, 2014 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

So the professional time applied was paid by public funds, the resources were supplied by public funds, yet the work product is not accountable to the public. How did that happen?

Apr 14, 2014 at 5:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon C.

Absolutely with Skiphil on this one.

We are simultaneously told by the likes of Wadhams how screamingly urgent CAGW is, gravest crisis ever faced by mankind, etc., but that he won't tell us why.

If he is right, what can he possibly have to hide? The sooner it is all out in the open, the sooner we can all understand how and why he is right. This must follow.

Who, technically, he works for, who is paying him and who he is responsible to are utterly irrelevant in the face of what he asserts to be so burningly critical a matter.

That he seeks to hide his work can mean only one of two things: 1) he is mad; 2) he is a liar. There can be no other explanation.

And I know which explanation I think is overwhelmingly the more likely.

The nerve of these self-important, preening creatures is sickening.

Apr 14, 2014 at 5:51 PM | Unregistered Commenteragouts

The key issue to me seems to be the money. There is no doubt that an individual volunteering to work for an organization like the IPCC can do so without being subject to FOIA and your only recourse would be to appeal to the IPCC for access to information. As an international organization, the IPCC is independent of any government's transparency laws. However, if a University or a department of the government was involved in paying/re-imbursing him, they appear to be responsible for enforcing FOIA. In the US, science professor's salaries are often paid 9 months of the year for teaching and whatever academic activities the professor chooses to engage in, and 3 months of the year from whatever research grants the professor has received. If public money has been supporting his research, presumably the institution administering the grant is responsible for any FOIA/EIR obligations the grant creates.

Apr 14, 2014 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

It is perhaps reasonable to conclude that if people on the public payroll are extremely anxious to prevent public discovery of their records, which should be available for public scrutiny, then they probably have something to hide.

Apr 14, 2014 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterSC

Many academics serve as editors of journals, review articles or act in similar professional capacities such as IPCC reviewer or editor. And while it is true that they are contracted as individuals to do this work, the University supports encourages and indeed expects them to take on these roles as part of their conditions of employment. Indeed involvement in this type of activity is often a very significant factor when promotions are considered. So the Univeristy trying to argue that it has no involvement here is a bit duisingenuous. These are not activities unrelated to employment. They are part of the expected duties of an academic.

Apr 14, 2014 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan H

Employment contract as an approach here ?

Mine states I can't do "personal" work without specific permission. Ask if that is the case and if so ask for a copy of the written permission ?

Apr 14, 2014 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterMorph


With regard to discussing Decision Notices, I might have agreed with you in respect of earlier FoI requests, but of late the ICO takes no notice of what they are told and the 28 day clock started on 10 April. The ICO simply does not want another case like that you had with the UEA or those that I had with the Met Office and UEA. Actually nor do I but that is what attrition is all about.

Apr 14, 2014 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

Have a care for these poor academics who, at some time in their past career, had to choose between ignominy and living a lie. The poor chap is probably desperate to retire before his farcical forecast about Arctic ice turns him into an object of ridicule.

Apr 14, 2014 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Who paid for his transport to IPCC meetings?
Who paid for accommodation?

Apr 14, 2014 at 7:26 PM | Unregistered Commentermartin brumby


You need to read pages 35 and 36 of the 'Aarhus Convention: An Implementation Guide" Second Edition:

The Information Commissioner is operating outside his legislative remit and this should be brought to his attention. In other words he is ulta vires as he is now making up new law. A researcher paid for by the government is performing a public service related to the environment under the control of what most definitely is a 'public authority'.



Apr 14, 2014 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterPat Swords

Comment moved.

Apr 14, 2014 at 8:26 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

David if it was not for the fact that I have a more pressing FOI (personal matters), I would follow this up myself.
With an appeal the ICO has to investigate and give reasons for its decision.
I'm sure they would like their reasons for rejecting such an appeal all over the Internet.

Apr 14, 2014 at 8:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Across the intervening sixty years, I can still hear my fearsome Form III Maths teacher thundering
'Show your workings, Boy!'
The rules are acually quite simple and are based on 'showing your workings', but for anyone who has made a career based on hiding their workings because they are desperate not to be seen as the followers of a pseudo-religious cause that they are, they must hide their workings else their career, reputation and all that goes with that will turn to dust.
Expect the rearguard battle to protect 'the workings' to be very bloody and nasty.

Apr 14, 2014 at 10:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Kendall

David Holland,

I appears to me a possible fundamental strategy to finally obtain the Wadhams related FOI requested from Cambridge is to make it to Cambridge's advantage / interest to do so.

What would make it to their interest to approve the FOI prevail over Wadhams' interest to oppose the FOI?

One thing is to prevail on Cambridge's leadership toward improving the publicly perceived weakness in the scientific position of the IPCC due to its default position of opaqueness / resistance to transparency.


Apr 14, 2014 at 11:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Whitman

In September 2007, Fred Pearce had this article about Peter Wadhams, who was in high dudgeon about being denied funding from NERC:

Pearce says: "Wadhams is most famous among scientists as the man whose researches aboard a British sub in 1996 revealed that Arctic ice had thinned by 40 per cent since the 1970s."

Pearce clearly never checked on other papers dealing with Wadhams claims, like this one:
Ice and Climate News, No. 1, September 200, "Is Arctic Sea Ice Rapidly Thinning?
Greg Holloway and Tessa Sou, Institute of Ocean Sciences, Sidney BC, Canada

"Estimates from submarines and moored sonars, near the North Pole (Shy and Walsh, 1996), in the southern Beaufort Sea (Melling, personal communication), along a transect from Fram Strait to the Pole (Wadhams and Davis, 2000), and along a transect from the central part of the Beaufort Sea to the Pole (Winsor, 2001) are regionally limited and suggest differing results, from no significant trends at the Pole or along the Winsor transect to substantial thinning along the Wadhams and Davis transect.

A broader Arctic basin study was reported by Rothrock et al. (1999) based upon records from US military submarine cruises from autumns of 1958, 1960, 1962, 1970 and 1976 compared with subsequent cruises during 1993, 1996 and 1997. These results were stunning. From 29 locations where records could be compared, average thickness was reduced 43%, hence, far more rapidly than 3% per decade areal reduction."

In the case of submarine-inferred rapid loss of Arctic sea ice, ..... a more physically plausible inference is that the ice was not "lost" but only shifted within the Arctic. The pattern of submarine sampling happened to miss the shift. Observations to date......imply only that the loss of sea ice volume is not inconsistent with the 3% per decade loss of ice area, a modest rate itself not inconsistent with multi-decadal natural variability."

It seems that NERC did read contrary papers, leading Wadhams to complain to Pearce that "NERC had turned down his last TEN grant applications - including critical studies into mysterious giant whirlpools off Greenland that may drive the Gulf Stream, another topic on which he is a world authority."

"I am the most experienced Arctic researcher in Britain. So I have to conclude that it is personal," he says.

The 2007 Pearce article continued:

"But it may be bigger than that. His problem may be that he is based at a British university, Cambridge, and not at NERC's big budget National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, which soaks up most of the available cash for studying the oceans, including the Arctic.

...Wadhams is so angry that he has departed on a year's leave from Cambridge. He is instead from this month drawing a professorial salary from a top Paris university that is anxious to give him a permanent position. Everyone, it seems, wants a slice of Peter Wadhams - except the berks at NERC."

It seems the IPCC were happy to have the whole cake.

Apr 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM | Registered Commenterdennisa


Very useful. Thanks. I have tucked that away in case I get a chance to use it!

Apr 15, 2014 at 8:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

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