Hot FoI issues for climate scientistsPosted on November 30th, 2009 1 comment
If I could be a fly on any wall at the moment – I might just choose the wall of the Freedom of Information Office at the University of East Anglia.
What might from the outside appear to be a post unlikely to have too many controversial FoI requests the University’s FoI office has found itself at the centre of a row over global warming.
The reason for this is the University is home to the world-renowned Climate Research Unit (CRU), which is at the forefront of the academic world on studies into how the planet is warming up.
However, this leading role puts it in the sights of those individuals and organisations who believe global warming is a conspiracy put about by sandal-wearing, muesli-munching liberals who don’t like people driving cars.
I should say at this stage that I am not taking sides either way in the debate on whether global warming is happening or not – far more interesting to me at the moment is the FoI fallout this is all causing at the University of East Anglia.
It would appear that the first problem occurred when the anti-global warming crowd asked for the raw data held by the university – upon which it is claimed the global warming theories are based.
The university under FoI was apparently reluctant to hand this raw data over too easily claiming it was “owned” by other institutions – based all around the world – and that permission for disclosure would be needed from the organisation that sourced the data.
Frustrated at a perceived lack of transparency it would appear rogue groups managed to hack into the university’s computers and hauled off e-mails which have now opened up a huge can of worms.
One of these e-mails, which the UAE have not said is false is from the climate group’s top man Prof Phil Jones warning colleagues to destroy e-mails. [Link]
The suggestion is that he is getting them destroyed so they don’t come under any FoI requests. Some have said this would be an illegal act. I’m not so sure – and if they were deleted prior to a request coming in that they might be caught by – I think you might just say he was somebody who was very good at deleting obsolete records that were no longer required.
The long and short of the row is that an independent inquiry has been launched at UEA into the whole affair and a whole lot more muddle has been added to the climate warming debate.
But what this whole case does show is that transparency is always the best option. Those scientists hoping to convince the planet of global warming were never going to do it while jealously guarding sections of the data upon which their computer models were based.
Just like MPs expenses an attempt to avoid transparency makes you appear guilty even if you haven’t been flipping your houses and cleaning out the moat at taxpayers’ expense.
I have some sympathy for universities. As public bodies they fall within the compass of FoI yet the Government bangs on at them about acting like businesses. If they then Act in a business-like way and attract funding from outside sources, get involved in research for arms contracts or experimentation on animals for drugs research it theoretically all falls within FoI. However, that’s where my reservoir of sympathy runs dry – on the other hand academics can’t say them don’t have a cushy number at times – gold-plated pensions, sabbaticals, long summer holidays etc, etc..
One response to “Hot FoI issues for climate scientists”
J Baines December 1st, 2009 at 11:17
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