We are not at war with Oceania

There is a disturbing type of aggressive public relations being used to try to re-write history. I noted several examples of heavy-handed PR in The Silent State: public officials getting harassed, bullied and in some cases criminally prosecuted by their public service employers for speaking directly to the public (instead of through central press offices). It seems there is another tactic gaining strength whereby PRs attempt to silence those uttering inconvenient truths ‘Scientology-style’ by hunting down criticism and aggressively seeking to have it withdrawn.

This week I received an email from the Guardian’s Reader Editor seeking clarification for the opinion piece I wrote about the reluctance by some universities to disclose underlying research in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. They’d had a complaint – not from Stirling University, the subject of the piece, but from the University of East Anglia which occupied a whole ONE SENTENCE of my article. The offending section reads thus:

This is not the first time a university has tried to hide from FoI. The University of East Anglia breached the Freedom of Information Act when handling requests by climate change sceptics (the university escaped prosecution because the case came to light outside the six-month time limit for cases to be brought).

For those who don’t recall, the University of East Anglia got into trouble when someone hacked into its server and leaked a number of documents, detailed data and private e-mails exchanged between climate scientists to the public. The emails gave the impression the University was not exactly keen on the public’s right to know and was actively breaching access to information laws by suppressing or destroying information subject to requests.

One email from Professor Phil Jones, then the director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) stated: “If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone”, and another email in which he had written “Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4?”.

Most of the hand-wringing by the university seemed to focus on the leak itself rather than on the disturbing content which showed officials actively trying to evade their FOI responsibilities. The Information Commissioner was called in to investigate and found primie facie evidence that the access laws had been breached. However, the ICO was never able to make a formal finding or complete its investigation because it discovered a loophole in the law that tied its hands. While it is a criminal offence to alter, destroy or suppress information subject to FOI requests, the statute of limitations on this crime is a measly SIX MONTHS. For this reason alone, the ICO could not proceed. Instead they did what they could and issued a decision notice on the breaches of other aspects of the Environmental Information Regulations (the FOI equivalent for environmental info). The Notice also refers to the criminal offences:

The emails suggested that some requests for information were considered an imposition, that attempts to circumvent the legislation were considered and that the ethos of openness and transparency the legislation seeks to promote were not universally accepted. This is of considerable concern to the Commissioner and in keeping with his duty to promote observance of the legislation he will now consider whether further action is appropriate to secure future compliance.

The complainant made an allegation that an offence under regulation 19 of the EIR had been committed. Although the emails referred to above indicated prime facie evidence of an offence, the Commissioner was unable to investigate because six months had passed since the potential offence was committed, a constraint placed on the legislation by the Magistrates Court Act 1980.

Since then the ICO have ruled that UEA must disclose certain climate data by UEA and they have now complied. UEA also had to sign this undertaking.

And finally there were a number of enquiries: the Muir Russell Report and various reports of the Science and Technology Select Committee which exonerated most of the important people. Here’s how another article in the Guardian described the findings of the Russell Report:

…the inquiry conducted detailed analysis of only three cases of potential abuse of peer review. And it investigated only two instances where allegations were made that CRU scientists such as director Phil Jones and deputy director Keith Briffa misused their positions as IPCC authors to sideline criticism. On the issue of peer review and the IPCC, it found that “the allegations cannot be upheld”, but made clear this was partly because the roles of CRU scientists and others could not be distinguished from those of colleagues. There was “team responsibility”.

The report is far from being a whitewash. And nor does it justify the claim of university vice-chancellor Sir Edward Action that it is a “complete exoneration”. In particular it backs critics who see in the emails a widespread effort to suppress public knowledge about their activities and to sideline bloggers who want to access their data and do their own analysis.

Most seriously, it finds “evidence that emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them [under Freedom of information law]“. Yet, extraordinarily, it emerged during questioning that Russell and his team never asked Jones or his colleagues whether they had actually done this.

Secrecy was the order of the day at CRU. “We find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness,” says the report. That criticism applied not just to Jones and his team at CRU. It applied equally to the university itself, which may have been embarrassed to find itself in the dock as much as the scientists on whom it asked Russell to sit in judgment.

The university “failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements” – FOI law in particular – and “also the risk to the reputation of the university and indeed the credibility of UK climate science” from the affair.

The university has responded by abolishing the role of director of CRU, held by Jones until last November. Indeed CRU itself has lost its former independence. Acton said Jones would now be “director of research” for CRU, working within the university environment department.

Knowing all this you can imagine my amazement at the sheer gall of UEA to then demand this correction:

Original Message
—————-
Subject: Heather Brookes on Freedom of Information

Dear Chris,
Heather Brooke’s opinion piece: “Freedom of information is for businesses too” (2 September 2010) perpetuates the myth that the University of East Anglia has breached the Freedom of Information Act.

She bases her assertion on a previous Guardian piece which we wrote asking you to correct.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed that it has not investigated whether section 77 of the act had actually been breached – ie whether the university had broken the law. As a point of detail, we also pointed out that the case in question related to emails and not to climate data as mentioned in the article of 28 January 2010.

I hope you can correct this.
Regards, Annie
—————————————————–

University of East Anglia

24 Responses to “We are not at war with Oceania”

  1. Josef from WA ST, USA says:

    I think we’re at war with socialism and lefty greedy pigs @ the trough.

    GO NEWSBROOKE GO!

    Enuf said.

  2. Doug UK says:

    Excellent article – Hope it goes viral – hope it really upsets those that tried to manipulate the science.

    If the Guardian has any honour – it will tell the UoEA to go to hell.

    Publish and be damned!

  3. Jon Jermey says:

    Nice one, Heather — but it’s ‘hand-wringing’, BTW.

  4. rippon says:

    The issue here is that UEA’s CRU deleted emails which were apparently inconvenient to its agenda.

    A similar ‘crime’ seems to have occurred on the amazon site with respect to Heather Brooke’s ‘Revolution Digitised’ book. There used to be two reviews there – one positive, one negative. The negative review has been deleted so that only the positive one now remains.

    Moreover, it seems strange that there is still *only one* review there. HB’s book is significant, not least because it touches on very important subjects. It’s difficult to believe that no more than two people have seen fit to post – or attempt to post – an opinion at amazon.

  5. Fred says:

    Keep it up Heather. I read your book which was excellent.

    The UEA climate research unit is a disgrace and an embarrasment to science.

    Phil Jones is an academic fraud as has been documented and stated publicly by Doug Keenan. He has never responded to these charges because he knows they are true.

    http://www.informath.org/pubs/EnE07a.pdf

    Professor Acton wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him. He is nothing more than a PR man who is only a Lord because of who his daddy was.

    You should also know that it has been documented that the UEA used Neil Wallis of the NoW for media advice on how to respond to “climategate”. They will stop at nothing to protect their reputation. Here is more information.

    http://climateaudit.org/2011/08/26/wallis-and-uea/

  6. RoyFOMR says:

    After clicking through from the BishopHill blog, I read this article with a warming sense of admiration and amazement.
    Not for the facts, I’ve heard similar and worse relating to the state of some of today’s Science that I am now severely desensitised, it was just that you told the story honestly, clearly and without embellishment but with an undercurrent of rightful anger that made for a rivetting read.

    This is not a trait that I’ve seen in mainstream journalism for too many years and, by Jove, how I welcome its reappearance!
    Thanks Heather.

  7. Steve says:

    A fairly even-handed article, but you slipped on your description of the e-mail release. No one has shown the e-mail was “hacked”, which implies an outside party illegally accessed the server. I know this version of events has been repeated endlessly, but repetition does not create truth.

    The other possibility is the leak was performed by a UEA insider.

    The police investigation (if it ever concludes) may eventually reveal the truth, but until then the “hacker” theory is just an unfounded assumption.

  8. Mike Haseler says:

    Heather, as the person who created the No.10 petition on the climategate emails and asked for the inquiry, I’ve been following this closely since, and it really does not surprise me that you received this email. Everything about the UEA’s conduct tells me they simply do not admit even to themselves that they did anything wrong.

    If there’s one thing everyone should be able to agree on, its that we need the best possible evidence that everyone can trust. Instead I find the whole peer review process has been corrupted so that e.g. Svensmark who worked on the solar actitivity – climate link simply can’t get his work published or if it is, it takes years. CERN took 10 years to get results — and you can’t tell me that wasn’t sat on. Spencer e.g. took years to get his work published, but the “warmist” rebuttal was out in 18 days!!! 18 days!!! You can’t tell me that there isn’t bias in the whole area of climate science.

    And thanks for the article about Sterling. My wife and I who both have science degrees and my wife has a PhD discussed this at length, and its not an easy nut to crack. The public really do deserve to be able to inquire into research (that’s the only way we can uncover the wrong doing in climate “science”), but obviously personal details shouldn’t be disclosed, and I’d prefer it was limited to individuals but practically you can’t. On the other hand, researchers need to have time to work on their research without being excessively intruded upon by FOIs and without having to disclose ongoing research or lucrative spin offs.

  9. Mike Haseler says:

    That is obviously Stirling!!! Although it is a sterling place.

  10. Mike says:

    A refreshingly factual and honest journalist, the MSM needs more people like you

  11. Michael Larkin says:

    Excellent article, Heather. Really good to see a mainstream journalist with both courage and commonsense. I hope this is the start of a refreshing new trend.

    Did you make a small grammar slip when you said “to try and re-write history” rather than “to try to re-write history”?

  12. Roddy Campbell says:

    Excellent article, as was the Uni of Stirling one. I don’t understand why UEA are still fighting the FOI ICO fair cop of prima facie evidence, even though they were never prosecuted. especially when it was, as you say, one line in an article about a different and more complex situation. I especially don’t understand why they go after journals / journalists that are broadly sympathetic to them, when the chance of any correction or retraction is minimal and they are only pissing people off. Very odd PR.

  13. Roddy Campbell says:

    In particular, given the very strong feeling that journalists have about FoI and how it should be approached by institutions, it’s quite the wrong ground to pick a fight on.

  14. Paul says:

    Indeed, the finding of the Information Commissioner was exactly as you report – UEA did break the rules but escaped action because of the 6-month loophole.

    And here is what the Russell Review found in section 10 of their final report:

    “The Review found an ethos of minimal compliance (and at times non-compliance) by the CRU with both the letter and the spirit of the FoIA and EIR”

    The “can you delete…” email quoted above was sent just days after David Holland’s FOI request for this information.

    The stupidity of UEA in continuing to deny this is quite astonishing – of course it give the blogosphere an excuse to dig out all the relevant emails again, such as
    “Think I’ve managed to persuade UEA to ignore all further FOIA requests if the people have anything to do with Climate Audit.”

  15. heather says:

    will fix. thanks

  16. John says:

    A fine bit of writing. Thank you.

    Reading this I feel all the anger and indignation rise up in me again!

    Heather this is only a tiny corner of a massive story; please, for all of us, keep shining a light on this terrible affair.

  17. kim says:

    East Anglia sun,
    The serpent writhes in the light.
    Strike with St. John’s sword.
    ====================

  18. Jim T says:

    I followed this on various blogs at the time, and a point was then made that I have never seen refuted – which was that the ICO were disingenuous in stating that they could not proceed due to the magistrate’s six month limit. This runs not from when an offence is comitted, but from when the authorities become aware, or reasonably could have been aware, that an offence has taken place. On that basis (so it was said) proceedings could have been instituted, and the ICO were reluctant for other, unstated motives.
    I don’t know if this is true, but certainly seems plausible – perhaps someone with a legal background could clarify.

  19. Barry Woods says:

    Hi Heather

    You tweeted to James Delingpole about what happened with his press complaint went from the UEA.
    I did tweet this back, but probably lost in twitter noise’

    I wrote about James Delinpoles PCC win against UEA at the Award Winning Science blog,Watts Up With That,
    In it I include a copy of the PCC ruling in full against UEA (rather embarrasing for UEA)

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/04/09/james-delingpole-beats-a-press-complaint-from-uea/

    Professor Judith Curry, also wrote an article that may interest you at her blog CLimate Etc, about scientists and Univeristies ‘Lawering Up’. She mentions the Delingpole UEA press complaint. and chooses to end the article with a quote from me.

    Prof J Curry:
    “In closing, I repeat Barry Woods’ statement:

    So hopefully now, before ‘climate scientists’ and politicians rush to the courts they will now think more carefully of the potential outcomes. If only because it may backfire on them and that they realise as he won the complaint, others in the media might pay MORE attention to the reason why he won the complaint.”

    As an occasional blogger myself (sadly been neglecting it recently, in favour of twitter)

    I also had this concern, which may be relevant to you as well, same article above:

    “…How many blog owners or other journalists without the backing of an experienced legal team and the Telegraph would have been able to take this case on?

    The threat of, or taking legal action against critics of ‘climate science’ does appear to be on the rise, this is a concern as few bloggers have any means to defend themselves legally. If actions like this are not fought and won, all perhaps it would take is a lawyer’s letter from a complainant with deep pockets (like UEA) for the blog owner to have to make a difficult personal and financial decision. Additionally, these actions may result in a form of self censorship with blogger and journalists not daring to comment.”

    If you want James Delinpoles version of His ‘experience’ with the lawyers, PCC and UEA ;) ! he writes it up in his own unique style here:
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100083071/uea-the-sweet-smell-of-napalm-in-the-morning/

    UEA seem to be very bad at PR, ie his win, and their complaint about 1 sentence, has just given more adverse publicity to UEA and made more people aware of their failings.. .. and perhaps begin to realise all is not well in one small but highly politicised area of climate science.

  20. Barry Woods says:

    Opps, I forgot the link to Professor Judith Curry’s article: Lawyering Up
    http://judithcurry.com/2011/04/09/lawyering-up/

  21. David says:

    Great article, Heather.
    Are you any kin to Chris Booker or James Delingpole..?

  22. I wonder if Neil Wallis is still advising UEA to never let anything through, not even a single sentence? I understand he’s got plenty of time to scan newspapers, nowadays.

  23. David Holland says:

    Heather,

    You are an inspiration to many of us.

    I would like to take this opportunity to inform any of your readers who are unfamiliar with what Climategate was really about.

    The Russell Review initially refused to publish my evidence submission to it, and its Report states that it has not. However, it has in fact published, surreptitiously and deceitfully, selected bits. This is my original submission in full: http://tinyurl.com/2656ppl

    The Climategate emails can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/3mgw7xr . They reveal many unsatisfactory aspects of the assessment of climate science by a comparatively small dedicated group. Some were dealt with in the submissions, which the Review did publish, but not the chain of deceitful events that led to Phil Jones’ career risking email to Mike Mann which he wrote just two days after I made a very specific formal information request. When asked about that email at the initial Russell Review press conference Jim Norton said “Clearly that one is of great interest to us.”

    If we can rely upon its file modification date stamp, about an hour before the Russell Review Report itself was Released on 7 July 10, a critical evidence submission was added to the Russell Review Website. It was in the names of UEA’s Keith Briffa and Tim Osborn (B&O) and listed in the one of the 16 byzantine evidence index as “Responses from Keith Briffa and Timothy Osborn to questions from Geoffrey Boulton on Review membership”. This scarcely does justice to it, and nor does the actual title on the document, “Response to Specific Questions Raised by Professor Geoffrey Boulton, in his Letter of 6 May 2010, in his Role as a Member of the Muir-Russell Review Team”, but that is how it is referred to in the Report of he Russell Review on pages 80 and 81.

    B&O’s evidence is here: http://tinyurl.com/5vtz5as. On page 23 of it, is Boulton’s letter in which he asks three questions and states, “A detailed account on which this allegation is based has been presented to us and is given in the annex to this letter.” Boulton’s annex was not shown, but it would be reasonable to suppose that it was one of the submissions that the Review received. B&O wrote in response,

    “Given that virtually every statement in this Annex requires correction of some error of fact, interpretation or implication we believe it to be essential that our responses to these specific allegations as contained in the Annex are formally recorded. Our detailed responses are provided in the form of annotations, added where appropriate, in the accompanying version of the Annex. These are a fundamental part of our response and we ask that the Review Team consider them carefully in conjunction with the more general remarks given below.”

    The Russell Review had emailed me in April saying no part of my submission would be published. However, to my to my surprise B&O’s annex included a fraudulently edited version of just a section of my submission, from which carefully selected printing and non printing characters had been removed significantly altering what I had written. In this section of my submission I had discussed the unpublished paper by Wahl and Ammann which which disputed the peer reviewed and published work of McIntyre and McKitrick, which as the last word in the literature proved the “hockey stick” to be invalid. The Reviewer for the government of the USA had complained in a review comment that it missed the deadline laid down to be “in press” and according to the rules all references to it had to be removed.

    Two distinct paragraphs in my original submission were cited verbatim from a published IPCC document that described in separate paragraphs the rules for unpublished papers that were allowed to be cited in the IPCC Report. The first one described the deadline to be “in press” and the second an entirely different deadline by which a “final preprint” preprint of papers not yet published had to be available to the Expert Reviewers. Wahl and Ammann’s paper missed both and was invalid for other reasons. Remarkably the removal of a paragraph break, and, to disguise that fact, the quote mark from the following paragraph, enable B&O to write a rebuttal of my comment on those paragraphs which was plausible, but which they had to know was entirely false. They claimed there was no deadline to be “in press” only a vague reference to preprints, which in any case they had received directly even thought the Reviewers did not have access to it.

    Worse was to follow. Paragraph number 44 of my original submission was entirely omitted. In it I had cited verbatim from Climategate email 1141180962.txt, in which Wahl as good as admitted that he knew his paper had missed the deadline. On 11 February 2006, Wahl had written,

    “I had thought that we had passed all chance for citation in the next IPCC report back in December, but Peck [Jonathan Overpeck] has made it known to me this is not so.”

    Based on the deceitful edit of my evidence and an unsigned statement allegedly supported by Dr Susan Solomon the Russell Review concluded that there was no breach of the IPCC “in press” deadline. However, the real reason for Jones’ email to Mann was not discussed in the edited section published in B&O’s evidence nor anywhere in the Russell Review Report. This, I argued, was that the deadline was retrospectively changed after the final Government and Expert Review stage by Jones, Overpeck and Solomon. This could be dismissed as a serious professional lapse. What could not however, is that, to disguise why the change was made, a memorandum containing a deliberate falsehood was sent to all 600 Expert Reviewers – but not to any governments. In Climategate email 1189722851.txt Jones as good as admitted that the Wahl and Ammann paper was only cited as a direct result of the fraudulent deadline change.

    When eventually I came across B&O’s evidence I complained to Russell and wrote to the Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, to whom both Russell and Professor Acton had given firm assurances of openness transparency and thoroughness. When questioned about my complaint by MPs in October 2010 Russell said,

    “Yes, and you will see that Mr Holland’s recent comments do acknowledge that in fact Briffa and colleagues saw his submission and commented on it. So we have quite extensive paperwork, and I think it is reproduced in the evidence on the website, that shows Mr Holland’s submission being taken very carefully into account in responses and, I can assure you, being very fully discussed by us before we produced the material that is in the second half of chapter 9.”

    From Russell’s comments and Boulton’s letter to Briffa you could be forgiven for believing, as I did, that it was B&O who selectively edited my submission to something for which they could fabricate a plausible rebuttal. So I asked UEA who had actually seen my submission – and for a copy of Boulton’s annex.

    To my surprise Boulton’s annex, at http://tinyurl.com/3vso3ck, had even fewer of the characters from my original submission, having omitted all paragraph numbers and references. Yet UEA claimed that no one at UEA had seen my submission. The impossibility of B&O putting back paragraph numbers and breaks as well references without seeing the original was lampooned at the Bishop Hill blog. Proving how well read these blogs are, UEA quickly corrected themselves with a remarkable statement which as good as states that they deliberately intended to to put into the public record a document that suggested my submission had been considered whereas they knew, full well, only selected bits. At http://tinyurl.com/5uet222, UEA wrote,

    “While the University itself did not receive a copy of your submission from Muir Russell, Professor Keith Briffa acquired a full copy of your submission by way of a request made to you by a third party.

    The submission of Professor Briffa and Dr. Osborn in response to the letter and annex from Prof. Boulton was drafted specifically to deal only with those issues that were put to them by Prof. Boulton. In providing their response they showed the annex in a format that could be clearly linked to your submission to the Russell Review to explicitly demonstrate that your allegations had been formally considered.”

    The final sting in the tail of this saga is that after a £300,000 enquiry into a University accused of deleting information to avoid the reach of freedom of information law, the Russell Review did just that. In July 2010 just days after its Report was published and before B&O’s evidence was noticed and long before Bolton’s annex was revealed, all the Review correspondence of Boulton and other members of the Review team held on the servers of the University of Edinburgh was deleted. Russell now refuses to release information that was formerly held subject to disclosure by the University under the FOISA and EISR.

    Graham Stringer MP is right to say that the Russell Review is beyond parody.

  24. Cassio says:

    Dear Ms Brooke,

    The new batch of e-mails – “climategate 2.0″ – released this morning merits your attention:

    http://climateaudit.org/2011/11/22/new-climategate-emails/#comments

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