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The Royal Society and openness

Remember how we all cheered the Royal Society when Phil Trans Roy Soc B forced Keith Briffa to release the Yamal data? At last a journal with some integrity, some adherence to the principles of the scientific method, we all said.

This was why Briffa's hand was forced: a policy on openness that had no wriggle room for those who might think about cheating (my bold):

As a condition of acceptance authors agree to honour any reasonable request by other researchers for materials, methods, or data necessary to verify the conclusion of the article.

Interestingly the Royal Society now has a new policy on openness (my bold):

To allow others to verify and build on work published in Royal Society journals; authors must make all reasonable efforts to make materials, data, statistical tools and associated protocols available to readers. Authors must disclose upon submission of the manuscript any restrictions on the availability of materials or information. We recognize that discipline-specific conventions or special circumstances may occasionally apply, and we will consider these in negotiating compliance with requests.


After publication, all reasonable requests for data and/or materials must be fulfilled. Authors may charge reasonable costs for time and materials involved in any such transfer.

[Postscript: I was able to retreive the original policy via the Wayback Machine - a wonderful tool for finding lost pages from the web. Interestingly, Royal Society Publishing now appears to have blocked robots.txt, preventing the Wayback Machine from taking snapshots in future.]

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Reader Comments (29)

One of the Royal Society's key priorities is to, "Promote the Royal Society as a role model among international academies and other active scientific bodies."

Turning their policy on data access on it's head undermines efforts in promoting the society as a role model..

Apr 17, 2011 at 9:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

when you recall that founding members included folks such as Samuel is not so surprising that they go back to their roots. However, one does hope that current members will object to this

Apr 17, 2011 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Is there a scientific definition of "reasonable" ?

Apr 17, 2011 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Well its great. They have created a system. If it is bad or arbitrary we will observe it (BTW Lookin at the links it is both) so tough shit. We will hold you against the modern world of observation...

Apr 17, 2011 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

I think times are changing.

Time was, data was gold and no-one wanted to release it without strings. Let me give a typical scenario:

Joan and Yuri meet at a conference. Joan works at a Western university and has time on her hands. Yuri is a muddy boots scientist from behind the former Iron Curtain, who has spent decades quietly collecting bucketloads of data.

Joan analyses Yuri's data. They publish jointly on some aspect of the data of interest to Joan. Joan is first author.

If Joan now receives a request for data, she won't give it, because she sees it as Yuri's. Yuri may want to produce further papers using the data himself or collaborate with other Westerners with computers on the same projects. Yuri is not keen on publishing the data it has taken years to collect without at least a co-authorship to show for it. He doesn't want Joe Public to have the ability to analyse it freely and "steal his thunder."

...however, now that scientists hopefully know the present conditions under which they may publish articles, hopefully problems along these lines will eventually dribble out of existence.

Apr 17, 2011 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJit

Once the paper is published, releasing data is completely standard and obligatory. Climatologists and their apologists may have all manner of excuses and weasel words on this subject and they may succeed in changing the guidelines of second rate journals and second rate scientific bodies (as here) but they won't succeed in changing this principle.

If you publish a scientific paper, you are providing sufficient information to reproduce and verify your findings. If you don't want your work to be reproducible, verifiable, testable (etc.) you are not engaged in science, it is as simple as that.

Apr 17, 2011 at 11:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

The post-normal 10 commandments...

Thou <s>shalt not</s> must make all reasonable efforts to not kill (special circumstances may occasionally apply).

Apr 17, 2011 at 11:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Am I a cynic to see a two-stage process? First publish the new instructions and caveats, leaving the original, incontestable form. Ambiguous but safe, they can direct questioners to the original part. Some time later, when attention has moved on, quietly remove the original instruction, leaving the "all reasonable efforts" as the only demand.

Apr 18, 2011 at 1:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

"Same old same old" in a new dust jacket. What really change?

Apr 18, 2011 at 2:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

another 15 papers to keep the MSM CAGW advocacy machine running!

17 April: Reuters: Gerard Wynn: Scientists want climate change early-warning system
One way to cross-check national reporting is to count all the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, from cars through power plant to cows.
Another is to use an improved network of climate stations to measure greenhouse gases in the air and use prevailing winds to calculate where they come from.
Nisbet's paper was one of more than 15 published in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Monday, setting out key research questions to better understand the impact of greenhouse gases on the climate...

can't recall this four-page piece being posted, Bish. surely there are some Josh moments in here!

3 April: ABC: AP: Tweaking the Climate to Save It: Who Decides?
On secluded country estate, global experts ponder seizing control of Earth's atmosphere
by Charles J. Hanley
"If we could experiment with the atmosphere and literally play God, it's very tempting to a scientist," said Kenyan earth scientist Richard Odingo. "But I worry."
Arrayed against that worry is the worry that global warming — in 20 years? 50 years? — may abruptly upend the world we know, by melting much of Greenland into the sea, by shifting India's life-giving monsoon, by killing off marine life...
Britain's national science academy, the Royal Society, subsequently organized the Chicheley Hall conference with Hamburg's EDF and the association of developing-world science academies. From six continents, they invited a blue-ribbon cross-section of atmospheric physicists, oceanographers, geochemists, environmentalists, international lawyers, psychologists, policy experts and others, to discuss how the world should oversee such unprecedented — and unsettling — research...
An Associated Press reporter was invited to sit in on their discussions, generally off the record, as they met in large and small groups in plush wood-paneled rooms, in conference halls, or outdoors among the manicured trees and formal gardens of this 300-year-old Royal Society property 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of London, a secluded spot where Britain's Special Operations Executive trained for secret missions in World War II.
Provoking and parrying each other over questions never before raised in human history, the conferees were sensitive to how the outside world might react...
And Australian economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton saw other go-it-alone threats — "cowboys" and "scientific heroes."
"I'm queasy about some billionaire with a messiah complex having a major role in geoengineering research," Hamilton said...

Apr 18, 2011 at 3:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

A post on Roger Pielke Jr's blog, Ronald Reagan's famous quote and The Royal Society's new policy on openness brought this to mind,

I'm a scientist, my work has been peer reviewed by members of The Royal Society. You can trust me.

Apr 18, 2011 at 5:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterIanB

Authors must disclose upon submission of the manuscript any restrictions on the availability of materials or information.

Presumably any such restriction would be published in a note accompanying the original article? e.g. This result may not be readily reproducible by other scientists because ...

I would hope that this would lead to two-tier science: similar to peer-reviewed / non peer-reviewed we would now have reproducible / non-reproducible science.

The question then is how much we would be prepared to stake on science that is acknowledged up-front to be non-reproducible.

Apr 18, 2011 at 6:59 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

@Apr 18, 2011 at 6:59 AM | matthu

"The question then is how much we would be prepared to stake on science that is acknowledged up-front to be non-reproducible."

Judging by the policies of the Nasty, Labia, Dim, SnotGreen Parties:- The entire ranch.

Apr 18, 2011 at 7:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

I'm sure that the "discipline-specific conventions" of climate science will militate against anything so vulgar as reproducibility.

Apr 18, 2011 at 7:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

And the corruption of Rome continues, at least this time it will be You Tube.

Politics corrupt, check. Economics corrupt, check. Media corrupt, check. Education corrupt, nearly, not quite there yet but almost, although the shite washes and cover ups are making a strong case.

Apr 18, 2011 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Oh bugger, just realiesed one of them letters should be a W not a S.

Apr 18, 2011 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

'discipline-specific conventions or special circumstances may occasionally apply'

Thats the real key , as climate sceince has show what the really means for them and and this idea leaves them to very much carry on as before.

Apr 18, 2011 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

No, no, Shevva, you got it right the first time.

Apr 18, 2011 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Wood

Nice on Shevva!!
There used to be a gremlin called Gobfrey who lived inside the old typesetting machines and popped out when sub-editors weren't looking to create errors like "defective force" instead of "detective force" and headlines like "Magistrates to act on indecent shows". He had a knack for making just the right tweak at just the right time.
Nice to see he's alive and well and has found a new home in the blogosphere!

Apr 18, 2011 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

"We are committed to promoting the highest ethical publication practices across all its journals."

But apparently not. Is there an official explanation for the change? It might be worth asking why they have lowered their standards. I'm sure their members would like to know!

Apr 18, 2011 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P


"a gremlin called Gobfrey"

Who still inhabits the corridors of the Grauniad, and is still apparently able to circumvent computer spell checkers.

IIRC his full name is Gobfrey Shrdlu, after the top row of a compositor's keyboard. You'd think that old compositors would be keen to have the same layout on their computers, but perhaps there aren't enough of them...

Apr 18, 2011 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

That's the guy, JamesP!
Actually he was named after the second vertical column on a Linotype machine ( for a picture). He had a son called Etaoin who was named after the first column. I suspect that Etaoin is the resident gremlin at the Graun. His father is more subtle!

Apr 18, 2011 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

"Interestingly, Royal Society Publishing now appears to have blocked robots.txt, preventing the Wayback Machine from taking snapshots in future."

Your Grace's remark prompted me to go and look at What they have done is actually more radical than your comment suggests: all robots are blocked except googlebot and msnbot. These two are subject to a long list of restrictions. Most of these exclusions are routine. But why on earth would the RS want to prevent Google indexing their press directories? Perhaps their press releases are intended only for the press, not for the great unwashed hordes of Google users.

Perhaps Your Grace would consider asking the RS for an explanation of the robots policy adopted by Royal Society Publishing (as you probably noticed, the policy at the main RS is quite different, and innocuous so far as I can tell).

Apr 18, 2011 at 2:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

The Royal Society has always had an odious attitude to the plebes of the world; its creation as a rather nice club for scientific dilletantes from the nobility and gentry is a matter of history; it still resists being pushed into a more egaliarian mould. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Apr 18, 2011 at 5:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Nullius in herbis, verbis, et mineralis.

Apr 18, 2011 at 7:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Once revered, now reviled, once royaled, now politically soiled.

Apr 18, 2011 at 8:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Jack Hughes

You had it exactly right in your first post above. The policy requires "reasonable" disclosure.

Cases have been fought all the way to the House of Lords on what "reasonable" may mean. But in this case - there will be no recourse to law. The warmists are judge and jury in determining whether any request for disclosure is "reasonable".

Apr 19, 2011 at 1:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohninLondon


Thanks for the insight into typesetting. 'Selectro-matic' sounds like a Matt Groening creation, and I love the text alignment buttons on the right! I guess the key layout was designed more around letter frequency than was the qwerty design, but it still looks like a beast to operate...

Apr 19, 2011 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

I believe you're right. By the time I got involved in the business we were onto phototypesetting and qwerty keyboards. As soon as I'd got to grips with that, Aldus (now Adobe) introduced PageMaker and now everybody thinks he's an expert at page layout!!
... which is actually of some relevance to this discussion. The obvious benefits that have arisen from the invention and development of the personal computer have convinced too many people that the genuine, trained, qualified expert is redundant. They know the 'what' without having the faintest understanding of the 'why'.
The philosophy (which is quite acceptable in some contexts) of "good enough is good enough" or "what counts is what works" has pervaded areas where it has no business to be, climate science among them.
Probably the prime reason for not being keen on releasing data and method is a lingering doubt about the accuracy of the method or the selection process of the data. It got the right result so (to paraphrase Prof Jones), "why should I let you have it when there's every chance that by looking at it differently you might come up with a different answer and the politicians might believe you instead of me".
And that would never do because (to paraphrase again, this time Timothy Wirth) "even if we're wrong we're doing it for the best of motives and you'll all thank us eventually."

Apr 19, 2011 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

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