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Paul Nurse on FOI

The Guardian has one of those articles with no comments thread, usually a sure sign that they have written something...disputable. The subject is an interview they have done with Sir Paul Nurse about FOI and scientific research. You can probably guess the contents.

Freedom of information laws are being misused to harass scientists and should be re-examined by the government, according to the president of the Royal Society.

Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse told the Guardian that some climate scientists were being targeted by organised campaigns of requests for data and other research materials, aimed at intimidating them and slowing down research. He said the behaviour was turning freedom of information laws into a way to intimidate some scientists.

Why does he keep repeating things that are so readily shown to be false? Shall we go through this again?

  • the Deputy Information Commissioner told Parliament that the number of FOI requests made to UEA was not high
  • UEA could have refused burdensome requests on cost grounds (as they had done in the past)
  • UEA answered all the 50-odd requests by pointing requesters to the same web page. The whole process could have taken them no longer than an hour.

Some of what Nurse says is seriously, seriously wrongheaded. Take this for example:

I have been told of some researchers who are getting lots of requests for, among other things, all drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive versions. If it is true, it will consume a huge amount of time. And it's intimidating.

Shall we read the legislation?

12 Exemption where cost of compliance exceeds appropriate limit.

(1) Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the appropriate limit.

Or how about this one...?

14 Vexatious or repeated requests.

(1) Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious.

Why does he keep saying things that can so readily be shown to be false? Why? This is the president of the Royal Society, the living embodiment of British science. Why would this man want to keep scientific data locked away? Why would he actually be in favour of the idea that nobody should be able to replicate scientific papers?

It's rather as if the science has taken a leave of absence from the Royal Society and only the scientists remain.

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Reader Comments (71)

Professor Judith Curry (Climate Etc) has a good piece on it as well..

Both Steve Mcintyre and Ross Mckitrick pop up in the comments.

May 26, 2011 at 7:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

What he really thinks, I suspect, is that FOI should not apply to scientists. It stops them working and upsets the poor dears - essentially this is a diffrerent form of the academic freedom argument.

It reminds me of a comment I read in respect of the UVA FOI litigation - claiming "academic freedom" to achieve "academic lockdown".

The arrogance is palpable. "...misused to harass scientists" "...targeted by organised campaigns", etc. If you use your right to make FOI requests your motives are questioned as a matter of course.

It reveals much that he does not think there should be accountability, or only limited accountability to those that they decide are not "misusing" the legislation, in the realm of publicly funded science upon which profound policy decisions are based.

May 26, 2011 at 7:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterRB

Nurse is quite obviously a 100% true believer.

He is far to grand to even enquire what might be the other side of the argument.

No wonder he got the Big Job.

May 26, 2011 at 7:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

So Bob Ward says that the intention is to trawl through scientists work and find errors. He obviously doesn't like the idea. There is a name for the process of looking for errors in someone else's work whosoever does it.

Bob. It's called science.

Care to let me have a look at your 'unfinished' Ph.D thesis.

May 26, 2011 at 7:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterWardRe

“Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics said the intention of many of those making freedom of information requests was to trawl through scientists’ work with the intention of trying to find problems and errors. “It’s also quite true that these people do not care about the fact that it is causing a serious inconvenience,” he said. “It is being used in an aggressive and organised way. When freedom of information legislation was first contemplated, it was not being considered that universities would be landed with this additional burden.”

It is obvious Bob Ward has never done any proper work. All my work was independently verified to make sure it was as error free as possible. I welcomed the checking. There is nothing worse than publishing some results and then someone finding an error. Get the errors found before publication, not years down the line. Yes, it's inconvenient to have delays due to checking, but it is far less inconvenient than having to go back and correct all the follow on work if an error is not discovered till years have gone by.

May 26, 2011 at 8:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I read Mr M's letter. The reply will be that he was expressing his opinion as the RS head, and that specifics will have to come from the bodies concerned - UEA etc.

And we know how well they are at responding.

Of course if the Graun was even handed they would ask Mr M to write a counter piece. But I doubt it will ever happen, certainly not with "Comment is Caged" and of course Mr Ward will have a preview long enough to write a long rebuttal which will be comment no.1 - again.

May 26, 2011 at 8:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris

The solution to Sir Paul's problem is simple: If academics do not like the scrutiny that comes with being paid by the taxpayers, they should stop accepting public money.

May 26, 2011 at 8:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

I'm under the impression that anyone (meaning anybody from the general public at large) can submit a FOI, for any reason at any time. Surely the government who made this legislation thought there was good grounds for such an open book; open to any and all.

It might be instructive to look at the background to law. Why was it made so open?

May 26, 2011 at 8:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterGreg Cavanagh

I have been told of some researchers who are getting lots of requests for, among other things, all drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive versions. If it is true, it will consume a huge amount of time. And it's intimidating.

I can read this two ways: requests before the paper is produced or requests after. The first is plainly silly. I presume he is not implying this? or is he?

May 26, 2011 at 8:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

I rather liked Michel's comment at Judith's

Its not working, is it? The problem with the tactic of denying information and protesting is that no-one believes it any more. So it makes the communication and sales problem worse and worse. The general public concludes that there must be something wrong or they would release it all.

What this is doing, its producing ever more skepticism about AGW and climate science. You cannot get there from here. The only solution is to publish the lot, immediately. It then might be that all kinds of holes will emerge. But trying to keep it all secret is not going to work either.

You cannot avoid the conclusion that climate science is really in crisis. It is destroying itself as a credible discipline by the public conduct of its most aggressive advocates.

May 26, 2011 at 8:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

It was possible some requests were designed simply to stop scientists working rather than as a legitimate attempt to get research data, said Nurse. "It is essential that scientists are as open and transparent as possible and, where they are not, they should be held to account. But at times this appears to be being used as a tool to stop scientists doing their work. That's going to turn us into glue. We are just not going to be able to operate efficiently."

So no evidence, just visible paranoia? So let us change the law based on paranoia? Just how a democracy should work.

May 26, 2011 at 8:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Nurse and Ward should jointly be awarded the Trofim Lysenko Award for transparency in science.

May 26, 2011 at 8:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

You wonder what prompted Sir Paul to make these claims, at this moment. Did he just wake up one morning and thought, hey, I must express my concern to the Guardian about sceptics sabotaging scientists work. Or is this the Guardian and its lobbying friends at work again, staging an "interview" to push along the narrative against scepticism.

Nurse must be the target of frequent lobbying and lunching, and phone calls suggesting it would be helpful if he were to use his position to say...

May 26, 2011 at 8:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterLondonCalling

All Nurse has done here is provide a nice little reference for anyone who wants to point to an authoritative example that says asking questions about climate is wrong. climate science is too sacrosanct for layman inquiry apparently.

It is great how these geniuses can only think of limiting a means of openness while at the same time proclaiming that openness is their goal - a very Orwellian "have your cake and eat it" doublethink.

How are we supposed to respect and truist their intelligence when no positive is shown about the existing FOI process (like the effects of climate change?) and always negative encounters are emphasised in a way to make the scientists seem like put upon victims? Dreadful attitude from Nurse the smiling open scientist, he is really getting into this role of being an alarmist shill. And the whining Myles Allen's little anecdote is especially pathetic, I find it hard to believe Allen couldn't deal with that situation with more intelligence and delegation than he claims in his little quoted bleat.

Ironically it is left to Bob Ward, the PR guy, to come across as the better person when he is saying:

"Scientists are going to have to get used to the idea that transparency means being transparent to your critics as well as your allies. You cannot pick and choose to whom you are transparent," he said. "Increasingly it is going to be an issue for anyone working in contentious areas. Part of retaining the public's confidence and trust is transparency and openness, and scientists should accept that that is part of the price of having the people's trust."

May 26, 2011 at 8:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Dear Climatologists

It is very simple.

My taxes have been used to pay you to collect data on my behalf. If you do not feel able to allow me access to that data, I feel no need to continue paying you.

What you do on your own time is yours. But what you do on my dime is mine.


May 26, 2011 at 9:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Sixpack

Of course if the Royal Society is making a special pleading report for their workers, that will no doubt have huge power with the government because of the current cult of scientist perfection of motives, than maybe we need to hear the reports from the Police, civil service, and other branches of public paid office and get their reports and opinions on how FOI feels to them too?

What's the betting that not unlike the scientists those other public branches would like some toning down of the power of the law of the land in their favour too?

As Richard Tol says above, these guys in the RS should think about moving into private funded work where they don't have to worry about my taxpaying inquistiveness ;)

May 26, 2011 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

From today's Telegraph:

President Obama snubbed Britain's eminent scientists by declining to attend a Royal Society banquet at which he was to be given a medal. He chose to visit a London school instead. Sources close to the state visit said some members of the society were "deeply offended".

May 26, 2011 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterScottie

Paul Nurse stood shoulder to shoulder with Phil Jones on ‘Hide the Decline’ on the BBC Horizon Program…

That generated quite a lot of interests and a 2000 plus comment series of – Climate Etc posts about Hide the Decline and Professor Jonathon Jones (Oxford - Physics) and Paul Dennis disagreeing with him, at Bishop Hill/Singh.

Paul Nurse did the same with Freedom of Information (BBC transcript) stood by Jones unquestioning.

BBC - Horizon - Science Under Attack

Paul Nurse (voice over): As well as the e-mails, much criticism of Dr Jones centred on his reluctance to hand over data. The team at CRU had been receiving requests under the Freedom of Information Act, also known as FOI requests, for access to their scientific data.

Phil Jones: Well, we started getting some requests in, in about 2007, and we’d responded to those.

Paul Nurse: These are Freedom of Information requests…

Phil Jones: Yes. And they were specifically for basic station temperature data and also for the locatiions of the stations. The situation got a bit worse in July 2009 when we got 60 requests over a weekend.

Paul Nurse: Over one weekend?

Phil Jones: Over one weekend, when there was clearly some sort of co-ordination between…

Paul Nurse: Was that from different people?

Phil Jones: Different people. But there was clearly some co-ordination of the requests because they each asked for five countries in alphabetical order. I thought at the time it was just to waste our time, in order to deal with these requests and maybe to get the data together.

Paul Nurse: So this is an interesting dilemma that we have here really, because obviously science is based upon open access to data. But obviously you can also be disrupted by having, if you like, more legalistic attempts to get data or simply trying to waste people’s time. How do you sort of balance that?

Phil Jones: Well sometimes we get requests and, sometimes not through FOI, just from other scientists, we point them in the right direction as to where they might get the data. But when it became more, sort of, through the FOI, it really then became clear that it was some sort of harrassment.

Paul Nurse (voice over): This event raises questions about the openness of scientific research. Dr Jones and his team clearly felt persecuted. However, scientists do have to be open with their data.

It might be useful to think about the Human Genome Project, where similar issues came up about a decade ago, and there was clear discussion about this, and in the public genome sequencing laboratories, a real commitment, dedication to getting that data out into the public as soon as possible. And I think maybe there’s something to be learned from that, for climate science.

There were at least four independent reviews of the work of CRU. The reports found there was no evidence of dishonesty. They said splicing the temperature data wasn’t misleading, but this technique should have been made plain. They said generally the unit should have been more open. But crucially, they found no evidence of deliberate scientific malpractice.

This seems to have been the “greatest scientific scandal” that never really took place. I mean, it doesn’t make sense to me at all, why it got blown out of proportion. It makes me wonder whether as scientists, we’re not perhaps well suited to dealing with situations like this, and perhaps let them run out of our control. I mean, the world is changing, the digital world with blogs, with tweets and so on, we’re perhaps not used to dealing with that, not able to cope with the sort of maelstrom of media attention that fell upon UEA during this event. I think there’s something to be learned here. We’ve got to think about how we defend our science, how we project ourselves to the public.

In the end, the integrity of climate science was not faulted. But somehow a leak of some ten-year-old e-mails did real damage to its reputation. In all the clamour, the science seems to have been left behind. I’ve come to meet James Delingpole, one of those who led the campaign.”


2 things that jump out to me….

He allowed Phil Jones to get away with – We responded to those requests…….

Ie it was a NO, you can’t have the data – does not get adressed..

Then Paul Nurse states:–

“But somehow a leak of some ten-year-old e-mails did real damage to its reputation.”

A clear attempt to mis-represent to the millions of BBC viewers, that the emails were all ten years old, When in fact they were up to a few weeks old, including the latest request for information and refuasl of it..

Paul Nurse must either know this, and choose to spin it, or is totally ignorant of the whole ‘climategate’ affair.

May 26, 2011 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

sorry - transcript below

May 26, 2011 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

There is science... Leo Szilard and the nuclear chain reaction...

In London, where Southampton Row passes Russell Square, across from the British Museum in Bloomsbury, Leo Szilard waited irritably one gray Depression morning for the stoplight to change. A trace of rain had fallen during the night; Tuesday, September 12, 1933, dawned cool, humid and dull. Drizzling rain would begin again in early afternoon. When Szilard told the story later he never mentioned his destination that morning. He may have had none; he often walked to think. In any case another destination intervened. The stoplight changed to green. Szilard stepped off the curb. As he crossed the street time cracked open before him and he saw a way to the future, death into the world and all our woes, the shape of things to come.

The result? A very real theory - against the consensus. A very real chain reaction, A very real bomb.

And then there is Climate "Science"... all the FOI's would fall away in a moment, if the climate scientists actually ever demonstrated their models to be correct.

The political utterances of people like Nurse claim minimal uncertainty. But look what is under the carpet and behind the curtain?

Nurse is saying: "Just keep you eyes on me, and everything will be ok. Trust me."

'fraid not.

May 26, 2011 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

"I have been told of some researchers ..."

I'm sure you have Sir Paul. But is it true? As a scientifically minded chap, I would have expected you to produce some evidence.

'You must not tell us what the soldier, or any other man, said,
Sir,' interposed the judge; 'it's not evidence."

Charles Dickens
Pickwick Papers

May 26, 2011 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Bob Ward pops into the comments at Climate Etc (Judith Curry)

on his best behaviour and sounding sensible.

he seems to focus on this:

“There’s no other walk of life where every conversation you have ought to be made public,” he said. “There’s a massive double standards because a lot of the people submitting these requests are themselves not transparent at all. They don’t reveal their sources of funding or the details of what they’re doing behind the scenes.”

The point is of course that is missed. if the scientists had just publisehed the data, that the JOURNALS required for the papers, then no-one would ever had to resort to FOI's to get hold of it..

May 26, 2011 at 9:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

And the Guardian is using the Carbon Brief to spread the story around...

Science and environment correspondent at the Guardian. I don't hug trees, though.

Carbon Brief twitter feed (goes to the worlds environment media, ngo, even UEA and the Committe on Climate Change)!/alokjha/status/73642446520717312
From the Guardian: Freedom of information laws are being used to harass scientists, says Nobel laureate Paul Nurse

May 26, 2011 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

No comments thread, no evidence, no names of offenders, no attempt by the journalist to verify Sir Paul’s accusations by asking the usual suspects, (Steve, Dave and Your Grace, I presume) for their reactions.
The article, by Alok Jha, science correspondent, prominent on the Guardian’s news page, is filed under “politics” and doesn’t come up on the “environment” or “climate change” pages.
It’s an opinion piece by a bloke who has shown repeatedly that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, who’s good mates with a journalist who clearly knows nothing about normal journalistic practice.

May 26, 2011 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers


Is that the opening to Richard Rhodes book on the A-bomb? It seems really familiar.

As for Nurse. I mentioned last year, as the Select committee Science Enquiry wound up, that there was hints of a coming assault on FOI. I think this is now under way, and we'll see a lot more of this in the coming months. The vested interests (I hesitate to call them Warmists now because the whole thing is so tied up with non-believing opportunistic bureaucrats and financiers) have spotted FOI as the very weak link in their chain. FOI allows the 'Oz' curtain to be pulled back. A terrifying prospect for those who aim to mislead us.

May 26, 2011 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

Tony Blair once said that the introduction of FOI was one of his biggest regrets. Says it all, really.

May 26, 2011 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Nurse is a bit misguided to tangle with guys here and elsewhere who are intimately familiar with the climategate story and subsequent developments. And who probably know the FoI laws better than the people who drafted them - both in theory and practice.

May 26, 2011 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Sixpack

Do you lot have any idea how blinkered and unsceptical your comments make you appear to an outsider looking in?

Is it possible for a group of organised people to submit FOI requests in sufficient volume that it disrupts the work of the scientists and takes their time away from study? Of course it is possible.

Are there people out there motivated to do something like that? There most certainly are.

To not concede that it is not only possible, but actually probable, that FOI requests are being used aggressively like this, shows that you're not really considering the issue at all.

Whatever the development, whatever the science, whatever the statement, you all just try and use it to attack climate science, and find ways to criticise it, presumably because you're not really interested in what the science is actually saying at all.

I guess that fits, as there's vrtually no science to support the stances here at all.

May 26, 2011 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

I too have written to Sir Paul Enfield asking for evidence of scientists being harried for data about papers that are not even published. It seems highly implausible to me that papers in preparation would be known about and of interest to people before publication, although there are nutters on both sides of this debate, (if that's how we want to refer to the one sided reporting of the issue).

The UEA received just six FOI requests between January 2005 when the act was introduced, and January 2009, in 2009 it received 97 FOI requests 59 from people asking or information on contracts between the UEA and the foreign met offices they said were preventing publication of the data, 15 were before climategate and 23 after. If you discount the 59 because they were all referred to the same web page, and the 23 that came after climategate they received a grand total of 21 FOI requests in the five year period between January 2005 and January 2010. [Snip - venting]

May 26, 2011 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo


All the things that he describes *could* have happened. As could the takeover of the world by the giant lizards as favoured by David Icke. And Jesus *could* have been married to Mary Magadelene as suggested by Dan Brown. The archaeology of Greenland *could* have been faked to mislead people into thinking it was once warmer there than it is now.

All those things *could* have happened.

But without any evidence that they *have* happened, they are no more than possibilities. Nurse presented no evidence beyond 'I have been told that'. Which is about as reliable as the man down the pub's racing tips.

Let him publish some evidence and we;ll believe him. The old mantra 'trust me I'm a climate scientist' has long been discredited.

He should put up or shut up.

May 26, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

But he (Sir Paul Nurse) said freedom of information had "opened a Pandora's box. It's released something that we hadn't imagined ... there have been cases of it being misused in the climate change debate to intimidate scientists.

Telling noble lies for the cause is seen by some people as a form of cowardice.

If Sir Paul Nurse had been truthful in this Guardian piece he would have used less words.

May 26, 2011 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

If you look at all the non-jobs, sinecures, and unemployment concealment schemes; at the government surveillance, population control and monitoring agendas; at the boardroom opportunities for ex-politicians; at the cash cows for companies that many donate money to political parties; and at the stealth taxation strategies that all hinge on CO2, it's clear that climate change is now too big to fail.

What I think may be going on is that the climate psyentists have woken up to the fact that this is Animal Farm and they are Boxer the horse. They've served their purpose. Based on their speculations and authority, we now have in place a global conspiracy by governments against their citizens to tax, repress and control them on the grounds that something nasty's going to happen in 100 years' time.

Given the momentum that all this has, nobody at a government level now gives a toss about whether Phil Jones gets to sleep at night, or whether Paul Nurse's mates have to react to a load of inconvenient FOI requests. They've got what they wanted and now what I hear, through the shrill tone of these guys, is a feeling that they've been abandoned by their sponsors.

The drip-drip of FOI requests continues to expose errors, confirmation biases, shoddiness and remarkable creativity with data and scientific standards, and instead of exempting and sheltering them from such scrutiny, governments are just letting it all happen.

They remind me a bit of the central European communists who acted as spies and fifth columnists for Russia in 1941-5 and who were then astonished, when Russia overran their countries, not to be put in charge. Or of Boxer in Animal Farm who, depsite being a hero of the revolution, can't work as hard any more and thus gets taken away to the knacker's yard.

May 26, 2011 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

All these laws, you see, are made for the bad guys.
SPN & co are the good guys. That's why this need to be fixed.

May 26, 2011 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterphinniethewoo

One small but not important point , Phil Jones planned to avoid FOI requests , BEFORE he got a single one . Now if Nurse really had the inquiring mad of a scientist that fact alone may have caused him to consider who was at fault , but even the mountain of other evidenced as to Jones and friends behavior toward data, did not do that.

As for Bob 'fast fingers ' Ward his an attack dog/spinner by trade that is poor at his job, but still better than ZedsDeadBed.

May 26, 2011 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

you want some 'balance', zbd?

From all what we know, I don't think Phil Jones is a dishonest guy, in a fundamental sense (probably has rationalised somehow to himself about his 1990 paper though). He just fell into a hole and kept digging. So when Climategate broke, Jones et al had no hesitation in using the fact there were a cluster of FOI requests, utterly cynically, to garner sympathy for CRU.

Nurse is spreading the same canard.

So, we cannot FOI scientists for data (in itself a strange situation, because they can provide data with no recourse to FOI) because that will amount to harassment, we cannot ask them for IPCC procedure compliance details because that is 'not science' and we cannot ask for their emails because that will 'inhibit them'.

Why this penchant for dismissing the law? Simon Singh made the same special-case pleading - "leave libel laws out of science". Nurse makes the same special-case pleading - "leave FOI out of science". If science is such an endeavour that shouldn't be touched by the corrosive hands of libel law and freedom of information, do these people feel then, that other aspects of society are worthless enough to fall prey to these influences? 'Science and FOI? Noooo! We are pure as the driven snow! Politics and FOI? Yeah, haul them over the coals!'

Incidentally these two stances are against each other, in their basic sense. Public intellectuals like Singh like to reserve to themselves the right to use 'science' as their weapon in attacking their targets, with no fear of reprisal. Public intellectuals like Nurse like to reserve to institutional science the right to carry out its activities with no expection of public answerability.

May 26, 2011 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

The article is now posted on the Guardian’s climate change page, and comments are open.

Justice4Rinka, you’re a bit hard on poor old Boxer. The constant spinning by Sir Paul and others is not the work of a carthorse. Quite another animal has his trotters in this trough.

May 26, 2011 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Yes but how are they to hide the pea if you use FOI requested to find out which thimble it's under,

May 26, 2011 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

just spotted as well.. comments opened at the Guardian at 11:36 am today..

with the usual good start:

26 May 2011 11:36AM
Never underestimate the evil intent and power of the oil lobby.

May 26, 2011 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Shub (above) is right.

Science that needs to hide in the shadows, tended only by its devoted nursemaids and admirers and concealed from the light of scrutiny is but a weak and sickly organism. Not one that can be relied upon when needed to answer the big questions and give sound and cogent advice.

To do that the science needs to stand tall. To relish in the spotlight. To encourage challenges and to take on all-comers. Only then will its conclusions be shown to be robust and its reputation strong and proud.

Nurse fails to see that his special pleading for special protection diminishes the science and the scientists. He should scurry back and hide under a stone once more 'ere nights candles burn out and jocund day illuminates him too closely.

May 26, 2011 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

It's both laughable and tiresomely obvious how the mind of Paul Nurse operates. It is to be hoped that Scottie's comment (above), on Obama's snub of the Royal Society banquet, turns out to be indicative of more than bad timing.

May 26, 2011 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterdread0

This comment was made at Climate Etc..

I’m not sure you’ve quite gotten the drift of where the “message”
of Sir Paul is truly coming from.

Sir Paul Nurse (Nobel, Medicine – 2001) and Bob Ward of the
Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics
have publicly made the call in The Guardian:

eliciting input from individuals, organizations, and institutions
for the great British Royal Society’s effort to study:

According to the Royal Society’s website:

The study will be led by Professor Geoffrey Boulton and a high-level working group. The society has launched a call for evidence and we are seeking input from academia, business, industry, Government, interest groups and members of the public to inform this important project. We welcome submissions as soon as possible, and before the 5 August 2011.

You seem to have lightly skipped over the point that the
“study” will be led by Professor Geoffrey Boulton, who
directly participated in the Muir Russell investigation but his
18 years with UAE weren’t revealed to Parliament until after
the investigation was in progress.

The top name of the Royal Society’s “high level working group” ?

Phillip Campbell, Editor, Nature magazine.

Who’s Bob Ward ?

A suspicious mind might entertain the notion that the Royal
Society “project” involves a stacked deck from the start.

May 26, 2011 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

@ZDB: "Is it possible for a group of organised people to submit FOI requests in sufficient volume that it disrupts the work of the scientists and takes their time away from study? Of course it is possible."

I don't believe anyone is arguing it isn't possible, I have provided proof that from January 2005 until November 2009 the CRU received 21 FOI requests. I don't know what they were, but it doesn't sound an onerous amount to me. The problem lies in the fact that they, the CRU, won't provide the data, metadata and methodologies they've used to come to their scientific conclusions, if they did the FOI requests wouldn't be necessary, would they?

May 26, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

What exactly are you saying is not true? Are you saying it is not true that

"some researchers who are getting lots of requests for, among other things, all drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive versions"


It seems to me you are merely saying they could easily *refuse* these requests. Which is another thing *entirely*. Why are you claiming something that isn't so? Even you must surely understand that if climate scientists refused FOI requests due to some "technicality" there would be an uproar aming the denialistas. So, what are you after, really?

May 26, 2011 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterthemotie

Barry Woods

Thanks for this:

26 May 2011 11:36AM
Never underestimate the evil intent and power of the oil lobby.

Why do we never hear about the extremely powerful, entirely successful renewables lobby? It is directly shaping energy policy here in the UK and elsewhere in the world; it is entirely self-interested (in the sense of profit before planet); and it is in the process of creating an energy policy disaster.

One other thing that makes me ponder about this sort of rubbish is the 'evil intent' bit. The oil industry provides feedstock for plastics and fertilisers, and permits the economy to function by providing petrol.

This is evil how, exactly?

Stupid Greens are a menace to humanity.

May 26, 2011 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I see there is to be a Town Hall meeting on Open Science at Southbank Centre, June 8th, 2-4pm

Speakers include Sir Paul Nurse PRS, Geoffrey Boulton FRS, Sir Mark Walport and Philip Campbell.

Tickets are free and available by emailing

Would be a good time and place to ask the speakers their opinions on the FOIA.

May 26, 2011 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac


if only it were just a few commentors in the Guardian...

green thinking...

bryworthington Bryony Worthington
@sandbagorguk RT @BBCBreaking Steel giant Tata believed to be planning to cut around 1,500 jobs at three sites <<revenge for the c budgets?
20 May!/bryworthington/status/71503936401580032

Not revenge Baroness Bryony, it is called economics, the carbon taxes introduced will make it uneconomic to produce here, it will relocate abroad...

But what does Bryony know, she is good friends with Ed Milliband, and was instrumental in writing the UK's Climate Change ACT

"Bryony Worthington’s appointment as a peer at such a young age was something of a surprise to her — even though she knows Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, well and played a key role helping him, as energy secretary, write the 2008 Climate Change Act.

She was director of the carbon trading think-tank and campaign group Sandbag, which she founded. She has also been a policy adviser to Scottish and Southern Electricity.

"I think Ed Miliband wanted to do something different and I was glad to accept [the working peerage] but it’s not something I was expecting," she said. "Most things you really strive for in life but this just sort of landed on my plate and it’s a great privilege."


she is also good mates will Ed and Solitaire behind Futerra, who gave the UK the Rules of The Game, and the pr/media strategy for communicating climate change...

May 26, 2011 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Steve Mcintyre responds to Bob Ward (and Paul Nurse) at Climate Etc....

"Here’s a suggestion to Bob Ward. Write a public letter to the University of East Anglia asking them to forthwith provide me with the Yamal/Polar Urals regional chronology that I requested and the associated lists of sites.

This is a limited and reasonable request. Not providing it will have two bad consequences for the “community” that Ward purports to represent. Refusing to provide the data not only is evasive, but is perceived by the public as evasive. And each excuse used for the refusal will be probed, thus committing the university to far more work than simply releasing the requested data.

It’s important that people like Ward and Nurse move beyond pious platitudes urging scientists to be more open and transparent. Pious platitudes have been uttered for two decades.

On a related topic, Shub Niggurath has observed that IPCC has adopted policies to be even less open and transparent. For the last IPCC report, it was possible for me, as a reviewer, to request a copy of the review comments on the First Draft, for example. IPCC has changed its rules so that they will not be available to me or other reviewers until after the publication of the Report itself"

May 26, 2011 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Shouldn't most of this information already be in the public domain by law? Something about environmental research funded by the taxpayer. Can't remember specifics.

May 26, 2011 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

'Evil Oil' has the wonderful ring of supreme euphony and makes a brilliant slogan, despite containing zero rationality or logic or facts.
Paul Nurse and Bob Ward both seem uninteristed in facts; Both are showing all the signs of being little different from the ardent and totally convinced street-corner preachers back in the immediate post-WWII era, whose slogans ranged from 'Wokers of the world, unite!' to 'Repent! The end is nigh!'
Human behaviour doesn't change much. Only the message changes.
Obamas' shunning of the RS hopefully demonstrates his awareness of what the RS actually is.

May 26, 2011 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

The aversion to FOI stems from the fact that the whole the-sky-is-falling meme is based on an argument from authority; if the authority is successfully challenged the argument fails; therefore the authority must be sheltered from challenge.

It's entirely predictable and indeed internally rational. What it is not is honest, but who's surprised?

May 26, 2011 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

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