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« The Hockey Stick and Gaia | Main | Circular funding »
Friday
May272011

Nurse-made allegations

Maurice Frankel, the head of the Campaign for Freedom of Information has a letter in the Guardian repeating many of the points I made yesterday about the strange claims Paul Nurse made in his speech on freedom of information.

The president of the Royal Society calls for changes to freedom of information laws to prevent them being misused (Data laws 'misused' in climate change row, 26 May). However, existing safeguards address many of his concerns. Deliberate attempts to "intimidate" scientists, if that is what they are, can be refused under the Freedom of Information Act's safeguards against vexatious requests. Unreasonable requests for all pre-publication drafts of scientific papers can be refused under an exemption for information due for future publication. Explanations of why changes to successive drafts were made do not have to be provided unless they exist in writing. Multiple related requests from different people, if they are co-ordinated, can be refused if the combined cost of answering exceeds the act's cost limit.

Another academic is quoted as saying many FoI requests are made in order to find problems and errors – but that is a valid use of the act. It was the misguided attempt to deny ammunition to critics that led to the Climategate fiasco. The resulting independent review found there had been an "ethos of minimal compliance (and at times non-compliance) … with both the letter and the spirit" of the legislation, and that the campaign of requests to the UEA climatic research unit was partly the result of its own "unhelpful" response to earlier requests. It is not clear that much has changed.

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Reader Comments (24)

This appears to be being driven by Marxist politics more than science.

May 27, 2011 at 7:07 AM | Unregistered Commenteralistair

Yes, there's no doubt a bit of that, but I think it is mainly because they are losing all the scientific arguments so will now try anything to maintain their hegemony.

May 27, 2011 at 7:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

The way I see it, this is more about power relations. Establishment people, as Nurse now is, and Beddington etc. certainly are, instinctively tend to feel that they are special and not bound by other peoples rules, so they are aghast that FOI might apply to them. Remember, Tony Blair expressed the same view. The most revealing thing is the attempt to distinguish between legitimate and non-legitimate uses of FOI, based not on the existing rules, but on the intentions of the person making the request. You can see how you would start to think that way, but three cheers for Frankel pointing out how inappropriate that is.

May 27, 2011 at 7:57 AM | Unregistered Commenterj

It's the unattractive sight of creaking institutions having their lack of integrity exposed by an increasing need for transparency in the modern world and by modern information systems.

May 27, 2011 at 7:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterA K Haart

So, had Nurse actually done some research, he would have discovered that his concerns had already been dealt with. Had the 'journalist' in question done some journalism he would have found out the same. Instead he just rang up Bob Ward for a rent a quote. And what's this about Bob Ward being an 'academic?' That must be because he works for the LSE, in the same way that the janitor who works for the LSE is also an 'academic.'

Nurse showing his ignorance of the law, and a journalist showing incompetence.

May 27, 2011 at 7:58 AM | Unregistered Commentergalao

Jaloe - agreed, but please don't diss janitors - at our local school the janitor could spell better than some of the teachers.

May 27, 2011 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

j: “The most revealing thing is the attempt to distinguish between legitimate and non-legitimate uses of FOI, based not on the existing rules, but on the intentions of the person making the request”.

Quite. And the intentions attributed by Nurse (“organised campaigns of requests for data and other research materials, aimed at intimidating [scientists]”) are simply a repetition of the lie spread about Steve McIntyre’s suggestion that his readers each request data for five countries (since Jones refused to release the data for all countries, on the grounds that “some” countries wouldn’t allow it).

This lie has been repeated on a thousand warmist blogs, and Nurse is apparently happy to join the chorus, blissfully unaware of the fact that he is mindlessly repeating a silly falsehood. It was boring when it was the thousandth comment on a Guardian CiF thread uttered by some Monbiot clone. Intoned in all seriousness by the president of the Royal Society, it’s beyond a joke.

May 27, 2011 at 8:24 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Marxist Science changes the rules to protect dogma and people. Just look at the history of Lysenkoism, the execution of scientists who worked genetic science Mendel created in Russia. Also, remember the previous attempt in the UK to establish another Marxist Science, 'accelerated evolution' cooked up by people in the Natural History Museum in the 1980s. It was short-lived.

For balance, the far right does the same: the book 'Fingerprints of the Gods', basically an attempt to recycle the Nazi Thule Myth, was put out as a Channel 4 programme. Smart real archaeologists realised some of the science had been altered and a lengthened programme had in it a description of how Nazi archaeologists had falsified data to justify the myth of Das Herrenvolk [Master race].

This was helped by the revelations of the Wewelsburg castle which, because it was in what had been East Germany, had not been revealed before. The classic lie was the 'discovery' of the leg bone of Kaiser Heinrich the 1st of the 1st Reich of whom Heinrich Himmler believed he was the reincarnation. The film 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' was based on real life.

So, it looks to me as if our scientific establishment has been populated with a hybrid idea: climate science may be the first example of a discipline which teaches false science as part of the indoctrination into an ideology based on Marxism but rapidly morphing into something else. I wonder if they believe a subsection of the population has a special genetic background that justifies them receiving scientific honours for reasons other than their ability. Is this why 'environmentalist' Prince Charles is an FRS? What else links these people? Is it the Eugenicist sustainability doctrine?

May 27, 2011 at 8:30 AM | Unregistered Commenteralistair

@May 27, 2011 at 7:58 AM | galao

Now now, galao!

You surely know that Academia are waiting all agog and with abated breath (and have been these many years) for Bob Ward's thesis on Paleopiezometry (at last!) to be submitted!

Our Bob not "Academic"?

Tsk Tsk. That'll never do.

If he hadn't been so busy reviewing books he'd clearly never read (see his review of Plimer's "Heaven and Earth" for the Times), I'm sure he'd have finished ages ago.

Actually, my hunch would be that Ward probably initiated this Grauniad article.

Let's face it, Jeremy Grantham pays him well to be his Attack Chihuahua.

We know Ward has got the FOI issue in his sights. My bet is that he contacted Nurse (being able to identify useful idiots at 100 paces), got him on board and identified a suitably cerebrally challenged hack on the Grauniad (perhaps Louise Grey at the Failygraph was busy) to pen the piece.

The rest, as they say, is history.

May 27, 2011 at 8:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Excellent comments from everyone above. This blog really does generate comments worth reading (with one or two notable exceptions!).

May 27, 2011 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid C

The following is apparently from a letter written by a dean of a university in the States to a Professor A demanding that he stop criticising the work of a Professor B. It is presumably the kind of letter that the folks in CRU and elsewhere in the climate alarm industry might enjoy in their daydreams:

"You are to stop harassing [Professor B]. This means: stop contacting B with questions regarding [name of B's publication], his/her research methods, or his/her previous research methods; stop contacting others about your re-analysis of his/her data; refrain from discussing ... your re-analysis of B’s data at your presentations at any meetings, including scholarly meetings like the [name of professional association]; and do not publish texts that refer to ... your re-analysis of B’s data."

Source: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/05/26/are_administrators_trying_to_involve_themselves_in_faculty_disputes
Hat-tip: http://pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/

May 27, 2011 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

This entire episode is beginning to read like an improbable soap opera written thirty years ago for the compulsory entertainment of East Europeans by their various States. The RS and its new Pres are behaving as if their roles were laid down and set centuries ago.
Why does social history keep recycling instead of moving on and progressing?
And why does the LSE tolerate, let alone encourage, the egregious Bob Ward?

May 27, 2011 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Is Sir Paul Nurse bringing the Royal Society into disrepute?

In 2002 the Royal Society held a national forum for science in London to discuss the question posed - “Do We Trust Today’s Scientists?” This forum was introduced and summarised by Sir Paul Nurse.

Several topics were discussed by workshops and their conclusions were fed back to the meeting. One of the topics was on the need for information. Here is the summarised conclusion;

2. The need for information.

To judge whether people providing scientific information are acting in the public interest, we need to make people more aware of the sources of information. We could also change the way we teach science to make students question their judgments. A free-for-all database could publish all research with views of scientists and ethicists. We need national standards for the publication of information, with criteria set by citizens’ juries, to ensure that the public can judge information effectively.

To clarify who is funding scientific research and its applications, and allow the public to assess the information presented, disclosure of funding sources should be required by scientific journals and in media interviews.

To determine whom to trust when scientific issues are discussed, we need to recognize that, in a society which questions investment advice and everything else, science is not unique in being challenged. We need to engender in the scientific community a cultural commitment to dialogue. We trust people when they are open and accountable, and we trust people rather than institutions, so every scientist should build a dialogue. The Royal Society should not believe that it alone can rebuild trust.

Sir Paul Nurse said the Royal Society would collate the conclusions reached to see how they could be taken forward.

.................................... 9 years later ..........................................

In 2011 the Royal Society under the presidency of Sir Paul Nurse have begun a new policy study conducted by what many people in the climate debate consider to be the 'usual suspects' on the use of scientific information as it affects scientists and society.

Sir Paul Nurse has already concluded that the FOIA 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."

It would appear that Sir Paul Nurse has conveniently forgotten the conclusion drawn at one of the Royal Soicety's forums back in 2002 about the public trusting scientists - We need to engender in the scientific community a cultural commitment to dialogue. We trust people when they are open and accountable, and we trust people rather than institutions, so every scientist should build a dialogue. The Royal Society should not believe that it alone can rebuild trust.

May 27, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Alexander K: “Why does social history keep recycling instead of moving on and progressing?”
Because society is structured around much the same impulses as it has always been - people’s beliefs, desires, ambitions - just dressed up in different intellectual garb. Threads like this wouldn’t be out of place in Diogenes Laertius’s “Lives of the Philosophers” or the writings of the Early Church Fathers.

Incidentally, it would be nice if people could stop using “Marxist” as an all-purpose insult. As a Guardian-reading lefty, I can tell the difference between the Daily Telegraph and the Third Reich. I expect my political opponents to be equally discerning.

May 27, 2011 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Nice double entendre (pardon my French):

"Deliberate attempts to "intimidate" scientists, if that is what they are,...."

Hmmmm.

May 27, 2011 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterHector Pascal

Mac
There is so much wrong with the 2002 document you quote, I hope it will be ritually slaughtered here.
For a start:
“we trust people rather than institutions”.
No we don’t. That’s why we invented institutions like democracy and laws.
And what, for Gaia’s sake, are ethicists?

May 27, 2011 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Geoff - good point - the catastrophists are quick to label all sceptics as right wing oil industry shills so we should not label all lefties as Marxists, nor environmentalists as eco-facists). Incidentally, I am more left than right on most issues, so you are not alone as a leftie-leaning climate sceptic. There are quite a few environmentalists who are well aware that CO2 thesis is bollocks also.

May 27, 2011 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

The ecofascist was a fascist before becoming an environmentalist in most cases, I would think. They like the outcome and can be flexible about the means. Environmentalism is the current flag of convenience.

Not all environmentalists are ecofascists, but all ecofascists are environmentalists, until it becomes convenient to morph into something else.

May 27, 2011 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

May 27, 2011 at 10:06 AM | Hector Pascal:

"Deliberate attempts to "intimidate" scientists, if that is what they are,...."

Well spotted, I know how I read it!

May 27, 2011 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterDougS

Thank you Mac for your contribution. The scientific establishment which rose under Blair is apparently trying to prevent the public getting full information about the Yamal data: http://climateaudit.org/2011/05/26/yamal-foi-appeal/

This is where just one tree, an extreme outlier, was found to replicate the 'hockey stick'. The importance of this is that it may be the second most important scientific fraud in the IPCC story

The other is here: http://geo.arc.nasa.gov/sgg/singh/winners4.html

The fake 'surface reflection' argument was concocted after NASA learnt there was no evidence of 'cloud albedo effect' cooling without which the high feedback hypothesis crashes. It replaced Twomey's correct Mie theory he warned could not, as Sagan had claimed, apply to thicker clouds.

[Correct Sagan's physics and the effect is reversed: CO2-AGW becomes much smaller, even negative.]

May 27, 2011 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered Commenteralistair

J: "he most revealing thing is the attempt to distinguish between legitimate and non-legitimate uses of FOI, based not on the existing rules, but on the intentions of the person making the request.".

They are showing a classic paranoiac response which is characteristic of such groupthink. That is to say. In groupthink, anyone questioning the "group consensus" is immediately seen as attacking the group.

May 27, 2011 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterScottish Sceptic

I can never quite decide if those in high places take we, members of the general public, to be fools.
Or if the people in high paces are themselves fools.
Or just fooish to not understand that while we may be taken to be fools in the short run, that it will not work in the long run to take us as fools.

Now'come to think of it, Abraham Lincoln put that much better, long ago.

May 28, 2011 at 3:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterAusieDan

On Comment is "Free" in the Guardian I just got 3x moderated. Once for mentioning that Obama refused Nurse's medal, once for mentioning that the new Joint statement on sciences from the US/ UK mentioned openness and data sharing specifically in relation to climate sciences and once for mentioning that facts were supposed to be sacred on CIF.

May 28, 2011 at 4:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterAntonyIndia

AntonyIndia - you obviously have yet to realise that 'Comment is Free' at the Guardian is like 'Arbeit Macht Frei' on the gates of Auschwitz: a repulsive deception, heavy with irony. The Guardian looks after free speech in the way Saddam Husein looked after the Kurds.

May 30, 2011 at 6:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerboy

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