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« More from the SciTech inquiry | Main | EU considers minor expansion of corrupt biofuels scheme »

An ethically dubious research project

Some months ago, I posted a link to a lecture by Chris Rapley. The lecture itself was fairly bog-standard chanting of the climate change sutras (the barmy sutras?), but towards the end was something rather intriguing. After the lecture proper was a Q&A session, and although most of this had been cut from the recording the first exchanges seem to have been missed. The first concerned whether we sceptics really believe the things we say, and Rapley's answer was, to say the least, fascinating. Have a listen here (the audio is slightly muffled at first, but improves).

Intrigued by the idea of an ethically dubious research project in which I had unwittingly featured as subject, I wrote to Prof Rapley to ask for more details. I received a cordial but somewhat frustrating response: he said that he couldn't recall where he had heard about the project and couldn't give any further details. Undeterred, I decided to put a request in to LSE under the Data Protection Act. Unfortunately, when the reply came it was not a lot of use either. According to the college's FOI staff, they had been able to identify the project, but I wasn't actually a subject of it.

I had asked James Delingpole and Sonja Boehmer Christiansen if they had been interviewed, but they could not recall anything of the sort. This seemed very strange. It seemed as if nobody that Rapley had said had been interviewed as part of the project had actually been approached at all.

Somewhat bemused, I decided to see what I could find out about the project anyway and I stuck in an FOI request to LSE, asking for the name of the student, the supervisor, and for a copy of the thesis.

That request was answered a week or so ago. Readers will be unsurprised to learn that it has been refused, with LSE ruling that none of the details are disclosable.

The project in question was an unpublished, final dissertation of a student on the MSc Environmental Policy and Regulation, in the department of Geography and the Environment. As such, it qualifies as a piece of examined work, which would be treated as personal information under the Data Protection Act, and so would be exempt from release under the Freedom of Information act under section 40(2). Under the Data Protection Act, the definition of this kind of examined work ‘includes any process for determining the knowledge, intelligence, skill or ability of a candidate by reference to his performance in any test, work or other activity.’ You can read more about this at paragraphs 8 and 9 of Schedule 7 of the Data Protection act, (available here I can also confirm that there are no ‘outputs’ relating to this dissertation.

Names are withheld from examined work of this kind as a matter of course, and instead they are submitted under examination candidate number. It is also not School policy to release the names of supervisors or examiners in these circumstances. Such information is similarly exempt from release under section 40 of the Freedom of Information act, as it constitutes personal information.

Yes, folks, MSc theses at LSE are official secrets and may not be seen by the public under FOI.


I have, of course, appealed.

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Reader Comments (97)

Did Rapley disclose the supposed results from the supposed interview you don't recall having?

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

And of course the lesson here is that Alarmists simply make stuff up !

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Barrett

I think it is significant that I have not yet heard of a skeptic who was unwilling to release data, not even the opposition have so far suggested this has ever happened ^.^

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:01 AM | Registered CommenterDung

The LSE clearly have a duty to clarify what exactly was going on here otherwise their reputation will be harmed by secrecy. As Richard Nixon found out to his cost, its not the act of stupidity that is the biggest problem, it's the cover up.

It also shows the type of people they are employing that nonsense like this could even be considered suitable for a thesis. Oh dear, where has the LSE gone wrong.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

It would be very funny, but not all that surprising, if the student involved had claimed to have interviewed you and the others for her thesis and just fabricated the whole thing!

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterBuck

Yes, an intriguing (non-)answer; mentions a research paper, giving a reason as to why it will never get published (so you’ll never get the chance to respond), throws in a few names of the particular bête noirs of the AGWistas, and then proceed to effectively perform a character assassination on all of them: “Are they paid … have they got links with deep coal … scientists essentially for hire … receive a lot of funding … deep covers for money from Deep Coal … are they evil people … or do they genuinely believe that they are virtuous people … are they suffering from some psychological (end)”

Talk about planting disinformation. The guy obviously was trained in the Goebbels school of argument – tell the lie big enough, long enough and loud enough, and it will become the truth.

Btw – did he get your name wrong, or is it really pronounced “Moore”?

[No, he got it wrong]

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Who is "Deep Coal" anyway? It's a new one to me.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Ah it's now becoming crystal clear. The tens of billions that have been devoted by Western governments to climate religion "research" have not been used to pay anyone. Er, can we now have the money back then? Please?

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

what did Rapley actually say? (sorry can't get to audio at the moment)

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:11 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

How long before the government orders the construction of new insane asylums for the treatment of climate religion heretics? On humanitarian grounds, of course.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

I think there's a slight distinction between an MSc thesis (which is when the whole MSc is being assessed solely on the basis of the thesis), which I would expect to be public, and an MSc dissertation (when the MSc is basically assessed by examination but including an extended essay or mini project report), which I would not normally expect to be public.

Data protection requests are clearly the way to go here rather than FOI.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:19 AM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Exams are confidential. FOI won't get you anywhere.

Exams are confidential. Rapley therefore was not allowed to cite this work.

The student in question appears to have made up interviews.

These are two counts of academic misconduct.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Take back their MSc in 'Environmental Policy and Regulation' and give them another in 'Making Stuff Up'

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Man

Are MSc project reports not archived in the LSE? Will it be possible for a freedom fighter to get in there and take a look through them before dastardly agents of Big Green turn up to destroy any of particular interest for scholars researching academic turpitude?

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:29 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Now listened to Rapley. He specifies the interviewees, who have a legal right to know that has been written about them.

He also specifies the questions. Surveys rarely include such questions as "are you an evil person?" Whomever advised this thesis is incompetent.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

>It would be very funny, but not all that surprising, if the student involved had claimed to have interviewed you and the others for her thesis and just fabricated the whole thing!

They computer modeled the interview.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterAC1


The dissertation/thesis distinction wasn't clear to me. That makes it rather interesting doesn't it? They are saying that I wasn't a subject so I can't have the info under DPA, but I can't get it under FOI because it was assessment material.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:42 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

How bizarre.

When I did my Masters degree, which was a combination of coursework and a short research thesis, a condition was that a copy of the thesis had to be lodged in the University library. Since my thesis included interviews with people selected for their expertise and therefore named, it was a good mechanism for keeping students honest in that respect.

I can't see much justification for making people's individual exam papers public, although the papers themselves should certainly be available. But, just as essay citations are required for checking purposes, surely the bandying about of people's names in a research thesis should be able to be checked, not least by those whose names are being used.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

As Richard Tol says, the DPA allows individuals the right to view data held relating to them. Rapley has publicly named you (though he got your name wrong) and JD and Sonja BC as being interviewed, therefore these people have the right to see it.

If it turns out that none of these people were interviewed, then it's fabrication - academic misconduct.

I am surprised they did not try the "you can't have the data because you're not an academic" argument that has worked so well for climate scientists in the past.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:53 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Ah, that false catch 22 dilemma.
Andrew, you have a choice. You're either a cad, bad, sad, or mad.
Or maybe:- the front end of an ass, the back end of an ass, or no end of an ass?
Such perception.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaulT

Would this be Chris "The risks of climate disaster demand straight talking" Rapley, professor of something called "climate science" at the London University?

Chris seems to have done quite well in recent years although presumably this has never involved anything quite as disgusting as being paid from the public purse. I also see that this notable scientist was appointed as the Chair of something called the London Climate Change Partnership in February, although hopefully again this did not involve anything as low as being paid.

I particularly liked Professor Kathy Sykes' (Professor of Sciences and Society at the University of Bristol) eulogy for Chris when he was presented with an honorary degree in 2009. Makes quite enjoyable reading, though possibly not in the way that was intended:

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

An age ago I had to write an honours dissertation and later a Ph.D thesis and both of these are still in the university library. Under my name!

If the author's name is suppressed, surely you could still scan the library catalogue for likely dissertation titles?

But do any of us believe people such as Nigel Lawson, James Delingpole, David Bellamy and your goodself are going to spare time to participate in questionnaires such as these? Myself, I'm happy to help student studies, but not trash like this.

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Is there a route throught the establishment's ethics committee? If you've been publicly quoted as having been part of the study, yet have not knowingly given permission, there must be grounds for an investigation by the ethics body of the school?

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

I'd agree with Jonathan Jones here - a SAR under Data Protection seems appropriate... edit: ah, you tried that....

Another tactic might be the simple threat of libel - which would escalate the matter (far) beyond FoI admins to handbags at three paces.

Defamatory untruths about named individuals have been disseminated and the relevant documents are being withheld by a public body? There might even be a professional code of conduct infringed in there :-)

Having words and actions attributed to you that didn't happen - heck, there has to be a law against that - Rapley is a plonker for speaking as he did - and I suspect the lady in question won't thank him for promoting her work.

Why can't they just find some way to either get the lady to contact you or indicate her identity? Under the circumstances I can see there might be a certain reluctance to do either.

Many MSc courses seem to have turned into leisure education funded by public bodies (quangos even?) or large corporates where mid ranking staff can have an undemanding, comfortable sabbatical (and a pay increment for taking a holiday) - wouldn't it be fun if the lady in question was perhaps a DECC official?

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:11 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Not much wriggle room here. Either -

a) Rapley was making up the names of people interviewed to spice up a boring monologue.
b) The paper itself was fraudulently naming you (and others) as an interviewees.

if a) an apology is in order, if b) it's gross academic misbehaviour.

Either way, worth a good pursuit. Tally ho!


Jul 2, 2013 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

It might be that one could find a list of women awarded the MSc in Env Policy in 2011 or 2012 via the LSE alumnus directory. Any LSE grads on the thread?

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:21 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

In my part of the world a dissertation is a public happening with a public publication and a public defense.
Public like in: not only sycophants to the local sociopaths free to partake.

The champagne left is good at obfuscating and subverting our way of life and what we built up over the ages.

The moment there is a new power they will all turn their coats Hariette Harperson style of course. They are the stuff fascism are made from.

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered Commenterptw

Here’s the transcript, after an illegible question:

CR: It’s interesting, there was a bit of research done at the London School of Economics which clearly did not go through an ethics committee, unfortunately and so it will never be published, but it ws a young I think MSc student, and she went and interviewed Delingpole, the Daily Telegraph, you know, incredibly sceptic journalist, David Bellamy, the you know the ex-BBC biologist, um Nigel Lawson, um, Andrew Moore, who wrote the Hockey Stick Illusion, um, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen who runs this climate sceptic, er, she’s at the University of Hull, she’s editor of the very climate sceptic journal and a couple of others, I don’t know they are as well, and the questions she was asking was: Are they paid? You know, have they got links with Big Coal or whatever? Is big coal funding them? Because that was the message that Naomi Klein deals with, that a lot of you know, these scientists are essentially for hire and they’ve received a lot of funding from rightwing thinktanks which are just covers for money from Big Coal... So: Are these people being paid? um, and if not, um are they evil people who know exactly what they’re doing but they’re doing it for ideological reasons, they know that they’re not telling the truth but they have reasons why they’re doing it? Or do they genuinely believe that they’re virtuous people who er, and that they need to deliver the message to make the world a better place in the future? Or, one last thing, are they suffering from some psychological...?
I think he's confused Naomi Klein with Naomi Orestes

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:25 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

The LSE website (a different department) says that some dissertations are made available as a matter of course.

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:40 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I notice Geoff has done the same but after ploughing through it I am going to paste in my transcript anyway :) I think I have been more literal with the hesitations and ums and ahs. Bad spelling and punctuation is my own :)

There was a bit of research done at the LSE which clearly did not go through an ethics committee, unfortunately, so it will never be published. But it was a young, erm, I think MSc student, and she went and interviewed: Delingpole, The Daily Telegraph, you know, incredibly sceptic journalist; David Bellamy, the you know ex-BBC biologist; erm, Nigel Lawson; erm, er, Andrew Morton [sic] who wrote The Hockey Stick Illusion; erm Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen who runs this climate sceptic erm, er she's at the University of Hull she runs the, she's the editor of a very climate sceptic journal, and.. a couple of others I don't know.

And the questions she was asking was: are they paid, you know, have they got links with big coal or whatever, is big coal funding them. Because that's the message that Naomi Klein delivers that erm, a lot of these, you know, scientists, are essentially for hire and er they've received a lot of funding from right wing think-tanks which are just covers for money from big-coal; So are these people being paid, erm, and if not, are they evil people who know exactly what they are doing, but are doing it for ideological reasons, they know they are not telling the truth but they have reasons why they are doing it. or do they genuinely believe that they are virtuous people, erm who er, and they need to deliver the message and make the world a better place in the future.

Or one last thing, are they suffering from psycho.. some psychological... [ends tantalisingly here!]

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:43 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Anyone at the LSE should be able to access this dissertation which should be held in the library , therefore if you know anyone there they could ckeck it . But the odds are they may have have used pseudonym rather than the real names. But at least you could find out who this student was and from there work out if they ever contacted the people they claimed to have used . If its BS , bust them to the university has being fraudulently which will call their supervisors actions into question too.

The LSE has a track record here , remember Gaddafi’s sons supposed ‘dissertation’ at the LSE , so they may not want to lose more face over this .

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterknr

How odd.

Here in Australia, the final reports of students for a bog ordinary undergrad degree (such as the 2 I did) are published, in the university library, and available for anybody who wishes to get their paws upon them.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterWally

Well Rapley seems keen to firmly list all the "names" in the study and use it as currency to support his mindset and that of of his unquestioning audience at the time.

So we "know" that there is someone going around the LSE claiming to have some inside personal gen on sceptics, and who can answer if the sceptics in question are actually "evil"!?

The audio cuts off when it gets to their psychology (is there any more Bish?) so one wonders what they concluded about their psychology too. I think one has to wonder about how the psychopathologising of democratic and free thought by this institution is supposed to be fine and not worthy of scrutiny.

I guess it is possible Rapley was just talking bollox to impress his simple minded audience, he and his alarmist ilk do come across as a total intellectual lightweights who would buy that kind of "friend of a friend" kind of evidence.

Do these leviathans of the consensus really need to pass around a lot of dubious secret literature around like this to whip themselves up in to a frenzy of supercilious disdain?

Not very impressive if so. ;)

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:04 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Well it seems the question was posed, but he didn't recount an answer, based on the transcripts given above (thanks due to Geoff Chambers and TLITB). So is that a partial defense, though the implication is clear enough in a Private-Eye kind of way?

But the statement: "There was a bit of research done at the LSE which clearly did not go through an ethics committee, unfortunately, so it will never be published" intrigues me.

Is it OK to perform unethical research as long as you don't publish it? Either way, it seems he has published it, if it exists.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Perhaps if the Government paid those bloggers extra it would remove the need for them to go cap in hand to Big Coal.
Nowt wrong with a wee bribe to keep a man or woman honest says I.
£10,000 pa should be enough for starters.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Perhaps RET (Bob) Ward who has some connections with the LSE could help by finding out who it was who supposedly did this work.? ;-)

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

A thesis that leads to award of a degree is not confidential. We were required to give the library a copy! What is the meaning of an 'unpublished dissertation'? If the thesis work went out for peer-review, as it usually does, and it comes back, it is considered 'published.' Maybe the MSc was not given?

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:24 PM | Registered Commentershub



Could you tell me please does the LSE library keep copies of the dissertations by its MSc/PhD students and if so who can view them?
Thanks you for your help.



Dear Terry,

The LSE does keep PhD dissertations, which can be viewed within the library. These can be searched for on the library catalogue via the Summon Tab. They can be requested and fetched either via the online form or by filling out the paper form available at the service counter. Anyone with a library membership can request and view the theses. More information about library membership can be found here:

We also have LSE Research Online, an online repository for PhD theses:

Warm Regards,
Academic Services
LSE Library

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS


You are confusing a thesis from an MSc by research with a dissertation from a taught MSc. Not quite the same thing.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:28 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

@Shub, Jonathan, others
LSE publishes MPhil theses but not MSc dissertations.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol


When I went to University, the library kept a publicly viewable copy of my BSc project report. I never did an MSc or a PhD but the library also kept copies of all MSc thesis and all PhD dissertations.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

You don't have to be mad to post here, but it helps......

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Given that Rapley regrets that the research won't be published I think we can all guess the sort of conclusions it came to. If it's a fraud it sounds exceptionally libelous.

Of course it's possible that Rapley is "sexing up" the results of the research (assuming it exists) which would presumably be worse for him legally.

Was anyone here at the lecture - or know anyone who might have been? Another recording of the whole Q&A session may well exist but even recollections or notes would be interesting.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

Richard Tol,

Indeed. I think their MPhil is always by research while their MSc is basically taught; see

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:46 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Jonthan Jones, Richard Tol

The course documentation for the degree in question shows that it is taught, with a dissertation. I'm still somewhat bemused by the idea that it is non-disclosable.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:49 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

On thinking further about this, it does seem likely that it was never published because the student dropped out or failed. But it sounds as though Rapley saw it - otherwise, how would he know about it?

Perhaps she was failed because, as he says, it never went through the right processes. But more likely, she just made stuff up and they picked her upon it. AFAIK, universities don't require cited interviews with the permission of the interviewee to go through an ethics committee. They'd be sitting day and night. For my thesis, I had to keep tapes of the interviews, transcriptions, and evidence that the subject knew why they were being interviewed. I was also required to use, wherever possible, direct quotes, in context. This was set out in the guidelines for submitting the thesis.

Anyway, it sounds as if Rapley opened his mouth and inserted both feet on this occasion. He is probably the person you should be asking about it, since he chose to air it in the public arena.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

If, as Rapley states, the dissertation will never be published because it did not go through the Ethics Committee, then presumably that student was failed his/her dissertation and MSc. Ethically, the student should have provided transcripts of the interviews to each interviewee to approve or amend etc. That student would have been failed if s/he had not done this. Rapley should know better not to cite this so-called research in public because it would have been failed and is bringing not just himself but also the LSE into disrepute by doing so.

If Rapley was using an unpublished (failed) dissertation as a fictional shield to hide behind when making ad hom remarks then he too is acting unethically and should be reprimanded

I would have thought that a complaint to the LSE and/or to the Ethics Committee ought to trigger some sort of reaction, even if it is only a public slap on the wrist to Rapley.

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

Apparently the ICO has opined that undergraduate and MSc dissertations are not personal data:

[T]he advice is that such dissertations are not personal data, the principal reason being that they are not biographical information about the individual student. Essentially, a dissertation comprises information about the subject matter of the dissertation, not information about the author. [...] [T]he notes of the marker, any comments about the student and grade etc. would be considered to be personal data

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

LSE research ethics policy:

It is linked to from the Taught Masters page

"The School attaches great importance to the maintenance of high ethical standards"

"As a rule research involving human participants, identifiable personal and/or medical data, is subject to ethical scrutiny under the auspices of the LSE Research Ethics Committee"

Jul 2, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

You mean this is a thesis from a 'taught MSc'? So the LSE is claiming the work to be akin to exam answer sheets?

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Registered Commentershub

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