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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The project in question was an unpublished, final dissertation of a student on the MSc Environmental Policy and Regulation, in the department of Geography and the Environment.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)

So, a shoddy little dissertation containing made up data that didn't go through the correct, and rigorous, academic process. Why am I not surprised.

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Other interesting points about this Chris “Believe It Or Not” Rapley: is he being paid? Does he have links with Big Green? Is he essentially a scientist (sic) for hire? Does he receive a lot of funding from deep covers for money from Big Green? Is he evil? OR does he genuinely believe that he is a virtuous person?

(Actually, I find that last point to be the most snide and unpleasant remark he made: “… do they genuinely believe…” with the heavy inference that they are utterly wrong.)

Getting back to the answers, I think it would be safe to say “Yes” to at least five of the six points. If that is the case, what is his objection to those with an opposing point of view being in the same situation?

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

How much more of this shameful guff do you think outfits like the LSE are accepting in exchanging for apparent qualifications?

Answer: It's undoubtedly the tip of an iceberg.

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterchippy

I'm a trifle bemused by this. Who cares what a dissertation says? I think it's reasonable, although arguable both ways, to suggest that there's in fact nothing to release here. The problem is the public statements made by Rapley that are entirely insupportable and constitute obvious defamation, not whether or not we have access to something that even if it existed could not back up the statements.

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave

Just been to the original story (and have to agree with TLITB – the guy is so desperately, desperately dull!) to see one of the 4 original points for progress is that the climate has been unusually stable. Yet here he is decrying sceptics for saying more or less the same thing – climate changes; stability is not guaranteed! Why the fuss!? (Oh, yeah… much money can be made from it – and I do doubt that he will be giving this dirge of a talk gratis.)

Believe it or not, we should ask Mr Rapley to study his own work – by his own account, the climate has been unusually stable. The inference of this is that it is usually a lot less stable – so why are he and his ilk getting into such a panic that the climate is returning to its more usual form?

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Interestingly, I didn't hear the option that "Climate Skeptics" are legit in their views. So climate skeptics are either Lunatics, Liars (evil), living the Lush life, or Legit. How many times does NASA, CRU, RC, etc have to change their findings based on the work of "Climate Skeptics" like McIntyre, Ross, Keenan, etc to convince these Climate Skeptic Skeptics?

Of course some of these "Climate Skeptics" might consider themselves Climate Realists.

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

We should ask Gleick to send an email explaining asking for a copy.

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

"Who cares what a dissertation says? I think it's reasonable, although arguable both ways, to suggest that there's in fact nothing to release here. The problem is the public statements made by Rapley that are entirely insupportable and constitute obvious defamation, not whether or not we have access to something that even if it existed could not back up the statements."
Jul 2, 2013 at 1:24 PM | dave

I appreciate your point but if Rapley's comments are either "sexed up" or he has completely... erm "imagined" the research then that's obviously worse for him, morally, in PR terms and presumably legally.
If he can, at least, point to the research and say that he was accurately reporting what it said (even if, unknown to him, it was fabricated) then he doesn't look quite as bad to the uninitiated and certainly it's easier to spin that he's an innocent party, regardless of the legality.

We might think that a "poor me, I was duped" defence is feeble but he will be defended in most of the media, don't forget - if they are minded to mention the whole affair at all.

Jul 2, 2013 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

"...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..."

"...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, one last thing, are they suffering from some psychological...?"

I find it incredible that Rapley is so bigotted and condescending that he can actually believe stuff like this. He is so certain he is right and sceptics are wrong that he has to rationalise his argument to himself in some way with invented conspiracies, evil-doing and so forth. (Michael Mann does the same, with the "evil-fossil-fuel-funded-denial-machine" meme).

Has Rapley so lost the plot intellectually that he cannot pause for one moment and think that sceptics take that position because they simply hold a different opinion to him?

Thus is the slippery slope into totalitarianism, when one group demonises the intellectual beliefs of others, marking them as evil, perverse, deviant or some such.

Jul 2, 2013 at 2:02 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

Well here is Rapley explaining the risks (not uncertainty) of climate change, and what a wonderful guy he is:

Not sure I follow his sloppy reasoning about sea level rise (~2 mins), and I think his emphasis on risk rather than uncertainty is somewhat patronising (I think he'll find - if he does a survey - that he's not the only person that understands the difference between the two).

Profs just aren't the same as they were in the days of yore . . .

Jul 2, 2013 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Wasn’t Rapley the Science Museum director whose ‘prove it’ campaign against the evil CO2 went Tango Uniform when the poll results came in? Perhaps he should be reminded...

Jul 2, 2013 at 2:34 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Down at the Disneydreamworld, sub-branch LSE, students are concocting and the asinine Rapley obliges.

More lies, it is no surprise.

Student reverie becomes an Msc or, whatever BS awards system they employ at the LSE.

And next it will be installed in the IPCC AR5. Climate change/CAGW 'analysis' doesn't have to real, its the accretion of peer review that counts............................ so we are told.

Jul 2, 2013 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

In the UK a MSc can be obtained through research (thesis) or by course followed by a short project (exams/dissertation).

Historically a thesis contributes i.e. adds to the knowledge base while a dissertation critically looks at the current knowledge. Although this often becomes a little blurred at times.

Jul 2, 2013 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

I wasn't going to - but I will now - some time back an old friend was (quite lavishly I thought) sponsored by a local council for an MSc in - wait for it .... housing.

I was gobsmacked - it seems quite a stretch to call it a "science" - I've no problem with career development training, diplomas and the like - but housing - a science ? .... splutter.

jealous / envious? nah... not really

Jul 2, 2013 at 3:04 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I agree with Jonathan Jones about making a request under the Data Protection Act in addition to the FOI request. You responded to Jonathan as follows:

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

They didn't say that you couldn't have the info under DPA since you didn't make a request under DPA.

Note that DPA has a research exemption:

4)Personal data which are processed only for research purposes are exempt from section 7 if—
(a)they are processed in compliance with the relevant conditions, and
(b)the results of the research or any resulting statistics are not made available in a form which identifies data subjects or any of them.

However, Rapley's mentioning you by name in a public lecture clearly constitutes identification of you as a data subject. DPA would entitle you only to what was said about you.

Jul 2, 2013 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

In the US, at least, there is a tradition that when the University library puts a copy of your thesis/dissertation on the shelves, you slip a $20 bill between pages in the middle. The idea is that when you return for a reunion 25 years later, you find the thesis and see if the bill is still there as a check to see if anyone has ever read your thesis.

If this is a tradition in the UK as well, there might be money to be had!

Jul 2, 2013 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt

I've listened to it now, and the biggest difference between me and Chris Rapley seems to be this: He appears to give no credence to the possibility that people who disagree with him on this matter could actually be right, irrespective of evil motives or mental defections that he imputes.

I, on the other hand, regularly give thought to the possibility that he might not be wrong.

Jul 2, 2013 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Steve McIntyre,

Andrew did in fact make a DPA request

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.

but got nothing because he wasn't mentioned in the relevant project.

Jul 2, 2013 at 4:06 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

"I can also confirm that there are no ‘outputs’ relating to this dissertation."
I presume Rapely just blew that statement out of the water giving you a direct route to appeal.

Jul 2, 2013 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Daddis

“He appears to give no credence to the possibility that people who disagree with him on this matter could actually be right”

Or as Upton Sinclair observed: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Where would Rapley and his ilk be without CAGW?

Jul 2, 2013 at 4:11 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

but got nothing because he wasn't mentioned in the relevant project

So does this mean Chris Rapley made it up?

Jul 2, 2013 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Arthur Dent,

It sounds to me like Rapley was mis-remembering something he had heard in a casual conversation. But short of asking him outright I don't really see any way of finding out.

Jul 2, 2013 at 4:27 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

The LSE is the London School of Ethics, right? They awarded Saif Islam Gaddafi a PhD for a plagiarized thesis (

Dr. Gaddafi's professors and examiners were well aware of their protege's talents: "Mr Christensen recalls: “Saif was not, how to say this politely, the brightest of students. Not only was he totally uninterested in economics, he lacked the intellectual depth to study at that level, and showed no willingness to read let alone do course work." (see

Despite an 'Independent Review' the Gaddafi thesis has not been withdrawn.

If the LSE is ok with a fraudulent academic staff supporting a dictator's son who turns combat aircraft on civilians for money, why would they worry in the least about some lies in an MSc project?!

Jul 2, 2013 at 4:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

Spot on ZT.

Jul 2, 2013 at 5:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuck

In a quiet moment while at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, I was browsing the Agriculture library, and found a paper on 'Weight Loss of Rabbits During Air Transport'.

Now that's what I call relevant research.

Jul 2, 2013 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

@Charlie Flindt - I'm imagining something similar to clay pigeons, but with live bunnies.

Jul 2, 2013 at 5:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuck

@Charlie Flindt

Assuming rabbits in airplanes are moving faster than they ordinarily would, then relativity theory states their mass should increase slightly, even acknowledging the subtle distinction between mass and weight. I wonder if I could get some funding for a refutation paper ...


Jul 2, 2013 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

What I find shocking is that you get a MSc for this rubbish. In my day you got a higher qualification for doing science,basta. It's a real sign of the times that this kind of junk is called science in the first place...including Rapley's joke lecture.

Jul 2, 2013 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterkevin king

Perhaps they took the batteries out...

Jul 2, 2013 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterstun

Andrew did in fact make a DPA request

Should have noticed this in the text.

Once Rapley identified named individuals in public statements based on supposed research carried out at LSE, it certainly seems to me that the named individuals ought to be able to see the personal information under DPA. It's possible that Rapley made an error in respect to Andrew, but it would be very odd if none of the people named by Rapley were subjects in the document. Perhaps Delingpole and Sonja B-C should submit their own DPA requests.

Jul 2, 2013 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

Perhaps academic degrees obtained in this confidential way should only be used confidentially..

Jul 2, 2013 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurious George

If this supposed researce thing didnt go through the ethics committe then why mention it.

Its Inadmissable as Evidence as they say in a Court of Law.

Jul 2, 2013 at 6:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

@Jonathan Jones

"It sounds to me like Rapley was mis-remembering something he had heard in a casual conversation."

You fail the Miss Marple test. Miss Marple never believed anything until she had tested it for herself, and she was quite right.

Here's the thing. How did Rapley know all these details and names? Did he just make them up on the spot to seem important, or did they come from somewhere?

Lipstick on the collar, Jonathan.

Jul 2, 2013 at 6:54 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Thanks to Martin Reed for the link to Bristol University (2nd July, 10.59 AM). I liked this bit, which refers to an occasion when Professor Rapley's "first rocket payload failed", i.e. evolved into toast :

"On that hill, he realised that he had had some concerns about features of the payload. But ‘experts’ had assured him it was OK, and that he need not trouble himself."

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

Big Coal??? Bunkers. Total stove nuts.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:45 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

"barmy sutras" - pornographic indeed :-)

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:13 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

How on earth one can attach any "standing" whatsoever to anything from the "Libyan School of Economics" is absolutely beyond me.

Jul 3, 2013 at 3:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohnOfEnfield

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...?
Come on Chris stop being so self obsessed. Take the rap babe?

My Lord I believe you have been slandered by CRapley and libelled by the anonymous student? Maybe this is the route you should take. If you do of course you will be accused of hounding an honest scientist?

Jul 3, 2013 at 8:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Quick note here - the LSE Research Ethics Policy, c. 5 states:

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.

By definition, the ethics committee cannot claim their deliberations are not of public interest, so perhaps some digging there - either this research is not based on identifiable personal, is and does not comply with ethical requirements, or has ethical approval.

Not sure if any of this is relevant - if anyone tries to use this in a public arena (other than as hearsay) then the entire thesis has to be available, as it is not being treated as a examination script but as the opinon of the author.

Jul 3, 2013 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterWatchman

Steve McIntyre is right (as usual), above.

This is most definitely worth pursuing. Don't let go. Something is very rotten here. Rapley has been ‘had’ and/or is a fool.

My money's on both.

Jul 3, 2013 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

The black fist of guilt
Hides the pack of dormy lies,
The Barmy Sutras.

Jul 3, 2013 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Rapley was playing to the audience, making stuff up, exaggerating, trying to impress. But it's all bluster and as his Grace has done, when you call his bluff, it all fades away. His references to the study were unethical and misconduct. He should, as a matter of his professional pride and integrity, not hide behind the LSE lackies who are paid to put off FOI requests, produce the report himself and make it public. If Delligpole et al were not interviewed then he should publicly retract his comments that they were.

If he doesn't then he should be given the academic equivalent of a pearl-handled revolver....

Jul 3, 2013 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterCeed

I would suggest that you contact Rapley directly again and ask him: (1) At the time he made the statements he did was he so informed and how was he so informed that you were one of the persons interviewed for this so-called research paper? (2) On what evidence presented in the paper did he base the statements he made regarding you?

Depending upon his answers, offer him an opportunity to withdraw and apologize for his libelous and untrue statements regarding you; leaving open the distinct impression that if he does not, he risks a suit for libel...or slander (depending on UK law.In the US, since it was oral, slander).

If he ignores you, ask a friendly attorney to write him a strong letter.


Jul 3, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Howerton

Calling James Delingpole.

Jul 3, 2013 at 9:49 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

UNFCCC Exec Sec'y C. Figueres studied at LSE and was trained to present A. Gore's arguments. Her career in developing carbon-trading schemes further prepared her for the important position supporting IPCC goals.
So many have benefited from PM Thatcher's initial interest in climate; a shame they ignore later developments.

Jul 4, 2013 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn R T

I can't see much justification for making people's individual exam papers public,

Even though the public financed the whole process ?

Jul 6, 2013 at 7:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterKatisha

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