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« The bigotry of the consensus | Main | Quote of the day, hypocrisy edition »

First Amendment versus the University of Queensland

The University of Queensland has come over all litigious with Brandon Schollenberger, threatening him with a legal suit if he continues to examine John Cook's 97% consensus paper:

I wanted to talk about the Cook et al data I recently came into possession of. I wanted to talk about the reaction by Cook et al to me having this data. I can’t though. The University of Queensland has threatened to sue me if I do. I understand that may be difficult to believe. I’d like to provide you proof of what I say. I’m afraid I can’t do that either though. If I do, the University of Queensland will sue me.

I'm almost speechless with the sheer ineptitude of the university authorities here. Have they not heard of the First Amendment? They are going to make themselves a laughing stock and attract the attention of people all round the world to the problems in Cook's work.

What planet are they on?

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Reader Comments (48)

Desperate times call for desperate measures - LOL

May 15, 2014 at 8:54 PM | Registered Commentertomo

University of Queensland is a Public university.
10 December 1909 (Signing of the University Act)
16 April 1910 (Gazettal of the first Senate, and officially celebrated foundation date)
14 March 1911 (Commencement of classes)

So one would think the letter in question might be worth scrutiny by the Parliament of Australia.

Mr John Story

Deputy Chancellor
Dr Jane Wilson

President and Vice-Chancellor
Professor Peter Høj

22-member Senate comprising 3 official members, 8 members appointed by the Governor-In-Council, 8 members elected by staff, students and graduates of the University, and 3 additional members appointed by Senate

May 15, 2014 at 8:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Rasey

U of Q certainly raises bullying to a new level. How else could you construe what Brandon says that they have done?

May 15, 2014 at 9:00 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

Isn't the First Amendment something to do with the American constitution? And isn't the University of Queensland in Australia?

May 15, 2014 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterA

Queenslanders are called "banana benders". It is said that in that State bananas grow straight.

The implication is that the natives' intelligence and judgment is limited to bending bananas for sale.

Mr Cook and the university administration have clearly taken time off from the activity that they are most comfortable with.

May 15, 2014 at 9:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

And Brandon is in America.

Funny though how the catastrophiliacs keep banging on about threats they get about law suits from skeptics yet I can recall one incidence of any threats being made let alone carried out.

The cultists of Mann Made Global Warming (tm) on the other hand ARE a completely different story. We have Mann himself involved in two law suits plus countless other threats to sue against anyone who blasphemes his religious edicts. We have threats made that forces people off skeptical boards and then we have this.


May 15, 2014 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Easy to say , publish and be damed. However in this case it does not have to the author as I am sure that others would welcome Queensland's attention with the words 'come on if you think your hard enough'

May 15, 2014 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

"They are going to make themselves a laughing stock"

No they are already a laughing stock!

May 15, 2014 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

It's almost as if they don't want anyone scrutinising the '97%' claim too closely. Hmm - *rubs chin* - one wonders why...?

May 15, 2014 at 9:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

Australian universities don't seem very strong on psychology. Did they stop to think how a libertarian blogger might respond to such an order?

May 15, 2014 at 9:58 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I'm sorry, but this is a perfect excuse to stick two fingers up and (at very least) publish their letter. If they sue him they double down on the stupidity and it goes mainstream and yet another fraction of the public wake up and go, "Huh? They're doing what?" And they begin to realise what has been portrayed as noble and trustworthy is, in fact, disreputable and crooked.


May 15, 2014 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

"What planet are they on?"


May 15, 2014 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterFred

Threaten to sue you for what exactly?

May 15, 2014 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

Ineptitude doesn't even begin to describe it.

As I said at WUWT, they invoked the "Striesand effect" and then poured gasoline on it.

May 15, 2014 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Watts

The ineptocratic wagon-train rolls on without regard to the increasingly hostile gaze of those who pay their salaries.
They actually believe that they are impregnable.
In the US they may still, fleetingly, be but not in the land down under!
Doctor Bruce and Professor Sheila, your ineptitude with PR is only surpassed by your inability to sniff the wind.

May 15, 2014 at 11:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

"They are going to make themselves a laughing stock and attract the attention of people all round the world to the problems in Cook's work."

We can but hope.

May 15, 2014 at 11:33 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

All of this ensures that the 'Streisand Effect' has been kicked into high gear!
This is spreading over the net like mad!!
The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again

May 15, 2014 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Brown

It would be interesting to hear from an attorney or two on what grounds the university could sue on and in which jurisdiction. Would Brandon care if it is in an Australian court? As for grounds, the only thing that comes to mind is if he somehow came into possession of the data illegally. Inthat case I'd think he should welcome a suit in a US court. Think of the can of worms that would be opened if the court chose to take this, while no charges were brought against Peter Gleick.

May 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

This may just be the CAGW's Marquess of Queensberry moment. (OK, the Marquess may have had a legitimate reason to feel miffed, since Oscar Wilde had really buggered his son, who had not yet attained the age of consent, but we're all open-minded here, I hope). The point is, none of us want to see Brandon do four years hard labour. What are we prepared to offer in the way of support?

The question is: how much would this cost Brandon, in America or Australia? I've invited him to publish on my French blog, where the cost would be peanuts. But you can imagine that he'd like to have some indication of the support he can rely upon on his home ground.
There are many science and engineering PhDs here, but how many lawyers?

May 16, 2014 at 12:06 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Uni of Queensland is in Australia. No first amendment - thats the USA.

There is NO right to free speech in Australia. Never has been.

May 16, 2014 at 12:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterWally

Brandon Schollenberger is in the USA

May 16, 2014 at 12:29 AM | Unregistered Commentersplitpin

For what it's worth:

Most posts here, and indeed Schollenberger, are naively uninformed on Aus law

In Aus, the successful defence of a charge of libel or slander requires two (2) separate elements:

1) that the said publication be true (publishing in an overseas website is construed as belonging to this category)

2) that said publication not only be true, but must be construed as being in the public interest

The second test, the public interest test, is not decided by litigants or defendants or juries - but by a judge. Senior lawyers (we call them QC's or SC's) are extremely experienced at picking the timetable of judges whom they consider on form as "helpful" to their case. Also involved here are varying State jurisdictions which actually contradict each other on important points (experienced litigants cherry-pick which State jurisdiction to launch proceedings from)

The "First Amendment" idea simply does not exist in Aus law. GASP and HORROR won't change a thing

Schollenberger may publish if he wishes but I'd then give odds of 50:1 he'll be beat up

May 16, 2014 at 12:31 AM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

"Have they not heard of the First Amendment?"
They are arguing a copyright violation. That's a legally valid claim in US; in fact the USA is currently enthusiastic about enforcing copyright overseas. It's nothing to do with libel or slander.

I don't know if it is a strong claim. But that is what they are talking about.

May 16, 2014 at 1:06 AM | Unregistered Commenternick stokes

[snip-response to troll]. The First Amendment would be relevant there if the U of Q tried to bring suit in the US. The U of Q may prefer to bring suit in Australia - but there is the little problem of Brandon having no assets or presence in Australia, so they have nothing to sieze (if their suit is even successful - I have no idea what basis they think they would have for an action).

Generally, courts in one jurisdiction will near applications to have foreign judgements enforced, but they usually have to be convinced that a domestic court could have come to the judgement. In particular, US courts are pretty sensitive to a judgement that would offend the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, and will refuse to enforce them in the US. Unless Brandon need to protect his ablity to travel to, or hold assets in, Australia he can force the U of Q to play under US rules.



May 16, 2014 at 1:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterdcardno

Brute, the only clear grounds for a suit I saw mentioned in the letter are copyright infringement and defamation. The former is completely ridiculous, and the latter is just funny. Prior to them sending me their letter, I don't believe I had said anything about the University of Queensland.

Supposedly they'd also hold me liable if I released data and that exposed them to civil actions. I have no idea what basis they would offer for that. They didn't bother to explain, and I'm pretty sure it's purely them bluffing.

By the way, I'm not sure how much I'll keep up with comments here. I can guarantee I'll see any comments posted at my site, but I have no idea how much I'll be able to keep up with anywhere else.

May 16, 2014 at 1:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrandon Shollenberger

Nope, just another fool, that's all.

May 16, 2014 at 4:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark T

[snip -too far O/T]

May 16, 2014 at 4:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterOliver K. Manuel

Australia is not part of America and has its own constitution. Unfortunately, speech is not protected in Australia in the same way as it is (hopefully) in the USA.

Canada has a different constitution from both the US and Australia and fortunately has a Charter of Rights enshrined in the Constitution Act, something that Australia lacks. Ditto New Zealand and the UK.

I believe that Canada adopted its Charter of Rights because the people are more aware of the benefits America enjoys from the Bill of Rights.

May 16, 2014 at 5:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterFred Colbourne

[Continuation of previous O/T comment]

May 16, 2014 at 6:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterOliver K. Manuel

[snip- reference to troll comment]
NOTE Point 1) from my post: "1) that the said publication be true (publishing in an overseas website is construed as belonging to this category)"

There is already case law here in Aus that publishing on a public website, *irrespective* of where the website is located, is construed as being published in Aus. Repeat, there is already case law to that effect

Consequently, if Schollenberger publishes whatever it is that QU does not want him to publish, even if the website he uses is in the US, QU can and likely would sue him in an Aus Court and win

How then to collect damages from Schollenberger, I hear you say ? Why would that matter ? The point is to scare everyone else away from publishing, not necessarily to bankrupt Schollenberger

None of this is to suggest that I'm on QU's side - I loathe our libel/slander laws as they are there specifically to protect the high-publicity crowd. But I am pointing out the difference between the US "First Amendment" mindset and the rest of the world

May 16, 2014 at 6:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

@Ian -

QU may indeed sue Schollenberger, and quite possibly win. That does not mean that he should not publish the data. Even if there were direct financial pain, exposing such behavior may be worth the cost. This can only be determined by Schollenberger himself. Thankfully in this instance, Schollenberger does not really have any major to fear himself, as he is a US citizen posting on a US blog. The only thing he may have to give up is any future holiday trips to Australia.

May 16, 2014 at 7:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterDwerth

Schollenberger needs to email one First Amendment expert of the famously libertarian stripe, Prof. Eugene Volokh.

For a long time, he and a stable of sympathetically-minded law profs have blogged at the independent and eponymously named "volokhconspiracy" web address - but only months ago, it has been given a more visible and influential base at the Washington Post (DCs newspaper).

My suggestion is to contact the UCLA expert prof. of law with a brief rundown of the facts via email at the Law School there (google search the info).

I expect that with all the current and recent year's hubbub regarding global warming, plus the unusual international and institutional (ie, an Aussie University wants to do what???), will not only interest him (he's of Ukrainian immigrant extractions), but lead him to want to do a blog post on the suppression of dissent in climate science.

I do know two or three other libertarian law profs who either follow global warming science actively (or less), but I doubt that anyone but Eugene Volokh will be either interested or motivated or able to be helpful, given the international dimension involved here.

May 16, 2014 at 7:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterOrson

The planet of "up your their own ar*es" ?

If this document/research was funded through government funds then it should be viewable by the public. Unless it relates to national security.Where it is IPR then anybody using it for financial gain in any way can be prosecuted - obviously.

Any material that is derived and used to influence matters relating to perceived catastrophic events must be reviewed/challenged. And that is regardless of the IPR conditions.

The trouble is of course with this game is that if you used its findings within the IPCC (whatever) and you disagreed, you'd be ostracized and ultimately loose your job no doubt. A fine profession indeed ?

May 16, 2014 at 8:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

As a matter of courtesy, note how Brandon spells his name.

May 16, 2014 at 8:28 AM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle


Yet someone else who can't read carefully

NOTE from my 2nd post: "How then to collect damages from Schollenberger, I hear you say ? Why would that matter ? The point is to scare everyone else away from publishing, not necessarily to bankrupt Schollenberger"

That's twice now that I've had to repeat points from my posts. I'm sorry, but I'm tired of playing with people who can't read carefully

May 16, 2014 at 8:40 AM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

Nick Stokes wrote:

They are arguing a copyright violation. That's a legally valid claim in US; in fact the USA is currently enthusiastic about enforcing copyright overseas. It's nothing to do with libel or slander.

I don't know if it is a strong claim. But that is what they are talking about.

Here we go yet again. Copyright? You *what*?

Copyright is mechanism that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time, with the intention of enabling the creator of intellectual wealth (e.g. the photographer of a photograph or the author of a book) to receive compensation for their work and be able to financially support themselves.

Anybody got any guesses what the value of the intellectual property of a threatening letter from a fool at a third-rate university is worth?

May 16, 2014 at 8:51 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Re: Nick

Since you are talking US copyright here is Title 17 Section 107 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Additionally, there is also an issue with Anti-Trust Law. If U of Q discriminates in their licensing terms with other parties then they could be breaking anti-trust laws. This means the U of Q cannot freely license the data to one set of people and then refuse to license it to others.

May 16, 2014 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Easy to say , publish and be damed.

I agree - Dame Brandon has a nice ring to it.

May 16, 2014 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Isn't the data a collation of information collected from others on the internet? If so, it is itself at the very best a derivative work of multiple anonymous authors. There's no basis on which to sue. Brandon made a request to a server for the data and the server gave the data to him. He didn't obtain the data through false pretences.

May 16, 2014 at 10:13 AM | Registered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Unlike Peter Gleick.


May 16, 2014 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

If as suggested you wish to contact Andrew Bolt, you can use
Only Andrew can tell you if he wants to be involved.
He is currently strong on Freedom of Speech, esp where race is concerned.
He has long been a strong and widely read sceptic of the quality of Establishment offerings on global warming.
I' m happy to help you make connections in Australia.
My B.Sc. was from U of Q, but I have not been active with them on any matter.
I find their correspondence to you to be deplorable based on what you have written.
But I cannot think of a clever work around, though I've tried.

May 16, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

Australians Universities - hallowed institutions fearlessly guarding the right to free speech and vigorously supporting scientific research in the pursuit of knowledge and the betterment of society - hehe

May 16, 2014 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterGerry

Since Cook's paper was published under open use with attribution rules, this talk of coypright is just another climate kook bit of flim-flam.
And hacking involves breaking into a website and there is no evidence that happened at Cook's clownish site.

May 16, 2014 at 5:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

steveta_uk, I'd think it would be Dame Brenda.

Geoff Sherrington, thanks. I've been told Andrew Bolt is aware of this, though I may send him an e-mail later today. Unfortunately, I have to take care of a number of things in real life today, so my communication is going to be slow.

May 16, 2014 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrandon Shollenberger

'fair use' is a US copyright concept. I'm not sure if it's fair dinkum in Australia. But if copyright in a threatening letter is alleged, it should not be too difficult to precis it without infringing copyright. Copyright protects form, not substance.

May 16, 2014 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterosseo

It's amazing how the CAGW alarmist crowd, who claim to have both the science and the scientists overwhelmingly on their side, are so thin-skinned and litigious - Michael Mann being the obvious example.

If people like Anthony Watts and Judy Curry were similarly inclined, the US legal profession would be kept in work for decades, while Steve McIntyre would by now be rolling in extra dosh.

Obviously it is up to Brandon to decide how to respond, if at all, but on the face of it they have no chance of ever enforcing a judgement, in the unlikely event that they got one. The US is notoriously unwilling to allow foreign judgements to be enforced against its citizens on their own soil in civil matters.

The University of Queensland is a haven for alarmist warmists, starting with the Vice Chancellor, who is effectively the CEO. Peter Hoj has a long history of supporting the CAGW cause. But I would be surprised if even he would follow through on this threat, which is ridiculous in legal terms and makes the notion of academic freedom and robust research at the University look farcical.

May 17, 2014 at 2:02 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Brandon if you are still visiting here,
Email for Andrew shoud not have a capital. Correct is
My email is sherro1 at optusnet dot com dot au
You are most welcome. I do articles for Jo Nova and have had essays on CA, WUWT and others.
Good luck. Geoff

May 17, 2014 at 7:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

Just to add to the fun. A Hitler Downfall spoof.

May 18, 2014 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

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