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Discussion > Emails relating to Rob Wilson's post "Large-scale temperature trends" 5/6/12

How about replacing the term "lurker" with "observer"?

Jul 28, 2012 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Rob Wilson wrote:

"I do agree, however, that for every published study I am involved with, the data should be made available so long as that does not affect continuing research. For example, if I had a PhD student who publishes some of their data in Year 1, there should be no pressure to release raw data until after the PhD is completed so that he/she has the opportunity to publish all that is relevant from their data collection and research."

So all an unscrupulous researcher needs to do is assign a small portion of a large project to a first-year graduate student and keep all of the data confidential for the next half-decade. Those who work in national laboratories can find an academic collaborator. After three or four years, bring a new graduate student onto the project and continue to withhold the data. No thank you.

A better alternative: When scientists write grant proposals involving the collection of significant amounts of data, they put in writing when and how all interested scientists and citizens will be able to access the data the grant will be paying for. Before receiving the funds, the principal investigator makes an entry at the appropriate database (the tree ring data, for example) showing what data is anticipated to be delivered, by what date, and when it will be released to the public - whether or not publications are completed. Sounds totally absurd, doesn't it? Surprise, this is what is required for privately- and publicly-funded human clinical trials with new drugs - somehow much of the negative data never seems to get published. During the human-genome project, the large sequencing centers were required to deposit raw sequence data as fast as it was generated. Annual progress reports on data archiving need to be submitted to the grant agency to continue funding and will be included as background material when new grant applications are evaluated. Exceptions for patents and copyright should be permitted, but this doesn't seem likely in climate science.

Jul 28, 2012 at 8:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

"...if I had a PhD student who publishes some of their data in Year 1..."

This smells like a red herring.

Dunno about climate science, but, in any other field, it would be something of the greatest rarity for a research student to be publishing papers in their first year. The majority, if they publish anything at all, do it once their PhD thesis has been submitted.

Jul 29, 2012 at 6:53 AM | Unregistered Commentersplitpin

I have observed this thread but not wished to comment in case I enraged our Bishop, however I have to speak. I have observed discussions about the role of our guests and their assurance that they only advise on science and do not advise on policy, I believe them.
However their morally bankrupt leader Rajendra Pachauri speaks in their name and attempts to bully politicians into policy changes. This is despite also claiming that the IPCC only advises on science not policy.
Why do scientists stand quietly while this happens because they are blackened as much as Pachauri.

Jul 29, 2012 at 9:07 PM | Registered CommenterDung

On 5 June 2012, Dr Rob Wilson of St Andrews University (Senior Lecturer in Geography & Sustainable Development, research speciality "late holocene palaeoclimatology using tree-rings"), posted a guest posting on "Large-scale temperature trends". In the subsequent discussion, he stated

(...) Lastly, some of you are a prickly bunch and I will try and keep my responses measured. However, some of the personal e-mails sent to me today would be rather embarrassing to some of you if I posted them on BH. So let's please keep this civil. I can accept that some/many of you are rather sceptical, but insults will not help the discourse.
Jun 5, 2012 at 9:17 PM Rob Wilson

Some posters suggested that he let us see these emails, to disperse any suspicion about their existence. After no sign of their being made public by Rob Wilson, I submitted an FOI request to St Andrews University for them.

My concern was that, if BH posters are sending insulting emails to guest posters, this should be given the light of day. Likewise, if allegations of insulting emails are being made, these should be substantiated.

My FOI request was refused. I then asked St Andrews University to review their decision.

On 7 August, the University announced the result of its review. The detail of its decisions had changed a bit, but it confirmed its overall decision not to release the emails. It gave as its reasons:

[1] It did not hold the emails, for FOISA purposes. In outline, the university said that Rob Wilson's posting on BH was unrelated to his job, so emails received in response are of no interest to the University and therefore are not "held" by them. Moderate private use of University email systems is permitted.

[2] Even if it did hold them, section 30(b)(ii) of the FOISA permitted it to withhold information where "It would or would be likely to inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation". The review concluded "... that there is a real threat that academic exploration which depends upon the exchange of viewpoints and ideas would be inhibited to the detriment of the academic process" if the content of the embarrassing/insulting were released, even with identifying information redacted.

On [1], I had said, in my request for a review, that Rob Wilson was clearly posting on BH in his role as Senior Lecturer. [The topic is directly related to his research; he asked colleagues from other establishment to review his guest posting in draft; the posting had the nature of an academic paper; similar activities are listed as "outreach" in his St Andrews web page listing his work accomplishments.] So I don't accept the review's confirmation of the original decision not to release the emails because they are not held (for FOISA purposes).

There seems to me to be a contradiction between [1] and [2]. If the emails actually were nothing to do with Rob Wilson's university work, then it would be hard to see how their disclosure could "inhibit exchange of ideas to the detriment of the academic process".

I found it interesting to read on the FOISA commissioner's website

Since FOISA came into force the Commissioner has frequently ordered the disclosure of information which had been withheld under section 30(b)(i) or (ii). To date, no evidence has been presented to the Commissioner that the disclosure of that information has had a significantly inhibiting effect on the free and frank provision of advice or exchange of views.

and, elswhere on the Comissioner's website:

17.Where an authority seeks to exempt information under section 30(b)(ii), it must be able to demonstrate that there is a real risk or likelihood that harm will follow disclosure of the information. The authority will be expected to be specific about the harm that would (or would be likely to) be caused by disclosure and give reasons for expecting these harmful consequences to occur in the near or foreseeable future. If there is only a remote possibility that the conduct of public affairs will be harmed by officials or other parties being inhibited from providing advice or views, then the exemption will not apply.

The University's review is vague rather than "specific" on this.

Aug 7, 2012 at 10:04 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Hi Martin
On reading Rob Wilson's response, in June, I wrote:

"...I will try and keep my responses measured. However, some of the personal e-mails sent to me today would be rather embarrassing to some of you if I posted them on BH. So let’s please keep this civil."

Please, Dr Wilson. Let us keep the moral upbraiding strictly directed at those who wrote those messages, shall we? Previous attempts, by climate scientists no less, to use ugly emails to preach the virtues of civility to sceptics at large, were damp squibs, to say the least.

Wilson's moral science lesson rang false then, and after your exchanges with the university, they ring false.

If a revelation that Wilson has been less than truthful in his representation would be harmful to the conduct of his affairs under the public eye, then I guess the university has been right to refuse the request. :) :)

Aug 8, 2012 at 2:50 AM | Registered Commentershub

Well, our old pal Best Evidence returns. The best evidence of the offensive mails would be to release them. In the absence of that the charge does not stand. Hopefully Rob Wilson will not mention it again and anyone making such claims in future will not be able to use this episode as an indicator of a pattern in sceptic behaviour. Which is in some ways a shame as we the sceptics need to identify and disclaim the offenders, if any.

Aug 8, 2012 at 8:08 AM | Registered Commenterrhoda

... we the sceptics need to identify and disclaim the offenders, if any.
Aug 8, 2012 at 8:08 AM rhoda


The University's position that Rob Wilson's guest posting had nothing to do with his academic role defies logic so I'm going to complain to the Scottish Information Commissioner. Apparently it will take six months or more for them to consider my complaint.

Aug 8, 2012 at 8:25 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

I'm not sure if these things are coordinated or if they just copy one another's tactics, but the warmist community has been using the "I got rude emails / letters / death threats" thing quite a lot.

They always seem reluctant to produce the substance of them, however, and whenever they are revealed turn out to be rather tame.

Aug 8, 2012 at 9:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterNW

NW - would you care to compile a list of instances? It would be a useful resource.

Aug 8, 2012 at 10:21 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Re: Aug 8, 2012 at 8:25 AM | Martin A

"The University's position that Rob Wilson's guest posting had nothing to do with his academic role defies logic so I'm going to complain to the Scottish Information Commissioner. Apparently it will take six months or more for them to consider my complaint."

Totally agree with this Martin, and well done for following up - it will be very interesting to see the results, Pl
Please keep us updated with progress on what is apparently a very tortuous process - I really can't see how they can justify taking so long!!

Aug 8, 2012 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMarion

Aug 8, 2012 at 10:54 AM Marion


I think this may be the first time St Andrews University has conducted an FOI review, which might partly explain their maladroit handling of the appeal.


The university has, in each case, responded on the last day permitted by law (in response to my initial request and then to my appeal). Their covering letter stated that the review was held on 19 July 2012 but "The conclusions of the review panel are only now being released to you due to the availability of some of the panel members immediately following the review panel meeting, whose input was required in order to agree and finalise the response itself".

My understanding is that the delay with the Information Commissioner is due to their workload.

Yes, it will be interesting to see the final result. Even to date the squirming has been interesting. As someone said, in a different context, the cover-up is worse than the crime.

I'll post an update when there is something to report - early in 2013, maybe.

Aug 8, 2012 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Truly great job Martin!

Aug 8, 2012 at 2:29 PM | Registered CommenterDung

NW - would you care to compile a list of instances?

I would have to have taken notes in my fairly random wanderings around the web. I may do in the future, but I suspect they realise that the tactic has passed its sell by date as skeptics have started inconveniently requesting to see the material in question.

The best known one was of course the notorious Australian "death threats" which turned out to be a complete misinterpretation of an overhead conversation.

Aug 9, 2012 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

I believe there is an instance of the US Congress being offered evidence in the matter of Climategate where the Santer's rat episode, an event that took place much much earlier was recounted in the record with wording just unclear to convey the impression that it might have to do with Climategate.

Aug 9, 2012 at 9:23 PM | Registered Commentershub

(See my posting at Aug 7, 2012 at 10:04 PM on this thread for a summary of the background.)

St Andrews University rejected my request for the "insulting/embarrassing" emails that Dr Rob Wilson had received from Bishop Hill posters, for reasons I considered unsatisfactory. I then asked St Andrews University to review their decision. Their review rejected my request, for reasons that I also considered unsatisfactory.

On 17 August, I appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner to investigate my case and to issue a decision. Today, I received a response which included the following:

Subject: Confirmation of valid application

Application for Decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner
Public Authority: University of St Andrews

I refer to my email of 21 August 2012 acknowledging receipt of your application for a decision from the Commissioner relating to emails sent to an academic. I am satisfied that it is valid in terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA)/Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs). The Commissioner will therefore investigate your complaint and issue a decision on your case.

I will contact University of St Andrews to let it know that your application to the Commissioner will now be investigated, and to ask it to forward all information relating to your request. Once I have this information, the case will be allocated to an investigating officer, who will then contact you.

I understand that it will be at least four months from now before the Scottish Information Commissioner will reach a decision. I'll post an update when anything significant happens.

Sep 10, 2012 at 9:21 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

If I had received insulting/embarrassing emails I'd have no compunction in publishing them, complete with the names and email addresses of the dross that sent me them. So common on Rob, we're as outraged as you that you've been sent these emails, name and shame the b@&?!%ds!

As a secondary point these universities must be awash with money if they can pay people to spend time avoiding what, in terms of the university and D Wilson, must be perfectly innocuous emails, which will reflect badly on those who posted them and do no harm whatsoever to the university, or Dr. Wilson. Or am I missing something I wonder?

Sep 11, 2012 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo