Leake and the London Times: Climate Scientists thwarted FOIA

Graham Smith of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has revealed to Jonathan Leake of the London Sunday Times that his office has uncovered wrongdoing on the part of the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climate Research Unit (CRU). In a letter to Leake, Smith writes:

The emails which are now public reveal that Mr Holland’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation. Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information..

Climate Email

Currently the law prevents the authorities from taking any action against CRU, and the ICO office will recommend changes to the law to close the loophole.

On Nov 19th after I alerted the internet to the Climategate files, I contacted Andrew Revkin of the New York Times. The message: follow the FOIA. He didn’t; Leake did. Score one for the London Times. As the story unfolded Tom Fuller and I grumbled about with the coverage of the FOIA story. A book fell out of that. Climategate:the Crutape letters, now available on Kindle and as a Lulu Ebook.

The story behind Holland’s FOIA request (here and here) requires close reading of blogs, scientific papers, leaked mails, FOIA requests, IPCC drafts, and expert reviewer comments. There is no simple take away. Except this: the Climate scientists corrupted the IPCC process, the science journal process, the statistical process, and the FOIA process to silence one man– Stephan McIntyre -and to waterboard the climate data till it delivered the message they wanted delivered, an icon more compelling than the “Hockey Stick.”

No one who can put two brain cells together can argue that these processes and the people who abused them are untainted. Instead, they will argue that nothing changes in the science. But without a trusted process there is no science. Surely, the specter of global warming does not earn a last place in the concerns of Americans. But it’s been driven there by the public’s lack of trust in the process. In their rush to judgment, the climate scientists, convinced of the nobility of their cause, have engaged noble cause corruption. Lucky for them a loophole in the law may save them from prosecution, but should not save them from disbarment.

The case is clear. In an effort to shoe horn a paper into the IPCC report, the scientists working together with Stephen Schneider of Climate Change journal, destroyed the credibility of chapter 6 of the 4th Assessment of the IPCC. And they knew as they hijacked the process that Stephen McIntyre was watching. Yet they persisted and were caught. One scientist, Phil Jones, even suggested changing the dates on papers to hide the misdeed. But there was no hiding of the misdeed as they left a paper trail of violations.

The critical violation revolves around the submission of comments outside the IPCC process. All comments must pass through official channels. Overpeck, the task master for chapter 6 makes this clear in the mails. But the “Jesus Paper”, the paper that will save the Hockey stick is different. In defiance of process the lead author, Keith Briffa, contacts and is contacted by the authors of the “Jesus Paper,” Casper Ammann and Eugene Wahl. That correspondence, evident to McIntyre, a reviewer of chapter 6, was one target of Holland’s FOIA.

The details of Holland’s requests are covered at Climate Audit. On May 6th 2008 CRU acknowledged his request. On the 3rd of June they denied his request. On the 4th he appealed and they rejected his appeal on June 20th.

At 6:30 on May 27th 2008 , the scientists in CRU were directed by FOIA officer Palmer to contact Ammann and find out if he considered his mails confidential. That was the predetermined excuse Palmer had suggested for rejecting Holland’s request. Palmer, fearing an appeal wanted to do things “by the book.” Which in this case meant suggesting to Ammann that his mails were confidential. Ammann appears to think otherwise. His response, however, was not taken into account and the refusal was issued.

Between the time when Palmer suggested that confidentially would be the excuse (May 27th) and the denial (June 3rd), Phil Jones would close the door on any potential appeal. He would request that everyone involved delete their mails.

The deletion of the mails might have worked. But buried in a mail from Wahl to Briffa, we have Briffa’s original mail, detailing the circumvention of the IPCC process. Worried that he cannot be objective in evaluating McIntyre, Briffa shipped a confidential file to Wahl in direct violation of the policy that Overpeck had explained to Roberts, in essence asking Wahl to evaluate his “Jesus Paper.”

In the end, of course, the full extent of the misdeeds will be detailed by the ICO, this is my take on the matter given the evidence in the climategate files. And while they have escaped prosecution, it’s clear that CRU and CRU employees cannot be trusted with the public interest. Beyond that we can wonder if action will be taken against them under the laws of misconduct in a public office, or under conspiracy laws in the UK. The legal status of destroying email in the US bears investigation.