ClimateGate and Britain’s FOI

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The release of emails and other documents from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) has proven to be, at the very least, an embarrassment to the scientists involved. Now, there may be legal issues involved.

Britain’s Freedom of Information Act (FOI) is referenced several times in the stolen emails, notably in a postscript from CRU director Phil Jones:

PS I’m getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act!

In the emails several of the scientists complain about the nature of the FOI requests. The problem, as they saw it, was that the requests consume valuable time. They were irritated that after granting some requests, they had follow-up questions regarding the data and, according to the emails, requests for help in running simulations. Some of the “obfuscation” email quotes in blogs are from these larger discussions, and the context is not provided. It should be, in the interest of fairness. (It is my opinion that the context is important to show the irritation the scientists experience, but doesn’t negate the fact that the scientists should have complied with all legal requests.)

Now, the CRU has issued a statement that all data will be made public, reports the UK’s Telegraph:

In a statement welcomed by climate change sceptics, the university said it would make all the data accessible as soon as possible, once its Climatic Research Unit (CRU) had negotiated its release from a range of non-publication agreements.

The publication will be carried out in collaboration with the Met Office Hadley Centre. The full data, when disclosed, is certain to be scrutinised by both sides in the fierce debate.

The Telegraph story concerns one skeptic, an engineer by training, who had requested data through the FOI. His explanation of what he considered obfuscation and thwarting of the request is chronicled in this ClimateAudit post. The hacked emails contain disparaging comments regarding his request, and authorities in Britain are investigating the issue for possible criminal violations.

The University of East Anglia CRU will release the data. But, there is a problem: some of the data is not available.

SCIENTISTS at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.

It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.

The data was destroyed prior to the term of the current director of the CRU, professor Phil Jones, and he is not implicated in any of the media reports I have seen. Further, the loss of data is not implied to be a criminal act, but simply a mistake.

The TimesOnline article states that it is now impossible to verify the calculations done by the CRU, a disturbing revelation if it proves to be true.

Cross posted to FrankHagan.com