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Paul Nurse On Freedom Of Information: Climate Scientists Bemoan Truth

by | 27th, May 2011

YOU want freedom of information? You can’t handle freedom of information:

Freedom of information laws are being misused to harass scientists and should be re-examined by the government, according to the president of the Royal Society.

Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse told the Guardian that some climate scientists were being targeted by organised campaigns of requests for data and other research materials, aimed at intimidating them and slowing down research. He said the behaviour was turning freedom of information laws into a way to intimidate some scientists.

Bishop Hill takes a look at the facts:

UEA [Universtity of East Englia] answered all the 50-odd requests by pointing requesters to the same web page. The whole process could have taken them no longer than an hour.

Nurse adds:

I have been told of some researchers who are getting lots of requests for, among other things, all drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive versions. If it is true, it will consume a huge amount of time. And it’s intimidating.

Hill cites rules:

12 Exemption where cost of compliance exceeds appropriate limit.

(1) Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the appropriate limit.

And:

14 Vexatious or repeated requests.

(1) Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious.

So. What is th truth? Steve McIntryre reveals:

I haven’t heard of any incidents in which anyone requested “drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive version”, let alone “lots of requests” of this nature to multiple scientists.

Lest you misunsderstand the nature of climate science reporting, here’s more from the Guardian piece with Nurse:

Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics said the intention of many of those making freedom of information requests was to trawl through scientists’ work with the intention of trying to find problems and errors. “It’s also quite true that these people do not care about the fact that it is causing a serious inconvenience,” he said. “It is being used in an aggressive and organised way. When freedom of information legislation was first contemplated, it was not being considered that universities would be landed with this additional burden.”

Finding errors in science is bad? Judith Curry provides the money quote:

“Scientists are going to have to get used to the idea that transparency means being transparent to your critics as well as your allies. You cannot pick and choose to whom you are transparent.”

Such are the facts…




Posted: 27th, May 2011 | In: Reviews Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink