Tag Archives: Freedom of Information Act

Personal attacks on climate scientists

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released a statement this week expressing concern for the current personal attacks being made on climate scientists by politicians and others. The text of the statement follows:


Statement of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Regarding Personal Attacks on Climate Scientists
Approved by the AAAS Board of Directors
28 June 2011

We are deeply concerned by the extent and nature of personal attacks on climate scientists. Reports of harassment, death threats, and legal challenges have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policymakers and the public. This both impedes the progress of science and interferes with the application of science to the solution of global problems. AAAS vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on displeasure with their scientific conclusions. The progress of science and protection of its integrity depend on both full transparency about the details of scientific methodology and the freedom to follow the pursuit of knowledge. The sharing of research data is vastly different from unreasonable, excessive Freedom of Information Act requests for personal information and voluminous data that are then used to harass and intimidate scientists. The latter serve only as a distraction and make no constructive contribution to the public discourse.

Scientists and policymakers may disagree over the scientific conclusions on climate change and other policy-relevant topics. But the scientific community has proven and well-established methods for resolving disagreements about research results. Science advances through a self-correcting system in which research results are shared and critically evaluated by peers and experiments are repeated when necessary. Disagreements about the interpretation of data, the methodology, and findings are part of daily scientific discourse. Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that are controversial. Most scientific disagreements are unrelated to any kind of fraud and are considered a legitimate and normal part of the scientific process. The scientific community takes seriously its responsibility for policing research misconduct, and extensive procedures exist to protect the rigor of the scientific method and to ensure the credibility of the research enterprise

While we fully understand that policymakers must integrate the best available scientific data with other factors when developing policies, we think it would be unfortunate if policymakers became the arbiters of scientific information and circumvented the peer-review process. Moreover, we are concerned that establishing a practice of aggressive inquiry into the professional histories of scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions.

Freedom of information and responsibility

Prepare for another round of “climategate,” misinformation and distortion of climate change news. This time conservative news media, denier organisations and bloggers will be concentrating on the current inquiries taking place in the UK. These will be considering issues related to the illegal hacking and release of emails from the Climate Research Unit and the University of East Anglia. One of these is the Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament inquiry which hears oral submissions this week.

Already we have seen some selective and biased reporting of written submissions and I am sure this will continue. However, there are important issues at stake to do with freedom of information (FOI), harassment of scientists and the responsibility of those making freedom of information requests or using publicly available data. I hope the inquiries will deal with the underlying principles as well as making determinations on the specific cases considered.

Clearly many of the FOI requests made to the CRU were malicious. The UEA submissions says:

“In July 2009 UEA received an unprecedented, and frankly administratively overwhelming, deluge of FOIA requests related to CRU. These amounted to 61 requests out of a 2009 total of 107 related to CRU, compared to annual totals of 2 in 2008 and 4 in 2007 (University totals for those years were 204, 72 and 44 respectively).”

I wonder if the requesters were building up to something?

(Graphics thanks to Going on a Bear Hunt).

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