November 21, 2009

Revkin delivers, front page, above the (digital) fold. Will it sell papers? Hard to say. Given what I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) I still think there’s not much there. I’m waiting for someone to persuade me otherwise.

As if on cue, Romm offers the counter-punch.

UPDATE: This is such a massively interesting issue that I’m not doing the work I need to do this weekend. I’m also going to leave this post here and add a few updates, rather than generate a new post. Readers should definitely avail themselves of Kim Zetter’s article in Wired and Joe Romm’s further discussions of some of the content of the e-mails, in this case, the e-mail from Trenberth. I was thinking that I might do the same thing, but he beat me to it. Here’s the article (pdf) that Trenberth is referring to.

UPDATE 2: This reply from Carbon Fixated is very smartly done. Interesting in its own right too.


  1. This was posted at Real Climate. Certainly there is a charitable explanation/excuse for each one. Ben Hale thinks climate scientists are human, but can do absolutely no wrong. You academics hang together.

    [Ben: At this point, what follows are a string of allegations, based very, very loosely on language in those e-mails. There are too many e-mails referenced here to substantiate this position, but from the looks of it, this is a particular narrative. Since you’re re-wording what has been written; since you’re neither quoting nor providing context, this is not sufficient to say much more than that this is what you believe is happening.]

    * Phil Jones writes to University of Hull to try to stop sceptic Sonia Boehmer Christiansen using her Hull affiliation. Graham F Haughton of Hull University says its easier to push greenery there now SB-C has retired.(1256765544)
    * Michael Mann discusses how to destroy a journal that has published sceptic papers.(1047388489)
    * Tim Osborn discusses how data are truncated to stop an apparent cooling trend showing up in the results (0939154709). Analysis of impact here. Wow!
    * Phil Jones describes the death of sceptic, John Daly, as “cheering news”.
    * Phil Jones encourages colleagues to delete information subject to FoI request.(1212063122)
    * Phil Jones says he has use Mann’s “Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series”…to hide the decline”. Real Climate says “hiding” was an unfortunate turn of phrase.(0942777075)
    * Letter to The Times from climate scientists was drafted with the help of Greenpeace.(0872202064)
    * Mann thinks he will contact BBC’s Richard Black to find out why another BBC journalist was allowed to publish a vaguely sceptical article.(1255352257)
    * Kevin Trenberth says they can’t account for the lack of recent warming and that it is a travesty that they can’t.(1255352257)
    * Tom Wigley says that Lindzen and Choi’s paper is crap.(1257532857)
    * Tom Wigley says that von Storch is partly to blame for sceptic papers getting published at Climate Research. Says he encourages the publication of crap science. Says they should tell publisher that the journal is being used for misinformation. Says that whether this is true or not doesn’t matter. Says they need to get editorial board to resign. Says they need to get rid of von Storch too. (1051190249)
    * Ben Santer says (presumably jokingly!) he’s “tempted, very tempted, to beat the crap” out of sceptic Pat Michaels. (1255100876)
    * Mann tells Jones that it would be nice to ‘”contain” the putative Medieval Warm Period’. (1054736277)
    * Tom Wigley tells Jones that the land warming since 1980 has been twice the ocean warming and that this might be used by sceptics as evidence for urban heat islands.(1257546975)
    * Tom Wigley say that Keith Briffa has got himself into a mess over the Yamal chronology (although also says it’s insignificant. Wonders how Briffa explains McIntyre’s sensitivity test on Yamal and how he explains the use of a less-well replicated chronology over a better one. Wonders if he can. Says data withholding issue is hot potato, since many “good” scientists condemn it.(1254756944)
    * Briffa is funding Russian dendro Shiyatov, who asks him to send money to personal bank account so as to avoid tax, thereby retaining money for research.(0826209667)
    * Kevin Trenberth says climatologists are nowhere near knowing where the energy goes or what the effect of clouds is. Says nowhere balancing the energy budget. Geoengineering is not possible.(1255523796)
    * Mann discusses tactics for screening and delaying postings at Real Climate.(1139521913)
    * Tom Wigley discusses how to deal with the advent of FoI law in UK. Jones says use IPR argument to hold onto code. Says data is covered by agreements with outsiders and that CRU will be “hiding behind them”.(1106338806)
    * Overpeck has no recollection of saying that he wanted to “get rid of the Medieval Warm Period”. Thinks he may have been quoted out of context.(1206628118)
    * Mann launches RealClimate to the scientific community.(1102687002)
    * Santer complaining about FoI requests from McIntyre. Says he expects support of Lawrence Livermore Lab management. Jones says that once support staff at CRU realised the kind of people the scientists were dealing with they became very supportive. Says the VC [vice chancellor] knows what is going on (in one case).(1228330629)
    * Rob Wilson concerned about upsetting Mann in a manuscript. Says he needs to word things diplomatically.(1140554230)
    * Briffa says he is sick to death of Mann claiming his reconstruction is tropical because it has a few poorly temp sensitive tropical proxies. Says he should regress these against something else like the “increasing trend of self-opinionated verbiage” he produces. Ed Cook agrees with problems.(1024334440)
    * Overpeck tells Team to write emails as if they would be made public. Discussion of what to do with McIntyre finding an error in Kaufman paper. Kaufman’s admits error and wants to correct. Appears interested in Climate Audit findings.(1252164302)
    * Jones calls Pielke Snr a prat.(1233249393)
    * Santer says he will no longer publish in Royal Met Soc journals if they enforce intermediate data being made available. Jones has complained to head of Royal Met Soc about new editor of Weather [why?data?] and has threatened to resign from RMS.(1237496573)
    * Reaction to McIntyre’s 2005 paper in GRL. Mann has challenged GRL editor-in-chief over the publication. Mann is concerned about the connections of the paper’s editor James Saiers with U Virginia [does he mean Pat Michaels?]. Tom Wigley says that if Saiers is a sceptic they should go through official GRL channels to get him ousted. (1106322460) [Note to readers – Saiers was subsequently ousted]
    * Later on Mann refers to the leak at GRL being plugged.(1132094873)
    * Jones says he’s found a way around releasing AR4 review comments to David Holland.(1210367056)
    * Wigley says Keenan’s fraud accusation against Wang is correct. (1188557698)
    * Jones calls for Wahl and Ammann to try to change the received date on their alleged refutation of McIntyre [presumably so it can get into AR4](1189722851)
    * Mann tells Jones that he is on board and that they are working towards a common goal.(0926010576)
    * Mann sends calibration residuals for MBH99 to Osborn. Says they are pretty red, and that they shouldn’t be passed on to others, this being the kind of dirty laundry they don’t want in the hands of those who might distort it.(1059664704)
    * Prior to AR3 Briffa talks of pressure to produce a tidy picture of “apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data”. [This appears to be the politics leading the science] Briffa says it was just as warm a thousand years ago.(0938018124)
    * Jones says that UK climate organisations are coordinating themselves to resist FoI. They got advice from the Information Commissioner [!](1219239172)
    * Mann tells Revkin that McIntyre is not to be trusted.(1254259645)
    * Revkin quotes von Storch as saying it is time to toss the Hockey Stick . This back in 2004.(1096382684)
    * Funkhouser says he’s pulled every trick up his sleeve to milk his Kyrgistan series. Doesn’t think it’s productive to juggle the chronology statistics any more than he has.(0843161829)
    * Wigley discusses fixing an issue with sea surface temperatures in the context of making the results look both warmer but still plausible. (1254108338)
    * Jones says he and Kevin will keep some papers out of the next IPCC report.(1089318616)
    * Tom Wigley tells Mann that a figure Schmidt put together to refute Monckton is deceptive and that the match it shows of instrumental to model predictions is a fluke. Says there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model output by authors and IPCC.(1255553034)
    * Grant Foster putting together a critical comment on a sceptic paper. Asks for help for names of possible reviewers. Jones replies with a list of people, telling Foster they know what to say about the paper and the comment without any prompting.(1249503274)
    * David Parker discussing the possibility of changing the reference period for global temperature index. Thinks this shouldn’t be done because it confuses people and because it will make things look less warm.(1105019698)
    * Briffa discusses an sceptic article review with Ed Cook. Says that confidentially he needs to put together a case to reject it (1054756929)
    * Ben Santer, referring to McIntyre says he hopes Mr “I’m not entirely there in the head” will not be at the AGU.(1233249393)
    * Jones tells Mann that he is sending station data. Says that if McIntyre requests it under FoI he will delete it rather than hand it over. Says he will hide behind data protection laws. Says Rutherford screwed up big time by creating an FTP directory for Osborn. Says Wigley worried he will have to release his model code. Also discuss AR4 draft. Mann says paleoclimate chapter will be contentious but that the author team has the right personalities to deal with sceptics.(1107454306)

    • Gish Gallop

  2. Interesting. I’ll look at these later. For the time being, might wanna check your allegations. To my mind, they imply a contradiction:

    “Ben Hale thinks climate scientists are human, but can do absolutely no wrong. You academics hang together.”

    I think they’re human, which means to me that they can do wrong. Not once did I say or suggest that they can do no wrong.

  3. Ben

    I think there is nothing among the emails that says “global warming ain’t happening”. It’s plausible, but IMHO not likely, that something like that may come out of the analysis of the data and code.

    I think the FoI and peer review aspects of the story will prove to be the important ones.

  4. I agree with you there, Bish. The issue here is mostly about obstruction and the politicization of science.

    • Ben:

      There is quite a bit of material in those emails which makes me suspect that “advocacy” was incorporated in updates to the global temperature records (GISS and HadCrut) in an effort to increase the trend line of temperature increase.

      So I would say the real issue is can we trust the temperature records these scientists were in charge of?

    • Haven’t seen that stuff yet, Rick, but if that truly has happened, this would be a remarkable issue. Problem is, that’s a big ‘if’. The weak interpretations I’ve seen so far lead me to believe that there’s a lot less there there.

  5. Rick

    I think that’s correct. Their credibility is shot. Doesn’t mean AGW isn’t happening, it means we don’t know.

    • That conclusion that their credibility is shot is _way too hasty_; as is the conclusion that we don’t know.

      • It’s fairly clear from the emails that Mann and his colleagues have been able suppress dissenting views – witness the ousting of Saiers and von Storch from their editorial posts. Clearly, the scientific literature is no longer a balanced reflection of the state of scientific knowledge.

        Therefore we no longer know.

      • Von S. ousted? Wrong. If Saiers is one of the other editors who left Climate Research at the same time, wrong on that one too.

      • The emails were clear – the Hockey Team wanted to oust HvS. Later he resigned. You say coincindence. I say not.

        Later on, we see the Hockey Team saying they wanted to oust Saiers (from GRL). Some weeks later he was replaced as the editor in charge of McIntyre’s file by Famiglietti. Famiglietti will not discuss how this came about publicly.

        You say coincidence. I say not.

  6. Speculation and personality-driven narratives are always much more interesting than dry facts, as any reporter or editor for the “newspaper of record” will tell you.

  7. Hey, Ben, you won’t want to miss this. Also the wabbit’s current post should be of interest.

  8. Ben

    I should point out that the summary of the emails your commenter has quoted has been copied from my site (I don’t object to this by the way). I’ve now added links to the Elegant Chaos database of the emails so that readers can assess my summaries.

  9. Many of us will, in times of frustration, make suggestions of actions we don’t actually follow up on. Is there any evidence that FOIA abuses actually occurred? Even in the apparent worst of these emails, they are only related to an illegality if the illegality actually occurred, as opposed to being discussed.

  10. Ben wrote: “Given what I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) I still think there’s not much there.”

    I’m not sure anything will convince you there is much here, but let me try one more time. From the E-mails released Phil Jones actively coordinated with Mike Mann, Keith Briffa, Caspar Ammann and Gene Wahl to delete E-mails that were requested in an active FOIA request. I had been under impression they were deleting these Emails in anticipation of a FOIA request but the E-mail trail shows Phil Jones did this AFTER becoming aware of a FOIA request.

    From the E-mail archive, on May 27, 2008, David Palmer, who is in charge of “data protection” at the University of East Anglia, wrote to Tim Osborn about a Freedom of Information Act request the university had received from one David Holland:

    “Please note the response received today from Mr. Holland. Could you provide input as to his additional questions 1, and 2, and check with Mr. Ammann in question 3 as to whether he believes his correspondence with us to be confidential?

    Although I fear/anticipate the response, I believe that I should inform the requester that his request will be over the appropriate limit and ask him to limit it….

    I just wish to ensure that we do as much as possible ‘by the book’ in this instance as I am certain that this will end up in an appeal, with the statutory potential to end up with the ICO.”

    That same day, Tim Osborn wrote to Caspar Amman of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado and copied Phil Jones and Keith Briff:

    “Our university has received a request, under the UK Freedom of Information law, from someone called David Holland for emails or other documents that you may have sent to us that discuss any matters related to the IPCC assessment process.
    We are not sure what our university’s response will be, nor have we even checked whether you sent us emails that relate to the IPCC assessment or that we retained any that you may have sent. However, it would be useful to know your opinion on this matter. In particular, we would like to know whether you consider any emails that you sent to us as confidential.

    Sorry to bother you with this,
    Tim (cc Keith & Phil)”

    Two days later, on May 29, Phil Jones wrote to Michael Mann, with the subject heading “IPCC & FOI”:

    “From: Phil Jones
    To: “Michael E. Mann”
    Subject: IPCC & FOI
    Date: Thu May 29 11:04:11 2008


    Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4?
    Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis.
    Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address.
    We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.
    I see that CA claim they discovered the 1945 problem in the Nature paper!!


    So Phil Jones was copied on an E-mail from Tim Osborn to Caspar Ammann on May 27, 2008 regarding an active FOIA request regarding IPCC AR4 and two days later Phil Jones coordinated the deletion of emails specifically pertaining to AR4 among authors in his E-mail with the subject “IPCC & FOI”.

  11. That’s a much more compelling case, all strung together like that. I did mention in the other thread that, of the problematic e-mails, it seems to me that this May 29 e-mail is the most problematic. It’s harder to offer an explanation for it. Given the context, which is provided here, it looks much worse than it does as a stand-alone e-mail. I’ll be curious to see if one emerges.

    You can see my earlier comments on this particular e-mail here: https://cruelmistress.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/feeding-frenzy/#comment-1291

    The context matters greatly, as I was trying to say.

    • This string is very likely cherry-picked. But even on the terms presented, I don’t see a problem. Mike and Caspar certainly would consider those emails confidential, and it’s clear from the FOI officer’s remarks that they are exempt in such an instance. Indeed, I would take it that one purpose of that email was to make sure Tim understood that such an exemption exists. The deletions make sense in that context. The string doesn’t constitute proof that non-exempt emails weren’t also deleted, but obviously a positive case for that would need to be made.

      Now, is this all consistent with an attitude of maximum stonewalling within the limits of the law? You bet. Denialists have a problem with that? Too bad.

      I would have a different viewpoint about the ethics of the deletions if the leading denialists weren’t fibbing about their true agenda. They are, so I don’t.

    • Thanks Ben. Context does matter, although even in isolation the May 29th E-mail requesting E-mails related to the IPCC assessment be deleted to prevent access by FIOA was probably unethical and illegal. In the context that Phil Jones coordinated the deletions of E-mails with knowledge they had been requested by an active FOIA request is definitely unethical and illegal.

      I’ll be curious to see what emerges from this as well. And we can only imagine what those E-mails contained that Phil Jones was worried enough to request their deletion when they had already been requested by FOIA.

      • Notice how fast they abandon any scientific issues in favor of legal/ethical ones. “Auditing” is such a flexible concept.

      • Steve Bloom wrote:
        “Now, is this all consistent with an attitude of maximum stonewalling within the limits of the law? You bet.”

        Spin, spin, spin Steve. Tim Osborn’s May 27th E-mail to Caspar Ammann suggesting that he may consider these confidential could be considered “maximum stonewalling within the limits of the law”. Phil Jones May 29th E-mail coordinating the E-mail deletions among Mann, Briffa, Ammann and Wahl is in no way working within the law.

        Deleting items requested in a FOIA request is never legal even if one is working on legal ways to reject the FOIA request.

      • Additional info about the above discussion, the UK FOIA of 2000.

        “77 Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure

        (1) Where—

        (a) a request for information has been made to a public authority, and

        (b) under section 1 of this Act or section 7 of the [1988 c. 29.] Data Protection Act 1998, the applicant would have been entitled (subject to payment of any fee) to communication of any information in accordance with that section,

        any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.

        (2) Subsection (1) applies to the public authority and to any person who is employed by, is an officer of, or is subject to the direction of, the public authority.

        (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.”

  12. Note this applies to “all, or any part, of the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.”

    There is no entitlement to exempt information.

    Neither a climate scientist nor a lawyer, JimR?

    • While a FOIA case is active the determination is being made if these items are exempt. I think they will have trouble making a case that E-mails between IPCC participants specifically about IPCC AR4 are exempt. Even once declined the material cannot be deleted. There are appeals and the information should stay intact under the control of the owner until such time they can be deleted.

      Why do you think Phil Jones was in such a rush to delete E-mails specifically regarding IPCC AR4?

  13. http://www.uea.ac.uk/is/foi/guidance

    5 key facts that all staff should know about Freedom of Information

    •The Act gives everyone both in and outside UEA a right of access to ANY recorded information held by UEA
    •A request for information must be answered within 20 working days
    •If you receive a request for information which mentions FOI, is not information you routinely provide, is unusual, or you are unsure of, you should pass the request to your FOIA contact or the Information Policy and Compliance Manager
    •You should ensure that UEA records are well maintained and accessible to other staff, so that they can locate information needed to answer a request when you are not there
    •As all documents and emails could potentially be released under the Act, you should ensure that those you create are clear and professional

    • That’s all good, JimR, but note again that it was the FOI officer advising them about the exemption. What you need to make your point is something saying that clearly exempt material must be retained while a request is being processed. So far, you got nothin’.

      • UK Freedom of Information Act of 2000

        “If information is held when a FOIA request is received, destroying it outside of your normal records management policies will result in a breach of the Act. You must confirm that you hold the information and consider disclosure, subject to any exemption. It will also be a criminal offence to conceal or destroy information if this is done with the intention of preventing disclosure under either FOIA or EIR.”

        Even believing that the information should be and will be considered exempt it is a criminal offense to delete information subject to a FOIA request. Working within the law to reject a FOIA is legal but deleting material is not and this is spelled out.

      • “…subject to any exemption.” Learn to read, JimR.

      • Steve, instead of snappy one liners perhaps you should take the time to read the whole thing. Let’s try again and I’ll type slowly.

        “If information is held when a FOIA request is received, destroying it outside of your normal records management policies will result in a breach of the Act. You must confirm that you hold the information and consider disclosure, subject to any exemption. It will also be a criminal offence to conceal or destroy information if this is done with the intention of preventing disclosure under either FOIA or EIR.”

        The sentence you are fixated on is: “You must confirm that you hold the information and consider disclosure, subject to any exemption.”

        Meaning – if you have the information you must confirm you have it and consider releasing it. As part of considering releasing it a case may be made that it’s exempt.

        The charitable way you read it would have anyone subject to a FOIA request quickly deleting information claiming it was exempt. With FOIA you have to confirm possession of the information and cannot delete it, then you make the case the information is exempt. There may be appeals to the exemption status as well (there was one in this case).

        Try a little objectivity and stop beating this dead horse.

      • Let’s take your reading, JimR: Confirm with who, though, the applicant or the FOI officer? The latter, I expect. If the former, it would involve telling applicants about the existence of exempt material, which would make no sense. It’s clear in this case that the FOI officer knew all about the material.

        Try again.

      • Steve,

        > Let’s take your reading, JimR: Confirm
        > with who, though, the applicant or the
        > FOI officer? The latter, I expect.

        Yes of course, the FOIA information page at CRU provides these details:

        “There is a FOI Contact for each administrative unit and Faculty within the University. A list can be found here.”

        > If the former, it would involve telling
        > applicants about the existence of
        > exempt material, which would make no
        > sense.

        Glad you reasoned that out all by yourself. Obviously it’s the FOI contact at UEA, followed by David Palmer, Information Policy and Compliance Manager at UEA.

        > It’s clear in this case that the FOI
        > officer knew all about the material.

        I can’t say what material the FIO officer knew about. Did Jones coordinate the deletions and tell the FOI officer he had none? Or did he admit that he had deleted these to the FOI officer. I don’t think we know that.

        In that light, why do you think Jones told Mann:

        “Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4?
        Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis.
        Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address.
        We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.”

        At this time the FOIA request was an open request. A rejection notice was received for a week.

        The UK even provides a document titled Practical guidance:
        Destruction of requested information

        Click to access fep004practicalguidancedestructionv1.pdf

        It includes these two items:

        – Destroying requested information outside of your normal policies is unlawful and may be a criminal offence if done to prevent disclosure.

        – As a matter of good practice, you should keep all requested information for at least 6 months to allow for appeals to the Information Commissioner.

        The point that you can’t seem to grasp is the coordination of these deletions of E-mails violates FOIA even if a rejection is planned. FOIA is about about ensuring the information is held until all determinations can be made, including appeals.

        I sure hope your next defense won’t be the requested deletions in an E-mail with the title “IPCC & FOI” were deletions under “normal policies”. That won’t work unless Jones admits he often deletes incrimination E-mails.

        Feel free to search through the deletions page for loopholes.

      • JimR,

        You seem to believe actual deletions were made. I don’t see any evidence of this. Indeed, if such had occurred these e-mails would have certainly been among the first to go. Rather, the evidence is this was a momentary and inconsequential fit of pique, nothing more.

      • Wow lb, that’s a very…. creative interpretation although I see Ben is also taking the “discussing deleting is not the same as deleting” route. It’s the difference between criminal conspiracy and criminal activity.

        I love the use of the word “discussing” when Phil Jones E-mail was a very specific request and not a “what if we” discussion. Phil Jones wrote:

        “Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4?
        Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis.
        Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address.
        We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.”

        If you want to be really charitable possible Phil Jones was just curious if Mike Mann knew how to delete an E-mail and if not wanted Mann to ask Gene Wahl how to delete an E-mail while he would get with Keith Briffa and Caspar Ammann to see if they knew how to delete an E-mail. No, that doesn’t work since Jones asks Mann to “email Gene and get him to do the same” and then says “We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.” They are taking a specific action and not simply “discussing” it.

        Mike Mann responded the same day, although he was smart enough not to admit to the deletions writing:

        “I’ll contact Gene about this ASAP.”

        On what basis do you make the assumption that if deletions occurred these E-mails would have been the first to go? Let me point out that if Jones had been cautious about violating a FOIA request he wouldn’t have used his official E-mail to coordinate the deletions in the first place! But he did, the E-mail exists and it’s pretty damning no matter how people try to spin it.

        Spin, rationalize, deny, hopefully you and Ben will progress to accepting what happened eventually.

      • Jim: So far as I can tell, you don’t know what the response was from the others. If Person A says “delete your e-mails,” and Person B doesn’t comply, or objects to the suggestion, there’s no collusion or conspiracy there. It is clear from some of the other correspondence that some parties have raised objections to the suggestions of other parties. I’ve seen several cases where one party says that they don’t feel comfortable taking such-and-such a route.

        Second, it’s also true that there is likely no legally problematic conspiracy if they were instructed to delete their e-mails by legal advisors, perhaps on legal grounds.

        Obviously, legal advisors can be wrong, and I’m just exploring possibilities here, but suppose: “the legal department advises that we delete our e-mails to avoid any further pestering from FOIA requests. It’s a hassle for everyone involved, and our FOIA protections have been explored. Better to just get rid of the correspondence to avoid any further legal headaches.”

        If that’s the case, then it is arguable whether there is even an ethical breach.

        Since you’re not a lawyer (I assume) or at least not intimately familiar with the intricacies of the case, I daresay it’s too damn early to pass judgment on what was going on.

        There are circumstances when it would be permissible to delete those e-mails.

      • Ben, we don’t know the response from the others. The only response contained in the E-mails is from Mike Mann stating “I’ll contact Gene about this ASAP.” However you are incorrect that if someone doesn’t comply with the request it isn’t conspiracy or collusion. These are terms related to the discussion and planning, actually committing the act is not necessary and would be considered an additional offense.

        Interesting argument you present that if they were advised to delete E-mails subject to a FOIA request by legal advisers it would not be a legal problem for them. While an amusingly creative idea that Jones committed a crime based on bad legal advise shouldn’t we stick with the evidence at hand?

        Ben if you’re to the point where you come up with scenarios such as faulty legal advise to create a circumstance where it would be permissible to coordinate the deletion of material requested by FOIA, perhaps it’s time to admit Phil Jones acted inappropriately here??

        You also say that “it’s too damn early to pass judgment on what was going on” yet you have repeated the theme of “there’s not much there”. What exactly is “environmental ethics” that you work on and why are you unable to see the obvious ethical issue in play here?

      • JimR, you’re neither a lawyer nor a subject matter expert, yet you just keep making wild assertions. For example, you say it would probably have been problematic for Jones to have deleted the emails on the advice of a lawyer. That may or may not be true, but the advice wasn’t from a lawyer (as such, anyway), it was from the *designated FOI officer*. I’m no subject matter expert either, but the way such things normally work Jones is off the hook even if it is assumed that the FOI officer erred.

      • > but the advice wasn’t from a lawyer (as
        > such, anyway), it was from the
        > *designated FOI officer*.

        Really? I must have missed that. Please point out where Phil Jones was advised by the FOI officer to delete E-mails subject to a FOIA request. That would be very interesting indeed, but I suspect you are simply blowing smoke here.

      • Some other problems with Jim’s scenario.

        1) As far as I can tell, these FOIA requests were specifically for data and computer code, so e-mails wouldn’t be covered.

        2) The FOIA requests were denied.

      • lb,

        1)From the E-mail archive, on May 27, 2008, Tim Osborn wrote to Caspar Amman of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado and copied Phil Jones and Keith Briffa:

        “Our university has received a request, under the UK Freedom of Information law, from someone called David Holland for emails or other documents that you may have sent to us that discuss any matters related to the IPCC assessment process.”

        2) It matters not that the FOIA request was denied, as was the appeal. The UK FOIA of 2000 states that it is a violation to delete information involved in a FOIA request.

        If you folks spent more time trying to understand the situation and less time trying to make excuses perhaps, just perhaps you might glean a small understanding of what occurred.

      • JimR, I was finally moved to research your claims.

        First off, many of your references have been to the Environmental Information Regulations, not to the FOI law. You didn’t stop to wonder if the EIR applies to the (presumably) deleted emails. It doesn’t:

        Environmental information is divided into the following six main areas:
        1. The state of the elements of the environment, such as air, water, soil, land, fauna (including human beings)
        2. Emissions and discharges, noise, energy, radiation, waste and other such substances
        3. Measures and activities such as policies, plans, and agreements affecting or likely to affect the state of the elements of the environment
        4. Reports, cost-benefit and economic analyses
        5. The state of human health and safety, contamination of the food chain
        6. Cultural sites and built structures (to the extent they may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment)

        Sorry, none of those. The applicant (David Holland) apparently knew that, since he seems to have made his request pursuant to the FOI only.

        The FOI law does apply in principle, but what does it say? Looking at I.1, I.2 and II.41 of the law itself, we can see a sweeping categorical (“absolute”) exemption for confidential communications. I can’t find anything in the FOI law requiring retention of absolutely exempt information even where there has been a request for it. Absent that, there’s no potential violation.

        Re your point about the advice from the UEA FOI officer, I think it’s a fair inference that it was forthcoming. Should you want to prove otherwise, you may want to get onto your hacker about that two-day gap in the emails. Whyever were they not included in the download?

      • Steve, you attempt to make a case that Jones, Mann, Briffa, etc. could have been exempt. Such a case would need to be made in response to the FOIA request. Regardless, when a FOIA is filed you can’t conspire with the people involved to delete the information that has been requested. The law expressly forbids deleting information requested in a FOIA. You can communicate with the people involved to build a case for exemption and thus prevent disclosure. That is working within the law, deleting the information is not.

        I don’t expect you to understand this point as your bias will prevent it, but it is rather clear cut. And I hope you’ll understand if I don’t respond to you further. Go ahead and get the last word, I’m sure it will be amusing.

        Happy Thanksgiving

      • Sure, JimR. The last word is that after all of your time-consuming irrelevancies above you couldn’t go the FOI law and find where it says that material qualifying for an absolute exemption must not be deleted while a request is pending.

        To underline the point: Nothing in those emails is illegal or even improper. Obama’s announcemnets have already pushed the “scandal” off the news pages, and I suspect it’s going to stay off.

        BTW, that was some excruciatingly bad timing on CEI’s part, don’t you think? Now go pound sand.

  14. It seems to me if I was colluding with someone else to do something illegal or unethical, I would want those communications to be confidential. Most large organizations have a policy stating that communications using their hardware and software are not confidential, even if the sender and recipient want it so.

    Ben, I believe CU has such a policy. I was a student there many years ago and I recall a similar policy being in effect.

  15. Yeah, that’s definitely true that CU has that policy. Fortunately, I’m not involved in any shady activity, though I have in the past asked friends and relatives to delete e-mails that I’ve sent… usually if I’ve said things that I would prefer to have said differently. It’s also true that, as a philosopher, I have access to almost nothing of value, so even if I did delete my entire correspondence, nobody’s research would be jeopardized by my doing so.

    I’m not entirely sure what you’re driving at Bob, but I think I agree with you: if I were colluding with someone, I wouldn’t want to do it over e-mail. I’d do it over the phone.

    • From the tone and content of the reported emails, it would appear there was illegal or at least unethical activity. I most certainly would want those emails to be confidential.

      Of course if I was doing something illegal or unethical, I would make it a point to make sure there wasn’t a paper trail, or at the very least I would use a personal email account and encrypt the contents if I had to send some printed information. For such smart guys, they don’t seem very smart unless they didn’t consider the ethics of their actions. As this is your profession, I’m interested in what you have to say about it. I’m just an engineer and an IT guy.

    • I’ll lay off making the claim about the ethics of what they’ve done until more comes out. Right now, we just don’t have enough information to say whether they’ve done anything wrong. (Discussing deleting is not the same as deleting.) Instead, I’m just trying to take the e-mails one at a time and offer, effectively, a philosopher’s charitable perspective on those e-mails. What might this mean, presuming innocence?

      • Granted. If it looks like a duck, flies like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably a duck, but the analysis is still continuing, so the full context hasn’t been pieced together. It may very well be a duck, but time will tell. One thing is for certain: with the files on the internet, a lot of people are analyzing the information, including, I would suspect, some from law enforcement. This is going to get more interesting as I don’t see the issue just fading away.

      • Ben, I don’t see the problem even if there was a deletion.

        Note also that as quoted above there’s a two-day gap between when the issue of the confidentiality exemption was raised and the Jones email requesting deletion, which leaves plenty of time for other communications to have occurred, nor do we see any of the emails prior to the one from the FOI officer (and it’s entirely clear that these latter ones must exist). I’m going to suggest that these other emails would have made it clear that what was done was entirely innocuous, and that our hacker deleted those since they would have ruined all the fun.

        As I’m not going to be spending any time searching the archive, maybe JimR can confirm for us that what was quoted above is indeed everything of relevance.

  16. Steve: see my comment here:


    • Ben, I think you can possibly answer this one: What happens when the FOI officer receives a FOI request for the FOI officer’s emails? An ethical problem, or not?

      • I expect the law provides for that, Bob. Recall that this FOI officer is at the bottom of a probably lengthy bureaucratic chain, or putting it in terms a philospher can understand, “it’s FOI officers all the way up.” 🙂

      • Yeah, I think it’s a straightforward legal question at that point. Ethics is always lurking in the background of law, so there’s certainly the possibility that the law is skewed or wrong. To be sure, some people on this comment board are arguing ethical points and not legal points — even if the law allows for X, it shouldn’t be allowed. But it’s relatively easy to say that once the FOIA law kicks in, we can defer to it.

        I’d be leery, however, of thinking that this is strictly a legal concern. Since I’m not a legal positivist, I’m comfortable saying that the FOIA turtles stop halfway up the ladder.

  17. Hey Ben,

    How about an update to the Phil Jones FOIA issue?


    Agency: ‘Climategate’ scientists hid data

    Watchdog: UK University Hid Climate Data

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