h1

Mann on E-mails

March 30, 2010

Climatewire offers a quick peek into Michael Mann’s regrets about the CRU e-mails.

“I wish in retrospect I had told him, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t even be thinking about this,'” Mann, a prominent climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said in an interview with The Morning Call. “I didn’t think it was an appropriate request.”

<snip>

“There are a lot of things we could look back at and say, ‘Gee, I wish I had done this or that,'” Mann said. “The important thing is, I didn’t delete any e-mails. And I don’t think [Jones] did, either.”

The article opens with “Michael Mann has a regret.”

No doubt about it. The question is: what’s the nature of this regret? Is it a regret stemming from the political hysteria that has ensued following the release of the much-ballyhooed e-mails? Or is it a regret about the mistake of not trying nip Phil Jones’ actions in the bud?

Frankly, I think there’s good reason to believe that it’s the former, and I can certainly understand that why it would be the former, the question for me as an ethicist, at least, is how to impress upon other scientists — not just in climate science, but in all branches of the sciences — that it is mighty important to self- police on matters such as this for reasons that extend beyond the potential political repercussions.

Advertisements

23 comments

  1. Ben, I think you, along with so many, are still leaping to unsupported conclusions about this matter. As noted, Jones may not have actually deleted anything, but beyond that it’s possible (depending on data retention practices at UEA) that he couldn’t have due to being unable to delete the back-up. I’m speculating here, but deleting the “originals” (if it happened) may have had the consequence of allowing Phil to say that he no longer possessed the documents, putting the onus of responding to the request on someone else at UEA.

    If my speculation is correct, did Phil do anything unethical given the context? I don’t think so.

    BTW, let’s not forget that these particular emails were probably subject to a categorical exemptions as confidential communications. Under the British FOI law (which I read carefully when this story first broke), deleting material that qualifies for such an exemption is *not* a violation of Section 77. IIRC the emails include some discussion with the UEA FOI officer to that effect.

    I suspect that the major bone of contention between UEA and the ICO is advice given to that effect, which the ICO is now saying provided no protection to UEA (IOW, you may get advice from us, but we may still go after you later for following it!). Now there’s an ethical conundrum. I won’t be surprised to see the ICO end up with a bloody nose over this.


    • Are you still twisting things trying to find an out for Phil Jones?

      “I’m speculating here, but deleting the “originals” (if it happened) may have had the consequence of allowing Phil to say that he no longer possessed the documents, putting the onus of responding to the request on someone else at UEA.”

      That has to be the most asinine speculation yet. You think if Phil Jones deleted documents to prevent release via FIOA that’s acceptable because there may have been backups? Seriously?

      “BTW, let’s not forget that these particular emails were probably subject to a categorical exemptions as confidential communications.”

      Well… No. The FOIA requests were rejected on the grounds of exemptions yet the ICO stated: “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.” If the exemptions had been valid then the ICO wouldn’t have a problem with the way the FOIA requests had been handled.

      And the E-mails do not include anything from the ICO. In one E-mail Jones claimed that the UEA FOI officers were using exemptions on advice from the Information Commissioner, however nothing has surfaced to support this claim and the ICO has denied this.

      The ICO told UEA that they are still investigating and will inform the university in a few months.


      • Well, Jim … No.

        For clarification the ICO has not made a “decision” in regard to allegations of a breach of the FOIA by the University of East Anglia. While the above statement says that “Mr Holland’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation” it does not state that we have determined that an offence under section 77 had been committed. Section 77 is only one part of the FOIA that a public authority should comply with.


      • Also, vis~a~vis your assertion, to wit:

        And the E-mails do not include anything from the ICO. In one E-mail Jones claimed that the UEA FOI officers were using exemptions on advice from the Information Commissioner, however nothing has surfaced to support this claim and the ICO has denied this.

        The ICO has a statutory duty to disseminate advice and guidance on the operation of FOIA and the EIR. I can confirm that we have previously provided advice to the University of East Anglia.


      • FYWP.

        http://www.desdemonadespair.net/2010/04/ico-responds-to-desdemonas-climategate.html


      • lb, I think we all know the ICO hasn’t made an official ruling. In fact that is why I closed with “The ICO told UEA that they are still investigating and will inform the university in a few months”. Thus far they have only made some strong statements such as “the prima facie evidence from the published e-mails indicate an attempt to defeat disclosure by deleting information. It is hard to imagine more cogent prima facie evidence.” It is good to know that even though the statute of limitations has run out the ICO will still investigate and make an official ruling on this issue.

        And yes, the ICO “has a statutory duty to disseminate advice and guidance on the operation of FOIA and the EIR”. But in your link above the ICO case officer said:

        “The ICO would not, in any circumstances, provide advice that would encourage an authority to avoid compliance with FOIA or the EIR. Both the FOIA and the EIR assume a default position of disclosure in response to requests made to public authorities and this presumption is the default position adopted by the Commissioner in the consideration of complaints, and when responding to requests for advice. The presumption of disclosure underpins all of the Commissioner’s work in relation to FOIA and EIR and his officer’s would not provide advice that would encourage an authority to avoid compliance with the legislation.”

        In another E-mail response an ICO officer responded:

        “The ICO has checked its records and can trace two examples of written advice provided to UEA which predate the email in question, but these were on unrelated topics with no bearing on the climate-data issue. If the University had sought verbal advice before then, the ICO would only have provided general advice, and certainly would not have explicitly supported or endorsed the use of a particular exemption or exception.”

        So again the climategate E-mails don’t contain any advice from the ICO and the ICO shows no record of advice on this issue and state they would not have endorsed a particular exemption. I’m still amused at the twisting and contortions being made to blame everyone but UEA.


      • Jim,

        I would note that the quote you offer is preceded by the following:

        The written queries are recorded on the ICO’s electronic case management system. Telephone enquiries are more numerous, with over 2,000 per week, and given their volume it is not practical to record the content of each (assuming that the caller consented to identify themselves, which they are under no obligation to do).

        Thus, with appreciation of the CYA language used in the ICO response, and given that the ICO commissioners office or the UEA liaison may have records or credible testimony of telephone conversations that might conceivably indicate they did, in fact, provide such advice in apparent contradiction to what an uninvolved officer speaking second or third hand would purely hypothetically surmise as their default position, there is no evidence to preclude that either Jones or UEA’s Vice Chancellor are lying when they say guidance in this particular matter or others was solicited and given.

        It seems, given that the ICO, and you yourself, have conceded that any judgment is premature, you, nonetheless, are presuming an unwarranted inference, and couching it in the most salacious terms possible.


      • lb, so you are holding out hope that someone at the ICO gave faulty advice via telephone to justify UEA’s actions? Seriously? I think from the ICO statements judgment on the situation is not premature. Certainly it’s not official but it is clear that the ICO has been nothing but critical of Jones and UEA for their FOIA failures. Even the recent Parliamentary committee was critical of the “culture of non-disclosure at CRU”.

        Perhaps you should consider that it’s time to accept that UEA will be held responsible. It doesn’t seem there will be a penalty since the statute of limitations has expired. I think the real problem is due to Phil Jones convincing UEA to reject these requests. From the released E-mails:

        “When the FoI requests began here, the FoI person said we had to abide by the requests. It took a couple of half-hour sessions — one at a screen, to convince them otherwise showing them what CA was all about. Once they became aware of the types of people we were dealing with, everyone at UEA (in the registry and in the Environmental Sciences school — the head of school and a few others) became very supportive.”

        And that is a prime example of the culture of non-disclosure created by attitudes of people such as Phil Jones. As the ICO has continually pointed out “Both the FOIA and the EIR assume a default position of disclosure in response to requests made to public authorities” yet that didn’t happen.


      • JimR,

        It does only take a half hour on a screen to discover the coordinated vexatious nature of these FOI requests, and that you yourself are complicit in the lynch mob mentality that is the cultural milieu at ClimateAudit. Rather than becoming an over-arching cultural feature, the only non-disclosure is to those vexatious requests.

        What is most regrettable is that there is no viable recourse to hold McIntyre, Mosher, yourself, et al. accountable for your scurrilous slanders.


      • lb, you demonstrate a similar attitude to Phil Jones. The only problem is that UK FOIA law doesn’t contain any exemption to deny providing information based on the requester and that is what occurred. The law is about openness and disclosure. You and the rest of the true believers want to blame it all on those requesting the information when clearly the law doesn’t support you. Until you can grasp this point you will simply be a heckler in the mob throwing blame at everyone but those who acted inappropriately.


      • Jim,

        UK FOIA law doesn’t contain any exemption to deny providing information based on the requester …

        Uh … no.

        Section 14(1) states that public authorities do not have to comply with
        vexatious requests. There is no public interest test.


      • And if there had been vexatious requests UEA might have a leg to stand on, but there weren’t. David Holland is the FOI that gets most of the attention and his request had a specific goal. McIntyre also had specific goals in his request. UEA should simply have been open and disclosed the information requested via FOI. The problem wasn’t vexatious requests but the culture of nondisclosure at UEA/CRU.


      • You should also note that none of the requests were rejected under the vexatious requests exemption, that seems to be a fabrication created in the blogosphere to find an out for Phil Jones and UEA.


      • Wrong again, Jim.

        Holland’s rejection was based on s.14 of FOI, although incorrectly labeled as EIR and reg. 12(4)(b) of EIR, which covers the same ground.


      • lb, do you have a reference for that?

        We already know that the ICO has stated the David Holland’s requests “were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation” so that reason to deny Holland isn’t holding up. I simply hadn’t heard that UEA had the nerve to use the “vexatious requests” card for their stonewalling.


      • It’s in the reply to Holland. You can look it up. I’m tired of doing your homework for you.


      • lb, LOL “I’m tired of doing your homework for you”. You crack me up. The effort at spinning this to absolve fault from UEA is both amusing and a bit sad.

        I didn’t think UEA had refused any FOIA requests as vexatious requests and I was right. You seem to be misunderstanding all the bloggers who are claiming David Holland’s requests were vexatious. Holland was looking for very specific things and his repeated requests were not responded to with disclosure. The EIR reg. 12(4)(b) is not about vexatious requests since EIR doesn’t have a provision for vexatious requests. In fact the EIR guidelines even say “The fact that a request would be considered vexatious or repeated under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the “FOIA”) does not, in itself, make a request made under the EIR manifestly unreasonable.”

        I believe the bloggers looking to excuse UEA are confusing this guidance in EIR / FOI Boundaries Guidance from the UK FOI:

        Vexatious and Repeated v Manifestly Unreasonable
        9. FOI has specific provision to refuse requests if they are repeated or vexatious (s. 14).
        10. While there is no express provision in the EIRs for vexatious requests, a request can be refused if it is “manifestly unreasonable” under reg. 12(4)(b). This would cover the same ground as “vexatious requests” under FOI.

        So while EIR 12(4)(b) manifestly unreasonable could be used for vexatious requests (if it qualifies) the reverse is not true, a refusal on the grounds of manifestly unreasonable does not imply the request was vexatious.

        Regardless earlier I wrote UK FOIA law doesn’t contain any exemption to deny providing information based on the requester. You disagreed but you were wrong… again, FOI section 14 isn’t about denying based on the requester but on the validity of the requests. A person cannot be discriminated against, requests that are unreasonable can be denied for valid reasons. And since FOI/EIR are all about disclosure the reasons have to be well supported which in this case they weren’t.


      • Holland’s FOI was rejected under both s. 14 (FOI) and reg. 12(4)(b) (EIR).

        I concede rejection was not because Holland is a stupid poopy-head but because his request was vexatious and manifestly unreasonable on its merits.

        What all this spinning (by yourself) makes manifestly clear is that the substance of ClimateFraudit and all its myrmidons has nothing to do with advancing scientific understanding, but entirely with the politics of personal destruction. As might be said by one of those whom you seek to manipulate with your disingenuous semantic confusion:

        Your a moran, looser.


      • lb, there ya go, let the political beast out. I suspected as much. Call everyone names, blame everyone…. but please stop this spinning trying to make the facts fit your political beliefs. It’s rather silly isn’t it?

        In the end this comes down to the UK Information Commissioners Office who will decide on the actions of UEA. They have already made strong statements against UEA and calling anyone “a stupid poopy-head” (did you stomp your foot when you wrote that? LOL) doesn’t change the facts of the matter.

        Pick your battles lb, as I’m afraid your next defense will be that aliens advised Jones and UEA how not to comply with FOI requests… but since it was via telepathy there would be no record of that either!

        😉


      • You’re projecting, dude.


  2. Mann’s regret is the normal one of – if I had known these would be made public, I would have been more careful in what I said and how I said it!


  3. I think you’re both wrong. One of the things I’m trying to do here — at the prodding of the Vice Chancellor, more than out of the goodness of my heart — is to try to develop an appropriately structured responsible conduct curriculum that will work for scientists of all stripes. I’m actually just one of about 20 committee members, but it’s still a pretty heavy-duty effort.

    What makes it heavy duty is that many scientists simply don’t want to think much about responsible conduct of research, except insofar as it will either directly or indirectly affect them.

    The important point is that, while it’s true that we should strive to be responsible in all aspects of our lives, it’s also very important to have the right motivations when conducting scientific research too.

    I don’t lay much blame at Mann’s feet for having done anything wrong, nor even at Phil Jones’s feet — I don’t actually think they did anything wrong. The problem is that they both should’ve been self-policing to ensure that there was no appearance of impropriety, even in the darkest corners of their e-mail inboxes.

    That requirement is virtually impossible to meet, of course, and there’s not any real way to have anticipated the negative political fallout that was to ensue after the CRU hack, but this is all the more reason to be vigilant with oneself and one’s colleagues.


  4. There was nothing anyone could have done to keep the UK tabloids from trying to blow things out of proportion, but if the UEA had behaved like something other than a deer in the headlights much of the fallout could have been avoided. Let’s also not forget the inexcusable Revkin story in the NYTimes, which gave the story credibility in the legitimate press on both sides of the Atlantic.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: