Archive for April 20th, 2010


FOIA Eyes Only

April 20, 2010

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the broader environmental science and law community.

A leading British university has been told it must release data on tree rings dating back more than 7000 years to an amateur climate analyst and climate sceptic.

The ruling, which could have important repercussions for environmental research in the UK, comes from the government’s deputy information commissioner Graham Smith. In January he caused consternation at the height of the “climategate” affair by criticising the way that the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, handled sceptics’ requests for data from its Climatic Research Unit.

On one hand, it obviously makes sense to make one’s data as widely available as possible. Sunlight is a great disinfectant. On the other hand, this potentially creates substantial problems for researchers the world over if data and findings are to be made available to any who ask. Plainly, if this rule is universalized, there will be hell to pay from free enterprise. I’m no law scholar, but it seems to me that depending on how this is phrased, and depending on its reach — if it is like the Hyde Amendment, say — it could potentially open the door for  no private business to partner with University employed or publicly funded scientific researchers at all, ever. That would, possibly, be a terrible outcome, for many reasons, not the least of which is that Universities may cease to be engines of technological expansion. From this article, at least, it does indeed appear that the ruling has far broader reach than simply into the climate community:

The ruling sends a strong signal that scientists at public institutions such as universities cannot claim their data is their or their university’s private property.