Climategate: On CRU, freedom of information and access to data

Both The TaxPayers’ Alliance and Watts Up With That tackle the issue of the CRU and its responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails they cover show resistance to answering freedom of information act requests on the part of CRU members. Andrew Bolt also highlights relevant emails. It certainly looks as if Phil Jones et al were reluctant to hand data out to people, such as Steve McIntyre, who they regarded as “deniers” of global warming. We also see requests to delete emails regarding the IPCC AR4  and a suggestion that Jones might delete emails that are subject to a FoIA request (which would be illegal), though he later notes concerns from the University that such deletion should not occur.

The reason this should be of concern is the same reason the loss of the raw data should be of concern. For scientists to fully assess a piece of work they must be able to get hold of and question the data and the methods behind that work. Yet here we have some of the key scientists involved in the research behind climate change resisting releasing the data to their critics, and worse still losing some of it!

I can understand some of the comments about private emails remaining private, but when it comes to published results that are part of the scientific record, it seems to me that there should be total transparency regarding the data and methods used to arrive at those results in order to enable adequate scrutiny and replication of results by other scientists. This should go doubly for publicly funded work such as that of the CRU and especially for work with public policy ramifications such as that on anthropogenic global warming. A concrete example of the value of allowing people with different viewpoints and methods to access data is given in the National Post which has a neat article that illustrates how different methods of averaging can give different results.

The CRU say they have agreements with the providers of some of their data not to hand it to third parties, and this obviously constrains the extent to which they can hand out data. But the email also demonstrate an unwillingness to hand out data (and even to delete correspondence regarding the IPCC’s AR4) that went beyond such concerns which is unjustified and undermines the scientific process.

Update: Bishop Hill’s account of Steve McIntyre’s attempts to examine the work of the CRU’s Keith Briffa demonstrates a long running reluctance and resistance by Briffa to release data lasting right upto 10 years after the original publication, as well as demonstrating how differing selections of data can alter the results one gets. This reluctance to release the data used to make claims does not engender trust in the scientists concerned.