Don't Need No Stinkin' Freedom of Information—Shut Up and Just Trust What We Tell You

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New Royal Society motto: Information is what I tell you it is

The motto of the Royal Society, Britain's premier scientific organization, is "Nullius In Verba," which is generally translated as "Take no man's word for it." In other words, ask for data to substantiate claims.

Yesterday, according to the Guardian, the president of this august body, Sir Paul Nurse, expressed concern that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) queries to scientists are getting in the way of their research and are being used to "intimidate" them. He specifically cited the example of climatologists at the University of East Anglia who felt inundated by FOIA requests. Of course, the fact that UEA climatologists were ignoring or deliberately withholding information came to light after leaked emails produced the Climategate furor. 

As the Guardian reports:

Nurse said that, in principle, scientific information should be made available as widely as possible as a matter of course, a practice common in biological research where gene sequences are routinely published in public databases. But he said freedom of information had "opened a Pandora's box. It's released something that we hadn't imagined … there have been cases of it being misused in the climate change debate to intimidate scientists.

That "in principle" is a nice touch. It is certainly the case the FOIA queries can be onerous and may well be abused, but transparency in science is paramount. Richard Tol, an economist whose work focuses on the costs and benefits of climate change, observes:

The solution to Sir Paul's problem is simple: If academics do not like the scrutiny that comes with being paid by the taxpayers, they should stop accepting public money.

Remember: Nullius In Verba.  Whole Guardian article can be found here.

NEXT: Ventriloquists for the Powerless

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  1. If academics do not like the scrutiny that comes with being paid by the taxpayers, they should stop accepting public money.

    That’s it. No more commentary required.

    1. Now THAT’S intimidating.

      1. Shut up and eat your spinach.

    2. a practice common in biological research where gene sequences are routinely published in public databases.

      Celera had incorporated the public data into their genome, but forbade the public effort to use Celera data

      1. That’s a complete separate form of bullshit, but bullshit IP enforcement still requires government action.

  2. The science is settled!
    Badges, we don’t need no stinkin badges!

  3. I can see how an inbox full of FOIA requests every morning could get annoying…but I’m not sure where there could be intimidation.

    The FOIA compliance problem could be solved by simply posting all covered work to a publicly accessible site and directing any FOOA requests there.

    1. Gee, I wonder if abjectly lying about their data had anything to do with that.

      OOPS!

      1. Government “scientists” are not special; they, like any other employee of the state, are parasite hacks for whom libertarians should have nothing but contempt and disdain.

  4. He specifically cited the example of climatologists at the University of East Anglia who felt inundated by FOIA requests.

    If only there were some way they could make their data readily available to those who wish to see it….

    1. I see a world of tubes; where everyone is connnected to everyone; and data is available to anyone and everyone with a mere push of a button…….

      1. Impossible, if such a thing was possible then some great person like Al Gore would have invented it already.

        1. Mock me again, bitch, and know the raging, unfettered fury of the all-powerful goddess Gaia, UNLEASHED — !!!

  5. Steve McIntyre also comments on a specific piece of this story here:

    http://climateaudit.org/

  6. there have been cases of it being misused in the climate change debate to intimidate scientists.

    Some fiend has examined the data and suggested they do not support the conclusions?

    1. How dare they question my work.

      Seriously though in engineering school I was taught to just outright ignore any graph, chart or conclusion if the author refuses to include their data and analysis.

    1. Get rid of the necessity for lobbying and the lobbying problem goes away.

      1. politicians and big business are the problems but the solution is not to purchase goods and services from industry that employs lobbyist. Difficult with health care but not impossible elsewhere

          1. Yes, they are but I try to buy ‘off the grid’ in food, and I’d never buy/services from the bail out queens

        1. Yeah obviously you missed me.

  7. I’ve heard some pretty reasonable explanations for the contents of the e-mails that led to “climate-gate”. That being said, it still astounds me how these scientists acted like dumb asses by using vocabulary with nefarious connotations like “trick”. Yeah, like that won’t raise some eyebrows.

    1. Yeah, ok. And you never use vocabulary with “nefarious connotations” in your private correspondance?

      1. Not with the self-awareness that a general public that, despite the fact that they pay for my research, might be unfamiliar with my statistical methods and might find my correspondence a little alarming if they were to see it.

  8. You’re all terrorists.

    I’m serial! I’m super serial!!!

  9. Nullius In Verba.

    That means STFU, right?

  10. If FOIA were such a great way to harrass and intimidate people out of research, why are not animal rights people doing this to animal researchers and creationists and IDers doing this to evolutionary biologists and such? The animal rights people have been known to burn shit down. I don’t think a well coordinated campaign of FOIA harrassment would be beneath them.

    Yet, no one but the climate researchers seems to complain about FOIA. This is all bullshit. These people are frauds and don’t want to have to give the other side the evidence proving as much.

    1. John makes a very valid point.

    2. Explain why climate researchers are frauds.

      1. explain why if they are not frauds they are so hesitant to open up their processes and data?

        1. I think they legitimately see the FOIA as too burdensome on scientists, who, (I might guess) being on the left, don’t see how taxpayers might want to see what their money is paying for.

          1. Same argument goes for government agencies–they think FOIA is a pain in the ass, too.

            1. I’ve had to comply with FOIA requests before. They are a pain in the ass, but it’s a price paid for being someone earning their living from the government tit.

              The same professors squealing like stuck pigs over their emails being subject to a FOIA request would be among the first condemning an Army official saying that FOIA requests are “intimidating” and so the Army doesn’t need to comply.

      2. If climate research is funded by the fossil fuel industry, it is assumed that they are not researching why the climate is changing, but instead trying to prove that fossil fuels are not the cause.

        If climate research is funded by politicians who want to regulate the fossil fuel industry and give tax dollars to their friends in the “green energy” industry, isn’t it fair to assume that they are not researching why the climate is changing, but instead trying to prove that fossil fuels are causing the climate to change and that “green” energy needs to be funded by tax dollars?

        If that is not the case, why the double standard?

        1. Follow the money.

        2. You won’t see a double standard from. I judge all data without any regard to the researcher’s interests. Isn’t that argumentum ad hominem?

          1. from me.

            Fix it for myself.

          2. from me.

            Fix it for myself.

          3. Motives are meaningless?

            1. Only unmutual motives.

            2. If the motives meant something, it would show up in the data.

              1. If the motives meant something, it would show up in the data.

                Which is why experiments are designed to be reproducible.

                1. Which is why experiments are designed to be reproducible.

                  Without access to the data necessary to accurately attempt said reproduction? Neat trick, that.

                2. “If the motives meant something, it would show up in the data.

                  Which is why experiments are designed to be reproducible.”

                  Since the data is not forthcoming and the experiments are not reproducible, I must conclude that these “climate researchers” are full of shit.

              2. If the motives meant something, it would show up in the data.

                Which is why it is incumbent upon the climate researchers to release all of their records and data.

    3. “These people are frauds and don’t want to have to give the other side the evidence proving as much.”

      That’s about it.

      1. Agreed. It’s so damn obvious, I bet there’s a consensus.

  11. Following up on John’s excellent point:

    FOIA requests are made to animal researchers all the time. So much so that there is a recommended protocol for dealing with them.

    http://www2.mercer.edu/Researc…..quests.htm

    It’s only a problem now because it’s being directed at climate scientists.

    This is the Paula Jones lawsuit all over again.

    “How DARE you use common tools against our favored friends? These tools WE invented are only to be used against EVIL WHITE MALE INDUSTRIALISTS AND TOOLS OF THE PATRIARCHY!”

    1. The bonus irony here is that animal researchers, while dealing with an abundant amount of FOIA requests, still occasionally manage to produce things that benefits people like vaccines, paralysis treatment and artificial organs. Climate scientists on the other hand regularly produce…..what, exactly?

      1. Hockey sticks!!!! How can we play hockey without climate scientists, eh???

        1. Their hockey sticks suck. Have you tried playing with that curve?

      2. Well, they produce reasons for politicians and NGO people to run around the world having lavish conferences…..

    2. You’d think a geneticist might be somewhat familiar with that, wouldn’t ya? But apparently he’s only aware of climate scientists being “intimidated.”

  12. The Guardian will have you know that Sir Paul Nurse has been awarded the Nobel prize for medicine in 2001.

    Case closed. Go back to grub farming or whatever it is that you ignorant rubes do in lieu of harassing the literati.

  13. Paul Nurse is a great geneticist but his dabbling in climate science is shoddy and politicized.

  14. It would be a real shame if somebody from here (commenter or actual writer) were to file a FOIA request for some of Paul Nurse’s stuff. On a monthly basis. Forever.

  15. The motto of the Royal Society, Britain’s premier scientific organization, is “Nullius In Verba,” which is generally translated as “Take no man’s word for it.” In other words, ask for data to substantiate claims.

    Anyone here know the Latin for “I, for one, welcome my new Royal Society overlords”…?

    1. No, but here’s the Google translation: “Ego una grata in nouo seniori Societas Regia.”

      1. Can you use dominus (or whatever the proper form is) for overlords at least>?

        1. That’s better. I had to threaten the translator to get it to translate the word at all, along with “Royal Society.”

        2. I believe the correct translation is: “Ego, jako jedno, bienvenudi nuestro magister Societ? Royale.

  16. In Nurse’s defense, access to data, methods, and sources is quite a different thing than access to correspondence. We all need some privacy to bounce ideas off colleages.

    Many scientists have been motivated by unpure motives. So what? It is the data and results that matter.

    1. Many scientists have been motivated by unpure motives. So what? It is the data and results that matter.

      The data and results are suspect as well.

      1. I agree. But in the original article Nurse seems to be addressing the demand for correspondence and early drafts. Part of the purpose of peer review is to find problems in the drafts and make the author clean things up. This may have failed in some climate science cases, but Nurse seems to be asking for clarity in what is public and what is not.

        1. stuartl: Nobody seems to be able to provide an example of when someone as tried to FOIA a “draft” of an article. If anyone knows of cases, please let me know.

          Of course, one motivation of seeking an “early draft” would be to see how it got changed, e.g., were all changed assumptions made in a certain direction? If so, why?

          Still, I agree that requiring works in progress be made available is too much to expect or reasonably want.

          1. RB,
            The article at the Richard Tol link is strange. He begins with:

            The Guardian has one of those articles with no comments thread, usually a sure sign that they have written something…disputable.

            [his ellipsis] The Guardian article had 214 comments the last I checked.

            He then ramps up the outrage, calling Nurse a liar because the nebulous language of the law could be used by the scientists to wriggle out of complying if they didn’t want to anyway so what’s the problem, then he asks why the scientists hate science so much that they don’t want to comply. All very odd and not a very rational response.

            (I thought the blog post was from Tol at first, but I’m not sure who the author “Bishop Hill” actually is.)

            1. Bishop Hill is Andrew Montford.

              Comments were indeed closed at the Guardian when the blog was written, but were opened later.

    2. Cherry-picked data is not data. Massaged statistics are meaningless.

      Valid scientific hypotheses make verifiable predictions and Nurse certainly ought to know that, but he’s apparently decided to jump on the AGW bandwagon instead.

    3. The method is kind of important, too. Results are meaningless until you tell me how you got there.

  17. The Freedom Of Information Act applies to England?

    1. It seems they have their own:
      http://www.legislation.gov.uk/…..section/12

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