The FOIA coping response in climate scientists

Guest essay by Chris Horner

The curiously titled article, “Climate scientists, facing skeptics’ demands for personal emails, learn how to cope”, in today’s E&E News “ClimateWire” http://www.eenews.net/climatewire/2014/01/21/stories/1059993161 (paywalled), is characteristic of a recent uptick in the campaign to discourage universities and courts from properly interpreting open records laws for all requesters — not just the right kind of requester.

The piece opens somewhat oddly: “In the spring of 2012, Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, received a somewhat unusual request: The American Tradition Institute, a conservative group, wanted to search through his emails”, yet several paragraphs later wrote “Schmidt and a number of others had already been on the receiving end of such requests.”

Possibly mentioning the Greenpeace model deployed at the University of Virginia, University of Delaware, Harvard-Smithsonian and elsewhere, or USA Today’s Dan Vergano working with another Hockey Stick author to obtain emails from George Mason University’s Edward Wegman, would have helped resolve the conflict whether this is somewhat unusual or not (the PEER official quoted in the article misstates our “template”; it is Greenpeace’s noble efforts, not Climategate).

Regardless, it was Texas A&M’s records officer who received the request, for Texas A&M emails, in the most sincere form of flattery Greenpeace could ever aspire to.  It is humble of them that they don’t.  By way of apparent explanation for the modesty, as I noted here, Greenpeace informed a Charlottesville newspaper that our requests were nothing at all alike, because our objectives are different.

The piece contains the usual tropes, including Scott Mandia’s assertion that a FOIA request is akin to shooting someone. The attentive reader may ask, but, Scott, doesn’t that mean that Greenpeace has shot an awful lot of researchers?

Later in the article, making a request under an open records law is not merely “harassment”  — curse you, you harassing lawmakers who dare adopt these requirements that I unwittingly signed a piece of paper agreeing to! — but an “attack”. (What is the analogy when they take your trash every week, a Greenpeace speciality to which I was treated?)

With similar accuracy the reporter claims we sue academics over their emails; no, we sue public universities when they do not comply with the law.  It is Michael Mann who sues individuals over what they say.

There is also the serial, de rigueur insistence by Texas A&M climate activist Andrew Dessler, among others, that emails a state-school academic agreed as a condition of his employment were not his are, too, his, or as the headline says, “personal”.

But as Greenpeace knew, the correspondence that such a taxpayer servant chooses to conduct on the university-provided account is presumptively work-related, and as such is the university’s. Which is to say, the state’s, which is to say the taxpayer’s, barring application of one of certain enumerated exceptions.  We have never in fact sought “personal” emails. The continued insistence on claiming we have possibly indicates how strongly they view their argument against disclosure.

More helpful was the implicit call to remind readers that we did in fact publish what we found at TAMU, such as in this piece in the Washington Examiner.  For example, we found that the Union of Concerned Scientists has placed a Washington, DC, outfit called Prism Public Affairs at these folks’ disposal for when they need some friendly media. Say, Frontline, when they are bothered by certain people (not Greenpeace) using FOI laws. And UCS brings them to Washington for training to serve UCS’s purposes, to be UCS activists while wearing their taxpayer-servant hat.  It was a very useful request.

The reporter did conflate TAMU requests; the first one did in fact produce Dessler correspondence with the New York Times’ Justin Gillis, who was going to Paris to interview Richard Lindzen.  Finally doing so was “unavoidable,” and “[s]o I need a really good bibliography of all the published science” countering Lindzen’s position on cloud feedback — “that is, anything that stands as evidence against Lindzen’s claim that the feedback has to be strongly negative.”

In the de-brief emails, some uncomfortable mockery followed about Lindzen being interested in the experience of Parisian Jews in WWII.  So, yes, there were professionally and personally embarrassing or discrediting emails produced, but more important were the substantive revelations about UCS as a vehicle for taxpayer servants, and the program they offer.

Other than that, it was purely harassing gunplay, apparently.

As to the rakish destruction of emails, well, as you might expect that’s far more nuanced than Dessler’s assertions that make it into the article indicate. More on that later, but those paying heed should closely read not only their state’s law, but their employer’s policies.  To put it gently we have found, for example at UVa, that doing so was not always the case.

It seems difficult for this crowd to accept but neither repetition nor feverishly wishing or believing something to be so magically make it so. Taxpayer servants just certain that work-related emails are “theirs” or “personal”, or that they are special and above the laws enacted and policies they agreed to, should proceed deliberately.  It is possible that attempts to lawyer their way out from under them will work. Destroying records in the meantime should not be done lightly.

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Reference:

SCIENCE:

Climate scientists, facing skeptics’ demands for personal emails, learn how to cope

Stephanie Paige Ogburn, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

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26 thoughts on “The FOIA coping response in climate scientists

  1. 1. Re: “… Scott Mandia’s assertion that a FOIA request is akin to shooting someone.”

    Oh. Really. That little analogy logically implies that, thus, discovery of whatever those documents contain would severely damage the defendants’ case. Bwah, ha, ha, ha, haaaaa. What a dope.

    2. So, (I haven’t read the paywalled article referred to above) they are apparently instructing their employees to DESTROY evidence that has a reasonably likelihood of being used in litigation?!! Dumb move.

    3. LOL, a bunch of attorneys (for the Plaintiff requesting party) won’t figure out a way to argue that merely labeling something “personal” is NO legal significance and will not protect the defendant obstructors in the least? Ha, ha, ha, ha, haaa.

    So, in sum, the “scientists” have said IN PUBLIC (eye roll):

    If you see what we wrote in those e mails, it will hurt us badly. So…. we’re going to hide them from you…. maybe even destroy them.

    No WONDER they have to lie about their “science.” L1es are all an incompetent person has.

    KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT FOR TRUTH, Chris Horner (et. al.)!

    And remember, in the end, TRUTH WINS.

    Every time.

    Janice

  2. Its odd how much smoke and mirrors are needed when promoting ‘settled science’

    In reality its there very use that is dead give away that its far from ‘settled’ for its fear of weak argument not knowledge of a strong one , which makes them down this route in the first place .

  3. You just can’t make this stuff up.

    In the link to EE News provided by Taphonomic (12:04 pm), mention is made of an organization called the “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund”, founded by none other than Scott (“Super”) Mandia. The aim of this “fund” (hmmmm … … … whose money?) is to defend poor distraught scientists from FOIA requests

    The logo of “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund” shows a scale-balance, intriguingly tipped to the Left, with a zig-zag crossbar that eerily resembles the Keeling curve of rising CO2 concentrations.

    Coincidence? You decide.

  4. These people are paid by the tax-payer and they behave like members of an organised crime syndicate.

  5. KNR says:
    January 21, 2014 at 11:49 am
    “Its odd how much smoke and mirrors are needed when promoting ‘settled science’ ”
    Another contender for quote of the week.

  6. Question? Are politicians and/or the EPA required to release e-mails with a FOIA request?
    Can a citizen make a request? How about wind farm companies…they are paid with tax monies?

    The only way to succesfully scam someone is to
    Not let them know they have scammed.

  7. Now that they are so obviously losing the argument, did anyone think the alarmists would fight fair?

  8. Re; Peter Miller (1:24pm) — yes, indeed. Good point. And isn’t the desperation in the air a pleasant aroma? HA, HA, HAAAA!

    Enemies of truth will always be with us, but the Science Giants for Truth are keeping those rats in the dark recesses of the castle, drooling and hissing vile (and STUPID) things, but unable to conquer. Yes!

  9. I’m kind of interested in Dessler’s claim that its okay for him to delete e-mails. My understanding of most FOIA laws is that while its okay to simply delete e-mails as part of normal business but to do so to avoid FOIA laws is not. Its intent that matters to the law.

  10. GeologyJim says:
    January 21, 2014 at 12:31 pm http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/21/the-foia-coping-response-in-climate-scientists/#comment-1543658

    =====================================================================
    Here’s a link so you can see for yourself.

    http://climatesciencedefensefund.org/

    Several months ago I saw something linking them to Soros but I can’t find it again and I don’t remember if it was “a stretch” or solid. Maybe someone has a solid connection?
    (I don’t want to through around “Soros” like some through around “Koch Brothers”.)

  11. “…a scale-balance, intriguingly tipped to the Left,… .” (Geology Jim at 12:31pm today)

    Hm. Veerrry eeenterestingk.

    Lady Justice is blindfolded and her scales are even.
    And the sword in her right hand? — it’s for those who l1e to her.

    It is no mistake that Justitia is female. Those Romans knew a thing or two about women.

    Don’t mess with Justice, science l1ars.
    In the end, you will lose.
    Truth wins.
    Every time.

  12. C.P. Snow, a physicist who worked on Britain’s atomic bomb project during WWII, and one of the Mid-Twentieth Century’s most acclaimed novelists, wrote a watershed essay, The Two Cultures, which conjectured about the dire effects of scientific illiteracy among the liberally educated. I believe we are reaping the consequences of that illiteracy today in the great climate debate.
    Just as significantly, Snow wrote in his novel, The New Men, after there is a leak of nuclear research to Russia in the book, about how secreting research results was alien to the scientists of the day, and a practice they abhorred and chaffed at. He writes:
    “Martin was a secretive man; but keeping scientific secrets, which to Smith [a civil servant] seemed so natural, was to him a piece of evil, even if a necessary evil. In war you had to do it, but you could not pretend to like it. Science was done in the open, that was a reason why it had conquered; if it dwindled away into little secret groups hoarding their results away from each other, it would become no better than a set of recipes, and within a generation would have lost all its ideal and half its efficacy.”
    Doesn’t that catch the warmists at the cookie jar to say nothing of calling into question their scientific integrity?
    If that does not, Snow continues:
    “Some of that spirit had come down to the younger men [despite wartime restrictions]. Pure science was not national; the truth was the truth, and, in a sensible world, should not be withheld; science belonged to mankind. A good many scientists were as unselfconscious as Victorians in speaking of their ideals as though they were due to their own personal excellence. But the ideals existed. That used to be science; [but] if you were ashamed of a sense of super-national dedication, men like Mounteney [a scientist turned administrator] had no use for you; in the future, that must be science again.”
    Someone ought to turn this into an oath and post it to all the Hockey Stick team members and supporters for how to respond to FOIA requests.
    Tom Anderson
    Eureka, CA

  13. (I don’t want to through around “Soros” like some through around “Koch Brothers”.)

    =================================================================
    *SIGH*
    Maybe someday they’ll invent a “brainchecker” to compliment “spellchecker”.
    Obviously I meant “throw’, not “through”.
    (Most of the problems with the English language involve those trying to speak it.)

  14. Well, this is rich.

    Climate Science Legal Defense was founded “with the fiscal sponsorship of the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)”, according to CSLD website.
    At the PEER website, we learn:

    “Founded in 1996, PEER operates primarily by investigating claims from public employees about government environmental misconduct. ….. Once a claim is made, PEER investigates it, often using Freedom of Information Act requests. …..
    As of January 2011, PEER is formally affiliated with Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, a not-for-profit organization established in 2011 to protect scientific research and researchers of climate science from think tanks and legal foundations that have taken legal action against scientific institutions and individual scientists.”

    So, PEER and CSLD believe that FOIA “legal actions” are perfectly fine when used by them, but not when used by skeptics or others looking for the data/code/methods/replication.

  15. A gazillion sites on how the skeptics get their “dark money”, but not one on CSLD. Yet. Evidently the skeptics don’t mind revealing who funds them. One would think the alarmists would be proud to do likewise; it would certainly shorten the time to find that Soros and the Tides Foundation are likely players. I have time.

  16. Found this courtesy of Canada Free Press:

    Anyway, just for your information, a massive database of IRS Form 990s shows that total US foundation support for environmental causes over the past decade or so is 331,256 grants totaling $19.3 billion, with a “b.” The portion specifically devoted to global warming or climate change is $797 million.

    Not CSLD, but a large wad of cash for the “science”.

  17. I continue to wish Chris the very best in his valuable endeavor, but we shouldn’t expect results just because the law (and reason) are on his side. As several have mentioned, politics have tilted the scales, as Chris well knows from his efforts with UVA. (Janice, we may have to be somewhat patient for the Victory of Truth.)

    To a specific point, as most of those of us who worked in business or government know, everything put on a “company” owned computer is the property of that organization. (Early e-mail systems had that disclaimer as part of the sign-on procedure.) We were also reminded that even though we might delete a message from our PC, everything still existed in archive. (They were of course also on record that personal use of the company network was “not authorized”.)

    That of course raises the question of whether or not Dessler “deleted” e-mails, were they actually destroyed? (Reminiscent of the UEA saga.)

  18. Emails are never really deleted by the end user. The server stack keeps these for a long time. Then the back up tapes will be around forever practically. It isn’t as though the FOIA officer will just go through the “current” email queues of the people, they have to go through all reasonable records and quite frankly, the server side logs are much easier to work with than the individual queues.

    I did a few of these when I was with DoD and even though the requests had nothing to do with my detachment, I had to pull all the logs and search for relevant terms, and report the results of the search. Took me about 4 days to tell them we had nothing relevant, which is what I told them at the beginning. I suspect the pentagon was sending these requests out wide as a result of a loss in a court ruling and wanted the bill for the search to be as large as practical when they won the counter suit.

    FOIA is a strange beast. I worked in national security stuff so was usually exempted (could still get hit on travel and expenses type requests which took me all of 30 seconds to compile but nothing else.) I could never understand why some agencies (e.g. the EPA – trying to pry a hazardous material protocol out them sometimes, even as another federal agency, took an act of god!) tried to act like they were unassailable. I pretty much looked at the rest of the government as “why should I have to file an FOIA, I paid for the data to begin with” sort of thing. Open records laws should pry all the secrets out of the agencies that aren’t the Departments of State and Defense, because really no one else in government should be allowed to have any secrets. DoS and DoD should be very careful about what they keep secret and make sure that the things kept secret are things that will get people killed

  19. Re: ConfusedPhoton January 21, 2014 at 12:46 pm
    “These people are paid by the tax-payer and they behave like members of an organised crime syndicate.”

    Many years ago there was a game called Illuminati, where-in the players tried to control the world thorugh layers of special interest groups. All the special interests had types, and all the types had opposites except 2 (or 1.) Fanatics were their own opposites. (A fanatic was opposed to other fanatics) Criminal had no opposite. For example, the IRS was typed as Government Criminal.

    These foks apparently fall into Fanatic Criminal (and sometimes Fanatic Criminal Government.)

  20. Good post Chris

    The influence piece of this is a tangled and complicated story but one we should expose. As is often said sunlight is the best disinfectant. Many in the public sense that something is rotten but haven’t been shown the goods just yet. Hypocrisy is a hallmark of the opposition in this debate.

  21. If they ran an article on proper compliance with FOIA from their employers (the taxpayer), would that be paywalled too?
    Same with the legal defence fund phonies, if they offered their little darlings advice on how to comply,i.e. how to properly document your work so you do not force FOIA upon those who pay your way. They would not need a legal defence fund for their current purpose.
    Course the indications are pretty clear,that they would need a criminal defence lawyer instead.

  22. This is a core example of how the tactics of the AGW crowd to suppress criticism has destroyed academic integrity, destroyed the few advances in government transparency we’ve made in the last half century, as well as destroying the foundations of the scientific method.

  23. the “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund” seems to be tied to “Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility ”

    Washington, DC — The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) has found a non-profit home in Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which provides it fiscal sponsorship and logistical support. CSLDF lets scientific colleagues and the public directly help climate scientists protect themselves and their work from industry-funded legal attacks….

    http://climatesciencedefensefund.org/press-release/#more-278

    I can find nothing about who is funding either organization but Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility seems to be a big organization with state chapters.

  24. Gentlemen (I believe that most of us are male and I’ll assume the gentleman part): This seems to be an issue in academia as a whole, not just in CAGW discussions. Here in North Carolina (where the oceans are NOT rising 100 cm/century!) we have a law professor who is rebuffing the FOIA requests of a local conservative think tank.

    I think this article covers a bit more of the scope of the conversation (not behind a paywall):

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/14/ucla-produces-statement-designed-protect-faculty-inappropriate-open-records-requests

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