University of Queensland threatens lawsuit over use of Cook's '97% consensus' data for a scientific rebuttal

Wow, just wow. Not only have they just invoked the Streisand effect, they threw some gasoline on it to boot. It’s all part of the Climate McCarthyism on display this week.

UPDATE: Ironically, Cook’s “97% consensus paper” was published one year ago today, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.


Data in the SI was added 16 days after publication, but not all the data, not sure if they have any legal basis to withhold the rest and still keep CCL license –  Anthony

Brandon Shollenberger writes:

My Hundredth Post Can’t Be Shown

Dear readers, I wanted to do something special for my hundredth post at this site.  I picked out a great topic for discussion. I wrote a post with clever prose, jokes that’d make your stomach ache from laughter and even some insightful commentary. Unfortunately, I can’t post it because I’d get sued.

You see, I wanted to talk about the Cook et al data I recently came into possession of. I wanted to talk about the reaction by Cook et al to me having this data. I can’t though. The University of Queensland has threatened to sue me if I do.

I understand that may be difficult to believe. I’d like to provide you proof of what I say. I’m afraid I can’t do that either though. If I do, the University of Queensland will sue me. As they explained in their letter threatening me: 


That’s right. The University of Queensland sent me a threatening letter which threatens me further if I show anyone that letter.

Confusing, no? It gets stranger. Along with its threats, the University of Queensland included demands. The first of these is:


This demand is interesting. According to it, I’m not just prevented from disclosing any of the “intellectual property” (IP) I’ve gained access to. I’m prevented from even doing anything which involves using the data. That means I can’t discuss the data. I can’t perform analyses on it. I can’t share anything about it with you.

But that’s not all I can’t do. The University of Queensland also demanded I cease and desist from:


This fascinates me. I corresponded with John Cook to try to get him to assert any claims of confidentiality he might have regarding the data I now possess. I sent him multiple e-mails telling him if he felt the data was confidential, he should request I not disclose it. I said if people’s privacy needed to be protected, he should say so.

He refused. Repeatedly.

Apparently I badgered Cook too much. I tried too hard to get him to do his duty and try to protect his subjects’ privacy. The University of Queensland needs me to stop. If I don’t, they’ll sue me.

So yeah, sorry guys. I wanted my hundredth post to be interesting, but I guess it won’t be. Anything interesting I might have to say will get me sued. And maybe not just sued. The University of Queensland apparently wants me arrested too:


I don’t know what sort of hack they had investigate the supposed hacking, but this is silly. There was no hacking involved. The material was gathered in a perfectly legal way. I could easily prove that.

Only, proving it would require using the data I’ll be sued for using…


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Like many foreigners, they have no clue on US Law. An amusing letter. Publishing it would be a way to say “get a life”. They need to.


“Only, proving it would require using the data I’ll be sued for using…”
This is why they will sue you.

David Smith

There’s ‘open science’ for you…
Why are they so scared? What have they got to hide? Are they scared people will find out Cartoonist Cook’s ‘paper’ was fit for nothing apart from bog-roll?

Bob Kutz

Of course they can sue you. You can sue anyone for any reason.
It doesn’t mean they have a case, and trying to claim copyright over interpersonal communications is ludicrous. And they are fully aware of that.
Publish it then sue them for intimidation and infringement of your rights.
Data cannot possibly copyright, especially if its confidential or ‘proprietary’.
Can’t have it both ways.

Mark Bofill

Did they provide any legal justification for their demand that you cease and desist from any further correspondence with Cook? Surely you can say without disclosing what their legal justification was.
I’ve never heard of such a thing. A threatening letter that demands you keep the threat secret. From a University?!? It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a blackmailer, isn’t it?
Somebody’s panties must be in an awful wad down in Queensland.
Thanks Brandon, that cheers me, somehow. 🙂

Bob Kutz, they’re actually right to say they own the copyright to this letter. They do. That just doesn’t mean they can demand I not publish it. There are many reasons copyrighted material can be republished. Fair use is easy to argue in regard to a cease and desist complaint, especially when that complaint alleges criminal offenses.
Mark Bofill, not a one. They didn’t provide any legal justification for their first demand either. Even if I were somehow prohibited from disclosing the data, they cannot possibly require I refrain from using the data in any way.
By the way, I was actually in a bit of a bad mood for the last couple days due to personal stuff. That vanished as soon as I read this letter. I’m still struggling not to burst into laughter at random moments, half a day after I read it.
It’s so ridiculous, you have to enjoy it.

This is another example showing why intellectual property laws are illegitimate acts of aggression and should be abolished.


Call their bluff and up the ante by threatening them with international blackmail….or whatever is appropriate legalese.

Mark Bofill

Could this be FOIA’d?


Any article published in a scientific journal with some reputation, should yield the data so there is reproducibility by other scientists. In this case, I never had any doubts that the article by Mr. Cook has neither merit nor was posted fulfilling all the criteria that should guide any scientific publication. Probably one of the most cited pieces of rubbish I have ever saw published as science… I’m getting suspicious that the University of Queensland is threatening anyone that tries to rebut this article to avoid getting “burned” in reputation when people realise how such a piece of rubbish can be published by someone from that institution. I’m wondering If I could ever publish so easily similar stuff. That’s how climate “so-called peer review science” goes…


This from a university (haven of free speech!) in a country whose PM is allegedly a CACA skeptic.

Marlo Lewis

Too funny! Reminds of the video where Minnesotans for Global Warming announce they are taking down their “Hide the Decline” video to avoid a lawsuit from Prof. Mann — and then show the video so the media will know what the threatened litigation is about.

george e. smith

Well IANAL but it seems to me, that if there is a breach of the copyright, it was either by the U of Q themselves, or by the very author of the information, so they should sue him, since that is likely a breach of his employment agreement with him.
In any case, there is some sort of “”” fair use “”” doctrine, regarding copyrights, and the use of such materials for legitimate research.
So why haven’t they sued the MSM for making this 97% statement go viral.
Maybe they are sensitive to the fact that the logo of the U of Q, now carries the appellation “97%” to it for all time.
They could fix the situation by telling the MSM and anyone else THEY disclosed their IP to, that it should be retracted, because it is both silly, and false.


Threats have become Intellectual Property?
Oops. Sorry, I’m going to have to go and uncurl my lip.

It’s not the crime (Cook’s paper), it’s the coverup that really reveals there’s something they are hiding. The University of Queensland is just a backwater school without academic purpose for being.

Australia’s University of Queensland attempts blackmail of a US citizen.
Any US citizen has a right to seek protection by US police from Australian UQ blackmailers.

Alan Robertson

Hey Brandon,
This becomes your one hundredth post and it is very interesting, indeed.

Walt The Physicist

milodonharlani says:
May 15, 2014 at 11:55 am
Most of my working life I was in close contact with academia and I can attest that, this is most oppressive and least accepting and diverse environment. Look, they had to invent tenure to protect “academic freedom” that they still can’t enjoy as it is undermined by promotion, funding, and publication procedures. Universities are haven of free speech may be for students, but, definitely, not for academic faculty.


I do not understand. From the phrasing in the letter I see no reason whatsoever to think that IP means anything different then the IP-address that Cook uses to get access to the internet. Apparently they think that you used it to get access through that address, If they meant ‘intellectual property’ they would have specified what they mean by that. If as you can say that you obtained the info in a legal way, I think you have nothing to fear.

This is amazing. Sounds like someone at the University has flown off the handle somewhat and I’m sure their lawyers will be saying, “What? You put WHAT in writing?”
They are trying to scare you, big time. What happens now, Brandon???


The last sentence was a mess, sorry, I meant: If as you say you can prove that you obtained the info in a legal way, I think you have nothing to fear.

Mark Bofill, the letter to me could, as could at least some of the documentation related to it. At the very least, it should be possible to use FOIA requests to get a copy of any reports related to the forensic investigation and the contractual obligations. I imagine some (all?) inter-office communication would be exempted though.
bevothehike, I’m not sure I want to “up the ante by threatening them with international blackmail.” I try to avoid committing crimes 😛
More seriously, I’m in no position to threaten anyone. I wouldn’t even have the resources to file a libel lawsuit just to protect my reputation. As long as the University of Queensland doesn’t file a suit against me,* this will only play out in the public arena. Which, by the way, I’m happy with. I wouldn’t care to get involved with anything that requires lawyers.
*I guess the University of Queensland could also press the issue by trying to get criminal charges filed. I’d love for that to happen because of the IT angle. The worst that would happen is the FBI would talk to me then laugh when they hear what I did to “hack” the server.


Stalinist Science strikes again!

HGW xx/7

Okay, can some one please explain what is going on in Australia? I mean, on one hand, the country’s geography seems akin to the US’s wild West, a wide-open land full of dreams and earnest hard work.
Yet, the politics of the Land Down Under are so hard left. I know there are skeptics from there and a government rarely is a true reflection of the governed. For crying out loud, though, the Aussies make most Europeans look like right-wingers, at least with regards to environmentalism.
All you Aussies who have held strong, this is not criticism of you. I feel for you. I just want to understand. I am consistently baffled.


Perhaps, if someone hacked YOUR computer and published it…

A.D. Everard says:
They are trying to scare you, big time. What happens now, Brandon???
Good question. Maybe Mark Steyn has the right approach.
This looks like a completely empty threat. Only one way to find out, though.

Michael D

Now, of course, we are all infinitely more interested to hear how it is that you got the information. You have said from the beginning that it was not stolen or hacked, which suggests that someone left it lying around. Your emails to Cook, however, suggest that you were somewhat concerned about the legitimacy of the way that you accessed the data. Please please tell us exactly how you got the data – your methods are your IP.

drop Edward and Julian an email, I’m sure they can help in regard of the freedom (or lack) of this data, and tell you what you are really up against.
I would leak it if I were you, all the rage you know!


Waiting for the Cartoon by Josh on this one.

Shawn in High River

They do seem pretty desperate to scare you into submission.
You must have something good 🙂

HGW xx/7 says:
May 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm
Okay, can some one please explain what is going on in Australia?
It’s not as black and white as all Aussies being hard left. There are (some parts) of each of the capital cities, then there’s everyone else. It’s much like the USA where the coasts are full of progs and flyover country less so. Go to rural Australia and you’ll find the people who subscribe to the “wide-open land full of dreams and earnest hard work” vision (with the exception of popular beaches, where a lot of welfare bums “struggle”).
Something about living in a high population-density area that rots the mind, I think.


Just send them a threatening copyrighted letter back threatening to sue if they disclose it.

Stephanie Clague

Publish and be damned.
They are obviously trying to put the frighteners on you with what amounts to a blackmail letter itself a federal offence. They are making empty threats in the hope you will cave in, one short meeting with any legal council worth his salt will show this to be the case. And if you dont want to publish send it to me and others on this site and we will do it and let them sue us, I for one would look forward to it.


Perhaps in the future, when such hidden data are uncovered, they should be immediately sent anonymously by mail to hundreds of people in multiple countries who might be interested in it. The list would hopefully include some folks with the resources to defend against such SLAPP suits.


I would siggest contacting the Office of the Premier of Queensland, who is well known to be a sceptic of all things Global warming and may well be very interested in this unenforceable threat.
UQL is a recipient of plentiful State Funding and I am sure the Premier would love to find some legitimate cuts to make as he struggles to get the QLD economy back in shape after removing the Leftards in 2012. Well worth checking this route out: Campbell Newman, Premier


Eff ’em. They cannot do anything.
Publish it all.

Alan Robertson, that was the joke. I didn’t actually have a hundredth post written. I wasn’t even sure what I’d write about for it. I do have a post written, but it’s three or four posts down the road.
theorichel, they defined IP as intellectual property earlier in the letter. I didn’t show that part, but I made sure to define it in my post so people could understand what it meant.
Michael D, I’m not sure how you can say my e-mails to John Cook suggest I was concerned about the legitimacy of how I accessed the data. I’ve never shared the e-mails I sent to him. I assume Cook has shown them to some people (how could he not if he had a lawyer write a letter), but I don’t think you’d have seen them.
dbstealey, sadly, I don’t have the resources of Mark Steyn. I’m not afraid of the University of Queensland’s (baseless) threats, but I’m well aware of my limitations regarding them.

I’d report these actions to the Australian Research Council resp. the relevant goverment department.


It appears the ‘university’ of Queensland has taken the same sort of action to protect Cook as the ‘university’ of Western Australia took to protect Lewandowsky.
Given that Lewandowsky and Cook appear to be busy submitting papers to prove that anyone that does not agree with the 97% has a ‘mental derangement’ then I am not surprised.


Have you contacted Mr. Cook to see if he agrees with the request not to contact him?

Man Bearpig

The letter is bs. Ask them to provide evidence of the hack the are implying you made. Ask them under what US laws are they making the demands of non dislosure. Any non disclosure clauses are only usually applicable if both parties agree.
Anthony had a similar threat some time ago but the other party withdrew the threat after a single email so he may offer sone advice on the wording and the part of the organisation to send the email to. It seems this is a bluff and may not have the authority of legal department of the uni.


This is what I wrote on Brandon’s website:

As I understand it, it is John Cook and Dana Nuccitelli’s claim that they have published “all of the data” amounts to releasing “all” of the abstracts they studied.
To make an analogy with geology, if I were to go out and collect rocks for a study, these would normally be called “samples”. The only way they’d be considered data would be if, for example, the research paper was “My Pet Rock Collection”.
It is absolutely the case that the ethics of the release of data of these sort are spelled out in full by US funding agencies (Steve McIntyre has written on this).
So not only are John Cook and Dana Nuccitelli corrupting the scientific process, the University of Queensland is corrupting the scientific process as well. Since UQ has taken to harassing US citizens, I suspect your US Senator and Congressman would take in actions taken by an official arm of the Australian Government, especially one that involved the support of unethical research practices.

I find it really interesting how many people on Cook’s “side” think that discussing the scientific ethics issues are a joke.

John McClure

File header information may contain the urls necessary to show how available it was on their site. You don’t need to show anyone the data. You may also be able to recover the urls from browser cache files.
They’re probably simply covering up how foolish Cook was to make the files publicly available in the first place or he lied and they think someone needed to hack the site. Either way, they don’t want every kid hacking their site so no news is good news.


How is this different from where an adult molests a child and then threatens the child with punishment if he tells anybody?


Walt The Physicist says:
May 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm
Not really for students, either.
Academics preach cherishing diversity, but only if the opinions of the student body diverse in origin are united behind the high-held banner of Progressiveness.

Harry Passfield

Stephanie Clague beat me to it: Whatever happened to ‘Publish and be damned’? C’mon, what will it cost? You could always win…..

The Ghost Of Big Jim Cooley

You HAVE to give whatever you have to someone within the sceptic community who isn’t afraid of some silly Australian university. I fully understand you may well be put off doing anything yourself, but there will be LOTS of people who won’t be at all afraid of publishing everything you have. Give it to the GWPF, for example. Get in touch with them ASAP.


Refer them to Arkell v. Pressdram

Steven Hales

What about leaving the info in plain view and then throw a party? Many variations on that theme. I was robbed I tell ya’ robbed.

@Steven Hales

What about leaving the info in plain view and then throw a party? Many variations on that theme. I was robbed I tell ya’ robbed.

(in my best Don Adams voice) – The old Skeptical Science Nazi Uniform trick!

Man Bearpig

Ask the university about their whistleblower policies