Rud Istvan, sends this open letter along for publication and writes: This puts UQ on the horns of a terrible dilemma. The preferred political response is always to sweep such a situation under the rug and ignore it.
The letter follows.
Prof. Alistair McEwan, Acting-Pro-Vice Chancello, University of Queensland
Ms. Jane Malloch, Esq. Head Research Legal, University of Queensland
Mr. Graham Lloyd, Environmental Editor, The Australian
Prof. Richard Tol, University of Sussex
On May 20, 2014, you issued a formal statement concerning the controversy published by The Australian on 5/17/14 surrounding Cook et. al, 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024, ‘Quantifying the Consensus’, hereinafter QtC. That statement presents the University of Queensland (UQ) with an ethical and legal dilemma. I call your attention to it expecting UQ will do the right thing.
Your statement makes it quite clear that UQ considers QtC was done under the sponsorship of and with support from UQ. This is indisputable. The solicitation for volunteer raters for the analysis that became QtC was: survey.gci.uq.edu.au/survey.php?c=5RL8LWWT2YO7. UQ released a statement about the importance of QtC in the UQ News on January 16, 2014 headlined, “UQ climate change paper has the whole world talking.”
Your 5/20/14 statement said in part:
“Only information that might be used to identify the individual research participants was withheld. This was in accordance with University ethical approval specifying that the identity of participants should remain confidential.”
And that is precisely your dilemma.
The published paper itself identified all the individual research participants (raters). They were either named authors (with affiliations provided, for example second author Dana Nuccitelli affiliated with UQ associated website SKS, as noted in UQ’s 1/20/14 news release, or were specifically named without affiliation in the paper’s acknowledgement. Lest you doubt this, following is that portion of the paper as originally published.
Your dilemma is this. If the UQ ethical approval exists as you officially stated, then the paper as published grossly violated it. QtC is therefore unethical according to UQ policy, and should be withdrawn forthwith.
We need not cite here all the governing Australian principles that UQ is obligated to follow under such unfortunate circumstances. Those include but are not limited to www.uq.edu.au/research/integrity-compliance/human-ethics
There is 2014 retraction precedent concerning another unethical climate related paper from the University of Western Australia. If, on the other hand, there was no such ethical approval, or that approval did not require concealing rater identities, then you have officially misrepresented grossly invalid grounds for withholding the anonymized additional information needed for replication, such as date and time stamped ratings by anonymous rater. Said information has repeatedly, formally been requested by Prof. Richard S.J. Tol (Sussex University (U.K.), and an IPCC AR5 lead author) for his legitimate research purposes concerning what UQ said is a seminal paper. That data should still exist, and should be provided to Prof. Tol under UQ Policy 4.20.06a §8.2 and §9.1 (as last approved 11/28/13).
Either way, you and UQ both appear in a very bad light. It appears that UQ congratulates itself on gross ethical breaches (especially when basking in so much notoriety), while at the same time withholding anonymized primary data underlying a self admitted important research paper in contravention of UQ written research data policy. Either retract the admittedly unethical paper, or retract the grossly mistaken excuse and release the requested data to Tol.
I note in passing there is a third possibility, to wit Tol’s requested data does not exist. In which case, QtC should be retracted for being unsupportable if not also unethical. As you are probably aware, there have been many recent instances of unsupportable research subsequently retracted. These include but are not limited to papers from Ike Antkare in 2010, and many recent papers from the SCIgen group (which interestingly bears surficial similarities to SKS) now being retracted by Springer and by IEEE. Those two precedents may be particularly germane to UQ’s instant dilemma.
This letter is as copyrighted as those Ms. Malloch writes concerning this matter on UQ behalf. You and anyone else in the whole wide world are hereby granted permission to freely reproduce it in whole or in part. I suspect some may.
I look forward to whichever decision (retraction or data provision) you think best for UQ under the aforesaid circumstances.
Sincerely yours, s/s
Rud Istvan, Esq., JD/MBA