Freedom of Information Update

FOI update

Lewandowsky – Universtiy of Western Australia

Graham Readfearn complains at DeSmogBlog that climate bloggers including myself are:

“using FOI to rifle through scientists’ daily emails.

[FOI] is a law which appears to have been hijacked by climate science sceptics and free market think tanks as a means to rifle through their inboxes in search of anything which, when taken out of context, might be used to make them look bad.”

This has resulted in a release this week of more than 300 pages of correspondence, although the applicant, “Australian Climate Madness” blogger Simon Turnill, has yet to publish the files. Lewandowsky said:

“There will have been easily more than 100 person hours of publicly-funded time spent dealing with this request, which cost the applicant only $30 to submit – although I understand there was an charge of $400. Putting in FOI requests seems to be common practice now. There is no question in my mind that the intent is to intimidate and slow down research. These kinds of requests discourage scientists from doing their work.”

Yes, it cost me over $400, and like anyone else I am fully entitled to apply for documents under the Freedom of Information Act without having to give any justification, because I was curious to see how such a piece of research was ever agreed to by University of WA’s ethics department.

And no, the intention was never to “intimidate and slow down research”, it is to subject academics who vilify sceptics to proper scrutiny. I have only ever submitted FOI requests when a highly questionable claim is made in the mainstream media, as was the case here, namely that sceptics believed the moon landings were faked. In total, I have submitted just four FOI requests in two and a half years on just two news stories – hardly what can be regarded as vexatious.

Lewandowsky obviously forgets that our taxes (including mine) pay his salary. When he uses his publicly funded position to launch highly politicised attacks on those he disagrees with, thinly disguised as academic research, then there are likely to be people who find that offensive.

As to why the documents have not been published, it is because there are a number of key emails between Professor Lewandowsky and a significant third party which have been withheld because of the third party’s objection. I am awaiting the release of those documents in due course, following which I will be commenting further on them.

As an aside, I must mention that the FOI department at the University of Western Australia has been exemplary in its handling of this matter.

Death threats – Melbourne University

Readfearn correctly states that I recently received emails under an FOI from Melbourne University. Once again, the “non-death threats” story made the mainstream media throughout the world. It is entirely proper for such claims to be backed up by documentary evidence. Emails received from the ANU showed that whilst there was abuse, there were no death threats. In other words, the FOI was justified in providing a proper background to the story which the mainstream media failed to provide.

As with the UWA, I must give Melbourne University credit for the professional manner in which the request was dealt with. Both it and the University of Western Australia are in stark contrast to the handling of the FOI request by ANU, which was initially refused, forcing me to appeal to the Information Commissioner.

I am still working on these, but guess what? The worst I can find is: “Die you lying bastard”. Unpleasant and distressing? Certainly. A death threat? Certainly not.

More importantly, however, one of the scientists involved, a prominent name in climate circles, even admits that the timing of the death threats story was a “media beat up”, and that there was no evidence of a “conspiracy” by sceptics to intimidate climate scientists.

What do you make of that, Graham?

Last words on ANU FOI

FOI request

ANU have stifled any further attempt to reach the truth in this matter, having (a) refused to comment any further through their media office; and (b) quoted nearly $40k to search through their documents for the further evidence I have requested – a ridiculous amount clearly intended to thwart my request.

You’d think they’d have a big red file labelled “Death Threats” on a shelf somewhere, but apparently not. The threats were so serious (allegedly) that they kept no easily accessible records and will need to spend over 2500 man hours trawling through all their documents. Bizarre.

This signals the end of the line. I could appeal the quoted fee, but to be honest, I don’t have the inclination to pursue the matter any further.

Chris Merritt pens the final summary in The Australian:

ATTEMPTS to verify last year’s sensational reports of death threats against climate change scientists have been stymied by the Australian National University, which wants to be paid at least $37,800 to search its records for evidence that would support those reports.

The university has justified that fee by asserting that the search would take 2520 hours and occupy six employees for 60 days working seven-hours a day at $15 an hour.

ANU has also given notice that the final bill could be even higher as it would need to include an additional sum to cover the cost of deciding whether to make available the results of the search. Before it starts looking, the university wants a deposit of $9450.

The money demanded by ANU has forced lawyer and climate change blogger Simon Turnill to abandon his latest attempt to check the veracity of the assertions.

“I don’t know how they have arrived at this figure of over 2500 hours of work to identify these documents,” Mr Turnill said.

“The simplest option would be for ANU to come out and admit honestly what was received and what was not received. Making us go through an endless succession of hoops to get to the truth seems a very defensive and strange response.”

As part of his FOI application, Mr Turnill had also sought access to all documents and records containing communications with journalists — particularly those at The Canberra Times — about threats to staff at the university’s Climate Change Institute. (source)

Chris also writes here about the police reports of threats sent to them in 2006, years prior to the story breaking last June, and how statements from the ANU staff concerned, which would have allowed police to investigate further, were never received. The description of the letters provided by police does not tie in with the description supplied by the ANU in its statement.

So I guess we will never know the truth. People will inevitably draw their own conclusions from the evasive manner in which ANU have handled this entire episode, which has done little for openness, honesty and ultimately the credibility of the institution.

Sharing information, whether it be climate data or evidence to back up claims of death threats, seems to be very difficult for our climate scientists.

If you emotionalise the climate debate, expect scrutiny

And if you make exaggerated claims about AGW, expect scrutiny of those as well.

I really didn’t want to spoil my breakfast by reading anything from extremist Clive Hamilton, but I had little choice, as it refers to the ANU email story.

Regular readers will know Hamilton has made many dangerous global warming statements in the past, including suggesting the “suspension of democracy” to tackle the climate “crisis”, so it’s no surprise what comes next.

I’m not going to bother quoting anything from it, you can read it yourself here, but suffice it to say, Hamilton fails to acknowledge that there were no death threats received by the ANU, criticises The Australian for its reporting (naturally, this is the Murdoch hate media after all), and sneakily conflates the ANU story with some far more serious emails received by Phil Jones at UEA in the couple of months after the Climategate scandal broke.

[But was anyone ever charged with a criminal offence over these emails? Yes, they are deeply offensive and unpleasant, but, again, do they contain specific enough threats to kill that charges could be brought? I very much doubt it.]

In society there will always be a tiny minority of disturbed individuals who will send such material to high profile public figures, especially when they are front and centre of the news. I’ve said it a thousand times before, but will say it again: no conduct of this kind is acceptable in any circumstances and ACM condemns it unreservedly. 

However, when climate scientists themselves use the media to emotionalise the debate, to garner sympathy for their cause and implicitly portray anyone who questions the consensus as capable of such actions in an attempt to tar all climate realists with the same brush, they should expect detailed scrutiny of those claims. It’s all a meaningless distraction from the real issue anyway.

In Hamilton’s view, like with the climate debate itself, we, the ignorant unwashed masses, are not permitted to question the infallible authority of the climate elite, whether it is about man’s effect on the climate or receiving death threats. When some impudent upstart dares to do so, that is immediately branded “hate speech” by the “denier media”.

Sorry to be so childish about this, but really, who started this in the first place?

ABC finally corrects 2011 ANU death threat story

FOI request

UPDATE: Marc has written to the ABC requesting they amend the sloppy and partisan wording of this update. We’ll see how far he gets…

Thanks to Marc Hendrickx for this update, which now appears on the original 4 June 2011 story. It still however refers to “climate sceptics” as if the only reason they were forced to issue the correction was because of evil deniers, rather than the fact that the story was incorrect:

UPDATE (June 4 2012):  Following  the release  of specific emails under Freedom of Information request, climate change sceptics have claimed that the released emails contradict suggestions that any death threats were received, but a spokesperson for the ANU says the university is standing by its claims that death threats were received. Questions have also been raised about whether one of the released emails did, in fact, constitute a threat to use a gun, with a person involved in the kangaroo culling program claiming the comments were made by him, and were in no way intended as a threat. The specific emails released under FOI were found by the Privacy Commissioner to contain abuse, but not overt threats.

Note the ANU still claims “death threats” were received – I’m still waiting for the ANU to provide them.

Media's double standards on threats

Chris Merritt writes about the threats endured by those on the other side of the climate debate and politics in general, which, naturally, are rarely reported or mentioned by our PC media, whose self-appointed job is to defend the climate consensus:

At the moment, climate change is one of the “hot button” issues that brings out the crazies. But it’s not just climate change.

Melbourne columnist Andrew Bolt has also had threats of physical violence for criticising Islamism and Anita Heiss’s book Am I Black Enough for You?.

He has even been threatened for opposing a national day of mourning for the Black Saturday bushfires.

Bolt puts it down to the morally superior manner of those who play a leading role in setting the tone of public policy debate.

The most startling incident occurred a decade ago when an activist organisation published his home address on its website “along with an exhortation to burn the house down”.

Two weeks ago a filmmaker, whom he named, used Twitter to urge his followers: “Let’s assassinate Andrew Bolt.” It was later removed.

A Greens candidate at the last federal election used Twitter to publish this: “Andrew Bolt is a vile c … of a man. I openly condone hunting him down and beating him to within an inch of his life.” (source)

But hey, Bolt’s fair game right? In the politically correct, groupthink world of ABC and Fairfax, Bolt is the very embodiment of the antichrist. What’s wrong with saying he should be done in?

Comments from the consensus side about their desired treatment of sceptics is of course all waved through without protests, such as these examples:

And conservative journalists are subjected to much the same abuse and threats as the climate scientists for daring to question shoddy and politicised science, or for having the temerity to question why we should be spending billions on a carbon tax which will do nothing for the climate, but we rarely hear anything about that.

Media Watch's Holmes on The Drum

Jonathan Holmes

Jonathan Holmes, presenter of Media Watch, writes a lengthy defence of his team’s reporting of the ANU death threats story on ABC’s The Drum. You can read it here.

The only point I am going to comment on is detail is the following claim:

In any case – and this is a factor which The Australian keeps dodging around, although it is crucial – the 11 emails were in fact irrelevant to the ANU scientists being moved to more secure offices, because that had happened 16 months earlier, in February 2010.

The Canberra Times’s Rosslyn Beeby no doubt knew this, but did not make it clear in her report. The ABC and the AAP don’t seem to have taken it aboard, and certainly didn’t report it back in June 2011. Simon Turnill didn’t understand it when he put in his FOI request.

Well actually, it’s nothing to do with understanding – Beeby didn’t make it clear, as Holmes states, if indeed she did “no doubt” know it. In any event, my FOI request was based on the ABC’s reporting of this event, which says:

Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.

Several of the scientists in Canberra have been moved to a more secure location after receiving the threats over their research.

Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young says the scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats and abusive phone calls, threatening to attack the academics in the street if they continue their research.

He says it has been happening for the past six months and the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks.

I cannot see any way of construing the above to mean anything other than the following: death threats have been received at ANU in the last six months and we’ve moved staff as a result.

Holmes then quotes a number of emails, none of which contain “death threats”, but simply confirm the unfortunate truth that scientists (along with many others public figures) receive abusive emails from a tiny minority of disturbed individuals. This fact should not have been used as a way to tar all critics of the climate consensus as being a bunch of dangerously unhinged lunatics who would resort to sending death threats to climate scientists because they disagree with what they are saying (the inference – intended or unintended – from the Canberra Times and ABC reporting).

Holmes ends thus:

Who you believe on this matter – The Australian, or Media Watch – should have nothing at all to do with whether or not you accept what the vast majority of qualified scientists are telling us about climate change. 

Science by consensus again. And still the ANU haven’t produced evidence of any death threats to any staff at any time. They are welcome to do so whenever they like and then we’d all be happy to see an end to this farce.

The Australian roasts Media Watch – again

Media Watch

Your humble correspondent gets another mention in an editorial in The Australian today:

IT’S no surprise that the ABC’s Media Watch has no bite when it comes to scrutinising the national broadcaster’s own news coverage. On Monday night it lost its bark as well. Host Jonathan Holmes fell silent over an issue that he bungled badly the week before — the ABC’s erroneous report in June last year that: “Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.”

The sensationalised story, which followed up a report in The Canberra Times, gained such wide airplay on radio, on television and online that it was picked up internationally by The Guardian and the scientific journal Nature, fuelling a perception that climate sceptics are dangerous fanatics.

The problem was that a crucial element of the story was wrong, which the ABC now concedes — sort of — in a “clarification” buried deep on its website.

But, curiously, most of [Holmes’] wrath was directed at The Australian — for factual news stories that revealed that FOI requests by climate change blogger Simon Turnill had uncovered 11 emails at odds with last year’s ABC report. 

Read the rest here.

And, no, there is still no response from ANU to my questions seeking clarification regarding their claim (in the ABC correction) that they did receive death threats, but just not within the scope of the original FoI…

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