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FOI Abuse and Attacks on Climate Risk Management

FOI Abuse and Attacks on Climate Risk Management.

This topic is concerned with abuse of Freedom of Information Acts (FOI Acts) ultimately aimed at attacking responsible climate risk management. The backers are fossil fuel interests and right-wing libertarian supporters. Attacks on climate science is a main intermediary strategy. While FOI Acts generally protect the public, FOI is misused by some climate science deniers as a weapon with two main goals. First goal: Request many emails and documents to find a few isolated comments that are misinterpreted and used as fodder in right-wing media to attack climate science. Second goal: Harass targeted climate scientists, sometimes including intimidation, disrupt their work, and try to discredit them. Examples are documented below. Click to go to the original articles.

General FOI Information

The Freedom of Information Act FOIA of the United States government - see HERE. Various US states have their own FOI laws, see HERE. The Freedom of Information Center is a reference and research library in the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri; see HERE.

For FOI for other countries, see some reports below (Australia, UK)


FOI Climate Reports - Excerpts

Freedom of Information Laws Used By Climate Sceptics To Rifle Through Scientists' Daily Emails

Penn State University climate scientist Professor Michael Mann - he of the famous 'hockey stick' graph - recently fought off a long running attempt by the climate science denial think tank the American Tradition Institute to gain access to his emails...Mann has described such cases as an "abuse of public records and FOIA laws", saying the efforts were "frivolous and vexatious".  

Freedom of Information laws are an important mechanism for maintaining transparency and enabling public scrutiny.

But shouldn't scientists and journalists be allowed to engage in daily and common deliberations and conversations about climate science without the prospect of every word being broadcast?


The Subterranean War on Science

Stephan Lewandowsky, Michael E. Mann, Linda Bauld, Gerard Hastings, and Elizabeth F. Loftus

This article surveys some of the principal techniques by which the authors have been harassed; namely, cyber-bullying and public abuse; harassment by vexatious freedom-of-information (FOI) requests, complaints, and legal threats or actions; and perhaps most troubling, by the intimidation of journal editors who are acting on manuscripts that are considered inconvenient by deniers. The uniformity with which these attacks are pursued across several disciplines suggests that their motivation is not scientific in nature.

Another common tool of harassment involves FOI requests. Under many legislations around the world, email correspondence by an academic is subject to almost unconditional release. During the last 9 months, the first author has been subject to numerous requests for correspondence and other documents, including trivial pedantry such as the precise time and date stamps of blog posts.

The use of FOI to obtain correspondence or research data mirrors legislative attempts by the tobacco industry to gain unhindered access to epidemiological data (Baba, Cook, McGarity, & Bero, 2005).


440 FOI requests in one day! From one person!

The Australian Age has highlighted the practice by climate change deniers/contrarians/skeptics of using freedom of information requests to harrass scientists ansd insitutions invovled in climate change research (see Think tank warned over climate information requests).

“RIGHT-WING think tank the Institute of Public Affairs has received a warning from the Department of Climate Change after it submitted more than 750 freedom-of-information requests in four months.

“It is believed Mr Wilson submitted about 440 information requests on one day in late July and more than 140 on one day last week.

A government source said it took about 39 hours of staff time to process each application.

With thanks to Graham Readfearn (@readfearn)

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Can we get on with some science please?

Steve Easterbrook (2010)

...What did those FOI requests look like? Well mostly they looked the same, because when Steve McIntyre was told that some of the metereological data was not available to non-academics because of commercial licencing agreements, he threw a hissy fit and told the lunatics that follow his blog to fire off FOI requests at the CRU. Sixty FOI requests in one weekend! Which makes them all vexatious, and probably counts as harrassment.


Freedom of information requests ‘attack science’

A top UK scientist says campaign groups are using the Freedom of Information Act aggressively to hinder research. Sir Paul Nurse, who won a Nobel prize in 2001, told the Guardian that Freedom of Information requests were used to "intimidate" scientists. "I have been told of some researchers who are getting lots of requests for, among other things, all drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive versions..."

in 2009, personal emails and documents were stolen from UEA's Climate Research Unit and leaked on the internet as supposed evidence of collusion to fake results.

The inquiries that followed cleared the scientists involved of all misconduct. One of them, the independent Science Assessment Panel, concluded that repeated Freedom of Information requests made by climate change sceptics "could have amounted to a campaign of harassment".


FOI emails reveal abuse of climate scientists

N.b. Here is an unusual FOI:

The Australian National University has released a series of abusive emails which were sent to its climate change scientists.

The 11 emails to members of the university's Climate Change Institute have been made public after a Freedom of Information request. The release of these emails under Freedom of Information followed reports last year (see related stories above) that ANU scientists had received death threats.


Rightwing US thinktank uses FoI laws to pursue climate scientists

American Tradition Institute seeks the release of emails with journalists to find details that could be used to discredit science.

Earlier requests focused on exchanges between scientists. "We view this as a new chapter," said Jeff Ruch, a lawyer working with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. "Before they were going after interactions between individual scientists. This is basically a spying operation to see who are you talking to, but presumably the idea is the same: to find material that is potential of use in discrediting a scientist."

At the very least, such open records requests are a distraction, said Hayhoe. "These types of requests are disruptive. They require a lot of attention to respond carefully and they take away time spent doing teaching, mentoring, or doing research. For a scientist who is happiest working in a lab or on a computer it is frightening to be accused of things that are completely without basis."

At the other extreme, such records requests represent an escalation of efforts to politicise climate science, said Dessler.

"At some level it's really dirty tricks what these people are doing. They are not using the open records request in any way it is meant to be used," said Dessler. "It's certainly reasonable to get a record of what transpired – how a decision was made, how a contract was awarded, why a university president was fired. But they are not trying to use it to figure out how decisions are being made. What they want to do is to find something embarrassing, something they can use in a political debate.

n.b. See article below "Climate science attack group turns sights on Texas professors" for more details.


Climate science attack group turns sights on Texas professors

The American Tradition Institute, a conservative think tank with financial ties to fossil fuel interests, made headlines last year for a controversial freedom of information lawsuit against the University of Virginia targeting former UVA professor and leading climate researcher Michael Mann, who's now at Penn State.

Now ATI's campaign to discredit mainstream climate science is targeting professors at two Texas universities - and it's particularly interested in their communications with journalists.

Andrew Dessler and Katharine Hayhoe

Andrew Dessler and Katharine Hayhoe

Jeff Ruch, an attorney with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, which has helped Mann and others with legal fees, told the Guardian that the requests represent a "new chapter" in ATI's ongoing campaign against mainstream climate scientists:

"Before they were going after interactions between individual scientists. This is basically a spying operation to see who are you talking to, but presumably the idea is the same: to find material that is potential[ly] of use in discrediting a scientist."

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FOI Climate References

There are many references in the literature. We list some below from Wikipedia, RealClimate (the climate science site run by professional climate scientists), and the popular SkepticalScience that deals in rebutting climate pseudo-science with easy-to-understand information.

FOI climate references from Wikipedia

  • The repeated FOI requests made by climate change sceptic Steve ... "attacks on climate science that were made ahead of the Copenhagen climate ...
  • senior associate in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and ... was obtained by Greenpeace through an FOI request in 2003 explaining how ...
  • known as the founder and editor of Climate Audit , a blog devoted to ... independent Science Assessment ... that the repeated FOI requests made ...

FOI climate references from RealClimate:

Jul 7, 2010 ... The first are the evolving practices of data presentation and access, and the second is the issue of how to handle Freedom of Information (FOI) ...
May 11, 2012 ... First of all, it should be made clear that McIntyre's FOI EIR requests on the subject of Yamal are not for raw data, nor for the code or analysis ...
Mar 9, 2011 ... Eugene Wahl was not subject to FOIA at the time (since he was not a federal employee) and was not subject to UK FOI anyway since he was ...
Nov 23, 2009 ... From the date of the first FOI request to CRU (in 2007), it has been made abundantly clear that the main impediment to releasing the whole ...

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FOI climate references from SkepticalScience

Skeptic arguments matching the search 'FOI':

Blog posts matching the search 'FOI':

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(2013). FOI Abuse and Attacks on Climate Risk Management. Retrieved from