Posts Tagged ‘FOIA’

McIntyre’s concerted efforts to derail the science and harass scientists

February 9, 2010

What would you do if you were confronted with a group who will go through great lengths to find something -no matter how small- that they can twist and use against you? It will naturally make you very careful, and defensive perhaps. I empathize with not wanting to cooperate with people like that.

Indeed, in some of the stolen emails, CRU scientists sounded extremely frustrated with the many ‘Freedom of Information’ (FoI) requests they were getting, from exactly the kind of people as described above. Self appointed “auditor” of climate science Steve McIntyre asked his blog readers to participate:

Steve McIntyre                       Posted Jul 24, 2009 at 10:59 AM

I suggest that interested readers can participate by choosing 5 countries and sending the following FOI request to (…)

Now someone’s view of this situation entirely depends from what angle they look at it. McIntyre and his fans take the view that their repeated requests to “free the data” were being stonewalled, so they presumably felt that it was ok to increase the pressure this way. Even when acknowledging that more openness in science is a laudable goal, the way he’s going about it is entirely counterproductive and low.

Scientists and their supporters however view McIntyre’s tactics as pure sabotage. He doesn’t seem interested in furthering the science, but rather in attempting to shoot holes in work that is supportive of the scientific consensus, and then blowing it up way out of proportion to the significance of his finding (if at all correct). He also frequently engages in character assassination, insinuating fraud, scientific misconduct and manipulation on the part of scientists. There’s no need to back up such accusations; a verbose writing style and an uncritical audience who love every word that slams climate scientists does the job very nicely. The echo chamber on the internet does the rest.

This has the all the marks of the FOI law being abused to harass scientists. From the Times Online:

Over a matter of days, CRU received 40 similar FoI requests. Each applicant asked for data from five different countries, 200 in all, which would have been a daunting task even for someone with nothing else to do.

Jones admitted poor judgment in handling those FoI requests: In an angry private email he wrote that he would rather delete data than provide them to McIntyre. In the context of being the target of what amounts to a ‘denial of service’ attack, I empathize with his frustration. Of course, deleting data would be extremely stupid, and AFAIK, he nor anybody else has done so. But who has never said (or written in email) something in anger, that in hindsight was uncalled for?

Hunting season on scientists seems open, and it’s a disgrace.

See also Eli Rabett. DeepClimate provides a detailed look into McIntyre’s history.

Update: From the Canadian Globe and Mail, where McIntyre is described as

a gifted pest whose scattershot criticisms indiscriminately mix a few valid points with a larger body of half-truths, a potent concoction that produces much confusion but little benefit.


The key objection to the work of bloggers such as Mr. McIntyre is that they are engaged in an epic game of nitpicking: zeroing in on minor technical issues while ignoring the massive and converging lines of evidence that are coming in from many disciplines. To read their online work is to enter a dank, claustrophobic universe where obsessive personalities talk endlessly about small building blocks – Yamal Peninsula trees, bristlecones, weather stations – the removal of which will somehow topple the entire edifice of climate science. Lost in the blogging world is any sense of proportion, or the idea that science is built on cumulative work in many fields, the scientists say.

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