Obama opens his Administration with a powerful act that will echo for many years
On 21 January President Obama opened his Administration with a series of actions powerful both symbolically and substantively. These will have far-reaching effects on America, esp on the climate science debate. That’s good, because the stakes are high and time may be growing short.
- Memorandum about the Freedom of Information Act
- Memorandum about Transparency and Open Government
- Executive Order about Presidential Records
- Excerpt from the memorandum about the Freedom of Information Act
- “On First Day, Obama Quickly Sets a New Tone“, NY Times, 21 January 2009
- Examples of how this has already affected the climate science debate
1. Excerpt from the memorandum about the Freedom of Information Act.
A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.
The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.
All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.
The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.
I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIAto the heads of executive departments and agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency, and to publish such guidelines in the FederalRegister. In doing so, the Attorney General should review FOIAreports produced by the agencies under Executive Order 13392 of December 14, 2005. I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budgetto update guidance to the agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies, and to publish such guidance in the Federal Register.
2. Background and overview of these actions
“On First Day, Obama Quickly Sets a New Tone“, NY Times, 21 January 2009 — Excerpt:
President Obama moved swiftly on Wednesday to impose new rules on government transparency and ethics, using his first full day in office to freeze the salaries of his senior aides, mandate new limits on lobbyists and demand that the government disclose more information.
Mr. Obama called the moves, which overturned two policies of his predecessor, “a clean break from business as usual.” … The transparency and ethics moves were setforth in two executive orders and three presidential memorandums; Mr. Obama signed them at the swearing-in ceremony with a left-handed flourish.
The new president effectively reversed a post-9/11 Bush administration policy making it easier for government agencies to deny requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act, and effectively repealed a Bush executive order that allowed former presidents or their heirs to claim executive privilege in an effort to keep records secret.
“Starting today,” Mr. Obama said, “every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known.”
3. Alreday we see these new policies affecting the climate science debate
Secrecy by scientists about their data and methods makes replication of their research difficult, sometimes impossible. When even the reviewers do not have access to this information (as we have learned is often the case), “peer review” is a joke. This battle for information has been one of the major battles — a front line — in climate research.
But the times are changing, as we see in this struggle to get the key information about “Consistency of modelled and observed temperature trends in the tropical troposphere”, Ben Santer et al, International Journal of Climatology, Volume 28, Issue 13, 15 November 2008 (Abstract).
From Santer Refuses Data Request, Climate Audit, Steve McIntyre, 10 November 2008 — Excerpt:
Email from McIntyre dated 20 October 2008:
Dear Dr Santer,
Could you please provide me either with the monthly model data (49 series) used for statistical analysis in Santer et al 2008 or a link to a URL. I understand that your version has been collated from PCMDI ; my interest is in a file of the data as you used it (I presume that the monthly data used for statistics is about 1-2 MB). Thank you for your attention.
Reply from Dr. Santer:
I gather that your intent is to “audit” the findings of our recently-published paper in the International Journal of Climatology (IJoC). You are of course free to do so. … In summary, you have access to all the raw information that you require in order to determine whether the conclusions reached in our IJoCpaper are sound or unsound. I see no reason why I should do your work for you, and provide you with derived quantities (zonal means, synthetic MSU temperatures, etc.) which you can easily compute yourself.
… I gather that you have appointed yourself as an independent arbiter of the appropriate use of statistical tools in climate research. … Please do not communicate with me in the future.
See here for more details. Note that the CEO of the Royal Meteorological Society cordially responded, and they will review their policies in this area.
On Climate Audit today, Steve McIntyrewrites about getting data about the Santer article:
With all the problems for the new US administration, the fact that they actually turned their minds to issuing an executive order on FOI on their first day in office suggests to me that DOE will produce the requested data. … Amazingly, in today’s email is a letter from a CA reader saying that the Santer data has just been put online here. He sent an inquiry to them on 29 Dec 2008; the parties responsible wrote to him saying that they would look into the matter. They also emailed him immediately upon the data becoming available.
Illustrating the proprietary attitude of government institutions to data from publicly-funded research, Dr. David Bader, Director of NOAA’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, wrote McIntyre (source):
Dear Mr. McIntyre;
I want to clarify several mis-impressions on your “climateaudit.org” web site with respect to the Synthetic MSU data sets on the PCMDI website.
1. The data were released publicly on 14 January 2009, at which time our Department of Energy sponsors and NNSA Freedom of Information Act officials were notified. These data were released voluntarily by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and we were never directed to do so as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Furthermore, preparation of the datasets and documentation for them began before your FOIA request was received by us. …
It’s strange that Santer would tell McIntyre to recreate data when NOAA was preparing it for public release. Even odder, the NOAA file containing the data unzips to a directory called ”FOIA”. Fortunately, the times are changing for the better and climate science will run faster and smoother.
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:
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Articles about the battle for release of climate science data and methods:
- “Data Archiving, Disclosure and Due Diligence”, Climate Audit.
- “Fortress CRU#2: Confidential Agent Ammann“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.
- “Fortress CRU“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.
- “Fortress Met Office“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.
- “Fortress Met Office continued“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 23 June 2008.
- “E-Mail, “Personal” Records and Privacy“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 2 July 2008.
- “Climate Audit and NOAA FOI Policy“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 3 July 2008.
- “NOAA Response to March 2007 FOI Request“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 8 July 2008.
- “CSIRO adopts Phil Jones’ Stonewall Tactic“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 15 July 2008.
- “Openness & Government“, Shane Deichman, at MountainRunner, 26 July 2008
- “Is Briffa Finally Cornered?“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 30 July 2008
- “Emulating Mannian CPS“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 2 December 2008 – The struggle continues to get “hockey stick” Mann’s computer to code to work. Only then can Mann’s work be replicated. Odd that it appears in peer-reviewed journals; one wonders what “reviewed” means when the code does not run.
- “Mann et al 2008 – Another Error Notice“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 5 December 2008 — Another correction by Mann, who seems unable to credit his critics.
- Peer review of scientific work – an inadequate basis for big public action – Documentation of McIntyre’s stuggles to get key data released about 2 climate science articles.