Of Climategate, constabularies and Copenhagen: an “elusive line in the sand”

Sorry folks … another detour. Bishop Hill has received that which the University of East Anglia (UEA)’s Vice Chancellor, Edward Acton (the designated “qualified person”) deems not to be exempt according to his interpretation invocation of the rules and regulations pertaining to Freedom of Information requests.

This particular request was pursuant to the recently discovered engagement of the services of Neil Wallis and his colleagues at the PR firm, The Outside Organization (OO) by UEA – at some point – in the aftermath of Climategate.

The first item in the correspondence that was disclosed is dated Feb. 6, 2010 from Neil Wallis. It is an advance copy of one of two “Poor Phil” articles that appeared in The Sunday Times on Feb. 7.

The Times seems to like to do things in two’s. Here’s the headline of the advance copy:

The leak was bad. Then came the death threats

I thought of killing myself, says climate scandal professor Phil Jones

According to the Music World article in which Wallis’ involvement was disclosed:

“They came to us and said, ‘We have a huge problem – we are being completely knocked apart in the press,’” says (OO’s) Sam Bowen. “They needed someone with heavyweight contacts who could come in and sort things out, and next week there was a front-page story telling it from their side.”

So, if this Feb. 6 E-mail represents the first of OO’s efforts on behalf of UEA – and assuming Sam Bowen was quoted correctly – this would seem to indicate that it took UEA from Nov. 20, 2009 until the end of January 2010 before they realized that they were “being completely knocked apart in the press.” Either that or OO was being very misleading and unprofessional in Sept. 2010, when they used an illustration from a Dec. 1 2009 article to demonstrate the bad press mess in which UEA were mired before the OO team, lead by Wallis, came to their rescue!

In his “reasons” for not disclosing the remit to and/or contract details with OO – or any invoices – Acton chose to hide behind OO’s skirts:

Certain correspondence contains information, the release of which would constitute an actionable breach of confidence and be prejudicial to the commercial interests of the Outside Organisation. Were it to be released it would enable competitors in the same field of work to gain a commercial advantage in winning future business.

It is difficult to imagine any self-respecting business that would say to its clients, “Please do tell your friends about our wonderful work, but don’t tell them when you hired us or what our rates are”. It’s very considerate of UEA to be concerned about the “commercial interests” of OO – after all “actionable breach of confidence” is pretty serious stuff.

But, you know, if I were in Acton’s shoes, I would have been far more concerned about securing an airtight confidentiality agreement which would ensure that OO would never disclose its involvement with UEA, without UEA’s express permission. Wouldn’t you?!

Anyway, Acton was very pleased with the work of Sam Bowen and Neil Wallis. In an E-mail with the subject line “Re: Confidential. Sunday 7”, Acton wrote:

I am delighted by the amount achieved. Now we must see how the coverage unfolds. But it seems to me you and Sam have helped us maximise the chances of that elusive line in the sand. Warmest thanks for everything thus far…

I don’t know about you, but considering the headlines I noted above, I find Acton’s “delight” is somewhat difficult to reconcile with his professed adherence to UEA’s “duty of care to its staff”. I would have been up in arms about the “intrusiveness” of such articles into the personal life of poor Phil.

For the record, Neil Wallis obviously must have understood what Acton meant by “maximize the chances of that elusive line in the sand”, because all he said was “Thanks. Lets hope we can continue.”

But I always thought that one “draws” a line in the sand. Nothing “elusive” about it – once it is drawn, one knows where to find it and will not cross it. So I’m not sure how one would “maximise [its] chances” But then in my dictionary, a “trick” really is a “trick” and “decline” always means “decline”. So what do I know, eh?!

One of the last items in the disclosed emails is an Aug. 30 invitation to Wallis from Acton to a Sept. 29 “do” at UEA. This was one day before the release of the pre-publication version of the InterAcademy Council (IAC)’s review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s policies and procedures. The copy I downloaded from IAC site indicates that it was compiled on August 25.

Do you think that perhaps someone at UEA had received an advance copy of this report – and that this Sept. 29 “do” was to be a “PR” victory celebration now that they knew that UEA was not going to be directly implicated in the IAC report? Nah … must just be yet another coincidence.

Wallis did accept the invitation, btw. I wonder if he took along some copies of the Sept. 25, 2010 Music World spread to share with Acton and other celebrants?!

2 thoughts on “Of Climategate, constabularies and Copenhagen: an “elusive line in the sand”

  1. I don’t think that UEA was much concerned about the IAC report. I’m sure that the Sep 29 do was unrelated.

    • Sorry, I didn’t mean to give the impression that they would have been “concerned”; but I did find the timing coincidental! And I can well imagine that from a “reputation management” perspective, they would not have been displeased – albeit perhaps not as “delighted” as they were with the “poor Phil” pieces – with the following “honourable” mention in the draft (p. 19) :

      The revelation of errors came on the heels of another highly publicized controversy in which the unauthorized release of email exchanges between prominent climate scientists at the University of East Anglia and elsewhere, many of whom had contributed to IPCC assessments, purported to show attempts to misrepresent some climate data (e.g., Oxburgh et al., 2010). Although many scientists noted that neither the leaked emails nor the IPCC errors undermined the principal scientific findings regarding human contributions to climate change (Gleick et al., 2010), public opinion polls in the United States and United Kingdom showed that public confidence in climate science has waned

      Citations of Muir Russell and Oxburgh would not have made them unhappy, either, methinks. Hulme, Jones and Osborn were the UEA “standard-bearers” in submissions to the IAC. Hulme is not a bad writer, but, from my recollection of their respective emails, both Jones and Osborn might have needed a “helping hand” to whip their submissions into shape, don’t you think?!

      Not to mention that once the May 2010 call for public submissions (responses to questionnaire** – deadline July1 , 2010) went out, from the IAC – and knowing that this was one authoritative report from which they could not “keep out” the views of opponents, and that it was in their best interests that the IPCC be kept afloat – if I were in Acton’s shoes, I would have held off on any “wrap-up” party until the IAC report came out!

      Besides, how likely is it that so many folks would have even started digging around in the IPCC reports – if not for Climategate?! I, for one (and I doubt that I am unique) had never even heard of the IPCC before Climategate. Consequently (as unlikely as the case might have been!) had the IAC not handed a lifeline to the IPCC, I’m inclined to think that there would have been an awful lot of unhappy campers in the world of “climate science”. And sooner or later, the fingers of many of those unhappy campers would have been pointing to CRU, don’t you think?

      So, I’m not sure what makes you so sure that the Sept. 29 “do” was “unrelated” :-) What would be some likely alternative reason(s) for extending (what Wallis had called) such a “delightful invitation” on August 30th?

      [** For readers who might have been wondering, to the best of my knowledge, the IAC have still not released the balance of the 400+ responses to this questionnaire.]

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