Given that The Australian‘s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell threatens to sue Julia Posetti, alleging that he has been defamed, you’d think they’d want to avoid defaming scientists, but the law on defamation is really only useful to the rich and powerful.

In a column entitled Radicals get rich while truth begs, regular columnist for The Australian, David Burchell defames two scientists, Phil Jones and Riyadh Lafta. He first accuses Jones of professional misconduct:

Last week the journal Nature interviewed professor Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the man whose email inbox was spread out across the internet a year ago like a patient etherised upon the operating table, revealing a decades-long pattern of professional misbehaviour.

Any journal that dared to publish a rival point of view was blacklisted; any paper for review which varied from his own view was rejected out of hand; any element of professional doubt demanded expulsion from the climate science garden, much as Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden for eating promiscuously from the tree of knowledge.

This isn’t true. Burchell fails to mention that multiple inquiries have checked into these allegations and cleared Jones. For example, the International Panel:

We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.

And the House of Commons report:

In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty–for example, Professor Jones’s alleged attempt to “hide the decline”–we consider that there is no case to answer.

Burchell continues, switching from repeating discredited allegations, to making stuff up on his own:

In truth Jones’s dilemma is a nice one. Having built an entire scholarly career on a brief but influential 1990 study in Nature that purported to prove planetary warming on the basis of Russian weather-station data that has turned out to be less than robust, he has spent the past 20 years stubbornly defending his record and the future of the planet as if they were the same thing. As a consequence he has trashed his own career, while damaging the reputations of scrupulous climate scientists by association.

Google scholar is quite a useful tool. It lets us examine a list of Jones’ publications, ordered by the number of times they have been cited. And while that 1990 study in Nature was cited 146 times, Jones has forty-one papers with more cites. And if Burchell had ever read the paper he would know that it didn’t try to “prove global warming”, that it didn’t just use Russian weater-station data. Nor has that Russian proved non-robust.

Second, he defames Riyadh Lafta:

they allowed the entire interview program to be conducted, without supervision, by a Ba’ath Party member who served as propagandist for Saddam Hussein’s campaign against UN sanctions.

But Lafta was not a member of the Ba’ath party

I have tried to point out that Riyadh Lafta is part of the university system (Ministry of Higher Education) not the Ministry of Health. He was one of the very few doctors who refused to join the Baath Party under Saddam. This meant that he had limited career prospects in the in the Ministry of Health

And nor did he serve as a “propagandist”, Richard Garfield commented:

Reading this paper now, my conclusion is quite the opposite to Munro’s about its political bent. Many of those that I did read prior to 2003 were laced with political comments, making the separation of primary data and interpretation nearly impossible. This, by the way, is not uncommon in countries even without dictatorships where peer review and a tradition of scientific inquiry is weak. But this paper by Lafta is almost completely devoid of such political commentary, including only a few words about the social and political situation of the country among a substantive report on the weights and heights of children attending one clinic. This paper, among the ones that I read in Iraq prior to 2003, would stand out as an apolitical report, one that might even get the author in trouble for its lack of repetitive politicized language commonly used then in Iraq. I would have read this and assumed that the author was not supportive of the regime, just the opposite conclusion that some of the critics, who knew nothing of the times and context for such work, seem to have made.

“Propagandist” might be a better description for Burchell who also writes:

the investigators violated basic protocols of human subject research

Burchell doesn’t mention that The Johns Hopkins review found after examining the original data collection forms:

The review concluded that the data files used in the study accurately reflect the information collected on the original field surveys.

And the “basic protocol” that they “violated” was collecting the names of the people interviewed. Except that it is OK to collect the names as long as you keep them confidential. Which they did. What they got into trouble for was that in their research proposal they said that they would not collect names. Burchell consistently exaggerates when he isn’t just making stuff up.


  1. #1 Wow
    December 9, 2010

    > What exactly IS the action they sought?

    They wanted to go “Ptptptptptpbt!” to them, obviously. That’s why the Apache Helicopter was invented! The rotors do it for them and louder!

    Of course, a British gunship would go “Here! I want a word with you!” or, if it’s obsolete, “Stop! Or I shall say Stop! again!”.

    This sort of polite dispute is what all modern armies are trained to do.

  2. #2 Wow
    December 9, 2010

    re: 94:

    > The ICO is the “Information Commissioner’s Office”; the Commissioner is the first instance decision maker on any issue arising under the FoIA

    And not part of the MoD, so when you stated:

    > I note that you work for the MoD. I sincerely hope that you aren’t an Information Officer

    You displayed the errant assumption that someone working for the ICO is working for the MoD.

    Your ability to continue your mistakes is why I hope for the sake of the economy you are not employed.

  3. #3 sunspot
    December 9, 2010


    I don’t care much for your US soldiers, more bumped off might bring a quicker end to to the misery that they are causing, anyway, if you join the military death is an occupational hazard, they signed up to kill so if getting killed is their lot so be it, they get no pity from me. Your military has used weapons banned by the Geneva Convention, abducts and tortures innocent people,
    sets off terrorist bombs in crowded places and lays the blame at the locals feet, ect ect.. use’s all manor of deceit and manipulation not only in and around the war zone but around the world. The sooner the filthy empire crumbles the better.

    Do you Know what School Of The America’s teaches ? look it up

    and as for “OH the nice soldier wouldn’t harm innocent people”

    Standard Operating Procedure: 360 Degree Rotational Fire

    McCord said to reporter Bill Van Auken:

    “we had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP [standard operating procedure]. He goes, “If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker on the street.” Myself and Josh and a lot of other soldiers were just sitting there looking at each other like, “Are you kidding me? You want us to kill women and children on the street?” And you couldn’t just disobey orders to shoot, because they could just make your life hell in Iraq. So like with myself, I would shoot up into the roof of a building instead of down on the ground toward civilians. But I’ve seen it many times, where people are just walking down the street and an IED goes off and the troops open fire and kill them.”

  4. #4 Marion Delgado
    December 9, 2010

    The RW doesn’t mind that Sarah Palin hired a hacker to break into the computer of one of her colleagues in (Anchorage) city government. Or that Joe Miller, her protege, used every person’s computer in HIS (Fairbanks) city government office, without their knowledge or permission, to stack a poll for, ironically, state GOP leadership. Nor, of course, do they mind stolen CRU emails.

    But yes, the yahoo account used by Palin as governor was used by her to violate state regulations – her justification when she was having someone else hacked was that it was to find out if he was violating CITY regulations.

    Once you have the background, it’s pretty easy to see what leaks, what hacking, what anything is good or bad. The modern conservative is very tribal – treating everything like a football match.

  5. #5 Marion Delgado
    December 9, 2010

    Also, the very reason Jones in particular was so blind-sided by all this is that he’s not particularly political. Every interview he’s done and the comments of everyone who knows him suggest he still is largely dumbfounded by the entire situation.

    Someone should have handed him a short history of Trofim Lysenko.

  6. #6 Marion Delgado
    December 9, 2010

    BTW my memory wasn’t exact – it was Palin’s fellow Oil and Gas commissioner whose computer she was having files hacked out of.

  7. #7 Robin Levett
    December 9, 2010

    @WoW #102:

    Are you deliberately misconstruing what I say? The assumption I made was the *correct* one that the MoD employs officers with the role of “Infornmation Officer”.

    “Information Officer” =/= “working for the ICO”.

    I evinced the hope that your claimed employment by the MoD was not as Information officer. I was already convinced by the knowledge of FoIA that you had displayed that you couldn’t be employed by the ICO in any substantive capacity.

  8. #8 Wow
    December 9, 2010

    Robin, what the hell are you wittering on about now?

    You were wrong.

    You are wrong.

    You are continuing to be wrong.

    It is obvious that you COULD be working for the ICO because they’ve had one bozo who talked out of his rectum and proclaimed there was a case to answer for some of the emails revealed in the CRU theft DESPITE no such evidence.

    One of the purposes of the freedom of information acts is release in the public interest where:

    * the general public interest that information is accessible i.e. whether disclosure would enhance scrutiny of decision-making processes and thereby improve accountability and participation;

    Now, if you’re NOT a member of the UK public, what participation do you have?

    If you are not affected, what point of accountability.

    A reason to refuse a request is if the information is available elsewhere.


    and waste your own tax money.

    I don’t want to pay timewasters in another country who contribute nothing but expense to my country to spend my taxes because they’re lazy, incompetent, malicious or all three.

  9. #9 Robin Levett
    December 10, 2010

    @WoW #108:

    Your quote:

    the general public interest that information is accessible

    appears in discussions relating to the effect of the public interest test. That test is not a free-standing reason for disclosure; the default position under FoIA is that the public authority must both confirm or deny that it has the information requested and (where is has that information) disclose that information. There are exemptions, situations where the public authority can refuse to disclose (and sometimes to “confirm or deny”). Some of those exemptiosn are subjct to a public interest test; for thr exemption to apply the authority must show that the public interest in withholding that specific information must outweigh the public interest in disclosure.

    It is true that inforamtion accessible to the public by other means is exempt information udner section 21. That does not mean “accessible by a FoIA request to another public authority”, for the very obvious reason that otherwise authority A and authoity B, each of which held information X, could each rely on the exemption by citing availability from the other authority, and the requester wouldn’t get the information.

    Why you think this is relevant to the question of whether a non UK citizen/resident/whatever is entitled to rely upon the Act, in the teeth of the explicit wording of the Act and the guidance given by the ICO, I have no idea – you haven’t articulated your position very well.

    Could you deal with two points:

    1 Where do you say the line is drawn? What does one have to be, in your view, to be entitled to rely upon FoIA to obtain informattion from a UK public authority – UK taxpayer, UK citizen, UK resident, what?

    2 Please cite the legal basis for that claim.

    In case it isn’t obvious – I am speaking from a position of knowledge of the law generally and FoIA specifically.

  10. #10 Wow
    December 10, 2010

    > appears in discussions relating to the effect of the public interest test.

    Which helps define public in so far as government action goes.

  11. #11 Robin Levett
    December 11, 2010

    @WoW #110:


  12. #12 Wow
    December 13, 2010

    And public doesn’t mean everyone on the planet.

  13. #13 Wow
    December 13, 2010

    > What does one have to be, in your view, to be entitled to rely upon FoIA to obtain informattion from a UK public authority – UK taxpayer, UK citizen, UK resident, what?

    UK Citizen. Just like voting (which activity is made by the public, yet you cannot vote in a country you are not a citizen).

    You really ARE a dumb cluck, aren’t you.

    Go back and you’ll see that I’ve said this before, you just don’t read it because you’re riding this hobby horse.

    FOIA is to make your government more transparent.

    YOUR government. Not SOMEONE ELSE’S.

    > 2 Please cite the legal basis for that claim.

    Go to the HoC and get the archives. The law as enforced uses the discussion and explanations made in the creation of the law just like it does in the US Senate when they make their laws.

  14. #14 Robin Levett
    December 13, 2010


    Just put that spade down and back away from it, and no-one needs to get hurt.

    Just one initial comment; it’s your absurd claim not only that debate in Parliament can modify the plain words of a statute, but also that Parliament did so in relation to FoIA (and that in consequence the general understanding of the law amongst both information lawyers and the ICO is in error). Don’t point me at a haystack and tell me the needle is in there somewhere – it’s for you to tell me where it is. I’m not going to do your research for you.

  15. #15 Wow
    December 13, 2010

    > it’s your absurd claim not only that debate in Parliament can modify the plain words of a statute

    It isn’t an absurd claim.

    The same thing happens when people mistakenly think that it’s illegal to cycle on the pavements. The intent of the law was to give some prosecution powers for people cycling dangerously.It doesn’t go in the statute, but it is the law.

    The US do it too. It’s common in a common-law legal system.

    That you don’t know what the law is nor how it’s made doesn’t make you right.

  16. #16 Robin Levett
    December 13, 2010

    @WoW #115:

    First, a quick response to this:

    The same thing happens when people mistakenly think that it’s illegal to cycle on the pavements.

    It is – section 72 of the Highways Act 1835, read with section 85(1) of the Local Government Act 1888, is quite explicit. It’s all in the statute; no reference to parliamentary debate is required.

    Please read Pepper v Hart before you embarrass yourself further. Statutory Construction 101 is that the meaning of a statutory provision is to be collected from its words as passed (read with other statutes and their judicial interpretation, of course) and not from what the Court thinks Parliament might have meant by those words.

    The background to Pepper v Hart is fairly simple; it was a dispute over the interpretation of s63(2) of the Finance Act 1976. At the first hearing before the House of Lords, a majority of the 5 man bench, while recognising the the provision was ambiguous, would have held against the taxpayer. Following argument, however, their Lordships became aware that there might be material in the Parliamentary debates bearing on the matter directly in issue, that might resolve the ambiguity; they invited the parties to address a seven man bench (in view of the constitutional importance of the issues) further on two issues; firstly on whether the House should relax its rule against reference to proceedings in Parliament (and whether it could, consistently with section 1 Article 9 of the Bill of Rights), and secondly if so whether there was any relevant material and what was its effect. The House had a letter before it from the Clerk of the House of Commons explicitly stating that use of the statutory material in the way proposed would be a breach of the privileges of the Commons unless it were first petitioned for permission; see Lord Browne Wilkinson’s speech:

    The letter of 5 June 1992 from the Clerk of the House of Commons starts by saying:

    ‘My attention has been drawn to the fact that the House of Lords may be asked to hear argument in this case based on the meaning or significance of words spoken during proceedings on a Bill in the House of Commons.’

    The letter then sets out the text of the resolution of 31 October 1980, and continues:

    ‘In my opinion, the use proposed for the Official Report of Debates in this case is beyond the meaning of the “reference” contemplated in the Resolution of October 1980. If a court were minded in particular circumstances to permit the questioning of the proceedings of the House in the way proposed, it would be proper for the leave of the House to be sought first by way of petition so that, if leave were granted, no question would arise of the House regarding its Privileges as having been breached.’

    The 1980 resolution referred to read:

    ‘That this House, while re-affirming the status of proceedings in Parliament confirmed by article 9 of the Bill of Rights, gives leave for reference to be made in future court proceedings to the Official Report of Debates and to the published Reports and evidence of Committees in any case in which, under the practice of the House, it is required that a petition for leave should be presented and that the practice of presenting petitions for leave to refer to Parliamentary papers be discontinued.’

    As adverted to before, until 1993 it wasn’t just not routine to refer to Parliamentary proceedings as an aid to interpretation of statutes, it was expressly forbidden both by Parliament and by a judge-imposed rule (see the first sentence of Lord Griffiths’s speech). It is now still not routine – but there are very strict limits, to which I have previously referred.

  17. #17 Robin Levett
    December 14, 2010

    @WoW #113;

    You said (in answer to my question as to exactly who could make a FoIA request):

    UK Citizen. Just like voting (which activity is made by the public, yet you cannot vote in a country you are not a citizen).

    Two points; firstly, sections 1 to 4 of the Representation of the People Act define the franchise, and explicitly require Commonwealth or RoI citizenship (or, for local government elections, EU citizenship).

    So qualification to vote is wider than your claim for qualification for FoIA requests.

    I have already pointed out that there is no restriction in FoIA itself; the words used are “any person” without restriction.

    The general understanding amongst lawyers and the Information Commissioner I’ve referred you to the ICO FAQ) is that there are no restrictions on who may request information under the Act. In addition to the ICO FAQ, the following appears on the UK Directgov website:

    Who can access the information?

    Any person can make a request for information under the Act – there are no restrictions on your age, nationality, or where you live.


    The only argument you have made is that somewhere in the debate in Parliament someone said that the right to request information under the Act should be available only to UK citizens, and that FoIA should be interpreted in that light. You haven’t given me a specific reference, and I have in any event shown by reference to House of Lords authority that statements in Parliamentary debate cannot modify the plain words of an Act.

    Are you going to accept now that you are wrong?

  18. #18 Wow
    December 14, 2010

    > I have already pointed out that there is no restriction in FoIA itself; the words used are “any person” without restriction

    You have pointed out that the ICO say that.

    Go to the HoC, find the archives and ask for the deliberations.

  19. #19 Robin Levett
    December 14, 2010

    @WoW #118:

    You have pointed out that the ICO say that.

    Indeed; but I have also pointed out that the Act itself contains no restriction. Read the Act. Section 1(1) is pretty explicit:

    Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled—

    (a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds information of the description specified in the request, and

    (b) if that is the case, to have that information communicated to him.

    (my emphasis)

    You say:

    Go to the HoC, find the archives and ask for the deliberations.

    The Act isn’t ambiguous; Hansard isn’t admissible in evidence as to its meaning – read Pepper v Hart, or even just the extracts I have quoted on this thread.

    If you say there’s something there (and I don’t believe there is) it’s up to you to refer me to it. I am not going to do your research for you.

    For the last time – put that spade down, the Kiwis are getting nervous.

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