P.O. Box 98199
Washington, DC 20090-8199
Remind anyone of anything?
Coby – Is your point that FOI laws can be abused? If so, how do you propose they be changed to reduce (if not eliminate) abuse? Or do you think that FOI laws are simply a bad idea that should be scrapped?
I don’t think coby made any point at all – he just provided a link to an article on FOI.
Mind you, there is no doubt the FOI laws in the UK are being abused for political purposes. We have overcome a lot of that in Australia by allowing for the full cost of the FOI process to be levied on the requester. This is not done in the case of people requesting valid personal data (their tax records for example), but journalists and activist organisations are charged. This can amount to thousands of dollars, and it certainly keeps the vexatious ‘fishing’ requests to a minimum.
No, they should not be scrapped. I think what mandas says Australia does sounds like a good idea. I would have concerns about limiting average citizens access to legitimate requests, the devil will be in the details I am sure.
I have thought for a long time that a similar approach to spam might work. Charge a fraction of a cent for every email and normal usage will be unaffected but spammers relying on the ability to send millions at a time could be seriously impeded.
The central point is that freedom is not free, it comes with responsibility. Sometimes mechanisms are required to prevent people from abusing their freedoms.
Cranks appear to love FOI requests. Their purpose is to uncover “conspiracies” that only exist in the crank’s imagination. They can also be used to intimidate and hinder ongoing work. I’m reminded of FOIA requests by the anti-vax movement several years ago, which were subsequently quote-mined for statements that might be vaguely suggestive of “cover-up” and such.
There should definitely be a law that protects scientists from being bogged down by FOIs that are used as a form of harassment.
there is a law -
it’s called, don’t take public money.
So I take it you believe that every FOI request, no matter how trivial and/or vexatious, should be taken seriously and every taxpayer funded institution (ie things you pay for out of your pocket) should spend considerable resources – often thousands of dollars – running around answering queries which are often just fishing expeditions. Well, you may think that is a good use for your tax dollars, but I don’t happen to think it is a good use of mine.
And I assume from your statement ‘…don’t take public money…’ that you also think that governments should not be funding research institutions, universities, meteorological beaureaus, public sector organisations, defence forces, police, hospitals, etc etc. Because like it or not, ALL of these organisations spend a lot of time addressing FOI requests. Indeed, my Department employs a whole branch just to coordinate FOI requests, and most sections of the Department also have personnel who spend a large part of their time answering queries. It costs millions of dollars each year, and not all of those costs are recouped from the requester. In the UK, none of those costs are passed on.
So how about you think a little deeper about some of your suggestions.
Indeed this is very interesting, Coby. This intellectual difficulty came up for me recently when I recently read Operation Bite Back by Dean Kuipers . It is about the animal rights activist Rod Coronado who used non-violent direct action (vandalism, arson, etc..) to oppose animal research and fur farming.
I do sympathize with those who actively pursue the end to the commercial and scientific exploitation of animals. I suppose abusing FOI requests is one way to go about putting pressure on those who are engaged in such activities directly. (we all are engaged indirectly).
Yet we all take the high ground when it comes to AGW deniers using the same tactic against climate researchers, and for good reason.
All i can really offer is the insight that while i do not necessarily oppose those who would abuse FOI requests against these researchers i think there is still some very important distinctions to make. These activists are not actively in denial of the facts uncovered by such research, they instead are opposing the research on ethical and moral grounds. Also, these activists and those who understand the reality of AGW are on the same side. I think those are just a couple of important differences.
But it is certainly a conundrum for those of us who believe in direct action, AGW and animal rights.
“…..who used non-violent direct action (vandalism, arson, etc..) to oppose animal research and fur farming…
Don’t know about you, but I would call vandalism and arson VERY violent, and I am pretty sure you would change your mind if I burned YOUR house down.
“….I do sympathize with those who actively pursue the end to the commercial and scientific exploitation of animals. I suppose abusing FOI requests is one way to go about putting pressure on those who are engaged in such activities directly. (we all are engaged indirectly)…”
Ummm no, we are NOT all engaged either indirectly or directly. I have NO sympathy for such people, in fact, I am downright opposed to them. Especially since;
(1) – I eat animals, hence I think their commercial exploitation is a pretty good idea; and
(2) – I am a wildlife scientist and conservationist, and I really don’t know how I would conduct ANY science without ‘scientifically exploiting’ them.
“…they instead are opposing the research on ethical and moral grounds…”
Who’s morals? The nutjobs from organisations like PETA? To use the ‘moral’ argument is a VERY slippery slope, because everyone’s morals are different. There are millions of people out there (fundamentalist muslims is just one group)who think that your ethics and morals are wrong. I guess the logical extension of your argument is that they are justified to use similar ‘non-violent’ means such as arson and vandalism to fight against you.
Do you truly believe it is ok for someone to use ‘direct action’ against those who disagree with them? Or is it only ok if those people agree with you, and base their arguments on ‘ethical and moral’ grounds? If you answer the former, then since I don’t agree PETA it would be ok for me to burn their headquarters down. If you answered the latter, then you are a hypocrite.
And I happen to think that NEITHER answer is acceptable.
Is there any reason we should consider the destruction of an uninhabited human structure (pieces of an already dead forest, essentially) any more violent than the destruction of a forest and all the death and suffering that that causes? A river? The ecosystem? In other words, do you also consider logging or polluting fresh water systems to be a “violent” activity?
If you are willing to also call those activities violent then I will also refer to the destruction of inanimate non-living structures to be violent.
But then I would ask you – is all violence bad?
“…Ummm no, we are NOT all engaged either indirectly or directly. I have NO sympathy for such people, in fact, I am downright opposed to them. Especially since;
(1) – I eat animals, hence I think their commercial exploitation is a pretty good idea; and
(2) – I am a wildlife scientist and conservationist, and I really don’t know how I would conduct ANY science without ‘scientifically exploiting’ them…”
I think you misunderstood me. I was saying we all are engaged either directly or indirectly in the exploitation. (more accurately over-exploitation).
(1) I do not equate the consumption of food to be necessarily commercial exploitation. There are other ways to consume food that are not commercial. These ways are not available to most of us currently, but subsistence and commercial exploitation of food is not always the same thing.
(2) Again perhaps I was not clear enough; it seems you misunderstood me again. There are plenty of ways to conduct research of animals that does not involve captivity, torture, commercial exploitation, or systematic extermination of entire ecosystems.
“…Who’s morals? The nutjobs from organisations like PETA? To use the ‘moral’ argument is a VERY slippery slope, because everyone’s morals are different. There are millions of people out there (fundamentalist muslims is just one group)who think that your ethics and morals are wrong. I guess the logical extension of your argument is that they are justified to use similar ‘non-violent’ means such as arson and vandalism to fight against you…”
Hmmm, I understand what you are saying, and yet again my point was missed. I was only pointing out the difference between someone who actively denies obvious scientific fact vs. those who actively take action against a particular scientific practice on moral and ethical grounds.
That being said, I do not subscribe the moral relativism you offered in the above.
“…Do you truly believe it is ok for someone to use ‘direct action’ against those who disagree with them? Or is it only ok if those people agree with you, and base their arguments on ‘ethical and moral’ grounds? If you answer the former, then since I don’t agree PETA it would be ok for me to burn their headquarters down. If you answered the latter, then you are a hypocrite.
And I happen to think that NEITHER answer is acceptable…”
Yes. I believe it is not only OK for someone to use direct action, but it is actually an imperative that people do. This is true form the basic individual level of self-defense, to the more “societal” level of warfare. I don’t believe in pacifism, in other words. Nor do I believe that this is solely about “opinion”. When we talk about ecological destruction we are talking about a direct threat to our lives.
If PETA is a threat to your life and those of your children and their children I would not begrudge you at all if you burned down an uninhabited structure of theirs.
But I would say that arson is probably not very effective and it can be dangerous and unpredictable. I think there is other less dangerous and more effective ways to partake in direct action. Arson I think is a poor strategy, even when non-violent.
“…..Yes. I believe it is not only OK for someone to use direct action, but it is actually an imperative that people do. This is true form the basic individual level of self-defense, to the more “societal” level of warfare. I don’t believe in pacifism, in other words. Nor do I believe that this is solely about “opinion”….”
Sorry – it is TOTALLY about opinion. Your opinion. And I guess you do support the right of people to take up arms and burn down building etc of those who they disagree with. And who determines these morals and ethics of which you speak and who decides who needs to be ‘opposed’? You? Your ‘leaders’? Some sort of arcane book written thousands of years ago?
“…That being said, I do not subscribe the moral relativism you offered in the above…”
The people in this world who scare me the most are moral ‘absolutists’, because they are so sure they are right and anyone who disagrees them to be wrong. Religious funamentalists of every creed act this way. I am not sure if you are religious in the sense of your beliefs in superstitious nonsense, but you certainly ARE religious in terms of your views on animal rights and, quite possibly, climate climate change. And of course, your religion gives you the ultimate authority to determine what is morally acceptable. And of course, you have determined who is morally wrong.
And being morally wrong, it is morally acceptable for the heretics to be punished – and this often involves violence (burning down someone’s house IS violent, not matter how you try to spin it); even death. That is the sign of a fundamentalist, and it would appear from your statements that you are an ‘ecological or animalist fundamentalist’.
The big problem with your advocacy for morals and direct action is that you must allow the same rights for everyone else who wishes to take a moral stand – not just those who agree with your moral position, despite your disagreement with moral relativism. Anyone can make a case why something is a threat to ‘their way of life’. Indeed, fundamentalist viewpoints like your are a threat to MY way of life, so I guess I am justified in taking direct action against you and any others like you.
I disagree that this is about opinion. For me it is only about self-defense and the indefinite preservation of a life sustaining world. Unless of course you think it is only opinion that the ecological system be defended…
I don’t have leaders, i don’t have ancient texts to guide me, and i most certainly do not subscribe to any religion.
And, yes, i absolutely expect those who disagree with me (government, industry, corporations) to use violence. This is precisely why people on my side can never forbid the use of violence, its the most powerful tool in the tool box of those who oppose us.
You might be coming from a position of wanting to preserve the system. Me, i want to see the system come down. We can’t afford to naively pretend that those in positions of power will ever do anything but destroy the earth’s life support systems in their pursuit of short term profit.
OT, but I need help from those of you with research grant experience. I have already heard from several scientists but it would be nice to hear from a few more. I originally posted this at RC last week and am now branching out to this blog and others.
I have a thread on my blog titled Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part I that responds to the following two claims:
1) Scientists are getting rich from research grants!
2) Scientists holding an anti-AGW viewpoint cannot get funding!
I used my own recent grant experience to debunk claim #1. In a future post called Part II, I want to show examples of how grant money is spent at other institutions, especially the larger research institutions. Essentially, tell me why you are also not getting rich from your grants. You can comment on my blog or send me a private email.
My email address is email@example.com
You can give me as much or as little detail as you think it necessary to dispel claim #1. Before I post part II, I will send a draft copy to any person whose information is being used and you will have carte blanche to edit what I had planned to post. Nothing will appear in my post that you do not confirm.
I appreciate all the help you can offer!
The link to my blog is above. Somehow it had a “nofollow” tag in the post above so it was not clickable.
So, Paul in MI would subject anyone working for the government not only to government oversight, but also to repetitive and intrusive oversight by anyone who felt like it.
And on another thread, he said that any carbon tax/fee money should be rebated to the citizenry, that none should be put into government research or programs to improve or promote renewable energy sources.
Is there any government activity Paul doesn’t want to see cut, crippled or eliminated? I wonder who is supposed to do the sort of basic research that benefits society in the long run but does not yield immediate profits? More specifically, does anyone care to guess where CO2, temperature, and sea level will peak if there was zero government involvement in preventing global warming?
“So I take it you believe that every FOI request, no matter how trivial and/or vexatious, should be taken seriously and every taxpayer funded institution . . .”
Basically, yes. Who determines trivial?
Conduct public financed business in the open and FOI requests have very little value.
I can not believe you recommend “trust the government, what harm could they cause?”
“Is there any government activity Paul doesn’t want to see cut, crippled or eliminated?”
Yes, of course, they are in the constitution. If you want more, pass an amendment. You see here in the US, federal government has only the powers granted in the constitution, the rest are basically reserved to the people. (This is very different from the rest of the world) So, for example our 2nd amendment which guarantees the right to keep arms is basically un-needed because the government is not granted the ability to regulate them (see how well the government can be trusted?). Same would hold true for possession of pharmaceuticals. As we saw with alcohol, which required an amendment to prohibit (albeit in a time when the constitution was not so easily sidestepped).
“I wonder who is supposed to do the sort of basic research that benefits society in the long run but does not yield immediate profits?”
GFW, What business did you say you were in?
“I do sympathize with those who actively pursue the end to the commercial and scientific exploitation of animals. I suppose abusing FOI requests is one way to go about putting pressure on those who are engaged in such activities directly.”
See for Al’s case, if the
“we use animals for scientific research in procedure X”
were in the public domain what do you suppose would be the result ?
Better of course than FOI requests.
>GFW, What business did you say you were in?
A private one geared to immediate profits. However, almost everything we do is only possible because of advances that can be traced back to basic research – a significant fraction of which was performed by the government. One obvious example is that the internet grew out of a DARPA project.
I should point out a few things:
1. The Framers of the constitution thought that it would be revised much more than it has been.
2. Mostly the reason it hasn’t is because it’s easier to exploit vague wording. Yes, there’s a lot of vague wording despite what you might think. Particularly that sentence from the preamble that says one of the foundational purposes of the government is to “promote the general welfare” of the people. That’s basically how federal standards for say, meat processing, are constitutional. I for one am rather glad of those standards.
3. If you eliminated all the entities like say, the NIH, the Fed, the SEC, the FAA, etc. that were created to promote the general welfare, no matter whether you or I personally have a gripe about how they do their jobs (e.g. the SEC is far too lax) chaos would follow. Expensive chaos, probably accompanied by large loss of life.
4. If we got through that chaos, we’d probably amend the constitution to specifically declare most of those entities.
“….Conduct public financed business in the open and FOI requests have very little value….I can not believe you recommend “trust the government, what harm could they cause?”…”
I think there are quite a few in the military who would disagree with you. I guess you don’t believe in keeping secrets etc under any circumstances by any government institution. Perhaps the police should keep all their criminal records on the internet and conduct all their investigations in the open as well. Should we publish your tax records? Your school records? Your medical records from public hospitals? Each and every legal transgression (speeding tickets, court cases, etc)? Every dealing you have had with every government agency? Obviously, those are ‘public financed business’ transactions.
Or do you make exceptions for those things? If so, who determines what should be kept secret and what shouldn’t? (Perhaps it’s the same people who determine what is trivial and what isn’t – ie the Government).
“….You see here in the US, federal government has only the powers granted in the constitution, the rest are basically reserved to the people. (This is very different from the rest of the world)…”
Well, yes and no. In Australia (ie part of the rest of the world), as in the US, the constitution is based on a Federal system, whereby the States gave up certain rights to legislate to the Federal government, and those Federal rights are described in the Constitution. The Federal constitution says what the Federal Government may and may not do. If it is not specified in the constitution, the right to legislate still resides with the states, not with ‘the people’. One big difference is that in the US, the legislature can change the constitution, as long as the States agree. And the States can also change the constitution. In other words, the power does NOT reside with the people, but with the legislature. In Australia, constitutional amendment can only be achieved at national referendum, and requires endorsement by a majority of voters AND a majority of states (ie with the ‘people’).
While we will disagree, thanks for the comments.
I’ll answer short form, but don’t take it for attitude.
(hey, the new spell checker on here is great)
We put a great deal into development of new technology to keep profit coming.
2. Vague to progressives. Promote the general welfare, as a purpose, not a power in itself.
Yeah, meat standards, imagine if those greedy companies set out to kill their customers.
(btw, Their rules come from the industry)
3. See last sentence, number 2. (SEC specific, an impossible task, equity basically is for insiders)
4. Not likely, and for good reason.
We may need to disagree.
And here, criminal records are open, some more than others.
TAX records are open, typically for elected officials.
That’s how we know about Algore’s basic level of generosity.
And for taxes, schools and hospitals, well if I had my way . . .
We (the people) elect the legislature.
I think the military would agree, provided they were used for the right purpose.
(say slowly – Bush, IRAQ, Haliburton, big oil, police action, congress declares war)
Then we disagree. And I KNOW the military doesn’t agree with you either.
But if you think its appropriate for the military to publish all their weapons details, including capabilities and counter-measures which will defeat them; all their battle plans; troop dispositions and capabilities; etc, and if you think it’s appropriate for everyone in the country to have access to your tax records etc, well, then I’m pretty confident that 99.99% of the people in the country will disagree with you as well.
good grief mandas, get a grip
You come across as a rebel without a clue, the kind of person who picks up a cause and by rain, hail, shit or snow you will persue it and if anyone gets in your way then watch out.
For example Mandas has a penchant for shooting goats and goats are an introduced environmental pest in Australia. If he shoots a goat does this make him a bad person or is he a good person for protecting the environment?
Another question, what is the difference between a beaver damming a river and a human damming one?
The problem with causes is you become blinkered to what is around you, you loose the ability to see what your actions have out side of your cause. To claim that violence is acceptable to further your cause shows just how out of touch you are. I suggest you revisit the efforts of Gandhi to gain more perspective.
Mandas and Paul,
If used as it was intended FOI can be a useful thing, obviously some areas need to be exempt as Mandas has mentioned, Military (secrecy act and all that) personal info etc.
Maybe we could implement a “need to know” process. The need to know process has been around for awhile and would work something like this. If i asked Jones for his raw data and code his first response would be “why do you need to know”. As i have no need to know then the request could be declined. If however a climate scientist in a related field asked for the info then he would have a “need to know”. Of course the requesting party would need to finance the endeavour etc.
This would not reduce the number of requests but would filter the idiots from the legitiment so the number of requests acted upon would reduce.
This need to know system is one Mandas would be aware of, what do you think Mandas?
The need to know is an important principle, but I’m not exactly sure how it would work in the FOI context. Obviously, we do not release information where privacy considerations come into play – for example you could not request personal information on me, but you could request access to your own personal files. That would be one aspect of the need to know. Most people who have a need to know Government data already work for the Government (as you and I do), so getting access to the necessary data is not an issue.
With regard to other information, I am quite in favour of the current ‘user pays’ system. If someone requests information under FOI, most private citizens requesting information of a private nature to support their own private activities (eg in order to defend themselves in court) are not charged the recovery cost. But if someone like a journalist or organisation submits a request of a commercial nature, or it is obviously a fishing expedition (we get a lot of these – “I want every document related to such and such”), then they are advised how much it will cost and that they will be charged if they proceed with the request. Usually, most journalists then narrow their requests to more pertinent data, but in any case they have the right of appeal to the Minister and/or the Ombudsman against any excessive charges.
The rules in the UK are different to Australia. The UK Government does not charge for FOI requests, but can refuse them if the cost is excessive (over a predetermined amount). That is one reason why CRU received a LOT of requests. They just broke what was essentially one large request for information into lots of smaller parts. However, for all our faults, we public servants are not morons, and we can see through obvious ploys like that. In Australia, we cannot use cost as justification to refuse – but we can pass those costs on.
“…You come across as a rebel without a clue, the kind of person who picks up a cause and by rain, hail, shit or snow you will persue it and if anyone gets in your way then watch out…,”
Not really. I only have one cause, and its to my family.
”…For example Mandas has a penchant for shooting goats and goats are an introduced environmental pest in Australia. If he shoots a goat does this make him a bad person or is he a good person for protecting the environment? …”
I would say that humans do indeed have the ability to manage an ecosystem and even improve it. I don’t know near enough about Mandas or his goat shooting to say what he does is a benefit. But I would say that the phrase “environmental pest” probably means bad for agriculture (as if agriculture has never been bad for the environment… If a person needs to protect his sustainable, organic farm I say go for it. If the farm is a factory farm producing some mono-crop, draining water supplies, poisoning the earth with chemicals, using Monsanto seeds and it is run by a corporation im squarely on the side of the goat.
”…Another question, what is the difference between a beaver damming a river and a human damming one?…”
The difference is quite obvious. The beaver dam is a benefit to an ecosystem (no kidding since the river, the beaver, and its other associated life forms all evolved as part of that niche).
A human dam damages an ecosystem and in some cases eliminates entire ecosystems.
“…The problem with causes is you become blinkered to what is around you, you loose the ability to see what your actions have out side of your cause. To claim that violence is acceptable to further your cause shows just how out of touch you are. I suggest you revisit the efforts of Gandhi to gain more perspective…”
I suppose some people do become “blinkered”. I’m not one of them.
To claim that violence is not acceptable and is not effective is the absolute height of ignorance. Even worse, it is a slave mentality.
Ghandi was a wife beater who wrote a letter to Hitler asking him to please stop being so mean. What use do I have for such people? Yay, Ghandi helped the British leave India… for what? Another over populated nation bent on achieving the same ecocidal tendencies towards over-consumption as its former occupier? No thanks.
“…I don’t know near enough about Mandas or his goat shooting to say what he does is a benefit. But I would say that the phrase “environmental pest” probably means bad for agriculture…”
Ummm no, environmental pest means bad for the environment. An ‘agricultural pest’ would be bad for agriculture. You started off good by stating you didn’t know enough about what I did ot make a comment, but then you lost the plot by making assumptions based on your prejudices and then went into a rant about organic farming.
I work on wildlife habitat restoration – and shooting goats is a small part of that process. They are an introduced species which has caused untold damage to the fragile vegetation in many of Australia’s semi-arid regions, with the result that many native species have become endangered or even locally extinct. One project is to rehabilitate an area of National Park by removing invasive vegetation and replacing it with native species, controlling ‘environmental pests’ like goats, foxes and rabbits, and reintroducing native species like the nail-tailed wallaby. I hope you think that’s ok (well no, I don’t care if you do or not – because I am going to do it anyway).
“….I suppose some people do become “blinkered”. I’m not one of them….”
From what you have suggested so far, you appear to be VERY blinkered. Especially statements like this:
“…I would say that humans do indeed have the ability to manage an ecosystem and even improve it….”
Wrong! Improve it for who or what? You cannot improve an ecosystem across the board such that all species benefit. Any change to an ecosystem may be an ‘improvement’ (a benefit would be a better word) for one or more species, but as a result it will be to the detriment of others. Species are adapted to an environment as it is, and any changes affect that adaption.
“…The difference is quite obvious. The beaver dam is a benefit to an ecosystem (no kidding since the river, the beaver, and its other associated life forms all evolved as part of that niche)…A human dam damages an ecosystem and in some cases eliminates entire ecosystems….”
Humans evolved as part of the ecosystem as well – that’s what the word evolved means. The only difference between a beaver dam and a human dam is it’s extent. Both provide benefit to the species building them (and for some others), but both are to the detriment of some species as well. A beaver dam can cause downstream problems for fish populations, and the lake formed by the dam can wipe out entire colonies of some invertebrate species. All dams – even beaver dams – destroy the homes of animals in the vicinity, especially riverine burrowing animals, and destroy any plant life which happens to become flooded.
Crakar is correct. You are so enamoured with your cause that you fail to see the wider implications of anything you are suggesting. You need to think a little deeper and not just focus on the direct consequences of your ideas – look at the secondary and tertiary effects as well.
You and your family are alive today, and are sustained on a daily basis, by ‘factory farms’ run by corporations. Just have a close look at EVERYTHING you use and rely on. And if you cannot see the fingerprints of the evil comglomerates all over it, you are either not looking hard enough, or have your blinkers across the front of your eyes rather than to the side.
great comments, well reasoned, provide for further thought
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