UEA climate change data sets Freedom of Information precedent…

04Jul11

One of the most heated debates of recent years has been climate change, and on Friday, the Guardian reported that the University of East Anglia has had to relinquish masses of previously secret data on climate change because of Freedom of Information law.

It is said to be a victory for critics of the climatic research unit at the University, after two years of strong-holding vast numbers of global temperature records from fellow researchers and climate change sceptics.

However, the decision by the government’s information commissioner (Christopher Graham) is the first of its kind, and Johnathan Jones, who requested the data and is not a climate sceptic, puts it best;

“The most significant features of this decision are the precedents that have been set”

This decision should enable the release of more scientific research to the public as part and parcel of Freedom of Information law.

The law states that public bodies (including universities) have to release data unless there are good reasons not to, and in this case, the UEA said that legal exemptions applied; some of the data belonged to foreign meteorological offices and it was said that there would be value in selling the data to other researchers.

However, the decision by the commissioner “said suggestions that international relations could be upset by disclosure were “highly speculative”, and “it is not clear how UEA might have planned to commercially exploit the information requested.”

It is the first ruling made on climate data since ‘climategate’, and will obviously have huge implications in both the climate debate and in the request for information, as this case should outline procedure for universities and other public-servicing research centres when it comes to offering information the public.

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