Queen's University Belfast is a public body in the United Kingdom. As such, it is required to make certain information available under the UK Freedom of Information Act. The university holds some information about tree rings (which is important in climate studies and in archaeology). Following discusses my attempt to obtain that information, using the Act.

When a tree is cut, you can often see many concentric rings. Typically, there is one ring for each year during which the tree grew. Some rings will be thick: those indicate years in which the environment was good for the tree. Other rings will be thin: those indicate the opposite.

Tree rings are studied by scientists for two main purposes. One purpose is to learn something about what the climate was like many years ago. For instance, if many trees in a region had thick rings in some particular years, then climatic conditions in those years were presumably good (e.g. warm and with lots of rain); tree rings have been used in this way to learn about the climate centuries ago. The other purpose in studying tree rings is to date artefacts found in archaeological contexts; for an example, see here.

Tree-ring data from Northern Ireland
One of the world's leading centers for tree-ring work is in Northern Ireland, at Queen's University Belfast (QUB). The tree-ring data that QUB has gathered is valuable for studying the global climate during the past 7000 years: for a brief explanation of this, see here.

Almost all of the tree-ring data held by QUB was gathered decades ago; yet it has never been published. There is a standard place on the internet to publish such data: the International Tree-Ring Data Bank (ITRDB), which currently holds tree-ring data from over 1500 sites around the world. QUB refuses to publish or otherwise disclose most of its data, though. So I have tried to obtain the data by applying under the UK Freedom of Information Act (FoI Act).

I have submitted three separate requests for the data. Each request described the data in a different way, in an attempt to avoid nit-picking objections. All three requests were for the data in electronic form, e.g. placed on the internet or sent as an e-mail attachment. The first request was submitted in April 2007.

QUB refused the first request in May 2007. I appealed the refusal to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of QUB, who rejected the appeal. The primary reason that the Pro-Vice-Chancellor gave for rejection was that some of the data was in paper form and had not been converted to electronic form. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor additionally claimed that after data was converted to electronic form, “It is then uploaded to the International Tree Ring Data Base”. There might indeed be some small portion of the data that is not in electronic form. My request, though, was for a copy of the data that is in electronic form. So, is all data that is in electronic form available at the ITRDB, as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor claimed?

QUB has published the results of various analyses of its tree-ring data (most notably its claim to have sequences of overlapping tree rings extending back in time many millennia). In doing the analyses, the sequences of tree-ring data are analyzed statistically, and the statistical computations are done by computer. This is well known, and moreover has been stated by QUB's former head tree-ring researcher, Michael G.L. Baillie, in several his publications. (Indeed, Baillie and his colleague Jon R. Pilcher, also at QUB, wrote a widely-used computer program for tree-ring matching, CROS.) Obviously the data that was used for those computations is in electronic form—and it has not been uploaded to the ITRDB. Thus the claim by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor is untrue.

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor further claimed that to organize the data in “the very precise categories which [I] have specified” [in my request] would entail a vast amount of work. My request, though, was merely for the tree-ring data that had been obtained and used by the university; that hardly seems like precise categorization. Moreover, I later submitted a second request for “the data about tree rings that has been obtained by [QUB] and that is held in electronic form by the university”. That request was also refused. And a third request that was very similar to the second was refused. All three requests were refused in whole, even though the university is required to make partial fulfillment when that is practicable.

The UK Information Commissioner's Office
After half a year of trying to obtain the information from QUB, I appealed to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). The ICO is charged with ensuring that the FoI Act is enforced. My appeal to the ICO was submitted on 24 October 2007. The ICO notified me that an officer had been assigned to begin investigating my case on 14 October 2008. Such a long delay is clearly incompatible with effective working of the Act.

The ICO then contacted QUB, asking for more information. QUB then admitted that almost all the data was stored in electronic form. Thus QUB implicitly admitted that its prior claims were untruthful.

QUB now asserted, however, that the data was on 150 separate disks and that it would take 100 hours to copy those disks. (These were floppy disks—the type that slide into computers and, prior to the internet, were commonly used to carry electronic data.) It takes only a few minutes to copy a floppy disk, however; so the claim of 100 hours to copy 150 floppy disks is an unrealistic exaggeration.

QUB also said that it considered photocopying a printed version of the data, but that this would take over 1800 hours. As noted above, all my requests were for data that is in electronic form; moreover, I have repeated this point in subsequent correspondences with QUB. The statement from QUB about photocopying is thus not relevant.

On 22 December 2008, the ICO sent me a letter rejecting my appeal, on the grounds that the time needed by QUB would exceed an “appropriate limit” (as stipulated in the FoI Act). The ICO had accepted QUB's explanation for refusing to disclose the data without question, and without discussing the explanation with me. I telephoned the ICO to raise some objections. To each objection that I raised, the ICO case officer gave the same reply: “I'm satisfied with their [QUB's] explanation”.

I also offered to visit QUB with the case officer, to demonstrate how quickly the data could be copied (e.g. from floppy disks), and to copy the data myself. This seemed particularly appropriate because the officer had told me when she started on the case that she would visit QUB as a standard part of investigation, yet she had not made such a visit. The officer, though, declined my offer, again saying that she was satisfied with QUB's explanation.

There is a mechanism to appeal an ICO decision, to a tribunal. I told the case officer that I wanted to do so. The officer replied that, in order to file an appeal, I would need a formal Decision Notice from the ICO. I requested a Decision Notice. The officer then informed me that the ICO would send a Notice, but that, because they were busy, it would take about two years to do so.

Environmental Information Regulations
I discussed the above with a colleague, David Holland. Holland said that my request should not have been processed under the FoI Act. His reasoning was that the information I was requesting was about the environment: environmental information is exempt from the FoI Act and requests for such information should instead be processed under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). He pointed out that the tree-ring data clearly fits the definition of “environmental information” given in the EIR. It also clearly fits the common (dictionary) definition.

I had been aware that the EIR existed, but had assumed that the EIR was essentially the same as the FoI Act. After the discussion with Holland, though, I checked and found that there is one major difference between the EIR and the FoI Act: under the EIR, there is no limit on the amount of time that a public institution requires to process a request. In other words, even if QUB's original claim that some of the data was only available on paper were true, or even if QUB's revised claim that copying data from disks would take 100 hours were true, that would still not be a valid reason for refusing to supply the information.

I am not an expert in how to apply the EIR or FoI Act, though. So I telephoned the ICO headquarters to ask for guidance. There I spoke with a Customer Service Advisor, Mike Chamberlain. Chamberlain told me the following: that the information seemed obviously environmental; that there was no limit on processing time that could be used to refuse a request for environmental information; that I could freely visit a site where environmental information was held in order to examine the information; and that it was the duty of the public authority (i.e. QUB) to determine whether the EIR or the FoI Act was applicable. Chamberlain also confirmed everything that he told me with someone more senior at the ICO.

It is regrettable that I had not realized the above earlier. My initial request to QUB, in April 2007, had stated the following.

It might be that this request is exempt from the FOIAct, because the data being requested is environmental information. If you believe that to be so, process my request under the Environmental Information Regulations.

QUB, however, had not processed my application correctly. I should have caught that.

There is another issue. I had described the information to the ICO case officer by telephone and also by e-mail (on 24 November 2008). Hence the case officer must have known that the information was environmental, and thus exempt under the FoI Act and only requestable under the EIR. Why did the ICO not act on that? On 29 January 2009, I e-mailed the case officer, citing the above-quoted statement from my request to QUB and saying “I would like to know the reasoning that led to my request being processed under the Freedom of Information Act, instead of EIR”. Initially, there was no reply.

The EIR was enacted pursuant to the Aarhus Convention, an international treaty on environmental information that the UK promoted, signed, and ratified. Failure to implement the EIR would constitute a failure by the UK to adhere to the Convention. Hence, a few weeks after e-mailing my question to the ICO, and with no reply, I contacted the Aarhus Convention Secretariat (ACS), at the United Nations in Geneva.

The ACS has a mechanism whereby individuals can file a complaint against a country for breaching the Convention. I had an initial discussion with the ACS about this. That turned out to be unnecessary though. The Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland contacted me, on 10 March 2009: he was now handling my case and, moreover, he had visited QUB and seen some of the data.

On 22 April 2009, I received a telephone call from the Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland. The Assistant Commissioner said that he was preparing a Decision Notice for the case, and he made it clear that the Notice would state that the data should be disclosed under the EIR. The next I heard anything was on 13 July 2009, when it was announced that the Assistant Commissioner had been suspended.

On 13 August 2009, I telephoned the ICO, to find out what was happening. I was told that a new officer would be assigned to the case within the next few days and that a draft Decision Notice was in the signatory process. My next communication from the ICO was an e-mail on 23 November 2009. The e-mail said that an officer had been assigned to my case and that a new Notice was being drafted.

Decision Notice
The ICO issued its Decision Notice on 29 March 2010. The Notice Summary is as follows.

The complainant requested electronic data relating to tree ring research (dendrochronology). The public authority [i.e. QUB] confirmed that it held the requested information but refused to provide it citing section 12 of the [FoI] Act. The Commissioner indicated to the public authority that the withheld information fell within the definition of environmental information under the EIR. The public authority subsequently cited the exceptions at regulations 12(4)(d), 12(4)(b), 12(5)(c) and 12(5)(e) to refuse the information. The Commissioner finds that none of the exceptions is engaged and the withheld information should therefore be disclosed. The Commissioner also recorded a number of procedural breaches in the public authority's handling of the request.

The Notice is 21 pages long. A few selections are below.

Paragraph 29 states this: “QUB also contended that there was "negligible" public interest in disclosing the requested information given that it did not relate to issues of national/regional debate, public safety or decisions taken by QUB that directly affected the public”. The contention by QUB is clearly untruthful, given that the information can potentially shed significant new light on global warming (as outlined here).

Paragraphs 43–44 state the following.

QUB had stated that there were approximately 150 disks of data, but at the inspection of 26 February 2009 the Commissioner noted that there were in fact only 67 disks, which contained 150 folders of relevant data. ….

Although QUB had argued that copying this information would be extremely time consuming, the Commissioner established during the inspection that on average it would take approximately 5 minutes to transfer the data folder to folder using Notepad. Accordingly, the Commissioner estimated that it would take approximately 12.5 hours to complete the transfer of all disks and make a copy. The Commissioner is of the view that this would not constitute a significant burden on QUB.

Paragraphs 47–49 state the following.

Regulation 12(4)(d) provides that a public authority may refuse to disclose information where the request relates to material which is still in the course of completion, to unfinished documents or to incomplete data. This exception is class-based, so there is no requirement to demonstrate prejudice or adverse effect, although there is still a requirement to consider the public interest.

QUB stated that the information requested (the raw tree ring data held electronically) is currently being used in ongoing research which would result in future publications. Furthermore the data is used to update and develop new tree ring chronologies, the results of which are ultimately published via the internet on the ITRDB. ….

…. QUB has advised that the raw data was collected over a period of 40 years, and is now being used for research. This does not suggest to the Commissioner that the data is unfinished or incomplete, rather that, whilst the research utilising this data is ongoing ie the analysis of the data, the data itself has already been collected and is therefore not unfinished or incomplete.

I would add that since the tree-ring lab was effectively closed in 2009 (see further below), QUB's advice is even more misleading.

Paragraph 54 states the following.

QUB argued to the Commissioner that the requested data had been subject to significant labour, skill and judgement on the part of the individuals who had prepared it over almost 40 years. QUB further argued that the data was used as a tool for undertaking research into dendrochronology in Ireland and for teaching students and this research included “very significant know-how and confidential information”. Accordingly QUB was of the view that disclosure of the requested information would adversely affect QUB's ability to protect and maintain this know-how, thereby impacting on its academic research and expertise in this area.

Thus QUB has, over a period of almost 40 years, developed scientific understandings that very significantly advance the study of tree-rings, and it wants to keep those understandings confidential. You might judge for yourself how concordant that is with the values of science.

The ICO's Decision gained some publicity. In particular, The Times (of London) interviewed the chairman of the UK parliament's Science and Technology Committee on the Decision; the chairman, Phil Willis, stated that “data has to be made publicly available” and that “Any university or scientist that hasn't got that message needs a total rethink of the way they do research”. Several other media outlets, both in the UK and elsewhere, also carried the story (a partial list is below). Most prominent was the Wall Street Journal, which ran an editorial entitled “Free the data, save the science”, strongly supporting disclosure of the QUB data.

QUB had the right to appeal the Decision to a tribunal. The deadline for an appeal was 26 April 2010. The day after the deadline, I was told by the tribunal office that QUB had not filed an appeal.

Disclosed data
On 28 April 2010, QUB sent me a letter saying that “in compliance with the Decision Notice … the University has now disclosed the information requested in [my] FOI requests”. The letter gave the web address for the information (copied here).

The disclosed data comprises the widths of the (annual) rings of the trees, which is the principal information that I requested. The data, however, does not specify the locations of most of the trees; yet my FoI requests included specifying the locations. The data also does not specify the years in which any of the tree rings grew; yet my FoI requests included specifying those years. Moreover, the data comprises ring widths from less than 10 000 tree samples; yet QUB previously stated that they had measured 11 000 tree samples.

At first, the disclosed data did not appear to fulfil my FoI requests. My requests, though, were for the data in electronic form: QUB claimed that the additional information that I requested (tree locations, ring dates, etc.) was not held in electronic form. I had both telephone and e-mail discussions with the ICO and QUB about this. Ultimately, I accepted QUB's claim. I then submitted new FoI requests for additional information, regardless of what form that information was in. Those requests resulted in the disclosure of one additional set of data.

The additional disclosed data set specified which trees were living at the time of sampling. The ring dates of those trees are thus known with certainty. That information, together with the information previously available in the ITRDB, implies that it is possible to date almost all the trees whose ring sequences were disclosed, at least in principle. The task of comparing the ring sequences from all the individual trees has been attempted by two researchers in Sweden, Petra & Lars-Åke Larsson. I will report on that in the future.

Another example—Gothenburg University
I have previously been involved with obtaining tree-ring data from another institution: Gothenburg University, in Sweden. Sweden has a law that is similar to the UK's Freedom of Information Act (the Swedish law is the Principle of Public Access). In 2004, Swedish courts ruled that the law applied to research data held by universities. In a famous case known as the “Gillberg affair”, a researcher at Gothenburg University refused to obey the law. As a result, both the researcher and the rector of the university were convicted of criminal malfeasance. (The researcher received a suspended sentence and a fine; the rector received a fine.)

Gothenburg University does substantial tree-ring research. On 10 April 2007, I requested their tree-ring data. The university's lead tree-ring researcher repeatedly resisted, claiming that it would take weeks of his time, and that he was too busy to do it. On 22 April 2008, I sent a letter to the (new) rector of Gothenburg University, saying that if the data was not supplied, I would file complaints with both the Court and the Parliamentary Ombudsmen of Sweden. The next day, all the data was submitted to the ITRDB.

In the UK, as I understand things, there can be criminal charges for breach of the FoI Act, but such charges must be made within six months of the breach occurring. In the case of QUB, the various delays thus imply that such charges cannot be made. It has been suggested, however, that if more than one person conspired to breach the FoI Act, then it might be possible to charge those people with the offence of conspiracy (under Section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act). Whether such a charge is feasible does not seem to be known—it has not been attempted before. Note: I have no training in law, and I am not alleging that there has been a criminal offence.

The QUB tree-ring laboratory is part of QUB's Centre for Climate, the Environment, and Chronology. The director of the Centre is Paula J. Reimer. Thus Reimer has presumably been involved in developing QUB's responses to my FoI requests. I therefore submitted a new FoI request for all e-mails received by a QUB Vice-Chancellor or Pro-Vice-Chancellor (past or present) that contained the word “Reimer”. Thus, QUB's response to my request should include all e-mails received from Reimer and all e-mails received from someone else in which Reimer was Cc'd.

QUB's response to my request was sent on 13 April 2010. It contains only five e-mails, the earliest from September 2009. Reimer joined QUB in about September 2004; so QUB's response was surprising for me, and I appealed it. QUB answered my appeal on 19 May 2010. The answer stated that a “complete check of all relevant email accounts has been undertaken” and that there were no additional e-mails because e-mails are “deleted periodically”.

I also requested a copy of all e-mails exchanged between Baillie and Reimer since submitting my first FoI request in April 2007. QUB sent their response on 24 May 2010. The response does not show any evidence of a conspiracy.

Political aftermath
The forced disclosure of the QUB data set a legal precedent in the UK. The precedent was analyzed in law journals, mass media, etc.

The precedent was received very negatively by some scientists. Several media outlets had supportive interviews with Baillie, and credulously repeated Baillie's falsehoods. Other scientists also got involved. For example, one of the UK's leading climate scientists, Phil Jones, gave an interview to New Scientist magazine: the published interview was very critical of the FoI Act; yet its criticisms were wholly based on falsehoods about what the Act says.

The UK government remained adamant that research data should be disclosed. The Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, stated the following, on 22 July 2010.

The Government attaches a lot of importance to transparency, making sure that research data are accessible to the wider public as easily and quickly as possible. … it is very important and people think that it is absolutely clear that that kind of data should be accessible….

The backlash from scientists, though, continued. E.g. on 16 February 2011, Cambridge University held a seminar entitled “What does the Freedom of Information Act mean for Research?”, with Baillie as the lead speaker. The backlash, together with fallout from the Climategate scandal, led to the Royal Society (which acts as the UK's Academy of Sciences) launching a study on openness in science. I talked with the person who was going to chair the study, Geoffrey Boulton. Boulton made it clear that he wanted more exemptions put in the FoI Act and the EIR—exemptions strong enough to often prevent information from being disclosed. I also talked with the president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse. Nurse made it clear that he strongly advocated for what scientists wanted.

In May 2011, US President Barack Obama visited the UK. On 25 May 2011, he and Prime Minister David Cameron issued a joint statement, saying inter alia, that they “emphasized the importance of data sharing and open science data policies that support climate research and modelling” (UK version, US version). After that, the backlash from scientists seemed to fade. And the report from the study by the Royal Society, which was published in 2012, unequivocally supported data openness.

Motivations for withholding data
Some people have asked why QUB does not want to disclose the data. In fact, most tree-ring laboratories do not make their data available: it is not just QUB and Gothenburg that have been reluctant. The reason for this was elucidated by Peter M. Brown, in April 2007. At the time, Brown was president of the Tree-Ring Society, which is the main international organization for tree-ring researchers. The elucidation is here; following is an excerpt.

… they ARE my data. Funding agencies pay me for my expertise, my imagination, and my insights to be able to make some advance in our understanding of how nature works, not for raw data sets. … It is the understanding and inferences supplied by the scientist that funding agencies are interested in, not her or his raw data.

In other words, even if the research and the researcher's salary are fully paid for by the public—as is the case at QUB—the researcher still regards the data as his or her personal property. Baillie confirmed this in an interview with Times Higher Education in July 2010, saying “As far as we were concerned, it was our data … the data belonged to the people who made the measurements”.

There are a few tree-ring laboratories where attitudes are different. One example is the University of St Andrews, in the UK. Almost all tree-ring data held by St Andrews is freely available in the ITRDB.

It is notable that QUB continues to withhold data even though, in 2009, the tree-ring laboratory at QUB was effectively closed. The closure was primarily due to the lab lacking funds, which presumably resulted from having almost no research publications (i.e. the lab had not been producing anything; so funding agencies declined to support it). The dearth of publications occurred even though the lab has some very valuable data on what is arguably the world's most important scientific topic—global warming (as outlined here). This problem arises because the QUB researchers do not have expertise to analyze the data themselves and they do not want to share their data with other researchers who do.

The tree-ring data currently held by QUB primarily consists of the widths of the (annual) rings of trees. Additional data could be obtained from the wood (e.g. density, isotopic chemistry, etc., of each ring), which would make the full data set even more valuable. Given the great importance of global-warming studies, it would presumably have been easy for QUB to obtain funding to gather the additional data, as well as to analyze the full data set. Doing that would have established QUB as a leading institution for the study of past climates. In other words, that would have benefited QUB, benefited science, and given the importance of global warming, benefited the world. Yet instead of doing that, QUB closed the lab.

Concluding remarks
It is now both the law and the accepted practice that, in the UK, data supporting published scientific research generally must be disclosed. That should bring two main benefits: first, higher quality research, as researchers realize that their analyses can be thoroughly scrutinized; second, improved cross-fertilization of science, as data is available to all interested researchers.


Date Sender Summary (with link)
2007-04-10 DJK My first request for the information held by QUB (sent via e-mail).
2007-04-16 QUB Acknowledgement of request.
2007-05-11 QUB E-mail saying that there will be a delay in responding to the request (which is required to be within 20 business days of my request), but that QUB would respond by May 18th.
2007-05-21 DJK E-mail to the ICO, about the lack of response from QUB; Cc'd to QUB.
2007-05-22 QUB First refusal of the request for information.
2007-05-22 QUB E-mail with attached description of how to appeal the refusal (this was sent following a telephone call to QUB in which I noted that they are required to send me such).
2007-05-23 DJK E-mail to the ICO, noting that QUB had responded.
2007-05-24 DJK Appeal of the refusal, submitted to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of QUB.
2007-05-25 QUB Initial response to the appeal, saying that appeal to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor should be resorted to only if QUB's Information Compliance Officer and I are unable to resolve things ourselves.
2007-06-02 ICO Acknowledgement of my prior e-mails, correctly noting that the ICO should not act at this time.
2007-06-21 QUB Second refusal of the request for information.
2007-07-13 DJK Appeal to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of QUB.
2007-07-26 QUB Notification that a response to my appeal to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor will be delayed until the second half of August.
2007-08-15 QUB E-mail from a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, saying that a response to my appeal will be sent by September 30th (i.e. about seven weeks after the four-week limit).
2007-09-28 QUB Rejection of my appeal by a Pro-Vice-Chancellor.
2007-10-24 DJK Appeal to the ICO.
2007-11-27 ICO Acknowledgement of appeal, saying that it might be several months before I hear from the ICO again.
2008-05-15 DJK Second request for the information held by QUB.
2008-05-15 DJK Third request for the information held by QUB.
2008-06-12 QUB Refusal of my second and third requests, by the Head of the Registrar's Office.
2008-06-19 DJK E-mailed reply to the Head of the Registrar's Office at QUB.
2008-07-01 QUB Acknowledgement of my last e-mail, by the Head of the Registrar's Office.
2008-07-15 DJK E-mail to the ICO, notifying them of the rejected second and third requests for the information.
2008-10-14 ICO E-mail notifying me that an officer has been assigned to my case and asking me to confirm that I would like to proceed.
2008-10-15 DJK E-mail to the ICO, confirming that I would like to proceed.
2008-11-24 DJK E-mail to the ICO, briefly synopsizing how tree-ring dating works (this followed a telephone call, in which the case officer had said that might be helpful).
2008-11-24 ICO Acknowledgement of my last e-mail and notice that QUB's response had been slightly delayed.
2008-12-22 ICO Rejection of my appeal.
2009-01-21 DJK E-mail summarizing telephone call with the ICO; during the call I was informed that it would take roughly two years for the ICO to issue a Decision Notice on the case.
2009-01-21 ICO Letter acknowledging my request for a Decision Notice (this was sent 43 minutes after my last e-mail, and its content appears to be independent of that).
2009-01-29 DJK E-mail to the ICO, asking why my requests for information had been processed under the FoI Act, instead of the EIR.
2009-03-02 DJK E-mail to the ACS, alleging a breach of the Aarhus Convention by the United Kingdom.
2009-03-10 ACS Reply from the ACS Legal Support Officer, concluding that the evidence substantiating the allegation is sufficient for the ACS to proceed with a review.
2009-03-10 ICO E-mail from the Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland, saying that he was handling the case and he had visited QUB (this was concomitant with a telephone call, which elaborated).
2009-03-11 DJK E-mail to the ACS, saying that the ICO was now progressing things, and so my allegation was unnecessary.
2009-03-11 ACS Acknowledgement of prior e-mail.
2009-03-25 ICO E-mail from the Assistant Information Commissioner, saying that he was continuing with work on the case and would contact me again after Easter.
2009-08-18 MGB Post by Michael Baillie on the e-list CCNet. The post is a response to this web page. It supports QUB's actions and claims, in particular, that the data I requested was already available in the ITRDB.
2009-08-19 DJK My reply to Baillie on CCNet, arguing that there are serious dishonesties in Baillie's post, which invalidate the post's claims.
2009-11-23 ICO E-mail saying that a new officer had been assigned to the case and that a Decision Notice was being drafted.
2010-03-12 DJK Request for a copy of all e-mails received by a QUB Vice-Chancellor or Pro-Vice-Chancellor (past or present) and that contain the word “Reimer”.
2010-03-29 ICO Decision Notice ruling that QUB should disclose the tree-ring information I requested and that QUB repeatedly breached the EIR in handling my request.
2010-04-13 QUB Response to my request of 2010-03-12; it contains only five e-mails, the earliest dated September 2009.
2010-04-15 DJK Appeal, to QUB, of the response on 2010-04-13.
2010-04-19 DJK Request for a copy of all e-mails, sent on or after 2007-04-10, for which both Baillie and Reimer were senders or recipients.
2010-04-28 QUB Letter claiming that QUB “has now disclosed the information requested in [my] FOI requests” and giving the web address for the information.
2010-04-29 DJK E-mail to QUB, arguing that much of the requested information has not been disclosed.
2010-05-04 ICO E-mail stating that the ICO will now be investigating whether QUB has complied with the Decision Notice.
2010-05-05 DJK Request for all radiocarbon measurements that were used to date the trees.
2010-05-07 QUB Letter stating that QUB has now complied with the Decision Notice.
2010-05-07 ICO E-mail stating that QUB has now complied with the Decision Notice.
2010-05-11 DJK E-mail to QUB asking for clarifications on the data that was disclosed.
2010-05-11 QUB E-mail providing clarifications on the data.
2010-05-11 DJK Request, for each tree, for specification of the location of where the tree was found.
2010-05-12 DJK Request for the dates of tree rings that grew during the 20th century.
2010-05-14 DJK E-mail to the ICO, accepting QUB's claim that the additional information I am seeking is not held by QUB in electronic form.
2010-05-19 QUB Response to my request of 2010-04-19, for some e-mails between Baillie and Reimer.
2010-05-19 QUB Response to my appeal of 2010-04-15, reasserting that there are no further relevant e-mails received by a Vice-Chancellor or Pro-Vice-Chancellor.
2010-05-24 QUB Response to my request of 2010-05-05, giving notice of disclosure of radiocarbon measurements.
2010-06-04 QUB Refusal of my request of 2010-05-11, for the source locations of the trees.
2010-06-04 QUB Response to my request of 2010-05-12, disclosing most of the data on trees that were living when sampled.
2010-06-09 DJK Appeal, to QUB, of the response on 2010-05-19 to my request for some e-mails between Baillie and Reimer.
2010-06-09 DJK Appeal, to QUB, of the refusal on 2010-06-04 of my request for the source locations of the trees.
2010-06-14 DJK E-mail to QUB, accepting the response, on 2010-06-04, that disclosed which trees were living when sampled.
2010-06-15 QUB Response to my appeal, on 2010-06-09, for more e-mails between Baillie and Reimer.
2010-06-16 DJK Request for a specification of which trees had their piths present.
2010-06-23 QUB Response to my appeal on 2010-06-09 pertaining to source locations of the trees.
2010-07-06 QUB Rejection of my request on 2010-06-16 for information about piths: QUB does not hold this information.
2010-09-21 DJK Letter asking for clarifications of data, received on 2010-06-04, about trees that were living when sampled.
2010-10-01 QUB Reply to letter of 2010-09-21.




Clare Weir, “Academic tree ring circus”, Belfast Telegraph, 3 December 2009.
—, “University told to hand over data”, BBC News, 15 April 2010.
—, “Queen's University could face contempt ruling over tree ring data”, Belfast Telegraph, 16 April 2010.
Joachim Seehusen, “Klimaskeptiker vant over universitet”, Teknisk Ukeblad, 19 April 2010.
Fred Pearce, “Climate sceptic wins landmark data victory 'for price of a stamp'”, The Guardian, 20 April 2010.
Hannah Devlin, “Climate sceptics force Queen’s University to hand over data”, The Times, 20 April 2010.
Fred Pearce, “UK university ordered to give data to climate sceptic”, New Scientist, 20 April 2010.
Jon Wilcox, “ICO orders tree ring data release”, Public Technology, 21 April 2010.
Rudy Pieters, “Klimaatscepticus dwingt universiteit gegevens te overhandigen”, Inter Press Service, 22 April 2010.
Dee-Ann LeBlanc, “Who owns data gathered by UK universities?”, CMSWire, 23 April 2010.
Anh Nguyen, “ICO tells another university to hand over climate change data to sceptic”, ComputerworldUK, 23 April 2010.
—, “Free the data, save the science”, Wall Street Journal, 23 April 2010.
Jeremy Lovell, “Climate skeptic wins 40 years' worth of Irish tree ring data, hopes for more”, ClimateWire, 26 April 2010.
Jiang Qi, “英国大学被迫为气候变化怀疑论者提供研究数据”, People's Daily, 29 April 2010.
Clare Weir, “Queen's ordered to release tree data”, Belfast Telegraph, 1 May 2010.
Michael Duffy, “Tree rings and freedom of information”, Radio National, 3 May 2010 [interview].
Mike Baillie, “Tree-ring patterns are intellectual property, not climate data”, The Guardian, 11 May 2010.
—, “University publishes 40 years' worth of climate research”, Freedom of Information, May/June 2010.
Holly Williams, “Tree rings: chainsaws at dawn”, The Independent, 25 May 2010.
Hannah Fearn, “Research intelligence - Request hits a raw spot”, Times Higher Education, 15 July 2010.
Geoffrey Boulton, Michael Rawlins, Patrick Vallance, Mark Walport, “Science as a public enterprise: the case for open data”, The Lancet, 14 May 2011.

Selected blogs

Against Monopoly
Bishop Hill
Climate Audit
Climate Skeptic
Effect Measure
Englishman's Castle
e-Research Ethics
Guido Fawkes
Herald Sun: Andrew Bolt
Nature: Climate Feedback
Nature: The Great Beyond  [1], [2]
Pajamas Media
Practical Ethics
Reuters: Commentaries
Small Dead Animals  [1], [2]
Watts Up With That?  [1], [2], [3], [4]


Abbott J., Marohasy J. (2010), “Accessing environmental information relating to climate change: the case of Irish oaks tree rings”, Environmental Law & Management, 22: 172–181.
Cybis Wiki: QUB
Mauthner N.S. (2012), “Accounting for our part of the entangled webs we weave”, Ethics in Qualitative Research (editors—T. Miller et al.) chap.10 (SAGE Publications).

Douglas J. Keenan