Attempts to get some summary data from the Drought Exceptional Circumstances report out of Australia’s scientific organization CSIRO, in order to check the statistical significance of the results, have been described as a saga. The way this has been picked up on various blogs and comments shows the depth of concern people have about data access for checking scientific work.

Steve McIntyre at ClimateAudit describes the saga as “a recent lurid report on Australian drought, only to be stonewalled on grounds of ‘Intellectual Property Rights’, a pretext familiar to CA readers.” In another post he finds fault with another aspect of the report, writing that CSIRO produced “an interesting example of a promotional press release, that would daunt the most adventurous stock promoter, followed by mealy-mouthed and untrue excuses by the government department.”

Further afield, Agmates Rural News linked in with story headlined Scientists & Farmers Question CSIRO Scare Mongering Reports. The very readable SeaBlogger refers to it as “the Australia drought hysteria.”

It doesn’t matter that paleoclimatology shows two modes for (Australian) regional climate: dry and drier. Any modern drought must be climate change caused by your SUV.

Meanwhile, I have been following up on the claim made by Mr Hennessy that “I’m not able to hand over the data from the 13 models, due to restrictions on Intellectual Property”. I wanted to get a copy of the CSIRO IPR policy to see if this was true, or simply a case of an over-zealous employee. I emailed a Dr Tendulkar listed as a contact for IP on the CSIRO web site and asked for a link to a policy and if it might restrict data access in this way. I also emailed a Ms Caldwell in the Freedom of Information (FOI) Unit for information about starting an FOI request for the data. To date I have neither received a reply nor acknowledgment of my emails.

Virtually no information is provided on starting an FOI request. The website states only that:

FOI applications should be accompanied by the statutory A$30 application fee. There are some additional charges associated with processing requests including search, retrieval and photocopying fees.

I asked what costs could potentially be involved. I am concerned because when the then opposition environment minister
Peter Garrett put an (unsuccessful) FOI application to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) for documents on the effect of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef he was hit with an administration charge of more than $12,000. Part of the $12,718.80 costs included charges for 107.6 hours of search and retrieval time, 539 hours of decision-making time and photocopying of more than 3250 pages at 10 cents per page. I can’t complain about the hourly rate of less than $20 an hour, but they seem to work exceedingly slowly.

Peter Garrett is now environment minister in the newly elected Rudd Labor Government. He might be sympathetic to an appeal, given his experiences with getting information out of government research organizations.

UPDATE: I rang Kevin Hennessy yesterday morning (July 21) and he said the data will be on its website in a couple of days. I will do a post when it appears, and give credit where it is due.

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