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The University of Queensland’s diabolical dilemma

Rud Istvan has taken it upon himself to point out the diabolical dilemma the University of Queensland is facing. They have now claimed ownership of the work for the 97% Consensus paper (Cook et al 2013). In which case, UQ may have published a paper which breaches its own ethical principles (and is now threatening Brandon Shollenberger with legal action if he does what they themselves have already done). Alternately, if there was no ethical approval they are misrepresenting the situation with “grossly invalid grounds” and there is no reason to withhold data and threaten Shollenberger and the said data ought be released immediately.

The paper should be retracted or the data should be released to Richard Tol and Brandon Shollenberger. I would think an apology to Brandon, or to those named in the paper would also be a bare minimum requirement.


PS: As I said, the question of the participants names is a strawman. The real issue is the other data — like timestamps. Why are UQ risking their reputation to hide the other data (or lack thereof?)


Prof. Alistair McEwan
Acting-Pro-Vice Chancellor
University of QueenslandMr. Graham Lloyd
Environmental Editor
……………………………………….. Ms. Jane Malloch, Esq.
Head Research Legal
University of QueenslandProf. Richard Tol
University of Sussex

Prof. McEwan:

On May 20, 2014, you issued a formal statement concerning the
controversy published by The Australian on 5/17/14 surrounding Cook et. al,
2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024, ‘Quantifying the Consensus’, hereinafter
QtC. That statement presents the University of Queensland (UQ) with an ethical
and legal dilemma. I call your attention to it expecting UQ will do the right thing.
Your statement makes it quite clear that UQ considers QtC was done
under the sponsorship of and with support from UQ. This is indisputable. The
solicitation for volunteer raters for the analysis that became QtC was:
survey.gci.uq.edu.au/survey.php?c=5RL8LWWT2YO7. UQ released a statement
about the importance of QtC in the UQ News on January 16, 2014 headlined,
“UQ climate change paper has the whole world talking.”

Your 5/20/14 statement said in part:

“Only information that might be used to identify the individual research participants was withheld. This was in accordance with University ethical approval specifying that the identity of participants should remain confidential.”

And that is precisely your dilemma. The published paper itself identified all
the individual research participants (raters). They were either named authors
(with affiliations provided, for example second author Dana Nuccitelli affiliated
with UQ associated website SKS, as noted in UQ’s 1/20/14 news release), or
were specifically named without affiliation in the paper’s acknowledgement. Lest
you doubt this, following is that portion of the paper as originally published.

 Your dilemma is this. If the UQ ethical approval exists as you officially
stated, then the paper as published grossly violated it. QtC is therefore unethical
according to UQ policy, and should be withdrawn forthwith. We need not cite
here all the governing Australian principles that UQ is obligated to follow under
such unfortunate circumstances. Those include but are not limited to
www.uq.edu.au/research/integrity-compliance/human-ethics. There is 2014
retraction precedent concerning another unethical climate related paper from the
University of Western Australia. If, on the other hand, there was no such ethical
approval, or that approval did not require concealing rater identities, then you
have officially misrepresented grossly invalid grounds for withholding the
anonymized additional information needed for replication, such as date and time
stamped ratings by anonymous rater. Said information has repeatedly, formally
been requested by Prof. Richard S.J. Tol (Sussex University (U.K.), and an IPCC
AR5 lead author) for his legitimate research purposes concerning what UQ said
is a seminal paper. That data should still exist, and should be provided to Prof.
Tol under UQ Policy 4.20.06a §8.2 and §9.1 (as last approved 11/28/13).

Either way, you and UQ both appear in a very bad light. It appears that
UQ congratulates itself on gross ethical breaches (especially when basking in so
much notoriety), while at the same time withholding anonymized primary data
underlying a self admitted important research paper in contravention of UQ
written research data policy. Either retract the admittedly unethical paper, or
retract the grossly mistaken excuse and release the requested data to Tol.

I note in passing there is a third possibility, to wit Tol’s requested data
does not exist. In which case, QtC should be retracted for being unsupportable if
not also unethical. As you are probably aware, there have been many recent
instances of unsupportable research subsequently retracted. These include but
are not limited to papers from Ike Antkare in 2010, and many recent papers from
the SCIgen group (which interestingly bears superficial similarities to SKS) now
being retracted by Springer and by IEEE. Those two precedents may be
particularly germane to UQ’s instant dilemma.

This letter is as copyrighted as those Ms. Malloch writes concerning this
matter on UQ behalf. You and anyone else in the whole wide world are hereby
granted permission to freely reproduce it in whole or in part. I suspect some may.
I look forward to whichever decision (retraction or data provision) you think
best for UQ under the aforesaid circumstances.

Sincerely yours,
Rud Istvan, Esq., JD/MBA

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