A Direct Challenge

As most of you know, I recently received a threatening letter from the University of Queensland. This letter made a variety of threats and demands. The the strangest one was it suggested I’d be sued if I showed anyone the letter. Today, I intend to challenge that claim.

Some people suggested I should have immediately published the letter. I understand that view. It was my immediate reaction upon receiving the letter. The idea of a university from another country suing me because I published a letter in which they threatened to sue me was laughable. It was as empty a threat as I could imagine.

Still, I’ve been told I let myself get baited too easily. It seemed unwise to act hastily rashly when the issue of a lawsuit was at hand. I thought taking a few days to think about matters was sensible.

I have now, and I’ve talked to a number of people about this. Everything I’ve seen and heard agrees: The threat against me publishing the letter was bogus and pathetic. It might have even been unethical.

As such, I’m now going to publish the letter in full. You can find it here. If the University of Queensland wants to try to back up its threat, it can.

In the meantime, I’d like to challenge more than just the University of Queensland’s attempt at intimidating me into silence. I’d like to challenge several factual claims made in the letter. Specifically, the letter makes three claims I find difficult to believe:

1. The intellectual property in the data set (the “IP”) [I] have in [my] possession is owned by the University of Queensland.
2. The University of Queensland has contractual obligations to third parties regarding the IP. Any publication of the IP will expose the University to civil actions from third parties.
3. The University of Queensland has conducted a forensic investigation and it appears that the site where the IP was housed has been hacked

That is a quote from an e-mail response I sent to Jane Malloch, solicitor for the University of Queensland and author of the threatening letter. I expressed doubt about each claim and requested the university justify them. I received no response. I’m not sure why. All I am sure of is it is unreasonable to expect people to believe things simply because you say they’re true. We should look at what evidence there is, not just take one person at her word.

When we look at the available evidence, these claims don’t seem to hold up. Steve McIntyre has pointed out the Consensus Project was carried out by Skeptical Science volunteers. No indication was given the project was tied in any way to the University of Queensland. The data was stored on a third-party website. If the University of Queensland owns this data, there’s nothing to indicate it.

Naturally, if the data doesn’t belong to the University of Queensland, it cannot have the supposed contractual obligations regarding it. Let’s assume, however, it does own the data. Let’s also assume the University of Queensland had the obligations it claims to have had. If those things are true, why was the data stored on a publicly accessible, third-party website? Wouldn’t that failure to protect the data amount to a violation of the supposed contractual obligations?

Finally, what kind of forensic investigation did the University of Queensland do? I clearly didn’t hack anything. I guess it’s possible someone other than me hacked into the site I got the material from, but in that case, why would they direct the threat to me?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I could guess the answer is universally, “The University of Queensland made that up,” but I don’t know. Maybe some of what they said was true. Maybe none of it was. I hope to find out in time.

Until I do, I want to challenge the University of Queensland to stand by what it has said. I’m calling their bluff. I’ve published their letter, and I await the legal proceedings we all know will never come.

But that’s not the challenge I’m most interested in. I’m more interested in something else, something I find far more troubling:

Nobody has told me what I need to keep confidential. Nobody has explained why I need to keep things like datestamps secret. Nobody has explained how knowing people performed 65 ratings two years ago (to the day) could affect anyone’s contractual obligations. Nobody has explained how disclosing material like that could possibly harm anyone.

So here’s the challenge I want to propose to the Skeptical Science team, to the University of Queensland, and to anyone else who thinks I shouldn’t release the data I possess:

Tell me what material I possess could cause harm if disseminated. Tell me what agreements or contractual obligations would be impinged upon if that material were released to the public.

If you are unable or unwilling to meet such a simple challenge, I’ll release the data and you can bite me. I mean, sue me.


  1. As a Queenslander all I can say is, what are these clowns on about? The University of Queensland has a fine reputation in many departments (apart from a dab of nepotism in recent times) and they have no reason to be defending the release of data used for such a truly appalling paper.

    I will be sending a detailed letter to Senator Dr Dennis Jensen, a sceptic and only member of the Australian parliament with a scientific background.

    Apart from that, very well done. As they say down here in rugby terms – go you good thing!

  2. sum very interesting reports (stories) on skeptical science by that cook fellow . More about where that 97% settled science religieostisty came from. How can anyone take this seriously or try to defend it. why not just ask 100 people standing in a room thats 120 degrees if they think it’s hot i’m pretty confident although i cant guaranty but i think 97 of the 100 would say yes hehehehe dats sum funny stuff dar

  3. Forwarded document link to Andrew Bolt… More embarrassment likely at UQ. Any calls from Aussie Media yet? you’re a celebrity

  4. 1. The intellectual property in the data set (the “IP”) [I] have in [my] possession is owned by the University of Queensland.

    I don’t know if you have seen this but I found some documentation regarding “Outside Work” on the U of Q site. From my reading they seem quite amenable to their staff working on related outside work “subject to approval”, and looks like they probably do offer legal support that implies they may take on IP responsibility, see 6.2:

    the University provides administrative, legal and professional support needed to undertake the activity

    Tell me what material I possess could cause harm if disseminated.

    I think even a total legal novice could see they are not obliged to answer that. IMHO they don’t have to think of any and all likelihoods.

    However, to play devils advocate, I think I could think of one: what if by some abstract method the data allowed identifying an academic who rated his paper as rejecting the consensus, and this academic found that embarrassing and held U of Q liable?

  5. bobl, I think “celebrity” requires more attention than I’ve received. To answer your question though, no, I have not been contacted by any Australian media.

    tlitb1, I’ve worked through some of the documentation of those policies (I think Steven Mosher linked me to them). There’s a lot to go through though, and it can be hard to tell what applies given the lack of information.

    As for not being obliged to answer that, I’m not sure you’re right. If the material is supposed to be confidential, the University of Queensland is obligated to try to keep it confidential. Should the data wind up in the hands of an unintended recipient, they are obligated to try to get that person not to release it. Failing to take simple measures to try to prevent the release of the data could make them (further) liable.

    Additionally, even if they don’t have to answer the question, their decision not to can be highly relevant. It’s difficult to convince a court to award you damages you are largely responsible for.

  6. Brandon

    Should the data wind up in the hands of an unintended recipient, they are obligated to try to get that person not to release it.

    Beyone that, the fact that they are obligated to try to get someone (for example you) to not release data doesn’t mean the person that obtained the data has any legal, ethical or moral obligation to not release it. So, presumably if they have an obligation to do something to try to prevent you from releasing this data then they need to fulfill their obligation using legal means at their disposal. But that doesn’t mean you have any obligation and it doesn’t mean they can win a lawsuit against you. That means is not necessarily at their disposal. If it’s not, they should try some other means.

  7. lucia liljegren, yup. The fact someone’s actions cause you damage does not inherently mean they can be made responsible for that damage. Sometimes the person has no liability, sometimes the person has partial liability, and sometimes the person has full liability. To successfully sue me, the University of Queensland and/or John Cook would have to show I have liability for damages they suffer.

    I believe that would be impossible. Not only is it incredibly difficult to place liability on a person who obtained publicly accessible material, I’ve provided them ample opportunity to try to prevent a release of the material. I can’t think of any legal theory which would allow them to shift any liability to me.

  8. I sent an email to Ms. Jane Malloch expressing my thoughts to her on the letter. Mostly just surprise at the hubris. But in postscript I assured her that I owned the copyright to my email and I reserved the right to sue her if she published it. Then I wondered if she saw how silly that sounded.

  9. Just taking a pot shot in the dark, if I was their lawyers and pushing this utterly ridiculous line about the letter being copyrighted, I would file a DMCA take-down with wordpress to have the file taken down. You would then have to counter-file, to explicitly counter-claim their copyright claim (which is non-trivial) under risk of perjury – a far more serious situation – to get it recovered.

    On that basis, I would suggest that multiple people download this file and upload (preferably on non-wordpress sites) to enable multiple links to put on this blog post to save Brandon having to file a counter-DMCA, which would be a PITA.

    Just thinking out loud, I may be some distance from what will actually happen…

  10. David Appell, I’m not sure why WordPress didn’t like your link, but I had to fish your comment out of the spam folder. Thanks for making it!

    Spence_UK, I think the letter was all the University of Queensland was willing to do. They’d just wind up looking even more silly if they tried to take any legal actions. I certainly wouldn’t mind if people mirrored the document elsewhere, but I don’t think it’ll become necessary. Just the fact people have downloaded it means trying to take it down would be fruitless.

    That said, if I’ve misjudged the degree of motivation of the University of Queensland, people mirroring the file could be a rather helpful thing.

  11. This comment is copyright to Throgmorton K. Dunstable the third. You will be hearing from my lawyers.

  12. Anybody linked in whatsoever manner to the University of Queensland is hereby agreeing to send me 1,541.72 AUD having had the privilege of reading this comment.

  13. Could it be that UQ has, by allowing its data to ‘escape’, breached Australia’s Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Act 2012 (Cth) (Amending Act) that commenced in March 2014?

    Could its threatening solicitor’s letter have actually been an attempt at a cover up?

  14. Brandon, I do agree they are unlikely to take that route. But then I would have guessed they would have been unlikely to word that letter the way they did in the first place. But it is a good idea to think about the different moves they could make, and how best to respond to each. Most possible responses I can think of are unlikely to be effective: they could

    1. Do nothing
    2. Send you another snot-o-gram
    3. File a DMCA takedown
    4. File a lawsuit

    Of these, (1) and (2) would probably achieve nothing, with the possible exception of you publishing their second letter. (4) seems ludicrously over the top, expensive, and ineffective in the shorter term. But (3) is easy to do and would, unlike (2) or (4), actually have an immediate effect.

    The problem with both (3) and (4) is that they would result in a PR disaster for UQ. But there is some small chance they may not be thinking that far ahead. Although the negative press they have received from the letter alone (and kudos to David Appell for his objective response) may have woken up senior people within UQ who may want a more thoughtful approach to the situation. It depends on a lot of factors, including how much of a bunker mentality currently resides at UQ towers.

    If UQ have their thinking caps on, a DMCA takedown notice shouldn’t happen, but no harm in having a few mirrors about just in case 🙂

  15. I find the last line interesting, but no one else seems to have picked up on it.

    “Any response you may have should be directed to me.”

    That reads like Jane wants to keep all communication about this a secret. I don’t think she wants others in authority at UQ to know about the threatening letter. I could be wrong, but that’s how I read it.

  16. Spence_UK, I agree on all points. An additional bonus to having more mirrors is it may lead to more people hearing about this.

    A.D. Everard, I wouldn’t take it that way. I’d expect most people assigned a case to want you to contact them, not some other person in their organization. That said, it seems likely most people working for the University of Queensland would not have approved of Jane Malloch’s letter. She probably didn’t ask too many people what to include in it. I doubt she asked nobody though.

  17. That’s a fair point, Brandon, I just would have expected a “contact this office” or quote a reference number. I’ve never seen a letter closed that way before (but then I don’t receive legal threats, either).

  18. I do like she asked you to respond to her, and then ignored your response. That has to be something in your favour if it ever did get near a lawsuit.

  19. If you need any help or hints just give me a shout out Brandon.

    One reason why I make a document request ( eg, please provide all standards, forms etc etc ) First is so I find out

    A) will they stonewall
    B) what policies and proceedures are there BEYOND those posted on the web site..

    So, I start with a request for all policies and procedures related to IP, FOIA, confidentiality agreements etc etc etc.

    Then you know what kind of documents to go after.

    This allows you to understand how their system works before you request the real juicy stuff

  20. Brandon,

    It seems impossibly unlikely that you were the one and only browser who would have downloaded this data?

    If it emerges somewhere U of Q would need to be able to prove that you were the source of it. Otherwise anyone who posts it would put you in an invidious position.

    Who else might have accessed it?

  21. I can’t wait to see what their response will be. It really is good to see a good strong spotlight on this sort of behaviour. Thank you for taking a stand.

  22. climatebeagle, part of the reason for how I’ve handled this issue is to ensure a lawsuit would go in my favor. Jane Malloch not taking simple steps to try to resolve matters will make it harder for the University of Queensland to claim damages. Courts don’t like to award damages for things the plaintiff caused to happen. That’s also a reason why John Cook’s repeated failure to request I not release data is important.

    Niff, Cook kept a ton of access logs for Skeptical Science. I imagine he did the same for his other sites as well. If so, it could be possible to make a strong case I’m the only “unauthorized” person who accessed the data.

    Steven Mosher, thanks for the offer. That’s a good approach. I just have little motivation to try to draft FOIs since I can’t file them myself. I’m hoping someone like Simon Turnill will file them. I know he has experience with this, and I’m sure there are other Australian readers who do as well. I’m not sure how much guidance from me (or anyone else) they’d need. It certainly doesn’t hurt to talk about it though.

  23. As to Ms. Malloch not having replied, it is (even in the Southern Hemisphere) the weekend. Perhaps when she’s back in her office tomorrow, imbibing of her morning kool-aid, she’ll see fit to respond to your ill-informed impetuousness. (Yes, /sarc).

    Good on ya, Brigadoon Zollenbarger.

  24. A.D. Everard, if I had to bet, I’d wager the response will be to just keep quiet and wait for this to blow over. It seems the wisest course of action.

    Dr C, I responded to her e-mail promptly, I believe on Wednesday. I doubt the amount of time is an issue for her not responding to my e-mail. It being the weekend might be why there hasn’t been a response to the public discussion though..

  25. Congratulations. Who knows what you have set off? I hope you did get legal advice.
    If this goes any further at all, I will keep my word and donate to your legal fund.
    By the way, when do we get to see the actual Cook(ed) work?

  26. hunter, that’s a good question. I haven’t decided how long I should let this challenge stand. They’ve already had plenty of time to prepare for this. I can’t see why it should take them more than a couple days to respond fully. Even if they can’t respond fully in a couple days, they could certainly give a temporary answer and ask for more time.

    On the other hand, I don’t see any reason to rush. Would anything really be better if the data were released today instead of in a couple weeks?

  27. You knew what you had to do, we just made sure you listened to yourself.. – Picard

  28. Brandon not bad at all, a very worthwhile quote to remember, Trekkie or not. Qapla’ !

  29. Cook and company have managed to do to the AGW movement what they were afraid that the skeptics would do. Thank you University of Queensland for letting them get what they deserve.

  30. Didn’t a googlebot crawl the sites you “hacked” as well?

    Will they be pursuing action against google now, or perhaps just that bot?

    Is this the beginning of the human-robot wars? Good job UQ, you maniacs!

  31. Not this time Max™. That only happened the last time, when I found the Nazi dress-up photos.

    Google did crawl through some of the same redirect links I scraped, but it didn’t happen to hit the one to where the data was stored.

  32. Has the University of Queensland become an affiliate of the Church of Scientology? The paranoia about copyright, the use of threatening letters, and demanding that the threats themselves must also be kept secret are all familiar tactics to those who have tangled with Miscavige’s minions.

  33. “You are advised that publication of defamatory comments about the University of Queensland or its employees on a publically accessible website such as a blog is a matter which University of Queensland takes seriously. ”

    Well they don’t take it that seriously, otherwise they would not take actions that appear to be intimidation, coercion and blackmail.

    Neither do they take it seriously enough to ensure that their employees do not leave confidential material whose disclosure would allegedly leave them open to attack on a publicly accessible server.

    Brandon: “Cook kept a ton of access logs for Skeptical Science. I imagine he did the same for his other sites as well. If so, it could be possible to make a strong case I’m the only “unauthorized” person who accessed the data.”

    It seems pretty obvious that the “forensic investigation” is nothing more than reading the server access log. If Cook has write access to those logs they will have no more legal standing than his word that he has not changed them. Indeed, since there seems to be considerable subterfuge in setting up the site and who owns it, establishing just who does or does not have write access may be unclear.

    If “The University” wishes to take action penalising the public diffusion of the alleged IP, then they need to start at the source of the problem, with those who made the files publicly available on an unprotected server. That act has already taken place, trying to close the stable door after the horse had bolted will not restore confidentiality or put the genie back into the bottle.

    Any action taken against a third party without suing the those who caused the problem would be perverse.

    Now, I’m sorry if this is going to sound “defamatory” but the HYPOCRISY of “The University” on this STINKS.

  34. Brandon

    One more thing. Inn reading through their docs the other day.. well speed reading on my phone, I recall seeing some verbiage
    about ‘public interest” Now with CRU there was a public interest test WRT confidentiality agreements whereby public interest trumped
    Confidentiality. That might be tougher here, but keep an eye out for that.

    When you get around to looking at the data it would be fun ( as others have mentioned) to look at kappa scores as well as some others.

    from what Ive seen in your previous charts that should be pretty devastating

  35. It will be up at my wee site shortly…and David Appell, we have clashed elsewhere but well done. You could be one of the good guys if you tried a bit.

  36. Hey Steven Mosher, I actually already calculated Kappa scores for the data. You can see results here. I still need to write the code to add indexes though. A list of unindexed scores doesn’t tell you anywhere near as much as a table of them.

    For those who follow the link, I showed four sets of scores:

    1) Inter-rater Kappa scores after the reconciliation stage (before raters discussed their disagreements/updated their ratings).
    2) Kappa scores for post-reconciliation rating/final ratings (after tie-breaks).
    3) Kappa scores for pre-reconciliation rating/rinal ratings.
    4) Inter-rater Kappa scores before the reconciliation stage.

    I filtered out results which couldn’t be calculated, were 0 or were 1. The lists in the comments show the rest.

  37. Brandon – The letter is designed to scare you. And cover their *****. I hope that someone in Australia makes a copy of the letter and sends it to the Abbot administration with an explanation. Once this occurs you are likely to have even more fun.

  38. After reading the letter i have come to the conclusion this is a bunch of anal left overs . i have always been under the impression that universities are funded by tax payers and occasionally some very wealthy foundations but this attack on you is worse, how can I contribute ? Can I buy a book?, Thanks.

  39. The acknowledgements of the Cook et al article lists the raters who are not authors: “thanks to James Powell for his invaluable contribution to this analysis, Stephan Lewandowsky for his comments and to those who assisted with collecting email addresses and rating abstracts: Ari Jokimaki, Riccardo Reitano, Rob Honeycutt, Wendy Cook, Phil Scadden, Glenn Tamblyn, Anne-Marie Blackburn, John Hartz, Steve Brown, George Morrison, Alexander C Coulter, Martin B Stolpe (to name just those who are not listed as (co-)author to this paper”

    Cook is shown as having three affiliations: UQ, Skeptical Science and U Western Australia.

  40. I’ve been thinking about Travis’s question, as to how interesting the data is, and I can’t decide what my answer is. To the average person in the world, I’d imagine it’s a 1. To people who care about the pape, I’m not sure. There were some interesting points, two of which made me laugh, but most of it shows basically what you’d expect. It just provides proof.

    Steve McIntyre, as I recall, there were actually a couple people not acknowledged. They’re listed by Skeptical Science username though, meaning it can be a tedious to match things up. I think I figured out who all the raters were at one point, but I can’t remember some now.

    Of the authors, I’m not sure what name Robert Way or Peter Jacobs rated under. I’m also not sure of handles for Wendy Cook, Anne-Marie Blackburn, John Hartz, Steve Brown, George Morrison, Alexander C Coulter or Martin B Stolpe. That’s nine names. However, when I remove handles I know belong to individuals, I’m left with 12.

    Either I’m missing something, or three raters didn’t get acknowledged.

  41. I’ve OCR’d it for you. To make it easier to reference portions.

    15 May 2014 UQ Research and Innovation
    Director, Research Partnerships
    Ian G Harris
    Brandon Shollenberger

    VIA EMAIL: Brandon.shollenberger@gmail.com

    Dear Mr Shollenberger

    Your email dated 10 May – “Your TCP Data Has Been Leaked”

    I am a solicitor acting for The University of Queensland.

    I refer to your email dated 10 May addressed to Mr John Cook, an employee of The University of Queensland.

    In your email you state that you are in possession of “undisclosed material” related to Mr Cook’s publication entitled “The Consensus Project”. You have listed some of the undisclosed material in your possession which is part of a data set.

    You further state that “no obligations have been placed upon me regarding any of this material” and that you “intend to begin sharing material this weekend, but I make no claim for first publication.”

    The intellectual property in the data set (the “IP”) you have in your possession is owned by The University of Queensland. The University of Queensland has contractual obligations to third parties regarding the IP. Any publication of the IP will expose the University to civil actions from third parties. The University of Queensland reserves its right to take any and all legal action against any person, including you, who publishes the IP and exposes The University to liability.

    Furthermore, The University of Queensland has conducted a forensic investigation and it appears that the site where the IP was housed has been hacked and that this is a matter that requires referral to US law enforcement agencies.

    The University of Queensland owns the copyright in this letter and you are advised that any
    publication by you of this letter, or persons acting in concert with you, will constitute an infringement of The University’s copyright. The University of Queensland reserves its right to take any and all legal action against any person, including you, who publishes this letter.

    You are advised that the publication of defamatory comments about The University of Queensland or its employees on a publicly accessible website such as a blog is a matter which The University of Queensland takes seriously.

    By this letter The University of Queensland hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from the following:

    1. any and all activities that involve the use or disclosure in any manner of the IP; and

    2. any further correspondence with Mr Cook.

    Furthermore, you are advised that any publication of this letter and/or any publication of defamatory comments about The University of Queensland by you will be the subject of action by The University.

    This cease and desist applies to you individually or to any other individuals or entities acting in concert or participation with you.

    In the event you choose to ignore this cease and desist demand, The University of Queensland will take all necessary steps to preserve its position and it holds you liable for all loss and damage caused to it by you. The University reserves its right to take any and all legal action against you including a demand for damages, losses, attorney fees and costs, together with injunctive relief seeking an immediate court order to restrain you, your agents and assigns from engaging in any conduct impacting The University of Queensland in any jurisdiction, including Australia and the United States of America.

    Any response you may have should be directed to me. Yours faithfully

    Jane Malloch

    Head Research Legal

    Acting Director Research Partnerships The University of Queensland

  42. It’s fine not to redact my e-mail. I’ve told people what it is in public plenty of times, and anyone could see it in the e-mail. Having it posted in public like this couldn’t do anything but get more spam sent to me, and Google does a great job of blocking that.

  43. As for public interest that stuff has been mentioned in a million places and retweeted a billion times including by the fabled Barack Obama account. It’s hard to imagine a situation where public interest trump confidentiality more than in this case.

  44. I was just looking into how “secret” the raters’ names actually were, and I’d like to see if anyone could help me. I’ve so far found public records showing 16 of the 24 raters’ identities:

    John Cook
    Dana Nuccitelli
    Sarah A Green
    Mark Richardson
    Bärbel Winkler
    Rob Painting
    Peter Jacobs (logicman)
    Andrew Skuce
    Ari Jokimäki
    Riccardo Reitano
    Rob Honeycutt
    Bernard Walsh
    Glenn Tamblyn
    Rob Honeycutt
    Tom Curtis

    I believe Tom Curtis wasn’t credited in the paper, and I don’t know rustneversleeps’s real name to see if he was credited. Do you guys know who any of the other raters were?

    Also, Robert Way is credited as an author of the paper, but I don’t see a handle listed which I can associate with him. It’s possible he used a pseudonym, but it is my understanding he uses his real name to comment at the site. Can anyone actually confirm he was a rater?

  45. I hope you also write to John Cook, perhaps to let him know what you have written to UQ and to repeat the challenge

  46. You suck at this. Just say **** you.

    “It might have even been unethical.”

    Homework: Andrew Brietbart videoes on YouTube.

    Not calling criminals “criminals” is itself highly unethical.

  47. Ah, you are absolved of my critique:

    “If you are unable or unwilling to meet such a simple challenge, I’ll release the data and you can bite me. I mean, sue me.”

    The lack of testosterone pill intake in the overall skeptical camp so far has me still teeming with disgust. Sorry to project that onto you.

  48. If this gets serious (lawsuit) start a “tipping jar” using PayPal so we can contribute. They don’t want any more undermining of the validity of the 97% consensus.

  49. I really meant to post this here. I’m deleting the copy I posted at WUWT.

    The copyright issue (of the letter) gets even more dicey when you consider this was sent to you unsolicited and with no (copyright) contract in place. While email and postal mail may have different specific regulations, in general, the legal principles used carry over from one to the other.

    Under US law, it’s likely a gift and you are free to “retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender. ”

    Of course, consult an attorney before actually making use of any unsolicited legal advice which is yours to retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he you sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender.

    39 U.S.C.
    United States Code, 2009 Edition
    Title 39 – POSTAL SERVICE
    Sec. 3009 – Mailing of unordered merchandise
    From the U.S. Government Printing Office, http://www.gpo.gov

    §3009. Mailing of unordered merchandise

    (a) Except for (1) free samples clearly and conspicuously marked as such, and (2) merchandise mailed by a charitable organization soliciting contributions, the mailing of unordered merchandise or of communications prohibited by subsection (c) of this section constitutes an unfair method of competition and an unfair trade practice in violation of section 45(a)(1) of title 15.

    (b) Any merchandise mailed in violation of subsection (a) of this section, or within the exceptions contained therein, may be treated as a gift by the recipient, who shall have the right to retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender. All such merchandise shall have attached to it a clear and conspicuous statement informing the recipient that he may treat the merchandise as a gift to him and has the right to retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender.

    (c) No mailer of any merchandise mailed in violation of subsection (a) of this section, or within the exceptions contained therein, shall mail to any recipient of such merchandise a bill for such merchandise or any dunning communications.

    (d) For the purposes of this section, “unordered merchandise” means merchandise mailed without the prior expressed request or consent of the recipient.

    (Pub. L. 91–375, Aug. 12, 1970, 84 Stat. 749.)

  50. I had a letter from the VC of UWA – they insisted it was private and confidential.
    As I had never been contacted by the sender in the past I published it.. (they didn’t try the copyright trick)



    Dear Mr Woods,

    I write with reference to the complaint you lodged in relation to published works of Professor Stephen Lewandowsky. The issues have been considered in accordance with the University’s policy on Managing Alleged Breaches of the Code of Conduct for Research Misconduct. The University has determined that there has been no breach of the code, and as a result, there is no case of research misconduct.

    As you may be aware, the University received a number of complaints regarding the paper entitled Recursive Fury: Conspiracist Ideation in the Blogosphere in Response to Research on Conspiracist Ideation. Some complaint matters also referred to an earlier publication entitled NASA Faked the Moon Landing – Therefore, (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science. The University was also advised of other complaint matters by the editors of the two journals and by Prof Lewandowsky. The University was therefore in a position to consider a wide range of concerns raised in regards to the two publications,

    The preliminary investigation undertaken by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) considered all the issues identified and determined that there has been no breach of the code, and therefore no case of research misconduct has been identified. However, one issue raised was of a perceived conflict of interest in relation to the identity of proprietors and significant contributors to blogs. A recommendation has been made to Prof Lewandowsky to identify these individuals with a footnote at the start of each research publication. Several other criticisms have been made in relation to the methodology used in the study and these have been referred back to the journals for peer assessment and are not part of the University investigation into responsible research practice.

    The policy and procedure required to consider the issues has been appropriately followed and there are no further internal processes available. The University will not engage further with you in regards to these matters and this correspondence is now closed.

    Yours sincerely,

    Prof Bill Louden


    Now that the Recursive Fury paper has been retracted by the journal.. doesn’t this look silly

    especially as the co-founder of Frontiers has publicly said (he said a lot more privately)

    Henry Markram
    My own personal opinion: The authors of the retracted paper and their followers are doing the climate change crisis a tragic disservice by attacking people personally and saying that it is ethically ok to identify them in a scientific study.

    They made a monumental mistake, refused to fix it and that rightfully disqualified the study.

    The planet is headed for a cliff and the scientific evidence for climate change is way past a debate, in my opinion. Why even debate this with contrarians? If scientists think there is a debate, then why not debate this scientifically? Why help the ostriches of society (always are) keep their heads in the sand? Why not focus even more on the science of climate change? Why not develop potential scenarios so that society can get prepared? Is that not what scientists do? Does anyone really believe that a public lynching will help advance anything? Who comes off as the biggest nutter?

    Activism that abuses science as a weapon is just not helpful at a time of crisis.” – Markram

  51. Mr. Shollenberger, would you plese consider filing a complaint against Jane Malloch.
    Maybe this is a place to start:

    They should be able to help direct your complaint to whatever body most appropriate to conduct further investigation.

    It would be great to see some counter action on your part, butter on the popcorn if you wish.

  52. Queensland led study, or was it just a study that was led by someone who worked at Queensland – an important distinction to clarify?


    Study shows scientists agree humans cause global-warming
    May 16, 2013

    About 97 per cent of 4000 international scientific papers analysed in a University of Queensland-led study were rated as endorsing human-caused global warming.

    UQ Global Change Institute lead author John Cook said the finding proved there was strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary.

    “This is significant because when people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they’re more likely to support policies that take action on it,” Mr Cook said.

    A 2012 poll from the US Pew Research Centre found less than half of Americans thought scientists agreed humans were causing global warming.

    “There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception,” Mr Cook said.

    “Making the results of our paper more widely-known is an important step towards closing the consensus gap and increasing public support for meaningful climate action.”

    The study was published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

    The study involved 24 scientists and science enthusiasts in rating the 4000 abstracts that stated a position on climate change.

    The papers were also self-rated by the paper authors for validity.

    Both approaches found the same result – that 97 per cent of the 4000 abstracts endorsed human-caused global warming.

    The 24 volunteers were recruited through the myth-busting website Skepticalscience.com, founded by Mr Cook.

    Visitors to the website also raised the funds required to allow the study to be accessible to the public.

    The results of the paper are explained in detail on a new website, theconsensusproject.com, launched today.

    Media Contact: Communications Officer Kate Hannah , or UQ Global Change Institute Research Fellow John Cook,

  53. On your side, but…

    “I guess it’s possible someone other than me hacked into the site I got the material from, but in that case, why would they direct the threat to me?”

    Hypothetical scenario sounds a little like:

    “I guess the big bag of money I picked up on the street could have been dropped by bank robbers, but in that case, why would the bank direct the threat to me?”

    Or, if you leave your door open can I take your TV?

  54. “You are advised that the publication of defamatory comments about The University of Queensland or its employees on a publicly accessible website such as a blog is a matter which The University of Queensland takes seriously.”

    And that’s just funny. They’re farting in your general direction as we speak.

  55. I understand why Brandon was laughing when he read this letter. It’s pure bluster, and not very good bluster at that.

    The big tell is claiming the letter is copyrighted. My feeling is that a judge would rule the publication of the letter did not violate copyright, since:
    1) The university wasn’t going to publish the letter – thus an alternate publisher does not deprive them of revenue
    2) The letter is really a compilation of facts that are asserted to be true with very little of that creative work that is the special sauce that makes something copyrightable.

    Moreover, if they were to sue Brandon for the underlying ‘harm’ they assert he is threatening to cause him, that letter would no doubt be an exhibit in their pleadings and likely would become part of the public record.

    Brandon’s speculation that they were trying to intimidate him into keeping quiet about something that makes them look foolish seems to me to be spot on.

    My suggestion is to end all correspondence with them, and after running everything past a lawyer, go ahead and publish withholding only that which would be illegal to publish – if any.

    At this point, any correspondence with them should be lawyer to lawyer.

  56. Brandon,
    You ask the excelelnt question of what difference does the time make?
    I would suggest that except for the time it takes to mask any personal data, the time is now:
    You are in control of your timing at this point.
    You may not be in the future.
    They are on the defensive. Keep them that way.
    The issue has topical interest. You cannot control the news cycle.
    The last part of CG has been delayed far too long, and is now likely to be irrelevant.
    My two bits…….

  57. A possible correction to my previous comment. Someone has suggested to me Peter Jacobs is not logicman. I don’t care to try to figure out one way or another right now. I know logicman was publicly known to have done ratings. Whether or not anyone knows what his real name has no bearing on that.

    AndyL, but they told me not to. They might sue me if I do!

    -=NikFromNYC=-, I’ve edited your first comment to censor the curse word. As a moderation policy, I don’t want cursing on my blog.

    John Peter, I wrote a post about your suggestion. I think I’ll go ahead and make a page for the “Tip Jar” though. I can’t expect people to all find that post.

    charles the moderator, letters are copyrighted. You can generally do whatever you want with the letter itself, but if you try to publish its contents, you can get sued. You have to take note of the difference between the physical item and the expression of ideas within it.

    Björn from Sweden, it’s a possibility. I’d need to put it off for a bit though. If the claims I question in this post are wrong, that’d make any complaint I file more damning. I should work on figuring those issues out first.

    KevinM, I didn’t say that to suggest I gained access to the data because of a hacker. I apologize if it sounded that way. All I meant is maybe the site had been hacked at some point, independent of anything related to me. Sites get hacked sometimes. It’s not impossible to believe this one had been.

  58. Brandon –

    You wrote, “I was just looking into how “secret” the raters’ names actually were, and I’d like to see if anyone could help me. I’ve so far found public records showing 16 of the 24 raters’ identities:”

    Logicman* is not Peter Jacobs. He identified himself publicly at SKS in 2010. His actual identity is not important. The fact that they are not the same person is material to your request.

    Since they were both raters you have public records of the identities for 17 of 24.*


    *I know Peter was listed as an author. I assume that he was a rater.

  59. DGH, I’m not convinced Peter Jacobs is a rater. As with Robert Way, I can’t tie him to any handles that did ratings. With the logicman handle disposed of, I have nine handles left, and I don’t know the names that go with of any of them.

    Anyway, desertphile can be added to my list. That means there are public records of 17 of the 24 raters.

  60. Brandon,

    Those raters included, Curly Bill Brocius, Johnny Ringo and Ike Clanton. That damned Hokey Stick gang!

    Yeah, give ’em a good pistol whipping with your Buntline Special, then let ’em have it.

    Go get ’em, Wyatt!


  61. re writing to Cook, you said
    > but they told me not to. They might sue me if I do!

    That was kind of the point. Write to Cook saying that you are not sure if this lawyer is speaking on his behalf, and say that if he wants you to stop writing to him then he should say so personally.

  62. I don’t have time to look, but is this the same lawyer who said that the university had no problem fending off lawsuits from posting Lew’s paper after it was withdrawn?

  63. Brandon: you say “I’ve so far found public records showing 16 of the 24 raters’ identities”. YOu counted Honeycutt twice – you only listed 15. Other SKSers commenting in the The Consensus Project forum include Brian Purdue, Daniel Bailey. rustnever – is shown as a George Morrison.

  64. Steve McIntyre, thanks for catching that. I was editing a couple lists while matching things up, and I must have made a mistake somewhere. That means with the later addition of desertphile, only 16 are identified. rustneversleeps being George Morrison means we can take another name off the paper for identification.

    I’m still not sure why Robert Way is listed as an author. I’ve seen plenty of comments by Robert Way in the Skeptical Science forum, and the handle he used doesn’t match any in the data file I have. The same might be true of Peter Jacobs, but I haven’t checked to see what handle he may use.

  65. Brendon, Qld has a Public Sector Ethics Act (1994) which applies to Universities in Qld. Here is the section called respect for persons Respect for persons
    8.(1) A public official should treat members of the public and other
    public officials—
    (a) honestly and fairly; and
    (b) with proper regard for their rights and obligations.
    (2) A public official should act responsively in performing official duties.
    and here is the following section on Integrity
    9.(1) In recognition that public office involves a public trust, a public
    official should seek—
    (a) to maintain and enhance public confidence in the integrity of
    public administration; and
    (b) to advance the common good of the community the official
    (2) Having regard to the obligation mentioned in subsection (1), a public
    (a) should not improperly use his or her official powers or position,
    or allow them to be improperly used; and
    (b) should ensure that any conflict that may arise between the
    official’s personal interests and official duties is resolved in
    favour of the public interest; and
    (c) should disclose fraud, corruption and maladministration of which
    the official becomes aware.

    I suggest you get back to them and ask for their code of conduct which the Act requires them to formulate and make all sections of the University, all employees and contractors aware of the Act and the code of conduct. (John Cook comes under the Act as a contractor or associate of the University if his is not directly employed) The Code of conduct must have the minimum provisions which are set out in the Act.
    With John Cook and his posts on Climate, he could well have breached the Queensland Professional Engineers Act (which applies to all persons in Queensland (even visitors) including the “crown” (ie the Governor, members of parliament and the judiciary) because he is not a registered engineer (and of course knows nothing about engineering such as heat &mass transfer). If he has breached the PE Act he will also breach the Public Sector Act by committing a criminal offense (The PE Act comes under the criminal code)

    Then say the officials who sent you the letter and those who authorised the letter are in breach of the Public Sector Ethics Act.
    Hope this helps.
    You can get back to me and I will send you a copy of the Acts mentioned above.
    Best wishes

  66. I’m so glad you published. I think the correct colloquialism for UQ would be “wankers”. I guess now we pray that the walkers will follow through on thier threat.

    Have you considered an additional ramifications to this bogus threat? To wit: the only value in threatening to sue some entity is that if the threat is believed the threat can bring about compliance. By publicly threatening you (and trying to coerce you into keeping it.quiet) they’ve revealed to all future parties that thier empty threats to sue are extremely empty.

    The more widely this letter & the IP are circulated (esp. I’m NZ) the less credibility the UQ legal dept will have. Who knows how many people may have something juicy to air out.

    But the value of all of this will fade quickly. If you don’t follow up this letter with “the IP” and any analysis you might have very quickly, you will be perceived as the weak one. After all…if they issue an empty threat, and you ell the world about it, say it’s empty, but comply anyway, the takeaway is that either you really are scared of them or the IP is value-less.

    Good luck, & I applaud you for posting thier letter. I really look forward to seeing what else you’ve got!

  67. I read the letter- it seems a little “odd”. Have you verified that it is legitimate? The claims are so outlandish that I have to wonder if it is really written by a lawyer. For example, if a computer in Australia was hacked, why would an Australian solicitor threaten to call US authorities?

    And I’ve never heard of anyone claiming copyright on a cease and desist letter- it sounds kind of ludicrous. Any lawyers that can comment? It seems that a letter is, by it’s nature, tje property of whomever owns it.

    The whole thing reminds me of one of the 500 spam letters I get in my spam filter every week.

    What if this was written by someone other than the solicitor it claims to be from, for the purpose of embarrassing Brendon?

    I hate to say it, b/c I want it to be valid, but this letter seems so over-the-top I’m not sure I believe it.

    Brendon – could you publish the email metadata? That would show the IP address & server that it originated from & the route it took. That way people could tie it to the UQ properly (or reveal who may have sent it.)

    I’ll show you how to extract that info if you don’t know how, just email me. (I’m in IT.)

  68. In some jurisdictions the letter sent to you might be considered either extortion or coercion or both.

    Malloch (not to be confused with Maloch, as easy as that might be) was (arguably) instilling fear in you to not do something you were legally entitled to do so she or another would benefit. The implicit threat was to drain you financially (something not at all dependent upon the obvious meritlessness of a suit, although the lack of merit goes to the question of intent). Think of it in terms of blackmail.

    Different jurisdictions have different requirements, but the possibility of criminal behavior exists. I emphasize possibility.

  69. Mark,

    A small point, but it’s Brandon, not Brendon.

    Maybe you haven’t heard but Brandon has been plagued by misspellings of his name, his surname in particular. He’s taken it well. So far. 😉

    Just saying. 🙂

    Kind regards,

    Jonh Artschur

  70. cementafriend, I don’t know if I’d want to pursue any complaints, especially any that might raise criminal matters. I don’t care to take that route if there are other options. Thanks for providing the information though. Depending on how things go, it may become more necessary to pursue formal resolutions.

    Mark T. Gibson, I would be amazed if they did anything about me publishing this letter. The letter itself was on very shaky ground. Pursuing it through legal means would be… I don’t know.

    As for the letter’s validity, I’ve verified it is from an official University of Queensland account that does belong to the person named in the letter. That’s enough to settle any concerns in my mind. I could extract the header information, but I don’t see a point. And it’d require me digging through my e-mails to find the thing.

    On the issue of publishing the IP, my plan a while ago was to release it about a week after public discussion of the topic had tapered off. I figured once that happened, the University of Queensland wasn’t likely to say anything more, so there’d be no more room to pursue a resolution. After the latest press release from them though, I don’t know. I’m still baffled by that thing. I don’t know how to react to it.

    John Archer, shh! I have enough people to respond to as Brandon Shollenberger. If I start responding to all the people who want to talk to Brendan, Brandoon, Schollenberger and the hundred other spellings, I may not have time to do anything else!

  71. Brandon, as I mentioned above, Brian Purdue and Daniel Bailey both discuss the project in the TCP directory and are likely raters.

  72. Steve, it’s interesting he’d sign his name that way as he was an active rater, but Lockerby isn’t listed. I guess it could be a middle name, or some other non-standard signature.

    As for Brian Purdue and Daniel Bailey, I don’t see any handles which stand out as either. I believe both posted under handles that were easily identified. If so, I would know if they were raters (unless they used an alt).

  73. I just used the users.csv file that was released along with the Skeptical Science forum to check the handles of raters I didn’t know. I’m fairly confident four of the people acknowledged in the paper didn’t perform any ratings, as well as one of the authors (Robert Way). I’m still not sure about Peter Jacobs though.

  74. What is their policy on data?

    9. Access to Research Data and Records

    9.1 Subject to clause 5.1, Research Data and Primary Materials should be made available by Researchers for use by other researchers and interested persons for further research, after reasonable periods following the completion of the research. Preclusions on the basis of confidentiality include formal confidentiality agreements and situations where research/development is focused on achieving a defined piece of protectable intellectual property.

  75. Jimbo, thanks. Sadly, that policy is less useful when you read what “Research Data” is defined as:

    Research Data – includes all data created and/or generated by Researchers in the course of their research work, on which an argument, theory, test or hypothesis, or another research output is based, for which the University has a custodial responsibility under relevant agreements and the relevant archives/record keeping acts.

    That definition covers only data upon which research output is based. That may mean data which isn’t used doesn’t need to be disclosed. That’s troubling. If it’s true, people could collect tons of data, examine it, but publish results only for a small part of it.

    There may be other relevant text I haven’t seen, or maybe I’m missing something. I hope so.

  76. Brandon, did you receive this letter via e-mail? The reason is you have GMail, and their terms of service are particularly troublesome. I think it can be read that they claim a license to copy and redistribute the letter you received from UQ, simply because it was in your e-mail.

  77. MikeN, I did. I don’t know anything about the licensing agreement for GMail though. I didn’t read through their terms of agreement (does anyone?). Are you sure they claim they can redistribute people’s e-mails?

  78. They scan e-mails for posting ads. The part about reproducing and licensing definitely applies to Google Docs, but it is not clear if they are claiming it for gmail as well, though they say all services, and are busy declaring One Google.

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