As most of you know, a couple months ago I came across some super secret data for the infamous Cook et al “consensus” paper. I haven’t released that data because the University of Queensland threatened to sue me if I did then threatened to sue me if I showed anyone their letter threatening to sue me:
I, of course, thumbed my nose at them and published their letter, challenging them to sue me. I even said:
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.
They didn’t sue me. In fact, they didn’t respond at all. I was tempted to release the data then and there. I didn’t because I wanted to try to find out what the basis for their threats were first. I wanted to know where this idea the data was confidential was coming from. It took two months, but I’m happy to say I have. It was six data points.
I kid you not. Initially, John Cook responded to me on this topic in e-mail by saying:
Brandon, I am waiting for direction from the University of Queensland legal department re the implications of stolen data being released that violates participants’ and raters’ privacy. It’s already public knowledge that the release of raterids can be linked to public individuals (in fact, Richard Tol has posted about how to do so using content from the stolen SkS forum). You alone are responsible, legally, for any actions you takes with stolen information.
His later e-mail contained a subtle change I failed to catch:
I don’t have the rights to waive the confidentiality of participants of scientific research. You alone are responsible, legally and ethically, for any actions you take with stolen information that violates the confidentiality of participants.
Note the difference in what he talks about being violated. In the earlier e-mail, he referred to “participants’ and raters’ privacy.” In the later e-mail, he referred only to “the confidentiality of participants.” I didn’t think anything of that until today, when I read John Cook’s application for an ethics approval (obtained by Simon Turnill via FOI) and saw:
The question asks who the “participants” of the study will be. Cook defined them as the scientists who would be contacted to rate their own work. That made me realize what had happened. John Cook didn’t get any ethics approval for the ratings he and the others from Skeptical Science did.
John Cook stopped referring to the raters privacy because the raters didn’t sign confidentiality agreements. There were no legal obligations regarding them. Cook just used the fact there were confidentiality agreements with the scientists he contacted to create the illusion there was confidentiality for the people he worked with.
This point is emphasized by the fact Cook’s application was received on May 25th, months after he and his pals started rating the abstracts. In case that’s not enough, he specifically refers to those ratings having been done in his application:
Since there was never any confidentiality issue with the data involving Cook and his pals, you might wonder, what data was confidential? To answer that, I’ll quote John Cook’s description of a data file:
there were six self-rated papers with a unique combination of year and abstract endorsement level. So to maintain privacy, I removed those six papers from the sample of 2,142 papers.
The version of the file he released had 2,136 entries. The version I found has 2,142 entries. Those six extra entries are all the data I found that was covered by any confidentiality agreement.
Now that Cook’s trick has been figured out, it’s worth pointing out I found ~40 data files. I found over 20,000 datestamps. I found over 20,000 rater ID#s listed. I found hundreds of comments left by raters. I found 24 rater usernames. None of that was covered by any confidentiality agreements.
But John Cook and the University of Queensland said I had to keep all that hidden because six data points were.