26 April 2011

FOI requests for unpublished data

Steve McIntyre made a FOI request to CRU for details of an analysis that was mentioned in one of the UEA emails, but not subsequently published (at least not yet).

Furthermore, the raw data for the analysis is already available online.

This is curious for a number of reasons. First, UK FOI explicitly exempts work-in-progress or draft analyses that are being readied for publication for being release (section 22):

Information is exempt information if—

(a) the information is held by the public authority with a view to its publication, by the authority or any other person, at some future date (whether determined or not),
(b) the information was already held with a view to such publication at the time when the request for information was made, and
(c) it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information should be withheld from disclosure until the date referred to in paragraph (a).

Similarly, it would seem that the "unfinished product", or "intellectual property rights" exemptions would immediately kick in. Third, the raw data is already available, and so the information required is the description of the intellectual work of analysing the data, not the data itself, before that has been described in the scientific literature.

Should this request be upheld, it would seem to spell the end of privacy for any publicly funded research in the UK. Any rival researcher could simply ask for all work in progress whenever they liked.

Issues: Unpublished data, work-in-progress

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