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Home » AGW and climate change » Keenan, who admits he has no expertise in tree-ring analysis, says that whatever the data may or may not reveal, the university has no right to keep the data secret.

Keenan, who admits he has no expertise in tree-ring analysis, says that whatever the data may or may not reveal, the university has no right to keep the data secret.

Well this is a good news story for the integrity of science vs the the deceitfulness of some of its practitioners. Because no matter what blood sweat at tears a man of science may put into his research the veracity of that research has to be predicated on other people being able to examine the data and to critique the interpretations of that data.

The case goes back to April 2007, when Keenan asked Queen’s University for all data from tree-ring studies by Baillie and others. The data covers more than 7,000 years. They contain upwards of 1m measurements from 11,000 tree samples, mostly of oak. The university turned down Keenan’s request, citing a range of exemptions allowed under both the Freedom of Information Act and the European Union’s environmental information regulations. Keenan appealed to the information commissioner.

Over the subsequent three years, the university has claimed that it did not have to supply the data because it would be too time-consuming; because the data does not amount to environmental information; because the research is unfinished; because the data is private property, commercially confidential and of “negligible” public interest – and because Keenan would not understand them.

But Smith says the university, one of the world’s leading centres for tree-ring research, is wrong on each count. His judgment notes that rather than taking 12 months to collate the data, as the university at first claimed, it would take 12 hours. Smith chastised the university for failing to comply with a number of regulations in assessing Keenan’s original request. The university has until 3 May to provide the data to Keenan, unless it appeals. The university says it is “considering its position.”

Keenan says he believes the Irish tree rings could bolster the case that there was a widespread medieval warm period on Earth 1,000 years ago. This is contentious because it would question the suggestion that warming in the 20th century was unique in recent history.

Baillie says his data won’t help either way in this argument. Last year he and his Belfast colleague Ana Garcia-Suarez, published a study showing that Irish oaks record summer rainfall well, but not temperature. “Keenan is the only person in the world claiming that our oak-ring patterns are temperature records,” Baillie told the Guardian.

Keenan, who admits he has no expertise in tree-ring analysis, says that whatever the data may or may not reveal, the university has no right to keep the data secret. The deputy information commissioner agrees.

The finding, combined with Smith’s earlier strictures against the University of East Anglia, could have widespread repercussions for academic research. Baillie calls the ruling “a direct, and unpleasant, off-shoot of the information revolution. It now appears that research data can be demanded, and indeed obtained, by anyone.”

Keenan, meanwhile, has upped the ante. Following the ruling, he this week asked the university to supply emails between Baillie and the head of the university’s centre for climate, environment and chronology, Paula Reimer over the past three years. He told the Guardian they could reveal a conspiracy to prevent him getting Baillie’s data. “The university has obviously not understood how things changed in the wake of climategate,” he said. “They still think they can act with impunity.”

My bold added

This ruling is a victory for the scientific method over the religious mania of the anthropogenic warming  true believers and that is a good result that can be celebrated by all.
Cheers Comrades


  1. Iain Hall says:

    I have received an email from Doug Keenan wishing to correct an error in the Guardian piece:

    Dear Mr. Hall,

    I saw your blog post about some of my work, “Keenan, who admits he has no expertise in tree-ring analysis”. The Guardian story does say that, but it is inaccurate; please see my comment at

    Hope that’s okay,
    Doug Keenan

    for those who don’t want to use the link the relevent text is this:

    I was very glad that The Guardian published about this. There are a couple inaccuracies in the story though.

    The biggest inaccuracy is the claim that “[Keenan] admits he has no expertise in tree-ring analysis”. Although I have no experience with physical samples, I do have expertise in analyzing tree-ring data, which is what is relevant here. For example, in 2002, I published a critique of some of the work done by a world-leading dendrochronologist; the criticism concerned both the methods used and the results asserted. The criticism was initially strongly denied, and then later accepted as valid by the researcher’s own lab (e.g. Griggs & Manning [Radiocarbon, 2009]). I also have substantial experience with the statistical analysis of time series, which is what tree-ring analysis is based on.

    Also, I am not a City banker. I did used to work for City banks, but I left in 1995. While there, I worked as both a research mathematician and a bond/derivatives trader. This is relevant, because financial data are also time series.

    Additionally, I agree that researchers who gather data should get exclusive access to the data—but only for a limited time. Baillie gathered the data decades ago (and he is now emeritus); yet he still refuses to allow access.

    Baillie has analyzed the data very little, because he lacks the skill to do so.

    I left a couple comments at The Guardian, but other commenters do not seem to be noticing them.
    April 20, 2010 |Douglas J. Keenan

    Well I am more than happy to correct a mistake made by the Guardian Doug, and may I say more power to your arm in your future endeavours delving into the past.

  2. Len says:

    Working in the “trade” so to speak, I find the reluctance to release data to the greater science community, for comment, even criticism, somewhat puzzling ? After all, academia are always paranoid, about ensuring that all data/material, sourced for any paper, are adequately, and properly sourced and cited ?

    In the field, there are literally thousands of studies out there. Some of them good, some great, and some, so whacked, that they are just laughable. The only way, a true consensis is ever going to be reached, is for all this data be studied, analysed, then critiqued to ascertain its true worth.

    The fact, that studies are being withheld to the science community, perhaps under the auspices of the conclusions being reached from that data, not being liked, is troubling, and does the cause no good in the credibility stakes. Are they afraid that the material will be copied, and used somewhere else ? The exposure of unsanctioned shortcuts used to gather the data perhaps ?

    If a new study hits academia, is of any worth, generally the eggheads concerned, spend the next months of their lives shouting it from the rooftops, so as many people possible hear of their respective “eureka moments” ? The old adage of “no guts, no glory” always applies.

    Something smells a little fishy here ?

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