Thursday, July 30, 2015

Irony alert: The Open Atmospheric Society, Openness and Transparency

Sou | 5:14 AM Go to the first of 15 comments. Add a comment
Earlier this month, the Open Atmospheric Society, after months of secrecy about itself, finally called for nominations to its board. Investigations by a HotWhopper reader, FLWolverine, revealed who is formally behind the organisation. As most of us guessed,  it's the creation of Anthony Watts who runs a conspiracy theory and climate science denial blog WUWT. His co-founder is Joe D'Aleo. They registered the OAS in Nevada back in July 2012.

Seems that the OAS enjoys irony. Today Anthony announced (archived here) that the OAS has joined with organisations like the AAAS, AGU, AMS and others to become a signatory to the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Guidelines of the Centre for Open Science. As stated on the COS website, organization signatories are:
  • Expressing their support of the principles of openness, transparency, and reproducibility
  • If relevant, encouraging associated journals to conduct a review of the standards and levels for potential adoption.

Transparent decision-making?

All that is well and good. My question of the OAS is how this decision to become an organisational signatory was taken. How open and transparent was the decision?

As Anthony wrote: "Organization signatories are expressing their support for the principles expressed in the TOP Guidelines." It would be supremely ironic for an organisation to sign up to principles of openness and transparency without any transparency in the decision to do so. Without any formal decision being made by the organisation. Given there is no decision-making process in place yet, since there's no governance in place yet, the process by which the decision was taken, to become a signatory, is far from transparent. Moreover, your irony meter will be about to explode over this, when you find out that so far, the OAS has been anything but open and transparent:
  • It took two years (July 2012 to July 2014) before it was announced to the public (at a Heartland Conference) that the organisation, the Open Atmospheric Society, had been created
  • The OAS didn't reveal to the public or its members who was behind the society for another year. Not until earlier this month when Anthony Watts declared himself as "acting executive director". It has never been revealed (except here at HotWhopper) that Anthony Watts is listed as President, with Joe D'Aleo as Treasurer.
  • After canvassing for members last September, the self-appointed "acting executive director" boasted of operating in "quiet mode" because Anthony Watts was scared that someone might dispute its legitimacy
  • Without a board yet, there is no indication of how important policy decisions are being taken or by whom. 

In the absence of any board, Anthony Watts has appointed himself as "acting executive director". It would appear that he is unilaterally taking decisions on behalf of the members of the society. This goes beyond simply taking membership applications and fulfilling necessary administrative functions. He's taking broad-brush policy decisions as well, with no transparency of decision-making and no indication that the members were consulted on decisions.

Although signing on to the TOP guidelines is consistent with the stated aims of the organisation, this sort of thing would normally require a formal decision by a properly constituted board of a not-for-profit organisation - at the very least. In the absence of a board, it would normally require a vote by members. There is no indication in Anthony's WUWT article that such a vote took place. (In some grassroots organisations, decisions may go to the membership even when a board is in place. )

More than that, this would have been a very nice first decision of a board, that could have been promoted with much fanfare after the first meeting. You know, to show it's doing something, and something good. The board minutes could have been posted, to show how open and transparent is the OAS :)

If this is how the Open Atmospheric Society is operating so far, how much hope is there for openness and transparency going forward?

Transparency and Openness Promotion Guidelines

Incidentally, Anthony doesn't say which level of the TOP guidelines the OAS will follow. Perhaps he will let the OAS Board or members themselves decide on that. If the OAS opts for Level 3, here is a summary of what will be required:
  • Citation Standards: Article is not published until providing appropriate citation for data and materials following journal's author guidelines.
  • Data Transparency: Data must be posted to a trusted repository, and reported analyses will be reproduced independently prior to publication.
  • Analytic Methods (Code) Transparency: Code must be posted to a trusted repository, and reported analyses will be reproduced independently prior to publication.
  • Research Materials Transparency: Materials must be posted to a trusted repository, and reported analyses will be reproduced independently prior to publication.
  • Design and Analysis Transparency: Journal requires and enforces adherence to design transparency standards for review and publication.
  • Preregistration of studies: Journal requires preregistration of studies and provides link and badge in article to meeting requirements.
  • Preregistration of analysis plan: Journal requires preregistration of studies with analysis plans and provides link and badge in article to meeting requirement.
  • Replication: Journal uses Registered Reports as a submission option for replication studies with peer review prior to observing the study outcomes.

Another thing - the OAS has a new logo. (It reminds me a bit of NASA's.)

From the WUWT comments

There are only six "thoughts" so far, including this one by Non Nomen, who'd like to see the OAS get a bit more class than it has at present :D
July 29, 2015 at 10:13 am
A bit off topic probably: Are there any intentions to appoint honorary members who, by their background, have contributed to the advancement of climate science? Prof. Lindzen, Lord Monckton, Dr. Tim Ball, just to name a few, are IMHO suitable candidates…

References and further reading

From the HotWhopper Archives - evolution of the OAS

Center for Open Science 

Article about Forming Nonprofit in Nevada, with more here.


  1. Sou:

    "Although signing on to the TOP guidelines is consistent with the stated aims of the organisation, this sort of thing would normally require a formal decision by a properly constituted board of a not-for-profit organisation"

    I checked non-profit incorporation law in Nevada, and it appears only one board member is legally required, in addition to the President and Secretary. The President is essentially the board chair. This is the case in many other states other than Nevada.

    In the documentation uncovered by FLWolverine, no board member was mentioned, however, the source may not be accurate. For instance, D'Aleo might be the board member. The Nevada form for registering a non-profit requires one director be named in addition to President and Secretary, so I find it likely FLWolverine's source just missed it.

    Non-profits can have the president (who serves on the board) and executive director be the same person, though there are conflict-of-interest risks, particularly if the executive director is paid. But AFAIK it is not illegal.

    "at the very least. In the absence of a board, it would normally require a vote by members."

    You can't form a non-profit in Nevada (and many, if not most or all, states) without a board so ... though it appears you can wait a month to name officers and directors.

    1. That's kind of interesting dhogaza, but it's not the point. I'm talking about good governance and transparency. Not what Anthony can get away with legally.

      (From the links, Anthony managed to set up the OAS in Nevada with only himself as President and Joe as Treasurer and his accountant as Secretary. Since then they've come up with the OAS Charter, which required a board to be elected by 1 January 2015. It wasn't. Anthony has only now called for nominations.)

    2. Sou, I think what you and dhogaza are saying is consistent: the accountant would be the third person needed for registration, whether she is labelled "secretary" or "director". She probably wears both hats. It's strange that Watts would make such a big deal about electing the Board last year but then let it slide for so many months. We've speculated before on here about his absences and lack of posts - maybe there was and is something serious going on in his life. Or maybe he's just going through the motions because the "rewards" (whatever they are) have dried up.

    3. I'm not disagreeing with dhogaza or you, FL. That's all a side issue though. The main issue is that the OAS is presented as a member-based organisation that is open and transparent. At the moment, while in "caretaker" mode, Anthony is making unilateral policy decisions.

      The decision itself (signing onto the TOP guidelines) isn't the main point either. It could have been any policy decision - ie any decision that, in any other organisation, would require approval of the board or members.

      If I were a member I'd be asking questions about that and pulling him into line. I'd be wondering if the OAS really is what it claims to be or claims to aspire to - a society of members.

      It wouldn't have hurt to wait a few weeks and put it to the Board, or if Anthony thought it imperative to do so now, to go straight to all the members for a decision. (eg an electronic vote or general meeting.)

      IMO it's symptomatic of an organisation that (already) has signs that all is not well, that's all.

  2. Irony indeed. The OAS Membership Portal page states

    "The OAS is designed to be an alternative to organizations like the AGU, AMS, AIP, and ACS, NAS, and AAAS that have become more political than scientific in the publication of climate position statements, publication gatekeeping, and media editorializing."

    1. More projection.

      "Alternative" like as in "alternative medicine" I gather.

    2. "Alternative" as in "alternative source of income". I believe Watts is making noises about gathering the next years membership fees. Which must leave any member with a functioning brain cell or two wondering what they got for their first year.

      I would have thought that while it operates in "quiet mode" (suspiciously redolent of the dead parrot nailed to the perch in the Python sketch) the OAS is not running up any great costs.

    3. Further to this line of thought, I suspect the current semblance of activity by the OAS might be nothing more than Watts nailing his dead parrot more firmly to its perch in order to convince the 'members' that it is still alive. Once membership dues have been collected it can be allowed to 'rest' on the floor of its cage until next year.

  3. Watts and D'Aleo are the incompetent, dishonest hacks who authored this disgusting hit-piece: http://www.virginiaclimate.polyrad.net/surface_temp.pdf

    That publication provoked so much outrage that Watt & /D'Aleo quietly revised it to tone down its most outrageous language. But they never apologized for the smears/lies contained in that publication.

    In fact, the Watts/D'Aleo hit-piece is one factor that prompted a number of citizen-scientists/bloggers to compute their own global-average temperature results from the NOAA adjusted/unadjusted data. And, of course, we all know that turned out: every single person who computed his/her own global-temperature results ended up confirming that NASA and NOAA were right and Watts/D'Aleo were completely wrong.

    It's been over 5 years since the publication of their trash hit-piece, and Watts/D'Aleo still haven't summoned up the courage/decency to man up and apologize.

    Read through the publication linked above, and consider how Watts/D'Aleo have conducted themselves since then. You will then fully appreciate the complete and utter lack of personal/professional integrity possessed by those two losers.

  4. I can't see OAS without thinking Organization of American States. The real OAS was established 67 years ago as "the premier regional forum for political discussion, policy analysis and decision-making in Western Hemisphere affairs". It is the premier organization for Latin American affairs based in Washington D.C.
    I can't help but think that Mr. Watts somehow sees some benefit from that misassociation. Like his cousin Tony Heller, aka, Steve Goddard, Goddard as in Goddard Institute of Space Studies, GISS. Mr. Heller based the name of his science denial blog, Real Science, on the more reputable Real Climate. Mr. Heller recently renamed his blog Real Climate Science to muddy the moniker climate a bit more.
    An unrelated note, Mr. Heller's still double posts at his original site and the opening page is of the Confederate flag. I only peek in from time to time, but the flag I think has been up since the church massacre in Charleston. Mr. Watts shines in comparison.

    1. "I can't see OAS without thinking Organization of American States. "

      I have a more unfortunate association, with the Organisation armée secrète of the Algerian independence struggle.

    2. Surely the O stands for Oregon, following on from that famous source of lies?

  5. He's taking broad-brush policy decisions as well, with no transparency of decision-making and no indication that the members were consulted on decisions.

    That's okay, the members love despotic leaders. If you can't be one of them, at least do everything you can to help them (it's called projection). These minds got set in concrete during the heights of the Cold War.

  6. "Expressing their support of the principles of openness, transparency, and reproducibility"

    Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.

    Yesterday I wished Watts' 'gamechanging' paper on surface trends in the USA a happy third birthday. After a few days of buildup, the press release was posted 29th July 2012, the paper remains unpublished, and apparently unsubmitted, three years on.

    A few days later, on Steve McIntyre's blog (McIntyre was named as a coauthor, for reviewing the stats in the paper) Steve Mosher requested a copy of the surface station rating data, as Watts was asking for 'blog review' if the surface station rating data would be released: here's Mosher:

    1. Anthony has put it out for blog review and cited muller as a precedent for this practice. that practice included providing blog reviewers with data.

    2. Anthony brought Steve on board at the last minute even though hes been working on this paper for a year. Steve has a practice as a reviewer of asking for data. Since we bloggers are asked to review this, we would like the data.

    3. if, they want to release the data with limitations, that is fine to. I will sign a NDA to not retransmit the data, and to not publish any results in a journal.

    4. You have to consider the possibiity than Anthony and Steve could now stall for as long as they like, never release the data and many people would consider this published paper to be an accepted fact.

    Steve: Mosh, calm down. this is being dealt with.

    Point 4 looks close. After 3 years, crickets, tumbleweed (or stonewalling, as McIntyre would no doubt put it) has been the response.

    The irony here is waist-deep. Firstly, we have McIntyre's many and loud complaints about data not being released and archived in a timely way, up to and including vexatious FOI campaigns. Secondly, the surface stations project is arguably the only remotely useful thing that Watts has done, albeit for dubious motivations. To sit on the data for years and then to sign up to an organisation championing transparency ….just breathtaking.

    1. Replacement irony meters here:



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