GWCT burningbloggate

Photo: Jürgi-würgi via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Jürgi-würgi via Wikimedia Commons

For a spin doctor, Andrew Gilruth has led the GWCT into a terrible place.

This is an organisation that claims it is great at science – it used to be, but its best days are long gone. But if you are going to trade on your past scientific reputation then you have to play by the rules of science and the GWCT is not.

On Wednesday the GWCT posted a blog on their website which apparently quoted a paper which is not yet published: the paper was released in error for just a short while and then taken off line. But in that time the GWCT and YFTB (from whom I wouldn’t expect any better – but I would expect better from GWCT (at least I would have in the olden days)) decided to cause trouble with it.  GWCT have known, for well over 24 hours, quite possibly for more than 48 hours, that the paper is embargoed, was published in error, and that therefore scientific proprieties and best practice mean that it should not be quoted. And yet they refuse to take down their blog quoting the paper.

GWCT are also now not publishing comments on that blog – I know this because I sent them a comment early this morning and I see on Twitter that I am not the only one.  So, they are now gagging any criticism from appearing on their website.

Also, in what looks like an attempt to disguise this behaviour the GWCT has posted another blog with links to online comments on the subject – they are promoting comment that should not have been made because the paper is still embargoed. This isn’t a mistake – GWCT are doing this deliberately and knowingly.  By the way, GWCT seem to have neglected to include in their list of online references the two blogs I have written on this subject (here and here) perhaps because they spell out the other side of the story and include a long quote given to me by the senior author of the embargoed paper, Prof Matt Davies which I will repeat here in full:

The paper was accidentally made publicly available for a short time, this has been corrected. In that time a number of organisations picked it up. We do not endorse any of the current media coverage of our work, associated press releases or blog posts. We are disappointed that a paper that calls for a better understanding and representation of fire in scientific debates, and in the media, has been picked up in such a politicized way. Ironically, this is doing exactly what we are arguing against. We recognise the fire is an emotive topic in the U.K., much more so than in other countries. We only want fire to be understood as an ecosystem processes and for managed fire to be discussed based on a thorough understanding of the balance between its various benefits and disbenefits. We look forward to discussing and debating the scientific arguments made in our paper once it is officially published in May.’

Prof Davies has also tweeted GWCT today to say to GWCT ‘Blog not helping’ which is a clear rebuke to GWCT.

It’s time that Teresa Dent instructed Andrew Gilruth to play fair and to play by the rules, and to take down the two blogs on the embargoed paper – not to do so would suggest that she doesn’t value the code of conduct to which she has signed up for her role on Natural England board when she is running her own organisation.  Can you imagine a public body which valued its scientific integrity continuing to promote comment on a scientific paper that it knows to be embargoed? GWCT is a charity.



15 Replies to “GWCT burningbloggate”

  1. Mark – three blogs from you in one day on this: I am not sure how ‘helpful’ Matt would see them (but he might). George Monbiot is probably speechless that you think he is on our ‘side’ (you may be right (possibly) but I (very much) doubt he agrees with you on that). I also note that Matt has not endorsed your blog posts ((or George’s blog) (or Martin’s blog) (or Ben’s press article) (or Charlotte’s press article)). Have a great weekend, best, Andrew

    1. Andrew – going home so soon? I suppose you must be tired after digging GWCT into such a deep hole. Still, next week there will be more holes to be dug.

      Although you have gone home, it seems, I’d put a question to you which you can think about over the weekend. ‘Did the authors of the paper ask you to remove your blog about it?’. If they didn’t then I am surprised at their behaviour. If they did then I am unsurprised but further unimpressed by GWCT behaviour. Which should I be thinking?

      No Andrew – two blogs yesterday and one today. Please try and keep up. GWCT ignoble behaviour is the gift that keeps on giving.

      You’re speaking for Prof Davies now are you? Well, I can’t quite see how continuing to break the embargo on his paper gives you that right. He was keen to be quoted yesterday and unhappy about the position he and his co-authors found themselves. He did thank me for my blog of yesterday actually (though I wouldn’t call it endorsement). You could say that his tweet of about 2pm saying to me ‘Admire your position tho’ was a type of endorsement.

      But then I’m not looking for endorsement and I haven’t broken any embargo. GWCT has (under your name) broken an embargo and you haven’t corrected this. GWCT’s behaviour is shoddy and your refusal to act properly will be noticed by many.

    2. Andrew – I tried to post the following on your blog (twice) but to no effect:

      ‘Your opening paleo-ecological assertion re prehistoric woodland clearance and fire appears contentious. I assume you have taken it directly from this new research. Please could you expand and give the relevant references? Somebody must have a digital or paper copy of the bibliography? If you can’t oblige, is it good practice to keep this blog up?’

  2. I can’t wait to read this paper. Judging by Prof Davies twitter account, he is clearly quite embarrassed by the whole situation. He has my sympathies.

    Now that the GWCT are aware that the paper is embargoed it does seem beneath the reputation of the organisation not to have removed Andrew Gilruth’s blog post.

    I’m particularly taken the by following line in Gilruth’s blog: ‘The conversation should move away from ‘unhelpful hyperbole’’. Now there’s a delicious irony if ever I saw one..

  3. Don’t know about you Mark, but Andrew’s post seems to me the kind of thing someone might write after hearing that first crack in the ice under their feet.

  4. Hi Mark – did you ever get a reply from the Charity Commission to your complaint(s) about GWCT?

  5. Is Teresa Dent trying to make mileage out of this paper within Natural England, I wonder? Might be worth asking her.

  6. This really takes us back, Mark. You’ll probably remember the report you wrote that did not show the expected edge effect around plantations in the Flow Country – and which RSPB lobbied the Fc not to publish. My advice to the Director general was to go ahead and publish because very few people would pick up on it – advice he didn’t take, resulting in the end with far more people hearing about it than if FC had just quietly published. The same backfire I fear GWTC will now be facing, with lots more people sitting up and taking notice solely because of the storm in a teacup around their leak. One way to get good and important science better coverage – thanks GWTC !

  7. Hi Roderick,
    indeed! My opinion of Gilruth is so low and rather forthright I suspect that Mark would have to redact it, suffice to say if he had done this in my employ he would be looking for a new benefactor.

  8. ‘Watching With Interest’ has beaten me to the question about ‘charitable’ activities of the G[WC]T ….

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