Dear Andy (2)

I emailed the BTO Chief Exec Andy Clements a few days ago (see here) and he replied (see here) and now I’ve replied as follows;

Dear Andy

Thank you for a rapid response (and your reply will be posted on my blog soon).

Since emailing you, but just before your reply arrived, I have been made aware of some previous correspondence along these lines and so I wasn’t totally surprised by your response. Clearly my main beef is with Natural England so I won’t prolong this exchange but I did want to reply to the BTO’s position.  I don’t want to take up too much of your time (not your BTO time, anyway) but if you wish to respond to this email then please indicate clearly whether all or parts of it should remain confidential between us (which, of course, they will).

What I want to see is the original report produced by the BTO for NE. It’s interesting that a further piece of work is being done and that might result at some later date in publication, and of course I’ll be interested in that too, but I am talking about a report which exists, and has done for two years, and which has been cited by NE as forming part of the evidence base for their decision-making, and which is not being disclosed. It is being kept secret. That is unacceptable. If public policy is decided on the science then the science on which it is decided must be available to all.

The BTO has got itself into a very strange and awkward position in using data collected by its volunteer members to form the basis of a report for which the BTO was paid but giving up the ability to provide that report to others, including the BTO members who collected the data.  That is a very awkward place to be, both with your membership and in terms of scientific standards of behaviour. This place is made all the more awkward by your own position as CEO of the BTO and Chair of NE’s Scientific Advisory Committee. I would say that in this case there is a clear conflict of interest between the BTO’s ideal position (making your work available to those who wish to see it) and that which seems to be NE’s position (secrecy over the basis for public policy decisions).

But having entered into this contract, wrongly in my view (though it is far easier in retrospect to say that, I freely concede), the BTO must, of course, adhere to its conditions. So, I’ll take it up with NE from now on.However, I’d be interested in answers to the following questions, please:

  • how much was the BTO paid for this report?
  • how many other contracts has the BTO signed which limit its ability to be open about its science?
  • do I have any power as a BTO volunteer to opt out of my data, given to the BTO, being used in such a shoddy way by statutory agencies or others?

I’m sorry to be a pain, although, as you can see, not so sorry as to desist. I’ll try to direct my attention as much as possible to Natural England whose behaviour is, I believe, scandalous in quoting a report on which they rely and then not releasing that report.
But, the BTO has gone down in my estimation because of this episode.

best wishes

PS your email footer says that ‘Opinions expressed in this email are not necessarily those of the BTO.’ but I’m assuming that they are! PPS it would be good to put the manuscript of the paper (the reworked report paper) on a preprint server once it is submitted, as is fairly common practice these days. Just a suggestion.


3 Replies to “Dear Andy (2)”

  1. Classic.
    N.E. sinks even lower, if that is possible. I’m saddened that the BTO didn’t check that the sheets were clean before getting into bed with them. Nothing should surprise us today but it seems we have a lack of integrity pandemic which is also out of control.

  2. Well Mark, you have elicited a similar (but somewhat more polite) response than I did from Andy when I pursued this issue last year. Clearly a raw nerve. Andy’s position is made worse by NE appearing entirely happy to hang BTO out to dry on this; in saying it’s an awkward position for the BTO to find themselves in, you are showing a little bit of gentle understatement. Unsavoury would be closer to the mark. Whoever led them into this position has some explaining to do to the volunteers who supply the data, and needs to decide which hat they want to wear.

  3. Well if BTO are bound by the contractual conditions over the report they cant release their work.
    Presumably, their work is based on the interpretation of the data submitted by the members?
    If thats the case then there should be no problem in providing access to the same raw data that they analysed to construct the report?

Comments are closed.