Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
I’m currently writing a book. It’s important that the statements in my book be accurate, which is why I do a lot of fact-checking. Sometimes, though, attempts to confirm the simplest detail degenerate into farce.
The current draft of my book contains exactly one paragraph about a woman named Sari Kovats. I blogged about her at some length last October, pointing out that she was writing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports more than a decade before she’d even earned her doctorate.
I observed then that Kovats appears to have received her PhD in 2009. Unfortunately, her online academic bio provides no details about what each of her degrees are in, which institutions awarded them to her, or when. Nor have I been able to locate a copy of her CV.
One would think that such information would be readily available from the IPCC itself. Instead, that body expects us to take its word for it that it has assembled the world’s top experts. The actual CVs of said experts are kept secret by the same people who boast about the IPCC’s transparency.
In order to ensure that my book is accurate I need to confirm the month and year Kovats received her doctorate. That is the beginning and end of my request. This is the most straightforward matter imaginable.
Except when it involves the University of London‘s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – the institution with which Kovats has a long association and is now employed as a lecturer.
That school’s website contact page contains five e-mail addresses, none of which appear connected to the registrar’s office. A week ago (Friday, Feb. 25th) I sent a note to the “Alumni enquiries” e-mail address, explaining that I am writing a book, and asking to be re-directed should that be appropriate. The subject line read: attempting to confirm the date a PhD was awarded.
Since then I have been advised to contact Kovats directly for this information. While this is a reasonable response, my journalistic training has taught me that corroboration from an official source is the wisest course. I’m certain Kovats would not mislead me, but some people do indeed say things regarding their credentials that turn out to be mistaken.
After I expressed my preference for receiving this information from a school official my request was forwarded to the Registry department. It has since made its way to the Student Records Administrator.
According to the Registry “requests are currently taking 15 workings days to process – due to the number of requests and the time of year.” Fifteen working days is three full weeks. To retrieve a single piece of information about a current employee who recently graduated. Those three weeks are in addition to the week that has already elapsed.
Now here’s where things get unreasonable. The Registry further advises that I must secure Kovat’s consent before this information can be released.
Excuse me? The University of London is publicly-funded. As the section of its website that discusses the UK’s Freedom of Information Act makes clear, the public has a right “to access recorded information held by the School.” Why is there not a list of recent graduates along with the degrees they received on the website itself? What purpose is served by hoarding this information?
Kovats did not merely receive her education at the School of Hygiene she is currently employed there. Not only is she employed there but her expert judgment contributed to three IPCC reports. Those reports are routinely cited by government ministers, judges, regulators, and journalists.
Yet the University of London won’t confirm the date Kovats received her PhD without her prior consent.
They’re kidding me, right?
A follow-up blog post on Kovats and her PhD appears here