Thursday, November 07, 2019
Celebrating World Digital Preservation Day
Today the international library and archives community participates in World Digital Preservation Day (WDPD) to raise awareness of the fragile nature of digital records and to celebrate digital preservation successes. The event is organized annually by the Digital Preservation Coalition
(DPC), a UK-based non-profit focused on digital preservation advocacy, training, and support. This year's activities focus on At-Risk Digital Materials (and, in a growing WDPD tradition, will surely also involve some creative baked goods!)
Digital preservation-themed cakes and cookies, Tweet by Jaye Weatherburn
In the digital realm, all materials are At-Risk to some degree. Personal files are frequently lost through hard drive crashes or file system corruption. Community resources hosted in the cloud can vanish as a result of corporate choice (as in the case of Yahoo Groups and Google+) or error (as in the case of MySpace). The DPC maintains a crowd-sourced "Bit List" of Digitally Endangered Species to track particularly at-risk formats and to concentrate preservation rescue efforts on the most vulnerable, such as data stored on magnetic media (like floppy disks and Digital8 tapes.)
Other factors can put digital materials at risk as well. At the Industry Documents Library we're focused on collecting and preserving digitized and born-digital industry documents which are made public through litigation and public records requests. In addition to general digital preservation dangers, these documents face other threats:
- Corporate risk management and records retention policies, which allow destruction of documents considered to be non-permanent. The U.S. National Archives recently considered revisions to its records retention schedule for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)'s Detainee Records, which sparked a passionate debate about preservation, access to information, and government transparency and accountability. As a public agency, NARA invited comments on the proposed changes and reconsidered its original recommendation based on voluminous feedback. Private companies, however, have no such obligation to share record-keeping decisions with the public and set their records retention and destruction policies according to risk management strategies and business needs.
- Website impermanence: the DC Leaks Coca-Cola Emails collection in our Food Industry Documents Archive was downloaded from a public website in 2016. Shortly after the documents were archived in our library, they were removed from the original site and are now difficult to find anywhere else online.
- File management challenges: organizing, managing, and maintaining digital files is a time-consuming task for everyone. Without oversight and regular secure back-ups, important files collected by individuals are constantly at risk of being lost, altered, or deleted before they can be saved for future use.
Now, for the good news: at IDL we're working to reduce the risks our digital collections face before and after they arrive at the library, and we have some successes to celebrate this year:
Advocating for public access and preservation of industry documents:
we supported the efforts of a group of historians led by a UC Riverside colleague to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Federal District Court in Cleveland County, Ohio, which urged the court to unseal discovery documents in the massive ongoing opioid multi-district litigation. Dr. Stanton Glantz, Director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, also published an opinion article in the Washington Post arguing that lawsuits should "reveal the truth" about industry practices by requiring that documents are made public and preserved in the Industry Documents Library.
- Implementing persistent identifiers:
we worked with the California Digital Library to create Archival Resource Keys (ARKs) for each of the 15 million documents in our collection. ARKs are web addresses (URIs) which allow persistent, long-term access to digital objects. Even if the URL of the library website changes, the ARK provides a stable reference to the document and its metadata which can be used to redirect a user to the document's current location.
- Generating checksums to verify data integrity:
we're generating MD5 checksums for each PDF document in the library, which we'll use to verify that the document remains the same over time. The checksum is the result of a hash function which is run on the PDF file and returns a unique 128-bit hash value, which is stored with the document's metadata. If the hash function is run at a later date and results in a different hash value, this will indicate that the document has been altered and needs to be checked.
Digital preservation is a continuing responsibility for stewards of digital archives, which we try to integrate into our workflows, budgets, decisions, and strategic planning. Celebrating World Digital Preservation Day is a great reminder of the importance in persisting in these efforts so that we can continue to provide long-term access to documents which inform public health research and policymaking. (...Also, did we mention cake?!)
Thursday, June 27, 2019FOSSILFUEL
Archiving the Anthropocene: Introducing UCSF’s Fossil Fuel Industry DocumentsGuest Post By Yogi Hale Hendlin & Naomi Oreskes
On every front, academics, journalists, and policymakers compare the fossil fuel industry to the tobacco industry. The strategies of delay, exculpating blame by making the consumer responsible, denying scientific consensus, conducting important science purposefully buried while publishing industry-promoting and -funded science, and fostering public confusion over the real impacts of their products, are common in the histories of both tobacco and fossil fuel companies.
A major difference between the two industries, however, is the timescale and scope of the harms caused. While public health professionals are well underway in coordinated efforts for a “tobacco endgame” – reducing smoking and tobacco prevalence to five percent of the population or less, with the possibility of ending the tobacco epidemic in certain areas within a couple decades – even if all fossil fuel production and consumption ended today, the fallout from the fifty years of delay caused by industry obfuscation will have ramifications for humans and other species for centuries or even millenia. If disruptive climate change continues unabated, the impacts on the planet may be essentially irreversible, at least as far as any humanly relevant scale.
The Fossil Fuel Industry Documents
at the University of California’s Industry Documents Library
provides an essential complement to the already nearly 15 million and growing internal industry documents from the tobacco, food, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. This new set of documents provides key evidence regarding what the fossil fuel industry knew regarding the catastrophic impacts climate change and its predicted time horizon, when they knew, and how these companies used every means possible to protect themselves and their shareholders at the expense of everyone else.
These documents come from diverse sources, including the Climate Investigations Center
, discovery processes in litigation, and documents published on Climate Files
, largely derived from Freedom of Information Requests and lawsuits. While some of this collection’s documents overlap with other online databases, when examined in the context of the other archives in UCSF’s Industry Documents Library, a more nuanced picture emerges amongst the mosaic of shared lobbyists, consulting shared, public relations groups, between the fossil fuel, chemical, pharmaceutical, food, and tobacco industries. Inter-industry analysis can help make sense of the larger patterns across and within industries that have caused irremediable harms to public health, biodiversity, and the natural environment.
UCSF’s collection of Fossil Fuel Industry documents highlight the mechanisms that have been used to thwart concerted action. A key aspect of this was the early knowledge the fossil fuels industry had about the ramifying consequences of unabated anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and the contrast between this and their public stance. For example, Exxon and other fossil fuel companies’ own research
showed in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s that a doubling of anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 would likely cause “major shifts in rainfall/agriculture,” polar ice melt, coupled with “3°C global average temperature rise and 10°C at poles.” Yet they doubled-down on business-as-usual policies of continued and even intensified fossil fuel extraction of oil, gas, and coal, and spent significant amounts of money to create the impression in public that the science was highly uncertain. It is not that these companies were not aware of the opportunities to work towards mitigating the runaway global warming they were precipitating and shifting the direction of their energy companies towards less greenhouse gas polluting sources; they just time and again refused to do so.
Why is this collection being housed at UCSF? One reason has already been suggested, and is discussed further below: the parallels between the misrepresentation and denial of climate science and the misrepresentation and denial of the harms of tobacco use. This parallel is not just analogical: documents show
that many of the same individuals, PR and advertising companies, and think-tanks have been involved in both. The other reason is that climate change is a major global health threat. From the Lancet Countdown
to the World Health Organization’s Climate Health Country Profile Project
, the public health and medical communities worldwide are in agreement that climate change affects every aspect of health, often disproportionately harming those with the least resources for resilience. The World Health Organization estimates
that children 5 years or younger bear 88% of the health burdens of climate change.
Anthropogenic climate change will define the future of health for humans and life on this planet. It has already fundamentally shifted the geography of disease and increase in prevalence of both chronic and infectious disease. Fossil fuels are the primary driver of climate change.
Documents like those in this collection will be crucial in helping the public come to terms with the implications of these harms. Consider the current open constitutional climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States
, filed by 21 youth plaintiffs against the United States Government on behalf of youth and future generations for actions that jeopardize the constitutional rights of children to life, liberty, and property threatened by climate change. The fossil fuel industry initially intervened in a failed attempt to dismiss the case; now they face numerous lawsuits themselves, both in the United States and across the globe
. Over 80 prominent scientists and physicians as well as health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics have submitted amicus briefs
. As U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken wrote in her 2016 decision denying motions to dismiss the Juliana v. United States case, “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”1
The Tobacco-Climate Change Connection
Historians and public health professionals working with documents from various industries have documented the parallels and links between tobacco and climate change. In some cases the parallels are virtually exact, as sentences such as “emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions,” as one internal Exxon memo from 1988 concluded, echo the famous tobacco industry document “Doubt is our Product.”2
Cross-referencing the different collections are revealing. For example, the American Petroleum Institute (API) attempted to recruit
the president and affiliates of the Tobacco Institute in 1997 for its own president and CEO position.
Excerpt from the February 4, 1997 recruiting letter from Ronald H. Walker, Managing Director of the API to Samuel D. Chilcote, Jr., President of the Tobacco Institute.
Just as the tobacco industry promoted smoking not as a threat to public health but rather a “personal choice,” this same refrain is now being used by the fossil fuel industry urging people to make lifestyle choices as the solution to climate change. Such industry-sponsored “solutions” shift the blame from the industry to consumers. In the health literature, this public relations move is called “responsibilization,” as it deliberately aims to exculpate the industry from responsibility and delays effective supply-side interventions.
These documents also highlight the relationships between industry and government and the conflicts of interest that develop when government and industry are intertwined. One notices, for example, a persistent revolving door between government and the fossil fuel industry, of which ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s brief tenure as the US Secretary of State is but one instance. These documents provide insight into how and why industry decisions get made not because of but despite science. While the documents are US focused, the patterns revealed are often applicable globally, because most large oil and gas companies operate internationally.
The documents offered here are the raw materials of history. Publishing them, interpreting them, and learning about their implications is the basic task of historians, essential for understanding how we came to our present state of affairs. However, these documents can also serve a political, scientific, and moral purpose: helping to make people aware of the long and complex history of industry disinformation and malfeasance, and, at least in part, innoculate the public against further disinformation. As we increasingly face the costs of climate change, they can also provide documentary evidence for legal action.
The Fossil Fuel Industry documents have been made possible by seed funding from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, and the Samuel Lawrence Foundation. Donors either of documents or funds to make the history of the Anthropocene available to the public are invited to make contact here
Juliana v. United States, 217 F. Supp. 3d 1224, 1250 (2016).
Oreskes, N., Conway, E.M., 2011. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
, Reprint edition. ed. Bloomsbury Press; Michaels, D., 2008. Doubt is their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health
. Oxford University Press, New York; Proctor, R.N., 2012. Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition
, University of California Press, Berkeley; Brandt, A., 2009. The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America
, Basic Books: New York.