Visualizing the CRU E-Mails

November 29, 2009

Very cool visualization of the Climategate e-mails over here. For more information see the Computational Legal Studies blog post.

Additionally, they have hub and authority scores for the authors of the e-mails. I like.

Thanks to Pankaj Gupta and Drew Conway for pointing me to this.

ClimateGate: Free The Data

November 25, 2009

I wanted to get this out because I’m quickly becoming consumed with other things. But I’ve been following the ClimateGate scandal for coming up on a week now. And every time I turn around it looks worse for anthropogenic global warming.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a quick summary:

Someone stole (or possibly leaked) a ton of files and e-mails from the Climate Research Unit

My position on climate change has heretofore been: “I’m not a climate scientist, but there seems to be a pretty significant agreement among those who are that the main points of climate change are solid. The earth is warming and humans are causing it to some degree. The extent to which humans are causing it (do we account for 90% of the change? 50%? 30%?) and what to do about it seems to still be a matter of debate. “

I’ve read a number of the journal articles on the matter just because I’m interested enough in what is going on and my inclination is to get as close to the data as I can.

Because that’s my thing. Data.

Everything about data is vital to the scientific process. How we collect it, how we analyze it, how we compare different sets… these things are desperately important to good scientific work. When data gets too big, we use statistical analysis to understand it and models to predict what will happen next.

Most importantly, for science to work we need people to check our work. The next scientist down the line should be able to work his way to the same conclusion in order to be able to rely on moving toward the next conclusion. Verification is the heart and soul of the scientific process.

And the process is more important than the result. If you don’t believe me, go read up on Fermat’s last theorem. Pierre de Fermat made a conjecture in 1637 that turned out to be true, but mathematicians couldn’t prove it for over 300 years. That the conjecture was true is important, but how we know it is true is the key part.

That is why I am so pissed off at the scientists at CRU. If you read their e-mails (a good collection of what they say has been collected by Bishop Hill), they spend a ton of energy making sure other people can’t do independent verification of their data. They attack people who disagree with them, not because those people have bad data or use poor process, but because the results are not consistent with the message the CRU scientists are trying to propagate.

Add to that the fact that the CRU e-mails reveal an almost violent disregard for proper scientific peer review in favor of bullying journals into accepting only appropriate papers. And they make no bones about it: Appropriate is defined in relation to the desired result. If the result is different from what they want to hear, they worked tirelessly to politically punish people who found those results.

And we haven’t even started talking about the code.

I have a solution to this, one that I believe is non-partisan and vital to future work:

  • If a paper is going to be referenced in an IPCC report, they need to post their all the data, an explanation of the process and the code for the paper where anyone can look at it and verify it.
  • Any grants that are offered with federal money should require public access to the data, the process and the modeling code. If “the people” bought the research, we should be able to look at it, not just at some 10 page summary report.
  • Any paper used for public policy purposes should hold the same requirement.

In short, this is a call to free the data. We can’t make decisions in the dark. If these guys have done good science, anyone with an appropriate expertise will be able to verify it.

Is this unfair to climate scientists? A violation of intellectual property?

Forgive me if I don’t give a sh**. These guys have crapped all over the scientific method and made a mockery of objective science. This kind of bad PR will take years, possibly decades, to overcome. If they want to keep their data to themselves, they can get a private firm to support their research and stop using their findings to push public policy.

Take note: This does not mean that the conclusions the CRU scientists have come to are wrong. They could be 100% right and still be huge assholes who want to hide their data from everyone else. But we have no reason to believe that they are 100% right because we can’t see the data and we don’t know their process. Just because you cheer the deaths of your opponents doesn’t make you wrong. In the future it’s going to take more to convince me than “But the scientists SAID SO!”

Also, given the blatant and horrific way in which these people have manipulated the peer review process, the “But the skeptics aren’t published in peer reviewed journals” argument is a pretty sh***y line of attack from here on out. Just from reading the e-mails, we can see that:

  1. That isn’t even remotely true
  2. Manipulation of the peer review process has been a top priority for these scientists, to the point of intentionally ruining careers and lives.

From here on out, they can have my confidence in their results when I see their data.

(click for a larger view)

RealScientistFlow

This chart is my social commentary on the strange attack on Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt’s new SuperFreakonomicsbook. It seems a large chunk of people are worked up over a chapter in the book in which they look into alternate, controversial ways of solving the climate-change/global-warming/whatever-the-kids-are-calling-it-these-days problem.

At the eye of the storm are people accusing Dubner and Levitt of lies and misrepresentation in their book, particularly as it relates to their conversations with Ken Caldeira, a respected climate scientist working with Intellectual Ventures (possibly the most arrogantly named company ever).

Long story short: A blogger at Climate Progress claimed that Caldeira objected to his portrayal in the book and that Dubner and Levitt essentially flipped him off and left burning dog crap on his porch. Dubner responded that Caldeira read through two drafts of the chapter, correcting things he felt were wrong. Caldeira feels the authors worked in good faith and, while he may or may not agree with their conclusions, he feels their portrayal was fair.

What I find funny about the whole thing is the extent to which most people are blasting Dubner and Levitt even though they have explained repeatedly that they are not challenging the scientific status quo concerning climate change, that their reference to global cooling is a reference to finding ways to use technology to reverse global warming, which they unabashedly believe is happening. Their chapter looks at people working to solve the problem (you know, the problem of global warming which they believe is happening) who are working outside the “climate-change establishment”.

On a related note, Dubner has announced that he will change his name to Stephen Dubner-Yes-I-Believe-Climate-Change-Is-A-Problem.

But for the blasting of Dubner and Levitt and the (unconvincing, in my opinion) Brad DeLong’s “you should have let me write your book” post, no one can really give me a good reason to believe that they have a better grasp on the topic than Dubner and Levitt.

(Update: Greg Mankiw gives me reason to believe that Yoram Bauman has a better grasp on the topic and he seems disappointed. However, his back and forth with Steve Levitt amounted to “You may be technically right on the specifics, but the gist you gave was inaccurate.” I’m still struggling to try and reconcile that with the statements attributed to Ken Caldeira who, you may recall, previewed multiple drafts of the chapter. If he really did OK the overall scientific gist of the chapter, that strikes me as a pretty powerful authority.)

Up till now, I’ve stayed out of the climate change arena because I don’t have anything resembling an appropriate background for dealing with the topic. But the problem I’ve found is that people on both sides of the argument don’t really give a crap about credentials or scientific rigor.

What they care about is simply “Did this guy end up on my side of the argument?” If he did, he is a real honest to goodness scientist. If he didn’t, he is a hack, a washed up old know-nothing, a dishonest tool for religious environmentalism or a shill for the oil companies (depending on which side you’re on).

The reason I’m skewering the pro-climate-change side in this visual is because they seem to be much narrower in their orthodoxy. I’ve known extremely liberal people with graduate degrees in nuclear physics who get angry because no one wants to hear their solution to climate change (hint: it rhymes with buclear flower pants) due to the fact that the movement (from a political stand point) is dominated by long time environmentalists who spent their formative years fighting against nuclear power and don’t want to admit that they might have gotten that one wrong. (How is that for a run-on sentence?)

The “climate skeptics” side is often just as scientifically lackadaisical, but they’ll welcome anyone with open arms as long as they’re even remotely skeptical of any part of the political climate change agenda. They’ll accept anything including “climate change isn’t happening”, “man isn’t causing climate change”, “climate change isn’t a problem”, or (my favorite) “the solution isn’t (Kyoto/carbon tax/ethanol/hybrid car/whatever-my-political-enemies-like), the real solution is (fill-in-the-blanks-with-something-that-will-make-my-political-enemies-angry)”.

But, ultimately, I find the pro side to be more humorous because it is populated by approximately 30 actual scientists with knowledge in the field and millions of people with no scientific knowledge in the field who just like to feel smug about being all “scientific” while bashing other people who aren’t “scientific”.

And how do they determine who falls into which category? See the chart above.

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