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:
- That isn’t even remotely true
- 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.