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Climate Wars: Hacker's Paradise

by Nomad Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 09:30:14 AM EST

News of the moment is how email correspondence and some data from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia has been hacked from a webmail server and is now circulating across the internet. The news was posted here and already includes some of the emails (in a censored format) from the hack. There is presently a torrent download available, here.

This is the ultimate fodder for anti-science climate sceptics, and I can safely predict there will be no end to this for months (years?) on end. For climate scientists, this is another catastrophe in public relations.


The contents of the hacked files are described as:

Leaked FOIA files 62 mb of gold « the Air Vent

In the meantime, a summary of the 62 MB of data is – personal email correspondences between some of the major players Santer, Briffa, Mann, Osborne, Wahl. Data and code, the data SteveM and I will enjoy but I can’t load CA now. The code or a version of it for HadCRUT was released also. The tone of the emails is quite interesting Steve McIntyre is the focus of much of them but there are quite a few references to obstruction and making things difficult for the ’skeptics’. There are also budgetary items and grant monies- you wouldn’t believe how much money these boys play with.
Prof. Phil Jones, the director at the CRU, has confirmed that the webmail of the CRU institute has been hacked and that the data released so far looks genuine. A slice of the hacked correspondence was originally from Steve McIntyre (the above mentioned SteveM), one of the greater antagonists of Phil Jones, and McIntyre has confirmed that emails in the hack attributed to him are 100% genuine. Unless some extra emails have been deliberately planted or a few sentences have been surreptitiously added to some correspondence, the correspondence now in the open is genuine.

Some damage mitigation is being done already with this post at Real Climate where the importance of the correspondence is downplayed. The Air Vent rebuts here.

Perhaps one thing that becomes clear is that charges of grand conspiracies can at least be put to rest. Yet what the email correspondence does show, and it does so in painful detail, is the pettiness and competition existing between academics, a pettiness universal in science, no matter what field you seem to muddle in.

Yet more damaging for the image of science are emails that indicate the level of political leverage used to pave an easier path for the publication of papers:

What’s to say « the Air Vent

M,

This is truly awful. GRL has gone downhill rapidly in recent years.

I think the decline began before Saiers. I have had some unhelpful dealings with him recently with regard to a paper Sarah and I have on glaciers — it was well received by the referees, and so is in the publication pipeline. However, I got the impression that Saiers was trying to keep it from being published.

Proving bad behavior here is very difficult. If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted. Even this would be difficult.

How different is the GRL paper from the Nature paper? Did the authors counter any of the criticisms? My experience with Douglass is that the identical (bar format changes) paper to one previously rejected was submitted to GRL.

T.

Emphasis not mine.

Finally, the one for me actually underlines the failure of relying on the narrative of climate change catastrophe is the following:

CRU Correspondence « Climate Audit

Hi all
Well I have my own article on where the heck is global warming? We are asking that here in
Boulder where we have broken records the past two days for the coldest days on record. We
had 4 inches of snow. The high the last 2 days was below 30F and the normal is 69F, and it
smashed the previous records for these days by 10F. The low was about 18F and also a
record low, well below the previous record low. This is January weather (see the Rockies
baseball playoff game was canceled on saturday and then played last night in below freezing
weather).
Trenberth, K. E., 2009: An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth’s global
energy. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 1, 19-27,
doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2009.06.001. [1][PDF] (A PDF of the published version can be obtained
from the author.)
The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a
travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008
shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing
system is inadequate.

Emphasis not mine.

All is not well in climate science.

Display:
Thanks for this, Nomad. I was wondering about your take on it after I read this story in the NY Times this morning.

From the NYT story:

Stephen McIntyre, a blogger who on his Web site, climateaudit.org, has for years been challenging data used to chart climate patterns, and who came in for heated criticism in some e-mail messages, called the revelations "quite breathtaking."

But several scientists whose names appear in the e-mail messages said they merely revealed that scientists were human, and did nothing to undercut the body of research on global warming. "Science doesn't work because we're all nice," said Gavin A. Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA whose e-mail exchanges with colleagues over a variety of climate studies were in the cache. "Newton may have been an ass, but the theory of gravity still works."

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 09:32:21 AM EST
Thanks. I was hoping you'd parse this for us.

Beyond the gossip, what does the data actually mean?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 10:58:32 AM EST
It mostly looks like data from old publications. Might be trivial and already well known - yet people like McIntyre have been trying for years to get data from publications in the open. Particularly for data of older publications, this has been endlessly refused. Patience.
by Nomad on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 12:45:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
McIntyre have been trying for years to get data from publications in the open.

This is horrible. There is no "science" without public data. It is politics or business, not science.

by kjr63 on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 05:27:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, science is possible without transparency in data. It's harder, but it's still possible.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 02:59:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it was well received by the referees, and so is in the publication pipeline. However, I got the impression that Saiers was trying to keep it from being published.

Proving bad behavior here is very difficult. If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted. Even this would be difficult.

My emphasis. The levels of pettiness on the opposing sides do not appear to be equal. The allegation of an attempt to suppress a peer-reviewed publication is serious. It is ironic that, with claims of suppression of skeptics are not uncommon in the popular press, a private e-mail should suggest attempted suppression in the opposite direction.

by det on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 11:45:01 AM EST
it's called Climate Wars for a reason.

Next time "asymmetrical warfare" may have become a metaphor.

by Nomad on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 12:22:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the motive to "go through official AGU channels" is not to oust a supposed skeptic, but to oust an obstructing editor.

And what does the last sentence say?

Even this would be difficult.

Getting rid of a skeptic is not easy?!!
by das monde on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 03:04:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Getting rid of a skeptic is not easy?!!

I hope not.

Being a skeptic should not be a disqualifying trait in and of itself provided that the editor does the job impartially and respects the outcome of the peer review process. However, once the editor's personal opinions start to influence his action, he should be out the door in a flash. However, I suspect that in that case it would still be very difficult to remove him. A natural consequence of science being a cautious rather than a reactionary discipline.

by det on Sat Nov 28th, 2009 at 05:55:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
EUUUH, the scientists don't like dealing with Drudge and Beck! Skeptics are going to use these stunning revelations to stir up the creationists!  Most who will be swayed by this are already indelible skeptics. But they will have a wonderful foam-fest with the e-mails.

It could be that self-censorship by involved scientists out of concern that inconclusive models or inconsistent data would be used against them is retarding the process. It has always been an asymmetrical contest. The scientists have no choice but to employ peer review and to adhere closely to fact based arguments. That process is sufficiently problematic as it is, as Kuhn has shown, and tends to err on the side of conserving current paradigms. And there are skeptics with solid scientific credentials.

The beneficiaries and backers of the skeptics side are existing business interests and their political allies. For them rhetoric and public perception is all, however obtained.  The fear of the influence of the skeptics by the scientists, which, of course, was, in the USA, much more of a concern up until a year ago, as Bush 43's administration was both the ally of incumbent energy interests and had a tendentious view of "science", is much less of a problem just now. If the scientists' private e-mails had to come out, at least the timing is propitious.

It could be that this whole episode will lead to an increase in the rate of progress in climate research by opening up the field, much as when the USA declassified radar technology in the '50s. If key models are made more widely available to younger members of the community, as opposed to being closely held for fear of weaknesses being misused, the weaknesses may be more quickly remedied.

Meanwhile, it would help if someone of prominence did a public service by showing what happens when you put a thermocouple in a glass of ice water under a strong incandescent light and plot temperature vs. time.  If the evidence is that the polar regions are melting, this involves a massive phase transition that is going to absorb heat not just from the sun but also from the atmosphere and, hence, the weather patterns. It makes sense that this could produce local and intermittent cooling in the mid-latitudes until the last of the ice is melted, if we get to that point. Thus the freezing weather for the baseball playoffs in Denver and the mild summers I have been experiencing in the Ozarks.  We need to elevate the popular conception of global processes.

 

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 12:14:22 PM EST
ARGeezer:
If key models are made more widely available to younger members of the community, as opposed to being closely held for fear of weaknesses being misused, the weaknesses may be more quickly remedied.

Hang on, are you arguing for the release of model source codes and transparency in data? You've no idea in sort of trouble you can get with advocacy like that?

Von Storch at NAS « Climate Audit

"We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it." (Jones' reply to Warwick Hughes, 21. Februar 2005; confirmed by P. Jones)

 
by Nomad on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 12:58:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Science works in mysterious ways, its miracles to perform?

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 01:33:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You've no idea in sort of trouble you can get with advocacy like that?

YOU, not me. But the privatization of science will lead to the destruction of science, or, at the very least, cause new discovery to greatly slow down. This is especially problematic for those working for governmental agencies and public universities.

How can a paper based on a model be critiqued if the model and the data are not available to reviewers chosen by the journal? If the participants in the endeavor cannot understand that, perhaps they should switch their fields of endeavor to theology.  I would suggest they consider pondering Paul's dictum: "Faith is the evidence of things unseen." They should be able to get jobs with faith based institutions.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 01:52:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some people are already trying to have climate change legally defined as a belief...

Climate change believer takes firm to tribunal | Environment | The Guardian

At an employment appeal tribunal in central London today, Dinah Rose QC, for Nicholson, said: "The philosophical belief in this case is that mankind is headed towards catastrophic climate change and that, as a result, we are under a duty to do all that we can to live our lives so as to mitigate or avoid that catastrophe for future generations.

"We say that that involves a philosophical and ethical position. It addresses the question, what are the duties that we own to the environment and why?"

She told Mr Justice Michael Burton - who ruled last year that Al Gore's environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth was political and partisan - that beliefs about "anthropogenic climate change" could be considered a philosophy under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003.

But really this:

ARGeezer:

How can a paper based on a model be critiqued if the model and the data are not available to reviewers chosen by the journal?

has been the crux of this highly charged trench war, and it has been for years on end.

by Nomad on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 02:26:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Three months ago there was an internet round of a scandal when CRU revealed that they do not keep the original raw data of weather measurements; they keep only adjusted or "reliable" homogeneous data. This is absolutely inexcusable. Was it hard to keep the original data (whatever quality) while storage capacity of hard disk technology grew exponentially?
by das monde on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 03:17:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The "privatization" of science is already leading to the "destruction" of science.

The vast amounts of money made in various technological implementations of science: computers, bio-pharmaceuticals, etc., has given rise to a predatory capitalist group-think among scientists and technologists.  Partially due to the normal course of human competition - see the foo-foo over Who Invented The Calculus - and partially due to the current course of Science -> Technology -> Product -> "Money makes the world go around."  

I've been a part of, and observer of, this in computers.  Back in the 70s people would freely talk about their work and even explain ... in excruciating detail ;-) ... how it was done and why it was done.  Now I'm so NDA'ed I can't talk about anything remotely related to my work, as Mig can attest.  

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 03:39:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup.

Also, as Science and Nature and the other print publications continue to move to online-only access, it gets harder and harder to read the refereed literature. Used to be you could walk into a public university library here in the U.S. and browse through piles of journals, but budget cuts combined with higher prices for the print versions has led to the shelves being empty. As a university student or staff member, you have an account and can get the articles, but otherwise it's pretty hard.

And the patent and copyright situation is completely ridiculous. The idea was to allow individual inventors to protect their ideas, but the effect of the current system is to make the barrier to entry into any technical industry extremely expensive. The first thing you have to do is buy reciprocal patent rights with the big players, since nobody can make anything these days without running into a patent.

Frankly, I hope this hacking leads to a bunch of lawsuits, because at this point the legal system is probably the best place to argue it. The scientific community has lost their position as an unquestionable elite, but the lawyers at least still have a grip on the legal system.

by asdf on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 03:45:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the patent and copyright situation is completely ridiculous.

Nailed that one.

In the SO's field - genetics - the US Patent Office issued patents, back in the 70s, for basic molecular biology laboratory techniques.  

 

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 03:50:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I find amusing is the Ruling Class utterly depends on exponential growth to keep things moving along, in their view, while they steal the economic value of the production of the producing class lowering their purchasing power to nothing and they require a constant stream of new products from the R&D staffs which they prevent from blocking free and open information exchange.

We're getting to the point where we can't move because we're standing on our own hands.

It's nuts.  

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 03:59:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Luckily, the lower classes will recognize this problem and vote for representatives who will fix it. Right?
by asdf on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 04:02:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wrong, because information remains controlled, and without info, no one does nothing except lineup for Palin signatures.

But you were being sarcastic, so i agree.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 04:16:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah.  Change.  That's what's up!

Not.


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 04:19:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While women are certainly affected by this, I cannot help but believe this whole cultural FUBAR situation is primarily the result of male domination and testosterone run amok. Amusingly, it is not our hands that we are standing on, but another member. Perhaps by so doing from an early age, natural selection will come to the rescue of the species!  (A vain hope I know!)

The stupidity of trying to lock away everything for private profit of course originates in the ethos of our capitalist ideology. Everything must have a price and an owner and the value of everything must be discounted so as to be capable of finance and of an estimate of the present value of the resulting future income and all decisions must be made on the basis of optimizing the sacred "Return on Investment".  The stultifying effect this has on all aspects of our lives is the second greatest of all of the "internal contradictions" of which Marx did or could have spoken. The greatest, at present, IMHO, is the embedded need for exponential growth in a finite world.

While the problem of finite resources is, in theory, capable of at least partial resolution via a switch to renewable resources, resolving the problems inherent in having a mono-valent culture seems to me more problematic. The attraction of Chris Cook's ideas regarding unit trusts for me, beside the effect of undermining the need for exponential growth, is that, intuitively, it seems that this approach would free up some cultural energy that could be applied to quality of life issues.

Were we to put the economy on a "fail-safe" auto-pilot mode in which booms and busts due to the effects of money created based on debt are obviated, the scope for world domination through monetary manipulation could be confined to areas on which our lives and the lives of our children do not depend. Perhaps the energies of those with hyper-competitive tendencies and the need to manipulate and dominate others could be channeled, before they reproduce, into lethal blood sports. A few centuries of such a regime might result in a species that would actually be deserving of being called a "social species."

[Jonathan Swift has just ceased channeling through ARGeezer.]  

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 10:35:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How can a paper based on a model be critiqued if the model and the data are not available to reviewers chosen by the journal?

Peer review is a joke most of the time, data or no data. It is rare that a reviewer will actually check a paper's calculations for errors.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:35:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Peer review is not about checking people's arithmetic. In fact, in order to do that, one would need their raw data, their tabulated data, and an exact copy of all the software. We reviewers have to assume that when someone sez: we colleced X data and applied Y analysis to test Hypotesis Z using stats package R, that they did so correctly.

Peer review assesses the appropriateness of the data collected and the method of collection as reported, the validity of the statistical analysis as a test of the hypothesis, and checks that the discussion and conclusions actually follow logically from the results reported. Some reviewers will do some mental assessments of the tabular or summar statistics reported and may flag apparent anomolies for revisions or further explanation.

But the suggestion that we "check their calculations" is absurd beyond any possible practice in any discipline except perhaps in mathematics.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 10:23:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, in most theoretical physics papers, everything before the section on simulations should be amenable to checking by reviewers - it's mostly just calculus.

If it's not amenable to checking, then it needs to be re-written, because then it won't be readable for the target audience either.

The simulations are a different kettle of fish, of course.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 11:07:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was told (I will have to put this in a Glen Beck style of discourse) that in some areas calculation errors were detected in near 100% of papers assessed.

Note that I agree: reviewing complex papers by repeating the calculations is asking too much. When software is made available I tend to download it and evaluate it. But with mathematical formulae even reading is a big pain.

I know of a top scientist in population genetics that says that when he sees lots of maths in papers is because authors are trying to make something difficult to detect. ;)

But this only exposes how the current process is flawed: peer-review can only go so far. And that "far" is not enough to detect even gross mistakes.

Science is also riddled with Dunning-Kruger effect. For instance I work in biology/medicine with a CS background. Most people developing software in bio/med think that because they are so good bio/med people they immediately become fantastic programmers. And then you see people devising results done with software which has the quality coming from a high school student. Don't even try to suggest that they are completely ignorant in the subject of programming.

I once had a discussion with a top scientist which does only theoretical modeling on the advantages of indenting code. This person doesn't even indent code. And why? "Well, with 8/9 levels of code, indenting makes it unprintable. And it is impossible to break the code in less levels of indentation"

Another suggested that an optimization algorithm always finds the maximum if the algorithm is stochastic (whereas if it is deterministic only local maximum can be found). Code was made, published and used like this.

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 12:34:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I too am a former CS type (up to MSc) turned ecologist, so I appreciate your remarks.

Probably, any major collaborations in simulation and data analysis should have a statistician and an algorithms guy and a programmer on board. Just try funding that in my world.

It's not that I object in principle to making code and data available. I rely on other peoples' code and data all the time. It just there is no mechanism for funding the systematic provision of what you are asking for, or or rewarding the scientists who take the time to do it. Fixing this is no simple matter. You must know well the time and effort required to produce, for example, a reliable distribution of even a minor piece of code.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 02:02:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The rewarding system is very simple: if you don't make the software available then it is rejected for publication. Some journals do this partially or totally (depends from case to case).

If everybody is on the same level (ie everybody has to make the software available) then competition is fair.

Your new field, ecology is fairly bad field in terms of secrecy and closeness (but not bad in terms of predicting BS, me thinks). I have a completely ridiculous paper on an ecology journal (but at least the source code is available ;) ).

Half of my PhD is conservation genetics and people are really secretive. We should have a paper submitted very soon to Molecular Ecology and it is predicative (fall of expected heterosigosity over 200 years). It will probably be used to change policy. I actually intended to make a diary about it (after it is published).

I mainly work with population genetics simulations (effective population size and selection) and spread of drug resistance (selection, pharmacology). I have some "part/time" with phylogenetics also.

In some sense I became proud of being a CS guy at the origin. The problems in CS are less bad. I plan to return to CS (if I stay in science - which I probably wont).

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 02:14:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And to just add a personal note: during the last 2 years I gained 40 pounds and more or less became an alcoholic because of the things I describe here and how the affected me at a profound level.

I recently "got out of the hole" through becoming a cynicist: I don't really want to give a nice contribution to society anymore, at least through science I think it is impossible.

I just want to live the quiet life and "do no harm" is now enough for me.

I need a beer.

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 02:23:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it." (Jones' reply to Warwick Hughes, 21. Februar 2005; confirmed by P. Jones)

That's rank bullshit. Just like paleoanthropologists not allowing each other access to their specimens so that physical anthopology measurements can be done on all of them with consistent methods, for instance. Or astrophysicists not allowing each other access to data.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:34:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's quite the week for outing emails. This via Roger Pielke Jr, who posted this even prior to the released CRU emails becoming news:

Roger Pielke Jr.'s Blog

A very prominent climate scientist, who writes from a .gov address, sends this to my father after my father simply responded to a scientific query from another climate scientist who put the .gov guy (his colleague) on the distro list (along with a bunch of others, including me):
Roger,

Please remove me from your email distribution list. I have no desire to communicate with you. Ever.

XXXXXXXXX
That message comes across a bit like sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming "I'M NOT LISTENING I'M NOT LISTENING". Climate science has a few remarkable human beings in it, that is for sure.

This is becoming increasingly infantile.

by Nomad on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 01:24:50 PM EST
Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 01:36:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe this kind of behavior is more pervasive than you might think.
by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 03:02:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Considering Climate Science has some contact with experiment, I would rank this as more infantile than even the quantum gravity infighting.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:32:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
now who is drawing conclusions about an entire discipline from a sample of 1.

Do you have any idea of the volume of email that a senior researcher or academic receives daily?

You can certainly get a good idea of the nature of the denialist email that they would recieve---in floods---by looking at the comments sections of any website related to climate. I know it would make me a little short tempered.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 10:26:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't understand your commentary at all.

You are aware who Pielke Jr. and Pielke Sr. are I hope?

by Nomad on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 10:56:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I kind of know the senior of the two. My point was that a reference by the son to a grouchy (even hostile) email response by the father to another email not provided in evidence, proves nothing about the general state of climate science.
by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 01:48:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It doesn't say anything about the science; it does say a little thing about the climate existing between scientists.

Nitpick: it is an email response to Pielke Sr. and not by him...?

by Nomad on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 12:19:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have any idea of the volume of email that a senior researcher or academic receives daily?

Yes certainly, And having deealt with people doing both that and Islamic Academics in the weeks after 9/11 (Compared to which climate deniars email streams are the merest trickle) the across the board advice is always (And has been from every academic IT department I  have ever known) Treat them as message board trolls, Ignore them, they are not going to listen. My personal email accounts used to consist of my real email account, an entirely unfiltered email account so I could assess how much junk was actually arriving on site, and a third one where all the filtered email that had failed the junkmail tests would arrive, to be chacked and forwarded on in case the  junk filters had become over agressive. The first day after a weeks holiday would always consist of checking through email and nothing else. Holidays would result in 8,000 emails a week
, a vast majority, utter rubbish.

You can certainly get a good idea of the nature of the denialist email that they would recieve---in floods---by looking at the comments sections of any website related to climate.

The thing about that is that it can relatively easily be filtered by the user. Ten minutes of training and you never need to see it again, unless you want to. (Ok an occasional survey of the junk is useful to check that you havent missed anything important, but cranks are usually obviously cranks, and can be filtered with very little effort)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 11:20:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have, for several times, tried to raise here issues that the "scientific" process in predicative science (be it epidemiology, climate or finance - though not engineering) leaves much to be desired.

I have absolutely no axe to grind in the issue of climate science.

I find it "interesting" that people lower there level of critical reasoning when the source of their information is a "sacred cow". The fundamentalist pattern exhibited by some religious people can be found by some other people wrt the "scientific" process.

Wake up people! Nobody is asking you to become "climate change deniers", just to exercise critical reasoning with everything, and not take what comes from whatever source like the gospel.

There are several SEVERE problems with modern science. It is an environment taken by brutal neo-liberal competition where confidentiality and closeness is king. Job security (the ability to get a tenure, that is) is minimal, places are limited and people have to fight for it and sometimes things get rough. There is a strong sense of hierarchy. Furthermore too much specialization is a plague, many people are totally focused on their tiny topic (for which they will try to get the maximum funding) and no nothing more. I have never met so many people with such low awareness about the world around them like scientists.

People are forced to "prop up" their claims. Don't you find strange that, eg, in disease fields there is so much predicative science promising to eliminate or eradicate a disease in 4 years (Confidence interval +- 1, 3 months and 10 days)? Do you really believe a paper that states that disease X will be eliminated from a place in very precise time frame is the proposals written there are enacted? Papers stating this are easy to be found is respected and influential scientific journals, just go ahead and search.

I eagerly await the name bashing and ad-hominem comments from this simple proposal to use your critical reasoning...

FYI, I am a PhD student with more quite a few scientific pubs and a reasonable number of citations.

I know I am not being very rich in concrete examples, but I find it not a good idea to write them in a public forum. But if we ever meet face-to-face just ask me for examples and pointers. I would be delighted to back my claims with evidence. Just not in writing.

by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 03:01:21 PM EST
I have two arguments with your position.

First, if job security in climate science is so tough to get, why not work for Exxon-Mobil? Somebody who is able to do an experiment that support the denier argument would be heavily recruited by the oil industry.

Second, the "level of critical reasoning" is at completely different levels on the two sides of this argument. The deniers cherry pick their data, use circular arguments, repeat already-disproven claims, pull in irrelevancies, and generally operate with a thin veneer of reason covering greed and religious fanaticism. The pro-warming crowd operates with the normal pettiness of the scientific community. There is no comparison.

I suggest that you attend a denier revival meeting or two to get an idea of how bad it is. Until you've heard these nutcases in person, it's hard to imagine it.

by asdf on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 03:54:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding the denialist camp: I am aware that most people on that side of the aisle is politically, morally, emotionally and rationally on the exact opposite of my personal position. That is why I write here and not on their fora. Look, some of the company that I might have in being skeptical about predicative science might not be the best, I am aware of it. But do you mind taking my arguments for the sake of my arguments (and not the bad company that I might have on this issue)?

Regarding your the first argument. There is a plethora of reasons. I work in predicative science (I don't believe in it), but I still do. Why? Things are not that easy.

But let me engage some possible arguments:

First, Exxon-Mobil could not hire all the scientists in the world. And why would they? Would you believe results sponsored by Exxon-Mobil?

Second, most people involved in this might really have the best interest of the world in their hearts. And they believe what they do. But you do a little concession here and there...

But really I think it goes like this in most cases: bright kid out of undergrad/master is invited to do PhD. Comes from middle/upper-middle class, most of the time. Never really had much contact with the "world" at large. Life as been mostly inside the University, where ego-mania and small, closed groups are the norm. These sets of cultural background, where an "holistic" (broad) view of the world rarely exists. Publishing papers, conferences, fighting for grant/tenure is ALL YOU KNOW.

Just a anecdotal piece of evidence which I think reflects the broad reality: Portugal has lots of wind-power installed everywhere. Wind power kills bats. I have a colleague that defends the removal of all wind mills. Why? because it kills bats and from is point of view if it kills bats it is a bad thing, no more arguments need be made. His PhD topic: bats. This is anecdotal, but there is an underlying honesty to this description: many PhD students (kids in their early twenties, many of them with little awareness of the world around them) think that their topic is the most important thing in the world.

by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 04:24:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And, talking about "bad companies". It seems that yours needs, at the very least, to grow up a bit.
by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 04:33:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"But really I think it goes like this in most cases: bright kid out of undergrad/master is invited to do PhD. Comes from middle/upper-middle class, most of the time. Never really had much contact with the "world" at large. Life as been mostly inside the University, where ego-mania and small, closed groups are the norm. These sets of cultural background, where an "holistic" (broad) view of the world rarely exists. Publishing papers, conferences, fighting for grant/tenure is ALL YOU KNOW."

Sure, that is a common case. And if that person foolishly decides to get into climate research, and does some sort of experiment or develops a model or whatever, and the results show X, but X is not in agreement with his or her religious views, then what?

There is certainly the ego-mania, backstabbing, closed cultural group, etc. in play. But never-the-less, if somebody can come up with an experiment or data or observation or whatever that is NOT in accordance with the climate change model, they would still, in my experience, be listened to. Argued with, made fun of, ostracized, met with dead silence after their presentation at their society meeting. The problem is, such experiments aren't showing up. And with the whole thing so politicized now, if anybody COULD come up with some decent data, there are plenty of funding sources, publishing sources, etc. to get the word out.

It's like trying to prove that the earth is the center of the universe. After a while it gets to the point where it becomes clear that you just can't do it, even with the backing of the entire establishment.

by asdf on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:22:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With some things in predicative science (again I am not talking about climate in particular, it  is not my speciality), you cannot really devise an experiment to prove wrongness. Soft science.

Take, for instance, the marvelous papers that predict malaria elimination in 4 years. How could you derive an experience to rule them out? And even if you rule a certain model out. Immediately people would come up with a new one.

And even if a paper is proven wrong (papers with 4 years lifespan will suffer that), authors will say something did not happen has expected and that is the reason (poverty disease predicative modeling is sometimes disturbed by "minor" things like civil wars, mass starvations and so on).

I could say more, but I would have to kill you ;) . If we ever met, I can take some interesting evidence with me. For climate I only know stories second-hand, but for other areas I can dig deep and talk first-person.

by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:39:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we really have to take seriously tiagoantao's statement that the comments are not directed specifically at climate science but at "predictive sciences" in general. Nomad's post inherently brings up problems with the way science is currently being done and tiagoantao's comments seem to be a "second" for the reality of those problems from the perspective of another field. The fact that opponents of scientific inquiry will point to problems with science is not, IMO, justification for the scientific community to deny the existence of those problems.

And I entirely agree with asdf's assertion regarding the relative integrity between the "climate science" crowd and the climate change denier crowd. The climate change deniers do tend to show similarities to the "creation science" crowd. This is the basis for my concern about the lawsuit cited above where assertion of a "belief" in the imminent danger from climate change is defended as a "philosophy of life".  Let us hope that we don't get to the point of having parity in nutcase affiliation.  

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 10:58:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]

The fact that opponents of scientific inquiry will point to problems with science is not, IMO, justification for the scientific community to deny the existence of those problems.

WTF? It is the exact opposite! I strongly believe in scientific inquiry (definition of which remains to be done)! What I am suggesting is that what is done in some "places of science" as very little to do with openness, enlightenment, sound reasoning and decent morality.

The problem is that in many research centres "scientific inquiry" become just a side.

To make it very clear: I am a strong believer in science. The current scientific environment (high competition, need to maximize one's impact at any cost) is anathema for good science. The cultural harm to the scientific community is done and it will take some time to reverse, if at all.

If you want to do good science, go to your garage. Avoid most universities and such. That is the drama. That is what stands to be corrected.

And blindly believing in whatever is done at universities (the basis of religious mentality is also blind faith), is not helping to starting cleaning up the mess.

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 06:42:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It depends on where you go. I've seen a couple of European physics departments from the inside, and while you have a lot of mutual back-scratching, office politics, sharp knives and mafias, it does not strike me as crippling.

Politics is an inescapable fact of life in any organisation with more than a couple of handfuls of people and a lifetime of more than a few days. I see no serious evidence that it's any worse in physics than in other communities of similar size.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 10:34:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see no serious evidence that it's any worse in physics than in other communities of similar size.

From what I hear Astrophysics is pretty bad.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 10:40:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll have to ask a friend of mine who does an astro ph.d.

My impression is that in Copenhagen the experimental high-energy particle people hold the dubious distinction of being the most nepotistic department. And have held that trophy for at least a generation and a half by now.

Fortunately, it's not like particle physics is very important in the greater scheme of things.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 10:55:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
tiagoantao
WTF? It is the exact opposite! I strongly believe in scientific inquiry (definition of which remains to be done)!

That was certainly my perception but I was concerned that this might be getting lost in the discussion. (That might have been a misperception.)

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 11:42:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is, 'soft' not 'hard' sciences.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:27:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes there are some deep and severe problems with the way Science is done.  I venture to say I could "see you and raise" having spent most of the last 35 years specifically working on the practicals of What, When, and Why of Knowledge -- call it Applied Epistemology -- in the sciences, mathematics, and technology with a whip-around the Humanities.

Very few people have the ability to grasp a subject and put both their perceived importance of that subject and the actual and relevant importance of that subject to "Reality."  One reoccurring epistemological dysfunction stems from a person's acknowledgment, in some way, of their tenuous, in terms of depth, and ambiguous, in terms of width, Knowledge leading to an strenuous effort to support their own psycho-epistemology concurrent with a same or greater effort to suppress The Other.  In this instance the luxury the "hard" sciences normally have by using empirical verification and validation techniques (experiments) goes away.  Remove this luxury and they are forced into unfamiliar problems accepted as par-for-the-course by the "soft" sciences.  One of which being a mammoth increase in Uncertainty in both premise and proof.  An Uncertainty they are neither trained nor equipped to handle.  Thus, reverting to "non-scientific" conflict resolution.

Also it is, or should be, accepted that any scientist or researcher acting, on some level, outside their expertise is "just another person" with all the conclusions and implications that implies.  

One can wish for people to not be people and not to do nasty people-like things.  Never going to happen.  Expecting otherwise is merely going to end in (various shades of) despair.  

So far I've been talking about people who have, at a minimum, a small degree of commitment to The Truth.  

Outside of the Sciences, were most people live, there are people who don't care about The Truth but who deeply care, and fight for, things like money, power, influence, domination, & etc.  People who do nasty people-like things because they like it, they want to, they derive something from it as well as people who do nasty people-like things not because they get something from it but because it is their nature to do nasty people-like things.

The two examples in this post do share certain Qualities.  However they share more, and deeper, dissimilarities.  One important difference is the first cares, to some degree, about Reason.  The second could give a flying-fart.  This difference is crucial enough, IMO, to segregate the first from the second.  This by no means implies "Scientists" nor the scientific process nor even the Enlightenment philosophies from whence both spring are immune to criticism.  Far from it.  But it does mean the critical stance one takes to "Science" needs to be very different from the stance one uses for the Nasty People.  


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:16:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most scientists that I know of, would have some problems in discussing "Enlightenment", because they really know very little about it, or some of the issues that you raise here. I am doing a course on epistemology of science and my supervisor (one of the brightest and most honest persons I know. The top scientist in his field) asked me what is that.

You are fetishizing scientists: They are normal persons: some are concerned about the truth. Other about power and that stuff. They are morally not any better (or worse) than politicians, fire-fighters,  businessman, priests, bankers, factory workers, whatever.

But even the ones that are honest and intelligent: they live in a very competitive, closed and ego-centered world. They have to adapt and make concessions. People have kids to feed, and morality and integrity sometimes take the back-row. This with the good ones. Lets not discuss the egocentered ones.

by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:31:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've worked with and alongside too many scientists to have any illusions about 'em.  

I ... simplified ... for purposes of categorization.  


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:38:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One can wish for people to not be people and not to do nasty people-like things.  Never going to happen.  Expecting otherwise is merely going to end in (various shades of) despair.

This is why political utopias fail. What makes them utopian is the constraints they place on the human behaviours they are designed to accommodate. The behaviours not accounted for tend to sink the system if implemented.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:17:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But you can mitigate bad behavior... And a good way to do that is simply by shedding light and increasing public transparency.

Public accountability makes for a good control in many cases.

I always thought that what scientists need is just that the public is just as skeptical with them as it is with e.g., politicians.

As scientists (especially in Europe) were portrayed as angels, they had no need to show good behavior. So things became extremely lax (not in all fields).

Guess what: scientists behave as human beings, which they are!

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:33:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Transparency is important. The problem is that the public doesn't like nuance and any half-cooked scientific work is going to contain lots of handles for populist critics. So the scientific community gets defensive.

As soon as a branch of science intersects policy, scientific integrity goes out of the window, if nothing else due to the outside pressures. the usual status jockeying within a scientific community is bad enough without politically motivated intrusions.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:43:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does it get defensive because of that, or because some of them know that if they would make things public the stench would be unbearable?
by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:48:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that a lot of what's published is half-cooked if not drivel. There is no allowance for the time needed to achieve something that really warrants publishing.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:51:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To be honest the root of the problem is also philosophical end epistemological.

I once found a very serious problem in the work of colleagues. Serious, honest people. Really (I am not being sarcastic in any way).

They took 10 minutes to ack the problem and added that it had no consequence on published results. Well, I know it had to had.

But think about it: they spend lots of time doing the best they can and know. Large months of a big team. The psychological cost of assuming the error would have been too big. And, in some sense it was undeserved as we are talking of serious people that did their best.

My larger point is: extremely complex systems are difficult to model (mathematically and computationally), prone to massive numbers of errors. Human beings are smarter than baboons but they are not omniscient. Tackling the complex is... too complex.

I don't believe we can (as a species) do predicative science (with exceptions for some physics/chemistry/engineering which are SIMPLE in comparison to real life problems).

Relating to the global warming problem. I don't know if is exists as a problem, if humans are causing it. I really dont even care (me thinks peak resources will hit first and very hard. And proper peak preparation is actually compatible with tackling GW). But one thing I say: these complex predicative models are bonkers.

And I am not adding what I know about the pragmatics of the problem (I know a few things that I cannot write)

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 08:08:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would like to make a constructive proposal in this regard.

What about if all software that models climate prediction would be made available in a source fashion?

I don't even mean like open or free software. Just available so that all people could read it and inspect it (its ok that people could not resell or repackage it)?

I think that many of this software has been, at least partially, publicly funded. So asking for it to be made available to the public for general inspection would be more than fair.

Would it be that bad to make the code that does all these predictions open for everybody to inspect and criticize?

What about it YOU could have a peek on the inner workings of the models?

Completely open, transparent science.

by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:03:25 PM EST
Good lord.

Not intending to disparage you in any way shape or form: your proposal remind me of me 30 years ago.  Before I developed my hard crust of cynicism.  

On to the subject ...

I vehemently agree this should be done and even needs to be done.

But.

The proposal, to have some hope of success, requires the backing of a thumping lot of the Shakers and Movers in the scientific community.  I'm talking Nobel Prizes winners and others of that rank.  Without such backing it's hopeless.  

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:33:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep I am fully aware of that. Cynicism was the biggest asset that I've gained from my PhD, BTW.

I raised this issue mainly so that people are aware of the closeness of the whole enterprise.

Many companies are more open than many research centres.

If science is so "open" and  "transparent", why isn't this an obvious default?

Ok, at least I would like to see documented the QA procedures... What do they do to assure quality? Software has bugs. Even math formulas have bugs sometimes...

To be fully honest maybe there is some "poison" in the proposal. Maybe I know the state of some implementations (of top universities), and would really love to see them in the open. I doubt, they would like to have there work exposed, though...

by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:49:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If everyone is turning cynical by finishing a PhD that practically cheers me for walking out on one...
by Nomad on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 07:50:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not going to cheer if you quit.

My father-in-law, the SO, and twelve or so friends have a Ph.d.  I was working towards a Ph.d., had to have one to work in the field I was interested in, when I got waylaid by circumstances, discovered over-riding fascination with computers, and never went back.  Big Mistake.  My life would have been a damn sight easier, I'd avoided a lot of pointless hassles and conflicts, if I'd had a "union card."

So my advice is: finish.  Slog on through and get it.  It won't hurt and it WILL help.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 10:57:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately the decision has already been made. It's almost nine months ago that I left South Africa and abandoned the PhD there. And in honesty, this still feels as the right decision.

The one thing regrettable of the entire PhD period is actually not having finished one. There may be some developments still, there may be not. It's too early to say anything.

by Nomad on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 06:24:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is what I am trying to do, finish the damn thing (and then be a high school teacher ;) )

I actually have published quite a bit - have quite q few citations and such - and would easily (I think) get a postdoc or something like that, but I cant take this for much longer.

The ability to manage my time is good. The traveling is very good (conferences). I cannot complain about the workload ;)

But I simply cant stand the closeness, the loneliness (I and do have loads of contacts), the confidentiality, the discussions about intelectual ownership, the lack of technical competence, the egos and the shear lack of moral behaviour.

Having worked in IT in the past (including very big banks), I can easily say that even commercial IT is much more open in terms of idea exchange and good, old sharing of ideas, problems and solutions.

I spend part of my time doing open source, just to be able to work in something that involves a community that, with all its problems, still deserves to be labeled as a community.

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 06:51:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Might consider burn-out.  This goes a bit over the top but it might put at least some of what you're experiencing in perspective.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 02:54:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, been there. Still there, but every day much better.

Apart from family and friends, from an intellectual perspective found salvation in art and programming. The PhD is something I do after coding (sometimes I even code for the PhD ;) ) and learning music and drawing. Also doing a nice course in epistemology in order to be able to synthesize these ideas.

But have no doubt, this was a personal reaction to what I describe above.

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 03:39:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, actually finishing the PhD diminishes the personal impact of the inevitably developed cynicism. Because you have something to show for your time spent in academia.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:30:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some people might decide to do their research in the open... Once you get tenure, why not?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:29:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would recommend you a lecture by William Black (the Savings and Loans guy) regarding the competition between good and bad behavior in an environment which is permissive to bad behavior. Bad behavior outcompetes and exterminates good behavior.

Let me give an example:
Imagine that you are a serious researcher in epidemiology. You will find it unacceptable to publish a paper on "eradicating disease X in Y years", as it will be unrealistic and BS. You will maybe work in more realistic control measures. Something a bit more obscure than "total eradication".
The other gal/guy that competes with you, will do a paper on "eradicating the disease".
Which one will be published in a better journal, attract more funding, get you in with the people who have decision power?
In a serious environment the second person would be ridiculed. But in an environment as it is today, the second person will progress and the first (with their "irrelevant" topics) will perish.

Another example:
If I find a problem in the work of a colleague, and tell the colleague, what will be his/her answer? In a serious environment the colleague will rush to the publication where the wrong work was published and issue a correction or a retraction. In today's environment it will probably ignore your comment and will become your ENEMY if you make it public.

This being said I can find many cases where people still behave in a moral way, but it is not clear that it is the rule.

Be serious and perish.
[Not fair to all areas]

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:45:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gresham's law...

Oh, I am aware of the two examples you cite. I tend not to associate with people who don't consider both unconscionable. We may not get far (I have actually quit academia) but at least we still have fun talking about science.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:49:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The extensions of Gresham's law into analysis of public behavior is completely appropos, IMO. The real finds are areas where it DOESN'T apply. I have been seeing this phenomenon in my checkered career since the late '70s and the counterfeit always seems to become "the coin of the realm" right up to the point of massive fail. Then the response is to look away, to say "who could have known?" or both.

The Peter Principle is an enabling corollary of the social application of Gresham's Law and the combined effect of these two principles largely accounts for what I have called "institutional incompetence", which is where we have many, even a considerable majority, of able people with good intentions yet the structure and function of the institution itself reliably leads to failed results.

I do not know if "workplace democracy" and "social justice" can mitigate this phenomena, but it wouldn't hurt to try. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that organizations that adopt open and collaborative approaches and encourage creativity can be more productive. My own sense is that social hierarchy is the real poison. And that is my inner anarchist speaking.    

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 12:18:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Once you get tenure, why not?

Aside from the ever fewer genuinely tenured positions, it doesn't quite stop with tenure. You still have to secure funding for postdocs, ph.d.s, etc.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 03:34:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I made a similar comment above, and was making an almost identical suggestion about source code, but the comment disappeared before I finished it and I got distracted.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 11:05:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Theoretically speaking, you can file for aktindsigt (approx. "freedom of information request") with any publicly Swedish institution for any kind of documents that do not contain sensitive personal information (unless it's about yourself) or (reasonably narrowly defined) state secrets. That includes universities. And that includes source code and raw experimental data.

In practise, if there's a paper in the pipeline your request will be "unavoidably delayed" until the paper is published, or files will "go missing."

But after they've wrung the last publication out of a project, you should in principle be able to get to their code and data.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 10:52:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are a few more cases, though they rarely apply here:

A swedish kind of death:

In the 18th century there were two parties - the Hats and the Caps - fighting for control over government. They did not trust each other with power so to make sure neither side abuse governmental power all governmentally produced documents were made public, except those classified by proper authority for the proper reason and that list of reasons is pretty short, here it is:

Offentlighetsprincipen The principle of publicity
Vilka handlingar får hållas hemliga? Which documents can be kept secret
Allmänna handlingar får i vissa fall hållas hemliga, nämligen då de skyddar följande intressen:
  • rikets säkerhet eller dess förhållande till annan stat eller mellanfolklig organisation
  • rikets centrala finanspolitik, penningpolitik eller valutapolitik
  • myndigheters verksamhet för inspektion, kontroll eller annan tillsyn
  • intresset att förebygga eller beivra brott
  • det allmännas ekonomiska intresse
  • skyddet för enskilds personliga eller ekonomiska förhållanden
  • intresset att bevara djur- eller växtart
Public records can in some cases be kept secret, if they protect the following interests:
  • the security of the realm or its relation to other state or intragovernmental organisation
  • the centrala finance-, monetary- or currency-politics of the realm
  • governmental agencies inspection, control or other similar activities (to enforce laws and regulations)
  • the interest of preventing or investigating crimes
  • the economic interest of the public
  • the protection of the individuals personal or economic situation
  • the interest of keeping animal or plant species

Naturally exactly what is covered by which bulletpoint has been extensively tried in courts (as is often the case with really old laws).

Email has not been tried afaik, but should be public as mail is (unless contents are covered by any of the bullet points). So the emails of swedish researchers (climate or otherwise) should be available by request.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 09:19:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, as long as other research institutions in other countries aren't complying with similar regulations, there is arguably an economic interest to the public in not giving up the data for free. See discussion of free-rider issues downthread.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 09:28:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok a few things about  this

1) there are somewhere in the region of 4500 files in the download, about 1000 of which are mail, and 3500 data files. From the contents of one of these data files there are suggestions that one of the climate models has 11,000 data files, so at best this is probably a subset of data.

2)It has been reported that the email has been confirmed as genuine. However the genuineness of the data files should have its status reserved until it has been thoroughly checked. And for it to be considered real, that is going to take some time. Firstly it has to be established when the server was first improperly accessed, and secondly it has to be checked against backup copies to asess the integrity of the datasets . If someone has had access, then we know that they have removed files, they may have also changed files without  the knowledge of reseasrchers.

3)From looking at the corespondence, Climate scientists appear no more or less riven with factions, infighting, feelings of sleights, and outright lunacy than any other group of academics. If anyone thinks  that this faction of climate examiners is particularly bad is asked to think wether every single email of their own would pass scrutiny.

4)I am somewhat suspicious of the date of release of this information. 2 weeks before the Copenhagen climate change conference, almost guarantees that Climate change scientists will be far busier discussing the leak rather than preparing for the conference. A cynic or conspiracy theorist could almost come to the conclusion that it was planned to cause the most disruption.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 08:24:03 PM EST
  1. Not the whole picture. Paleoclimate reconstructions using temperature proxies, one of Jones' fields of expertise, come in two varieties more or less. One variety only uses a limited amount of data entries, using far less than 11.000 data sets. It remains a possibility that the data files now in the open do contain all the data used in some paleoclimate reconstruction publications. This cannot be ruled out simply on basis of counting data files.

  2. FOI requests directed at CRU have been an ongoing affair spanning several years, and the CRU has rejected practically every single one of them. Independent academics have not been able to see the data behind one the world's most important estimates of global temperatures. The actual reason why all the effort to keep the data out of public sight may turn out to be even more embarrassing.

And besides, I would wager it hardly possible to do the Copenhagen conference even more harm than it has already suffered, all achieved by political wrangling...
by Nomad on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 09:11:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No - this is historically devastating.

The populist consensus has shifted from being avidly anti-corporate and pro-green, or at least broadly sympathetic, to seeing climate issues as an evil conspiracy by evil scientists who want to raise your taxes.

Outside of a few middle class holdouts, there's no longer any support at all for climate change management, or carbon rationing.

This is the bullet in the head for climate change measures.

Most people don't know or care about the scrappiness or internal politics of science. What they'll take home from this is that the deniers are right - the scientists have been deliberately lying to them.

Of course the timing isn't a coincidence. But it doesn't matter - as of now, we have no hope at all of an effective international climate change policy.

And for this generation the evil science meme is now so embedded that we may not have a policy again, even after the cities start flooding.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 09:28:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That book of yours, was it perhaps a PhD thesis?

I hadn't even begun to think about it at this level. To continue the health analogy, I perceived it more as one more continuous fester for the future.

So: The popular narrative on climate change is destroyed because the popular narrative of scientists' integrity is destroyed.

by Nomad on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 06:37:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, people that operate in secrecy and say that they are "enlightening" others deserve this...

If the work is so good, so reliable why not making it FULLY PUBLICLY AVAILABLE? Wasn't it payed with public funds?

I mean, get the source code out for public inspection. Parameters, fitting, etc...

Lets shed some light on the inner workings of the models.

I am just advocating for public scrutiny of what they do.

Note that in many cases, these projects even fail peer-scrutiny as the code, procedures are not made available for peer-review. And even if it was, it would be impossible for a couple/half-a-dozen reviewers to understand the model implementation. So full openess would allow complete peer-review (other peers than only journal reviewers) and public scrutiny.

Who is afraid of that?

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:01:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you imagine to be "the Data". Do you have the slightest idea how much there would be, and the enormity of the task of even assembling it?

As for model software, have you ever waded through a significant chunk of code?  Are you going to verify the operating systems they run on as well: if not, why not? How abour the instrumentation in satellites launched 30yr ago? The firmware that controlled them?

And what are the scientists supposed to do for the next 50yr whilst a host of hostile ignoramusses trundles through their work making insistent non-stop demands for detailed explanations and historical trails, while refusing to learn a god-damned thing?

The request is absurd on its face.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 10:34:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What about making code and data accessible for other academics?
by Nomad on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 11:00:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And if it is made available, why should you have to have an institutional affiliation to download it?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 11:07:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In principle, of course, by all means...make everything available. In practice, it is a huge undertaking, for which time and resources are mostly not available.
by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 11:23:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then simply make it a requirement for every institution to set up a public fileserver with some standard file structure and upload all new source code and data that a reviewer would need to be able to see in order to review a paper. Old data that is "known in the community" wouldn't need to be put there.

Then arrange a permissions structure so that it is initially released only to reviewers, and released to everybody upon publication.

That would only take care of things going forward, but once the structure is established it might be possible to secure outside funding for porting "back issues."

The record will, of course, be incomplete - some data will have been lost, some code will have been modified beyond retrieval. But it's a step in the right direction.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 11:31:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice 1st step. Especially useful in high-visibility areas like this one.
Note that for less visible areas most probably the number of persons interested in doing a review would be small. But it would be good nonetheless. Very good.

2nd step: Do a evaluation of past performance of predicative quantitative science. While some predictions are for the future, some can already be verified:

  1. Predicions on the spread of drug resistant malaria. Did they pan out?
  2. Foot and Mouth?
  3. Flu?
  4. Economics?

3rd step: What about quantitative versus qualitative? Here I am thinking in quantitative finance and things like that versus more qualitative approaches (think Nouriel Roubini and such).
You see, most of the proposals of resident Eurotrib's economists are very "unscientific": in stark opposition to the top journals in the field and also not using the "rigorous" quantitative methods (game theory et al).
In fact eurotribers are qualitative neo-liberal denialists. How unscientific!!!! ;)

4th step: Re assessment of previous publications by scientists that are non-peer. An example: In malaria lots of maths is used for modeling. Other people using maths as a tool (but not in malaria) could read and give an opinion on the maths. It is very difficult for peers to point out errors post-publication... without creating enemies.

I can dream.

In the mean time, things like this "email issue" will probably happen in the future, putting the credibility of current scientists where it deserves to be.

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 12:19:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Current availability and relative cheapness of hardware can no longer excuse the absence of transparency for data usage or computer coding - for any field of science. The only other hump that is needed is a cultural change in doing science.

The current trend, however, is that science journals make full transparency a prerequisite for publication, and data will then only be available through science journals access. Hence increasing their dominance on science publications.

Smart institutions hopefully will move ahead with structures like the one you propose.

by Nomad on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 12:27:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd agree that science needs an internal shake-up. But keep in mind the pressures are external, and at least partly the fault of the Hobbesian values that also support neo-classical economics.

Ultra-competition, style over substance, egotistic posturing over actual discovery are not necessarily inherently scientific. They're certainly features of academia, but I'm not convinced their effects can't be minimised to the point where they're no longer a key driver of the culture.

As for peer review and data sharing - from the climate denialist point of view, this is missing the point. Even if the scientific community agreed consistently, peer reviewed all models, shared data religiously, and created a clear consensus, the denialists would find one tenured kook and plaster them all over the front pages and the wacko blogs to 'disprove' the scientists.

This is not about evidence or honesty, it's about story-telling and persuasion.

There are certainly things scientists could do, but in terms of political rather than scientific effectiveness, improved transparency comes pretty low on the list.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 12:46:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another, and in my opinion fairly major, advantage of a "must release upon publication" doctrine would be that it would prevent "paper chop shops" where something that intellectually and research-wise could and should and would have been a single, coherent paper is chopped into half a dozen bits and pieces and sent to as many different journals in order to maximise impact factor.

If you have to release your data after the "preliminary investigation report" there'd be an incentive to delay publishing until you have a paper that you think will actually be cited by anybody outside your own department and close friends.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 02:58:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... we're on the subject of side benefits, it would also provide substantial insurance against universities being co-opted by corporate interests.

If universities have to make all data completely public, corporate attempts to hide, fabricate or spin results would be in direct conflict with the prestige of the participating scientists. Which is a rather more compelling incentive to refrain from participating in a project than vague concerns about academic ethics.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 03:38:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem with doing it bottom-up is that there's a huge free-rider problem.

So you really have to have a group of Big Dicks who have both enough prestige to demand transparency and enough suitably inventive and painful punishments for the people who fail to comply with that demand.

This is an area where the European Union could do a lot of good. If the EU were to demand that all publicly funded research must be published in journals that demand full disclosure (to the general public, not just to the journal), the ripples would be felt worldwide.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 03:31:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do have the slightest idea. Probably more than anyone else here. In fact I am one of the coders of what is probably the biggest epidemiology project in existence. Which happens to be open source, BTW. So, not all is bad.

I also know some people involved in climate modeling software development.

SO I PRETTY DAMN WELL KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT.

But even if I did not knew anything I could make the following assertion:
Any political decision in an open society which is supported in a technical and scientific process should make that process open to the general public.

In this case it is possible. At least for some of the models that are used, I am pretty sure it is.

And, I personally could not care less that you are a "senior scientist". Please present rational arguments and not arguments of authority. I know what I am talking about from proven first hand experience, and you, why should we trust you?

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 12:51:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not a senior scientist, nor did I intend to imply that I was. I think it was fairly clear that I was referring above to that famous climatolgist, not to myself.

Like yourself, I have considerable experience in working with, and writing, fairly sizable pieces of computer simulation software in a variety of languages. None of what I have worked on is remotely comparable in complexity to a major climate model, of which I have merely used the outputs...which was plenty enough work on it own.

The very thought of making my data and model available in any usable form makes me quiver. I have tried to do this once or twice, and it takes a huge amount of effort. I just can't see making such availability a requirement for all scientific working groups. Their actual research productivity would grind to a halt.

At least, that is my opinion, based on my experience, which may well be less than yours.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 01:44:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for my heated response.
But I stand by the substance of it (though the form was a bit rough).
by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 01:49:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think most of the problem is that people don't really know  how to do data management (such things are not taught and maybe should be) and it seems difficult. A pain it surely is.

I am in the last steps of preparing a paper and I am, for the first time, undecided if I am going to make the software available (the data I won't, as it can be generated from the software with not much computing power). Just bundling the software is a major pain and I am pretty sure no one will care to repeat my stuff, so I probably will skip it this time. If I submit to PLOS Comp Biol, they will probably force me, but other journals, I very much doubt.

They should force me.

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 02:01:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, to give a more calm response and debunk you point by point:

  1. Regarding the data. For example, climateprediction.net uses BOINC (the binaries are avaiable, how difficult it would be to make the source available?). The amount of data and format is easy to know and is most probably stored in a database. At least the data generated on user computers should be easy to make public (it was generated on user computers with a known formatting, it is even possible to inspect at checkpoiting). Large quantities I would imagine.

  2. Regarding my experience with code of predicative software? I would be candidate to have maximum experience on the planet about a subject like this, sounds too much? I single handedly converted a an epidemiological simulator (one of the biggest in existence) written in Intel Fortran to GNU C. This I can prove.

I would imagine lots of people in climate prediction are using old code (building on top of), which they cannot convert and really they dont know what the code does (like it was written in the 70s by people who are DEAD and left no documentation)

So yes, I know very much well what I am talking about.
And I could talk hours and hours and hours about this.

Not so much about climate modeling (still I know a few things). But about predicative science in general.

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 01:21:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would imagine lots of people in climate prediction are using old code (building on top of), which they cannot convert and really they dont know what the code does (like it was written in the 70s by people who are DEAD and left no documentation)

Considering the kind and quality of physicist code (and - in particular - the documentation of said code), this is not only probable - it is a virtual certainty (you should excuse the pun).

Ideally, you'd want a computer code cleanup staff on permanent retainer at all major universities. But that would not be cheap.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 03:06:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Judy Curry comes out swinging, via this post:

In my opinion, there are two broader issues raised by these emails that are impeding the public credibility of climate research: lack of transparency in climate data, and "tribalism" in some segments of the climate research community that is impeding peer review and the assessment process.

1. Transparency. Climate data needs to be publicly available and well documented. This includes metadata that explains how the data were treated and manipulated, what assumptions were made in assembling the data sets, and what data was omitted and why. This would seem to be an obvious and simple requirement, but the need for such transparency has only been voiced recently as the policy relevance of climate data has increased. The HADCRU surface climate dataset and the paleoclimate dataset that has gone into the various "hockeystick" analyses stand out as lacking such transparency. Much of the paleoclimate data and metadata has become available only because of continued public pressure from Steve McIntyre. Datasets that were processed and developed decades ago and that are now regarded as essential elements of the climate data record often contain elements whose raw data or metadata were not preserved (this appears to be the case with HADCRUT). The HADCRU surface climate dataset needs public documentation that details the time period and location of individual station measurements used in the data set, statistical adjustments to the data, how the data were analyzed to produce the climatology, and what measurements were omitted and why.

<snip>

2. Climate tribalism. Tribalism is defined here as a strong identity that separates one's group from members of another group, characterized by strong in-group loyalty and regarding other groups differing from the tribe's defining characteristics as inferior. In the context of scientific research, tribes differ from groups of colleagues that collaborate and otherwise associate with each other professionally.

by Nomad on Mon Nov 23rd, 2009 at 03:07:16 AM EST
The absolute lack of interest from the IPCC and the climate change research community in the relevance of the models and predictions, as in looking at the actual fossil fuel resource base, has been quite telling.

I think Public Choice theory might help us a little in understanding how these researchers behave. Or in the words of Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 11:43:54 AM EST


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