ClimateGate: Free The Data

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

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

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

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

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

Because that’s my thing. Data.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 comments

  1. Mark Haldane says:

    Brilliant. Libertarian, too. Political Math is the best blog on the web. Seriously. Waiting two or three weeks for a new entry is maddening, but always worth the wait.

    Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Thanks for pointing out statistical and logical fallacies. Making fun of Paul Krugman is just an added bonus.

  2. politicalmath says:

    Sorry for the time between posts… I’m slammed at my “real job”. I’ll try to post more after Dec 1 (big deadline).

  3. SD says:

    Awesome post, as always! I was waiting to see if you were going to tackle this stuff.
    Would love to see you discuss the types of computer modeling used in climate change research (ie. general circulation models which use complex partial differential equations to describe the ocean-atmosphere climate system mathematically versus computer projections of climate constructed using data on past climate change which identify mathematical patterns within them and project these patterns into the future). I never do an adequate job of explaining to friends why the latter method is better than the former.

  4. bill says:

    Here’s part of my thing with this. Peer review is evil. Peer review is the method by which “soft sciences” get around the scientific method requirement of “reproducibility”. In theory, peer review should require the reviewers to replicate the experimant and verify that the results they got are the same, It shouold weight “sceptics” very strongly and should be rigorous. In practice it amounts to a cult of personality wherein the reviewers make no attempt to reproduce the results and in fact simply accept or refuse a paper based on whether it agrees with their pre-concieved notions.

    This has resulted in abominations like Intelligent Design having a peer review process that is comparable in strength to JAMA. It means that all you need to get a “peer reviewed” paper that carries the full force of a scientific paper is to find someone with letters after your name to agree that you got it right.

    There clearly needs to be some method by which ecdonomics papers can be published with credibility, but holding the physical sciences to the same standard as psychology is absurd on its face and worse in practise.

  5. KingShamus says:

    Sadly, Greenfyre was unavailable for comment.

    I think this pic might solve the mystery of our missing global warming alarmist:

    http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/economy/pictures/chicken.jpg

  6. politicalmath says:

    Cut him some slack… he’s really busy running defense on the matter.

    I do have to say that I find it fascinating that in light of new evidence, he has changed his mind on the matter.

    Oh… wait. No. In light of new evidence he is holding onto his old belief with the same religious zeal he had before. If you read any of his new stuff, it is about 60% misdirection (along the lines of “but hacking files is illegal!”) and 40% statements of belief (along the lines of “This doesn’t change anything because a scientist told me that it doesn’t”).

  7. KingShamus says:

    Hehehe.

    Yeah, I’ll give him that hacked e-mails are ethically questionable. You know what else is ethically questionable? Making stuff up and pawning it off as scientific fact.

    The reaction of global warming alarmists like Greenfyre tells me that these guys are members of a religious community and not engaged in actual science. I have no problem with people attending whatever church service they want, but it’s another thing when they want to use the power of big government to forcibly convert the rest of us. Which is basically what the climate change hand-wringers want to do.

  8. Al says:

    For years I’ve wondered how any scientist could claim objectivity while referring to those whose work has led to differing conclusions as “deniers”. I’m not at all surprised that they rigged the field.

    Excellent post, as always. I, too, hate waiting for new ones but they’re always worth waiting for. We understand your real job comes first.

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  10. Jason M. says:

    But we don’t need to find any proof of global warming, we just need to WANT to find it. That’s the way it works!

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  13. Derek D says:

    The CRU emails only served a purpose to wake up those people which never took a hard look at climatology and how it has been politically perverted and manipulated. You did not need the CRU incident, all you had to do was use some common sense and read the original research papers as so many skeptics have done for years. I began investigating about 5 years ago, and become so disgusted what was presented as “science” when it was more akin to voodoo, manipulation, and blatant lies by the climate alarmists. Seriously, if climatology is science then we need to let astrology into science because its track record at predictions is superior than that of climatologists. Once you get over the fraud that is “climate science” I propose you and others to begin looking at other corrupted areas of science, you will be surprised how far the disease infects the field that is supposed to be above question. Take a look at the work in cold fusion which was suppose to be this enormous fraud and bogus trickery, yet look at all the work done quitely by so many prominent institutions such as Los Alamos Labs, but of course they no longer call it cold fusion but LENR so as not to be stained with the discredited name of “cold fusion”. Next, look at the big bang theory which is just a pile of unproven, fudge factors like Dark Matter and Dark Energy whose sole purpose is to try and make the broken model work. No one listens to the plasma physicists who have put up alternatives that agree more with experimental results whereas the big bang is just mathematical folklore devoted to big bang religon. I hope others begin waking up and start questioning the perversion of science. It reminds me of the state of science a little over a century ago when “science was finally complete”, then shortly after this arrogant nonsense relativity and quantum mechanics made these arrogant people eat crow.

  14. Al says:

    Derick,

    My perspective is that physicists generally do engage in open and honest debate, continue to consider the alternatives, and even admit (albeit grudgingly) when they’ve been wrong. As it stands today, the Big Bang Theory is the best they have and they freely discuss where it falls apart. They claim it to be the accepted history of our universe (multiverse?)- unless some other facts come along to knock it off its perch in favour of a different theory.

    So the Big Bang is not a parallel to what’s going on with AGW. Most non-scientists aren’t equipped to reasonably consider the scientific method, peer review, or data integrity. These people make judgements based upon the wisdom of scientists who do this for a living, along with what they can perceive as being plausible.

    The idea that the Earth is unnaturally warming because hydrocarbons that have been dug up from deep below the surface and re-introduced into the atmosphere on a large scale over a short time frame does not seem an unreasonable one. That some very smart people who study these things say that’s what’s happening is convincing. So the release of those emails alerted all of us to a potential scam and now others, such as this blog’s author, are now questioning additional factors relevant to following the true science of the matter.

  15. John in Michigan, USA says:

    Dear Political Math,

    “Because that’s my thing. Data.”

    Excellent! I like it.

    Since data is your thing, I probably don’t have to warn you about the dangers of “naive empiricism” (hat tip: Nassim Nicholas Taleb). In this context, naive empiricism means gathering data with a view towards measuring something, without having a clear conceptual framework concerning the entities and quantities you are measuring.

    In gathering data about the climate, there is an assumption made by the IPCC/AGW believers crowd that natural climate variation is well understood and well quantified, and therefore, measuring artificial (anthropogenic) variation is a simple matter of measuring the amount of deviation from well-established norms. I have come to believe that this assumption is not justified, that the climate has far more natural variation than is generally thought to be the case.

    For an outstanding, peer reviewed scientific summary of this problem, and many other problems with the IPCC consensus, I suggest you take a look at the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report, which can be found at:

    http://www.nipccreport.org/aboutReport.html

    The Climategate revelations caused you to conclude that the data supporting the AGW hypothesis was much weaker and sloppier than you thought; you speculate that the AGW hypothesis might still be validated if the climategate problems are fixed. I hope the NIPCC report will convince you that the AGW hypothesis is almost certainly wrong.

  16. Justin says:

    wattsupwiththat.com has a good series of post looking at the data and code that was leaked along with the e-mails. The analysis is pretty damning. From first blush, it looks like CRU cooked the books (i.e. manipulated the data, ignored some, and even changed some to make it appear the way they wanted). It also looks like their data it treated in arbitrary ways depending on the circumstances.

    But, you’re right. The public MUST have access to the data. The only reason to keep data private is to protect confidentiality or proprietary methodology. Neither is the case here.

  17. John in Michigan, USA says:

    Someone recently posted a comment on the old Political Math blog here:

    http://politicalmath.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/climategate-free-the-data/#comment-907

    I replied here:

    http://politicalmath.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/climategate-free-the-data/#comment-908
    (which is awaiting moderation)

    But I now realize I should have directed them to this item on the new blog. Moderator, if you need me to re-post my comment here, let me know.

  18. Joel says:

    Anyone interested in getting data on climate change and other environmental issues would do well to familiarize themselves with Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg’s work. His book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World” is absolutely full of his analysis of data around all the major environmental issues we face. He cares deeply for the environment, and cares deeply about bringing data out into the light and letting it speak for itself, as much as possible.