Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fixing Climate Science

A lot of the talk in the blogosphere regarding the hacked files from Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia has centered around which newspapers are covering the story and which are glossing it over, as well as who should be fired for what happened.

I think it may be a good idea for folks to come up with ideas on how this process can be fixed. Venting frustration against persons X, Y, and Z, or publications A, B, and C may feel satisfying, but does little to correct the underlying problems in the science.

As I see it, the biggest problems to come to light from all of this are:

* Withholding of information / data

* Modifying data

* Computer models that are coded specifically to produced desired results

* Political pressure on individuals who publish papers that doesn’t please a small group of scientists and similar pressure on the journals that publish those papers

I’d suggest that in order to solve these problems, the following steps are needed at a minimum:

* All data and computer codes needed to reproduce the conclusion of a paper must be submitted with the paper before it can be published, along with any special steps needed to reproduce the conclusions.
* All such data and computer codes be placed in the public domain and be made available to anyone in the world via the internet for free.
* Pass laws making it illegal to hide any related data or computer codes behind “Intellectual Property” agreements.

I'll be writing various skeptic bloggers and scientists to see if I can get any sort of momentum behind these reforms. I'll update this blog with any progress or lack of progress that I make.


  1. Much of this data already is public. NASA has pushed much satellite data onto public archives. Over the past decade, there was a political effort to reduce the availability of that data which takes some time to correct. Here's a link to mission-specific data. Climate

    There are already numerous public codes available mostly oriented towards education.
    Climate Model
    Java Climate Model
    NASA/GSFC Open Source Climate Model
    Some of these are from my resource list when I used to work with Earth science data. Many of them show up via reasonably intelligent searches on Google.

    Here's a one-stop resource for most solar data:
    Virtual Solar Observatory

    The downside of making too much of code openly available is multiple independent researchers will solve various computational problems in different ways. They will argue about the techniques used (which is evident in some of the 'leaked' emails). This diversity in coding actually makes it easier to catch errors as erroneous code or algorithms will stand out more easily. The fact that the different models generate such similar trends suggests that, while not perfect, they give a reliable guide. Remember, the codes are just as likely to underestimate the severity of some changes as overestimate.

    I am not a climate scientist but a bunch of them work "down the hall" from me.

    And yes, you always discuss what the detractors may throw at you. Any good scientist, or chess player, tries to plan several moves ahead based on their competitors. The 'leaked' emails reveal that as well.

    I've had similar discussions similar to the 'leaked' emails with colleagues about journals that appear to have had their editorial boards taken over by creationists and other cranks.

    There have been moves for nearly 20 years now for the scientific process to be more open. It is slow, but it is progressing.

    So when are the climate-change deniers going to reveal their models and data? Or are the latest accusations just a ploy to distract the public's attention?

  2. Wow. I only just now saw this. Sorry Dr. Bridgman, I don't often check older posts for comments.

    As you point out, the source code for several climate models is available. Processed data is also available. What's missing is the raw data, or more specifically, the code used to make adjustments to that raw data. This is pretty important, as the changes made to raw data by NOAA, for example, are about equal to the claimed temperature changes said to be caused by global warming.