Sunday, September 27, 2009

True science

It is an accepted premise in medical research that following publication of a paper the data upon which the research was based upon should be available to the scientific community. It is seldom requested, but if the research is suspected to be fraudulant the raw data must be handed over and if none if forthcoming then the paper is condemned as fraud. One would hope that other areas of science would observe the same standards.

Let us examine anthropomorphic global warming.

In the early 1980s, U.S. Department of Energy funded scientists at the UK's University of East Anglia to establish a Climatic Research Unit to produce a comprehensive history of global surface temperature. The report by Phil Jones and Tom Wigley served as the primary reference standard for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was this record that prompted the IPCC to claim a “discernible human influence on global climate.”

Putting together such a record is not straightforward. Long-standing weather stations were usually established at points of commerce, which tend to grow into cities that induce spurious warming trends in their records. Trees grow up around thermometers and lower the afternoon temperature. Further, many of the newer stations themselves are placed in locations, such as in parking lots or near heat vents, where artificially high temperatures are bound to be recorded. An overwhelming majority of stations are in the US and Western Europe.

It is perfectly legitimate for critics of the analysis to ask to see the raw data, but when Warwick Hughes, an Australian scientist, wrote asking to see the raw data he was met with a blunt refusal. Jones wrote to him, “We have 25 years or so 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?” It may have escaped Dr Jones's notice but the whole purpose of scientific investigation is to "try and find something wrong with it". If I made an observation that all swans are white and conducted my investigations only in Europe then all the evidence would agree with my hypothesis. Now as you know there are black swans in Australia. I could disprove my hypothesis by making observations in Australia, but supposing I refused to go there on teh grounds that making observations there might disprove my ideas.

In June 2009, Peter Webster from Georgia Tech told Canadian researcher Stephen McIntyre that he had requested raw data and Jones had freely given it him. So McIntyre promptly filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the same data. Despite having been invited by the National Academy of Sciences to present his analyses of millennial temperatures, McIntyre was told that he couldn’t have the data because he wasn’t an “academic.” So his colleague Ross McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph, asked for the data. He was turned down, too.

This sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy to deny people who disagreed with Jones any access to teh data. After turning down several requests from so-called 'climate change deniers' (which of course is itself a snide phrase, attempting to place such people in a group that includes holocaust deniers)Jones eventually had to respond to a request from Roger Pielke Jr, an esteemed professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado. He received the following reply:

Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e., quality controlled and homogenized) data.

If data cannot be examined by independent adjudicators many people will assume that the data are unreliable.

I am grateful to seablogger for drawing my attention to this story.


Burke said...

I think the "threat of global warming" is the biggest scientific hoax in history, a total corruption of science with govt money.

In fact, global warming's advocates have mostly stopped even using the phrase much anymore, as far as I can tell.

Now it's "climate change."

They don't have any idea what's going to happen, so with "climate change," they can play their options.

Randy Shannon said...

Sometimes I feel like I am seeing the world through the looking glass... Logic, reasonable expectations, civility, they all seem to be no longer in vogue...

God help us all...

Grateful said...

Scientists are often not familiar with bureaucracy, so maybe it would help to let scientists know how the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) works.

FOIA does not allow federal bureaucrats to refuse to distribute data because someone is not an academic. Rather, the academic vs. private party distinction is used only to determine costs. The information is free to academics, but private parties must pay according to a standard fee schedule.

This distinction is generally made based on the letterhead. If an academic writes on university letterhead, then the information is free. But if the same academic writes on personal letterhead, then it is considered a private request for which payment is required (even if the academic is world-famous).

FOIA also applies only to federal records in the possession of the government. FOIA does not require grantees to distribute information themselves.

Anonymous said...

This is a bit off topic, but there was a recent academic report from Spain (heretofore the Obama Administrations favorite example) that concluded that the Spanish green jobs initiative has been a financial failure.

When asked about this, Mr. Gibbs (the current Administrations spokesperson) discounted the report which he had admittedly not read.

Meanwhile Mr. Obama has switched from using Spain as an example to using Denmark.

Doesn't anyone want to know the real truth about things (good or bad) anymore?