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« IPCC declares itself above the law | Main | Hollywood scientists »
Tuesday
Dec132011

Dark Matter: What's science got to hide?  

Billed as the "Data debate: Is transparency bad for science?" the event was held at Imperial College and the speakers were Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, George Monbiot, Guardian columnist , Baroness Onora O’Neill and David Colquhoun, UCL. Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship, chaired the debate.

Josh and Richard Drake were in the gathered throng.

Only it was more a panel of agreement - data should be freely available and science should be transparent… well, yeah duh!

But an interesting fight developed between Onora O’Neill and George Monbiot. Onora questioned whether everyone was competent to see scientific data, seeming to introduce the idea that maybe data should be tailored to the competency of the receiver. This rightly outraged George who asked Onora whether she meant that data should only be available to someone deemed 'competent'. Onora denied that was what she said but explained herself by repeating the same idea. Not a good tactic. She might not have been saying what we thought she said but sadly we never found out what she actually meant. Maybe we can tease it out on a second listen.

In the discussion time Richard Drake read out the Phil Jones email about how much time the retired bloggers have to digest and dissect data - bloggers who, we now know, are a great deal more competent than the scientists who hold the data.

Sadly the debate was short - with more time we might have got more depth. Here is what should have been emphasised.

Open and transparent science should involve three things:

1. raw data
2. the code that processes it
3. the resultant data, including metadata, as used in published papers.

As David Colquhoun, the only real scientist there and brilliant throughout, said "Give them everything!"

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    [...]- Bishop Hill blog - Dark Matter: What's science got to hide? [...]

Reader Comments (62)

How patronising of the Baroness.

Dec 13, 2011 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterDizzy Ringo

O'Neill would have been perfect as the Communist official explaining why villagers got sick from an industrial river-pollution accident.

"Fishing was prohibited, but the people were not informed."

Dec 13, 2011 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Does someone who is unelected have the right to sit in Parliament and judge us all?

Dec 13, 2011 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Does anyone know the time at which the Baroness made these points? She is a philosopher, and philosophers have a habit of exploring hypothetical arguments in an earnest way which may not be very transparent. E.g. philosophers discussing the Trolley Problem do not believe that people should be killed on railway tracks! I remember that she gave the Reith Lectures a few years ago and that I struggled to understand what she was trying to argue.

Many Team scientists do make the argument that participatory science and data sharing with the Common People are impossible and undesirable. Maybe she was trying to explore if there was any merit at all in that argument?

Dec 13, 2011 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Harvey

gotta applaud Monbiot for his stance on data freedom and transparancy

Dec 13, 2011 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterMangoChutney

The Baroness at 49:47:

" this is not like releasing an Excel spreadsheet which any of us can deal with."

Yeah, right.

Dec 13, 2011 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Jeremy - She makes the point at 14.50, then GM response is at 24.40.

Dec 13, 2011 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuck

I loved the open-handed cynicism of David Colquhoun. I especially would like to see who he had in mind as the 'spiv' scientists. What he had to say about medical researchers not being any more corrupt than others, but that they just had more money to be corrupted by, could as easily be applied to climate scientists.

I'm afraid the Baroness just came across as someone who was intoxicated by her own verbosity.

Other than his knee-jerk claim that 'big' oil = graft = bad science, I started to warm a little to Monbiot. He still has a long way to go but I figure that's a political journey he has to make, not a scientific one.

Dec 13, 2011 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Thanks, Buck. The bit at 49:47 pointed to by Brownedoff is worth listening to also. OK, so my post above, suggesting that she might have been exploring some sense in which it could be advisable to limit data transparency turns out to have been wrong.

There's perhaps a tiny bit of wiggle-room in interpreting what she said if you are feeling very charitable. You could perhaps argue that she was saying: there may be some datasets that are useful for experts, because there is metadata associated with the dataset that is not encoded in the dataset itself, but rather known in a tacit form by the expert user. Making such a dataset available to a non-expert would require explicitly adding the metadata, which would have a large cost. Hence it may not be desirable to make such datasets available in their un-enriched form. But (a) I don't think that is what she is saying - she is being patrician, as George says, and (b) even if it was what she was saying, I don't think it is right. In such cases, make the un-commented dataset available, with a cautionary note that it may not make much sense. Steve McIntyre would further argue that the next time you create such a dataset, make sure it has its metadata embedded from the beginning.

Dec 13, 2011 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Harvey

Surely the best model for scientific exploration is what is going on at CERN at the moment (Higgs Boson and "superluminal" neutrinos) - publish the data, speculate about possible interpretations and invite comment and constructive criticism.

Of course, in this case there are no government tax collectors and snake oil salesman hanging around with dollar signs in their eyes. However, if they can find a way to tax fresh air...........?

Dec 13, 2011 at 3:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

Browned Off: "The Baroness at 49:47:

" this is not like releasing an Excel spreadsheet which any of us can deal with."

Yeah, right."

Except Phil?

Dec 13, 2011 at 3:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

The Baroness at 49:47:

" this is not like releasing an Excel spreadsheet which any of us can deal with."

Yeah, right.

Dec 13, 2011 at 2:48 PM | Brownedoff
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
That is a bit of an underhand way to have a swipe at Phil.

Dec 13, 2011 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

Surely the best model for scientific exploration is what is going on at CERN at the moment ...
in this case there are no government tax collectors and snake oil salesman hanging around with dollar signs in their eyes.
Dec 13, 2011 at 3:19 PM Roger Longstaff

Shhhh Roger - don't give them ideas, or we'll have the "Intergovernmental Panel on Boson Mitigation", followed by the inevitable demand that we compensate the third world for releasing bosons into their environment - requiring us to raise a few hundred billion by new taxes on absolutely everything that might conceivably harbour bosons (ie absolutely everything). It won't really cost us anything, of course, since we'll be able to employ millions of people in looking for bosons to tax - which will stimulate the global economy no end.

Dec 13, 2011 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgooose

"Open and transparent science should involve three things:

1. raw data
2. the code that processes it
3. the resultant data, including metadata, as used in published papers.

As David Colquhoun, the only real scientist there and brilliant throughout, said "Give them everything!"

That is all we ask for! Its all we ever asked for! Why are they so scared to fulfill this simple scientific request but he should have added "Including all the statistical methods not recognized by real statisticians"!

........The sight of a gang of delegates ganging around the Indian delegates table in Durban, trying to lambast a vote should give us all a clue!

I promise to learn the Canadian National Anthem this week and cut and paste it every time a certain person comments!

Dec 13, 2011 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

D'oh!! I thought the CERN boffins were looking for bozons - you know, sub-atomic particles from my compatriot, Bozo the Clown. Does anyone know where these 'bosons' come from? By any chance are they a UEA speciality?

Dec 13, 2011 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterCrusty the Clown

We need to remind ourselves of Monbiot. Monday's Graun;

"Our press re-frames major issues so effectively, it often recruits its readers to mobilise against their own interests."

Quite George, quite!

Dec 13, 2011 at 5:33 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

I recall Baroness O'Neill arguing in her Reith lectures a few years back that much of the problem with the collapse of properly constituted authority in this country was due to a loss of respect. I thought that sounded great; until after further exposition on her part I realised she meant the great unwashed have insufficient trust in their social & intellectual superiors and we should all take it as read that they know what they're talking about; challenging "experts" was bad for society, since it caused a loss of respect. (I paraphrase, and no doubt she would quibble with my characterisation of her argument.)

She strikes me as the personification of the chap (or chappess) in Whitehall knowing best.

Dec 13, 2011 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterSebastian Weetabix

I must say I agree with George Monbiot (have I really just written that?) about electronic journals and pricing etc. I am a life member of the local university library but since the introduction of electronic journals I am not able to read them, as only students and staff are included in the agreement made between the university and the publishers. The paper journals are no longer available. This means I can no longer access any of the latest research papers in my own subject or indeed, any other subject in which I might have an interest, without paying a huge sum of money to read something that might or might not contain anything useful.

Dec 13, 2011 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Dec 13, 2011 at 3:25 PM | j ferguson
Dec 13, 2011 at 3:30 PM | richard verney


You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment.

In any case, it was the Baroness wot said it!

Dec 13, 2011 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Messenger Dec 13, 2011 at 5:46 PM

I must say I agree with George Monbiot (have I really just written that?) about electronic journals and pricing etc. I am a life member of the local university library but since the introduction of electronic journals I am not able to read them, as only students and staff are included in the agreement made between the university and the publishers. The paper journals are no longer available. This means I can no longer access any of the latest research papers in my own subject or indeed, any other subject in which I might have an interest, without paying a huge sum of money to read something that might or might not contain anything useful.


I too would like, now and then, to read current work in fields where I have been active.


In the dim and distant past I have published various papers in the journals of learned societies . I don't recall ever signing the copyright away to the journals involved; in fact I am sure I never did. Yet I can't even access my own papers online.

I guess I implicitly gave permission to publish the papers at the time by submitting them to the journals but I imagine the copyright is still mine. Presumably there are innumerable authors of papers in the same position.

If they are charging people $30 a peep to look at them electronically, I wouldn't say no to a share. But I rather doubt that I'll ever receive a penny.

Dec 13, 2011 at 6:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

Off topic, but FYI, the trolls are now blaming The (goose) Killer of Stratforfod on CAGW:

"I'll take a bet it's a large catfish.Plenty of them in our waters now. Getting biger every day too. - Mike., Harlow. Essex., 13/12/2011 13:21 ------------------------ Probably due to manmade climate change.
- George, Durham, 13/12/2011 13:30"

Dec 13, 2011 at 6:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterSalopian

Meanwhile, in another low-lying country vulnerable to climate change and has it's hands in our pockets, we get this news:

http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/11/1524&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said: "We are sending a strong signal to administrations today. Your data is worth more if you give it away. So start releasing it now: use this framework to join the other smart leaders who are already gaining from embracing open data. Taxpayers have already paid for this information, the least we can do is give it back to those who want to use it in new ways that help people and create jobs and growth.”

Nice idea and in line with freeing the data. If that includes public funded scientific data, so much the better and may encourage more people to take an interest in science, as the great AGW debate has done for many of us. The explanatory notes show some potential barriers though, and obstacles to be overcome:

Which public bodies have to comply with the Directive and what will change in this respect?

The Directive is applicable to all public sector bodies. Under the existing rules from 2003, these bodies are already complying with a minimal set of rules on fair competition, transparency and a number of practical requirements. Public bodies are obliged to:

be transparent on conditions for re-use;

avoid any form of discrimination between re-users, including a re-use by the public sector body itself;

deal with applications for re-use within a set maximum time;

not enter into exclusive arrangements other than in exceptional circumstances.

CRU would seem to have failed on all counts. In the new world of transparency:

The Commission's updated Directive will broaden the scope of applicability of the provisions of the Directive by bringing in sectors previously not covered, and move to a presumption of openness for those bodies where the Directive already applies.

EU may also provide money to add metadata to raw data so we can see if it's been cooked badly.

Dec 13, 2011 at 6:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

I believe there is a large potential problem with commercial interest in some of the studies whether it be from business who have helped fund research to researchers who might see some future personal entrepreneurial potential from their research and which to hold the results close.

So imagine I am a scientist and I develop a model for global climate that turns out to be uncannily accurate. Say the model accurately produces generally what has been seen with global climate over the past 100 years and so far it's forecast skill has been very good. One might be tempted to hold that fact close as it would have great potential to be very lucrative. I might be tempted to take such a model, quit my academic position, and form a company that offers climate consultation to various industries (insurance and energy industries come immediately to mind).

In this way, there might actually be some incentive to take private funding over public for research. So I suppose my point is that there are two possible reasons why someone might hold their data and methods close. One is because they don't want their various bodges scrutinized too closely and the other might be a very personal economic interest in it.

We see James Hansen taking in over a million dollars in speaking fees on the issue. What would be his income from speaking fees if he publicly concluded that climate change was not likely to rate very high on the issues facing people in the future? I might guess it could drop to something close to zero. His position and his research is quite lucrative in a very real and very personal sense.

The problem here is that an entire industry has grown up around "climate change" in the form of words and talk and marketing and spin. It doesn't actually PRODUCE anything except cash. It is diverting billions out of the economies of many countries and produces absolutely nothing in return except to distribute that cash among all the "correct" people.

Intangible benefits include fame. Appearing on television, attracting of research grants and policy consulting contracts to one's institution leads to being treated like royalty at that institution. Place someone a bit higher on the narcissism scale in that position and you can get them to do whatever you want by simply continuing to stroke their ego and fawning over them. That's the funny thing about narcissists, they like to think of themselves as being manipulative but they themselves are actually quite easy to manipulate if you have what they desire. They can act as a manipulation multiplier. Stroke Jones, Mann, and Hansen, provide them with opportunities to for fame, treat them as celebrities and they will guard it with every resource at their disposal up to and including treachery. You basically create little princes.

So Prince Michael, Prince Phil, and Prince James act in concert because their actions reinforce each others' position. Any usurper ("denier", "skeptic", etc) must be immediately suppressed as a danger to their fiefdom. The man behind the curtain, though, in my opinion, is Hulme.

Dec 13, 2011 at 7:18 PM | Unregistered Commentercrosspatch

I must agree with 'MangoChutney', George Monbiot is to be praised for his stance. I never thought I would say that either. He writes for a newspaper, the Guardian, which has an online comment column called 'Comment is Free'. It may be free, but free speech isn't welcome. It has established a reputation as a suppressor of free speech, it removes any comments which question the consensus of catastrophic climate change.

However, congratulations George. You go up in my estimation.

Dec 13, 2011 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterbomber_the_cat

"Sire! The peasants are revolting!"
"You said it - they stink on ice!"
-- History of the World, Part I

Dec 13, 2011 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered Commentermojo

Good summary Bish - and the first occasion that I can say that your text is somewhat familiar. (Josh and I bashed some ideas around the day after the event last week, having been told the video was due then. We also debated the speech bubbles on the cartoon, which the Index of Censorship used in the email finally announcing the video today. They obviously loved it. How to win friends and influence people. Ask Josh about that.)

The speech bubbles that gave me difficulty were for George and Onora. Monbiot did brilliantly on the need for openness at every level, with no complicating factors. However, in some areas, like the satellite data relevant to earth sciences, the volumes are absolutely enormous so the costs of openness are great. Walport and O'Neill are trying to think such problems through, with two objectives in mind:

1. A better culture of openness in science
2. Improved freedom of information and data protection legislation.

Helping them both in their role on the Royal Society's working group on openness (but not yet in the House of Lords) is someone very familar with very large datasets - a geologist called Geoffrey Boulton. He chairs the group. They must have consulted widely among the climate sceptic community to come up with that name, don't you think.

Anyway. I made the point to Onora O'Neill afterwards that it was vital that any new FOI legislation didn't contain loopholes that would allow unscrupulous scientists not to release data and code that they obviously should.

As I've studied the video this afternoon I've noticed the Baroness laughing early on as Monbiot takes some cheap shots against Marc Morano, whom, George was able to confirm for everyone present, was an arsehole, just as Andrew Watson put it so memorably on Newsnight back in the day. I know Morano isn't to everyone's taste but I don't find that laughter from an important UK legislator entirely encouraging, all because this guy worked for the quasi-demonic Republican, James Inhofe. Our philosopher-king should have been more detached than that.

Monbiot was more positive about Steve McIntyre and Climate Audit. But note that the Hockey Stick and Hide the Decline were never mentioned by him or by anyone. As Andrew says above "bloggers who, we now know, are a great deal more competent than the scientists who hold the data" have been exposing the most outrageously bad science in the area of thousand-year temperature reconstructions and this panel of experts it seems knows nothing about it at all.

I had two quotations in mind that I thought I might use from the Climategate emails. This from Michael Mann in 2004: "Please feel free to use this code for your own internal purposes, but don't pass it along where it may get into the hands of the wrong people." That was my favourite as I went in to the auditorium - the same that hosted the media love-fest with Simon Singh in February. I chose to sit in almost exactly the same place and soon got talking to the guy next to me, who's finishing a PhD in Chemistry at UCL. It was nice to lean over and say "UCL won that round!" after David Colquhoun finished his introductory remarks. He was indeed superb throughout.

For whatever reason I decided as the debate progressed to go for something more humorous, Phil Jones's plaintive

They are mostly people who correspond on the Climate Audit blog site. They all seem to have infinite time as they are all retired.

I was glad that Monbiot came back to this near the end. But nobody said they'd read the Fred Pearce article (don't miss it if you haven't). And for George to give the IPCC as a great example of an explainer and interpreter of complex science for the ordinary person ... oh my. He clearly didn't read Pearce.

All in all, though, a stimulating event. The blogosphere will fill it out, as it should. Thanks especially to Jo Glanville for commissioning and editing the Fred Pearce piece for Index on Censorship and for chairing the accompanying debate so effectively,

Dec 13, 2011 at 7:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

'...very large data sets...'

waffle, waffle, waffle

'...costs of making data reusable...'

waffle, waffle, waffle

'...competent others...'

Hmm - I suppose that 'competent others' are what are called code words. Let's hope that no body puts Onora in charge of reproductive rights.

Dec 13, 2011 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

"They all seem to have infinite time as they are all retired."

I have not retired, Monbiot.

Dec 13, 2011 at 8:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

If Pearce's article in their Index on Censorship house magazine came out on 29 Nov 2011, and was even highlighted on their events page with the scheduled debate details, and the debate was held on 6 Dec 2011, can we not assume that the panel, and most of the audience, were fully aware of it, had read it, and digested its potent expose?

One might conclude that their coyness to confront this headlining story squarely is because it is too hot, too politically charged, and far too politically incorrect. But the underlying take home message is that, in private, they know full well the climate agenda represents a massive abuse of science and unparalleled campaign of mass deception, targetted primarily on a vulnerably malleable and gullible public.

Dec 13, 2011 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAuCVkFjOws&feature=related


Sorry Bishop its a bit of topic BUT I couldnt resist this youtube clip but its a CLASSIC

I found it with a load of Titanic clips
I was trying to illustate the point about icebergs and water expanding when it freezes and sea level staying the same IF Polar ice caps melt

Dec 13, 2011 at 9:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Pharos: there were a lot of students there or at least a lot of people of student or post-grad age range. I didn't at all pick up that the majority would have already read the Fred Pearce before they arrived. My hunch is that very few had. As for the panel, they didn't answer my question so I don't know. But most of us read those things that tend to confirm our current opinions. I didn't sense anyone was in a rush to tell me.

Dec 13, 2011 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

That such a topic is up for debate shows that these people aren't fit for professional office, let alone a public one. Put plainly, I wouldn't trust them to clean my office.

Dec 13, 2011 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterScott

Openness and transparency should be the compelling principles, and since the advent of the web it's not difficult to provide either. You want to publish a scientific paper? You must make all the data, code, and methods available online (unless you want to pledge to promptly answer every individual request with full disclosure.

If you have something you're protecting for commercial reasons?? Then don't try to benefit from the open scientific peer review system by trying to provide half a loaf (or much less).

Some kinds of data, code, and methods are already withheld for commercial reasons -- is there any serious reason to expect that the "sciences" will be held up for long by someone trying to do commercial applications? That happens right now, but people in the field generally advance a lot just by knowing a certain kind of application or invention is feasible.

Dec 13, 2011 at 10:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkiphil

Check this out. I thought you would enjoy these. Hilarious.

These are funny as hell.
Al Gore in Global Horsesh#t. Part 1
http://goanimate.com/movie/0oM8NpeWAq28/1

Al Gore in Global Horsesh#t. Part 2
http://goanimate.com/movie/0K63D5X0_FEg/1

Between a Barrack and a Hard Place.
http://goanimate.com/movie/07WCzD1eAtH4/1

Enjoy. D

Dec 13, 2011 at 10:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterDonald

btw, this is a different kind of "environmental science" case but there are some outrageous and despicable brief videos showing the utter corruption of the "science" and "data" in the now notorious activist case in Ecuador involving Texaco/Chevron.

For UK legal reasons one must be cautious about what one says about individuals, but I invite anyone interested to see (vids are under 2 min. each) what a plaintiff/environmental attorney and a supposed "environmental scientist" talked about when their guard was down:


http://wizbangblog.com/2011/12/12/ann-maest/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-JCioAUx-Y&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMFnn6HU960&feature=related

(apparently outtakes were obtained via legal discovery from the propaganda film "Crude" which was made in 2006). Tell me that people who do what is depicted in these videos should ever be trusted with "science" or "law"....

Dec 13, 2011 at 11:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkiphil

p.s. I'm giving this example because the "scientist" shown serves is associated with the US National Academy of Sciences and is often an "expert witness" etc. in enviro science/law cases.... the corruption has spread high, wide, and deep.

Dec 13, 2011 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkiphil

I could tell you who won the debate, but then we'd have to kill you.

Dec 14, 2011 at 3:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterJon Jermey


this is a different kind of "environmental science" case

Well, well. A National Academy of Science member. Sort of puts the whole Mann 2008 PNAS paper in a different light. I wonder why NAS hasn't discredited that paper and pulled it by now as it certainly appears from looking at Steve McIntyre's blog that the paper doesn't seem worth of publication. RE: 'AR5 and Mike’s 'PNAS Trick'" at CA.

Dec 14, 2011 at 4:33 AM | Unregistered Commentercrosspatch

"They all seem to have infinite time as they are all retired."

'I have not retired, Monbiot.'

Willis Eschenbach, Bob Tisdale, Pielke Sr and Jr, Judith Curry and many other prominent skeptics are not retired. Maybe the image of Steve McIntyre is emblazoned on his brain.

Dec 14, 2011 at 5:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

What are scientists hiding?
The same thing people who hide things are always hiding:
Their lies, failures,frauds, corruption, etc.

Dec 14, 2011 at 6:34 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Oddly, Andy Revkin pitched the same idea regarding Watts yesterday at Pielke's blog: That Wattsup should shut down now that the science is settled. Revkin demonstrated either a complete lack of understanding of WUWT as well as the science, or he was just being cynical. Seeing Moonbat take the same ploy, I figure it is the latter.

Dec 14, 2011 at 6:37 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Shub, Theo: It was Phil Jones, not Monbiot, who wrote to Bruce Tofield in September 2009 (in CG2 email 4986) that the people asking for information were from CA and had infinite time because they were all retired. I thought that was so quirky that it should raise a laugh, which it did.

So please don't knock the Guardian man for that. But this does remind me of a strange thing Monbiot did say: that Steve McIntyre was only interested in the numbers, as a stats geek, and didn't have the slightest interest in climate. Steve confirmed this in person to George, we were led to believe. That I can only characterise as bizarre.

Compare the start of Fred Pearce's argument for open access for Index on Censorship:

Steve McIntyre is a pernickety Canadian. A retired mining geologist, trained mathematician and amateur climatologist, he has for the past eight years locked horns with the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, trying to gain access to their data on the history of global temperatures.

He is not (repeat: not) paid by, beholden to or in regular contact with fossil fuel companies or lobby groups trying to undermine climate change science. He is not even a climate sceptic. For years, McIntyre has been asking for CRU’s “crown jewels”, raw data assembled from weather stations round the world that it says proves how much the world has warmed in the past 160 years.

Amateur climatologist is fine - except that he seems to know more than most professional ones. The only thing one can criticise Pearce for is not mentioning temperature reconstructions from proxies right away (where Steve and Ross have been hampered by lack of disclosure of crucial data and code from Mann, Jones, Briffa and the rest), which have always been far more central to Steve's endeavours. He does touch on Yamal towards the end of the article. But overall it's a great article - the story of the chemist who was about to be ejected from his university for the embarrassingly wrong experimental results that recently earned him a Nobel Prize is worth the price of admission on its own.

Dec 14, 2011 at 7:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Um, dumbing down tells us more about the person recommending it than the receipient autience.

Dec 14, 2011 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeal Asher

That would be 'audience'. I guess an autience would be more concerned with detail.

Dec 14, 2011 at 8:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeal Asher

Sadly I missed the debate due to a last-minute family emergency. Perhaps I'll dead-microblog it, from the video 8-)

Dec 14, 2011 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

Richard Drake, 7:32 AM (way too early for me!)

Amateur climatologist is fine - except that he seems to know more than most professional ones.

Indeed! But kudos to Pearce for not Masheying, and recognising instead the truth, that Steve McIntyre is not in the pay of Big Oil. Professionals are paid amateurs. The pro/am designation doesn't speak at all to the diligence or competence of the individual.

On competence, I would like to have believed that the Baroness was trying to say that data should be provided in a form useful to the requester - for example it might not be useful to answer a question in English to a French person who is not competent in English - but I don't believe this is the gist of her position. She rests on whether or not the data should be released at all, not in which form it should be released, and she considers that the decision should be made somewhere on the level of the data generator, or the ICO, rather than with the requester.

So she believes that the decision on data release or non release should be determined by an assessment of competence made by those involved who are least competent to assess the competence of the requester. Her position is unreasoned and untenable. And so very 19th century.

Dec 14, 2011 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Simon, I am sure you are interpreting her right.

But there's the rub. As soon as you introduce a caveat that the data/information must somehow be tailored to the audience so as to be oh-so-helpful you have a great excuse not to give out the data - "We cant give it to you because it has not yet been translated into idiot-speak"?!

Monbiot and Colquhoun were right - it does not matter who is asking for the data, give them everything.

Dec 14, 2011 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

The problem I have with George's comments is that he starts by suggesting 95% of all the work is accurate - how does he know? - George is suffering from confirmation bias - a condition that we all suffer from 95% of the time:>)

Dec 14, 2011 at 4:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterTomK

Josh:

Monbiot and Colquhoun were right - it does not matter who is asking for the data, give them everything.

And Josh is right :)

Even more importantly, Colquhoun was right to stress that this shouldn't involve FOI at all: if you ask for the data you get everything, if you're dealing with a real scientist. (How much would Colquhoun say about the climate situation? He's not yet a Fred Pearce, let's put it that way, let alone a Jonathan Jones. But he might yet become one.)

Even that isn't the last word. The second questioner, who doesn't identify themselves, makes the key point that whenever you're going to publish you should decide in advance what data is needed for reproducibility and put it out of the web. (He asks the interesting question whether peer reviewers could get involved in making sure the right things are made available. Now that could bring peer review back from disrepute in the climate field.)

But only buffoons like Steve McIntyre publish all their data and code on the web as they write an article, surely? Well, it's the new thing, according to questioner two. And anyone with any sense.

Simon:

So she believes that the decision on data release or non release should be determined by an assessment of competence made by those involved who are least competent to assess the competence of the requester.

I believe she denied that this was her position. The best interaction between O'Neill and Monbiot for me is at the very end, when Monbiot says it must be AND not OR:

1. release all the raw data

AND

2. release whatever else is useful to those that are competent.

Neither of them mentioned the software code that transforms the data - though Colquhoun, as a real practitioner, did, without thinking, and said he would send it as part of the 'everything' to anyone that asked.

I took a slightly more positive view of the Baroness than some. Geoffrey Boulton I feel sure has had his influence on her and Walport in the Royal Society working group. Although senior I would count Boulton, like Colquhoun, a practising scientist, unlike these two, and in geology he and his students are dealing with massive datasets which require a great deal of processing and interpretation through software before papers are written.

I believe it's safe to assume then that Boulton has been blinding these two with science. The aim being to to inject loopholes in FOI legislation that will allow his climate friends to do as they please with those who do not feel that catastrophe is around the corner - or even those like Steve that simply aren't sure but feel that with so much at stake the data and code should be available to all.

And that's the other thing that wasn't mentioned at the debate. As I was preparing my thoughts for it I read again this paragraph from Pat Frank on Climate Audit two and a half months ago:

The non-availability of data is only a problem when academic science is being directly used to propose and produce public policy. To my knowledge, this is unique to climate science. This novel process of ‘from academic science directly to public policy‘ by-passes all the engineering studies and evaluations that are (supposed to be) done by, e.g., the USDA, the FDA, the EPA, and all the other regulatory bodies that evaluate the science and set up the field tests e.g., clinical trials for the FDA, that evaluate the academic reports, and that challenge and validate the claimed outcomes. The climate science process is a short-circuit and therefore entirely inappropriate.

One other thing Geoffrey Boulton has clearly not done for O'Neill and Walport is come clean about areas like the Hockey Stick as egregious examples of lack of openness, at every level, which have to be put right in future. But, with a new adminstration with a new openness to re-evaluate global warming (based on what Steve Hilton said at Huhne's department the other day) and to use technology to make government more transparent (as Hilton's said everywhere else) even with all this sterling effort from the Royal Society it may not be easy to let the climate guys off the hook with legislation this time.

Dec 14, 2011 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake


This doesn't bother me. SMc has always insisted on being agnostic about Climate Change since that gives him the independence to be a disinterested "auditor" of the statistical claims made.
To what extent a (very) intelligent commentator can stay sitting on the fence is a matter for speculation- my take would be that SMc would say he now erects "Chinese Walls" in his mind!
For this reason, I think Fred Pearce's characterization of him as an "amateur climatologist" is simply wrong.

Dec 14, 2011 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptical Chymist

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