Closed data in climate research

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Peter Murray-Rust, Reader in Molecular Informatics at the University of Cambridge, reports from a meeting held at the Royal Institution 14 June 2010 about the cracked emails from the Climate Research Unit that became public right before the COP15 meeting 2009. He has summed up the meeting with an entry in his blog where he focuses on the issue of Open Data. One interesting bit in Murray-Rust’s entry is this:

” On more than one occasion the panel asserted that Climate data should only be analysed by experts and that releasing it more generally would lead to serious misinterpretations. It was also clear that on occasions data and been requested and refused. The reason appeared to be that these requests were not from established climate “experts”. This had led to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOI) being used to request Scientific Data from the unit. This had reached such a degree of polarisation that of over 100 requests only 10 had resulted in information being released by the University.”

I suppose that the CRU gets loads of annoying emails from people entrenced in a ‘climate denier’ camp, and researchers at CRU could probably spend the rest of their lifes serving the endless needs of these people. But I concur with Murray-Rust that

“The CRU is effectively a publicly funded body (as far as I know there is minimal industrial funding) and I believe there is a natural moral, ethical and political imperative to make the results widely available.”

One further issue is the “should only be analysed by experts”: One of the major articles in climate research, Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries, has been under close scrutiny by other researchers resulting in two reports: one by the Committee on Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, National Research Council and another referred to as the Wegman Report, and 16 years after the publication of the article a corrigendum was published. The authors of the Wegman Report writes:

“We note that there is no evidence that Dr. Mann or any of the other authors in paleoclimatology studies have had significant interactions with mainstream statisticians.”

As far as I understand the critique centers at the data processing methods around a principal component analysis.

Data analysis is hard and rarely one sees a researcher being an expert both in statistics and in the application area.


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