Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Govt policy "reprehensible" says Science and Technology committee

Oh, but they didn't say it in quite that way, instead preferring to portray it as a fault of the "climate science community":
"The parliamentary science and technology select committee was scathing about the 'standard practice' among the climate science community of not routinely releasing all its raw data and computer codes – something the committee's chair, Phil Willis MP, described as 'reprehensible'. He added: 'That practice needs to change and it needs to change quickly.'"
Let me introduce you to the NERC policy on Intellectual Property. Short version: "Who owns the intellectual property? We do." The UK Ministry of Defence (who run UK Met Office and therefore the Hadley Centre) is orders of magnitude worse in its defensive and bean-counting approach to the supply of, well, just about anything that they have and anyone else wants. The bottom line is (or certainly was, when I worked there) that NERC employees are under pressure to sell anything that can be sold. And if someone asks for something, that means it must surely be worth something, right? Of course this is an attitude that the scientists - who know that they can't really get any significant price for their work - have always implacably opposed, but we don't really count for much when the politicians are demanding budget cuts and percentage returns on investment.

[In fact when I was a NERC employee, they once tried to modify our contracts in order to claim IP rights over everything we ever did, even if entirely unrelated to our jobs, such as taking beautiful photographs as a hobby or composing pop songs in the bath. Many of us refused point-blank to sign up to such absurd terms, there was enough opposition that even the union was persuaded to oppose it, and the idea was eventually dropped.]

Occasionally, it works ok: a previous employer sells this software to mariners all over the place, and I believe that the commercial department actually brings in more money than it costs to employ them (at least that was the situation back then). The vast majority of our work has no meaningful commercial value, however, but the effort of demonstrating this may not always be trivial.

I don't defend any unnecessary secrecy: I was disappointed when a prominent climate scientist refused to allow me to have his widely-used code (a Windows executable was available, but that was no use to me) so I used another model and the developers have gained a handful of highly cited publications as a result. I am also one of the founding executive editors of Geoscientific Model Development, "an international scientific journal dedicated to the publication and public discussion of the description, development and evaluation of numerical models of the Earth System and its components. " We explicitly encourage and support the archiving of code to support the paper.

Returning to the politicians:

""It is important in terms of scientific endeavour that that material is made available," said Willis. He added that the committee accepted that Jones had released all the data that he was able to."

Well, quite. There's no point in MPs pointing fingers when they are the ones setting the policies that make it impossible (or at least difficult and deprecated as a general principle). Is it possible they don't even realise this?


P. Lewis said...

Willis didn't say "reprehensible" in the report (so far as my search of the pdf goes). Nigel Lawson did (on p. 20) and "Andrew Montford" did (on p. 28).

So, was Willis interviewed by Randerson for this piece? It's not clear from the Guardian piece that he was. Randerson's implication certainly seems to be that Willis's use of that word was in the report.

James Annan said...

The Torygraph has a longer quote with the same word, it sounds like it came from a press conference.

Unknown said...

james, yes, that's exactly where it came from (I was there). Evan Harris, another S&T committee member made clear he did not agree with use of the term. No surprise that certain people would like to create the impression that the word was in the report's conclusions (rather than just in quotes from Lawson and Montford).

I recommend either roger harrabin or (for once) the daily mail. Both have clearer and more accurate accounts of the report

(with the exception that the mail, as does the guardian uses the word 'secrecy' which does not appear in the report or press release.)

Unknown said...

(just looked at the torygraph article. To be strictly accurate it should say "reprehensible... according to Phil Willis MP")

another point they fail to acknowledge is that NASA GISS faces continued attacks from 'sceptics' despite being completely open and transparent. They will always find something new to criticise.

James Annan said...

"They will always find something new to criticise."

I agree 100% with that. OTOH that isn't actually a reason not to be open either :-)

Unknown said...

True enough. Still, the S&T report says scientists should release data and code "Had both been available, many of the problems at UEA could have been avoided."
=wishful thinking!

P. Lewis said...

They don't need anything new to criticise.

They spin their "wheel of fortune" and the same old pap turns up again eventually. "Anyone for hockey?" "Water vapour is the..." "Global warming! What about all this snow?" ...

On the Guardian: I must say I find the lack of clarity on whether it was a press conference quote or a report quote quite "reprehensible", especially as they quote from the report.

Dikran Marsupial said...

Spot on. I'm not so sure that climatology is that different from most sciences in sharing data and code.

The other point is that if the government want well curated publicly available data and maintained code, then they need to provide funds for it. I make some of my research code available on my website; the only reason I don't make it all available is that I don't have the time to get all of my code into sufficiently bullet proof conditions that it could be safely given to others in my field for general use.

Dikran Marsupial said...

Whatever the other issues, I am extremely pleased for Prof. Jones that he has been effectively exonerated by the committee. I hope (and expect) the other two investigations will make similar findings and he can get back to some sort of normality.

mooli said...

> They spin their "wheel of fortune" and the same old pap turns up again eventually.

Quite. I noticed Soon & Baliunas 2003 doing the rounds again today. I thought it must be an April Fool at first, but no...