Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Should Climate Science Get a Pass?

I dislike writing so much about global warming because I sense readers are as tired of the subject as I am. Nevertheless, I want to bring your attention to a column that will likely be picked up by the mainstream media.

You'll remember Climategate which started 11 months ago with the hacking/release (no one knows which except the person[s] who did it) of emails and other communications between various pro-GW scientists.

This column talks about one of the least well-known aspects of Climategate, some "comments" regarding the computer code used by the British to compute average global temperatures,

When hackers leaked thousands of e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, last year, global-warming sceptics pored over the documents for signs that researchers had manipulated data. No such evidence emerged, but the e-mails did reveal another problem — one described by a CRU employee named "Harry", who often wrote of his wrestling matches with wonky computer software.

"Yup, my awful programming strikes again," Harry lamented in one of his notes, as he attempted to correct a code analysing weather-station data from Mexico.

Although Harry's frustrations did not ultimately compromise CRU's work, his difficulties will strike a chord with scientists in a wide range of disciplines who do a large amount of coding.

I read the Harry-ReadMe comments and they indicated the quality of the computer program was awful.  But here is where the above commentary completely misses the mark:  While the  comments of the programmer were released the source code (as far as I can determine) was not. Source code is the actual construct of the computer program that enters data, does calculations, then outputs a result. So, while it is narrowly accurate to state "no such evidence emerged" it would be equally accurate to say, "there may be a smoking gun in the source code." We simply don't know.

What is interesting is the author seems to recognize this later in the column...

As a general rule, researchers do not test or document their programs rigorously, and they rarely release their codes, making it almost impossible to reproduce and verify published results generated by scientific software, say computer scientists. At best, poorly written programs cause researchers such as Harry to waste valuable time and energy. But the coding problems can sometimes cause substantial harm, and have forced some scientists to retract papers.

[emphasis mine]

In this case, the source code has not been released so that others can verify whether the results are accurate. Literally trillions of dollars of spending to fight 'global warming' may be based on non-verified, sloppy computer code.  Reproducibility is one of the key tenets of science. I'm disappointed that Nature seems to be giving climate science a pass.

Why should climate science be exempt from "scientific method 101?"

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