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« DECC's agenda | Main | Boulton on scientific practice and malpractice »
Tuesday
Mar262013

Making science public

Paul Matthews posted this on unthreaded. I thought it worth flagging up for readers:

The videos from the Nottingham event "Making Science Public" have now been posted on the web.

People might be interested in video 8, a short talk by Warren Pearce on climate communication and scepticism followed by comments. Warren raised the issue of Climategate and also said that recent cold weather could be a significant factor. There's a fairly long comment in video 9 from an audience member (Steve Rayner, Oxford) who mentions two other factors, the economic downturn and 'catastrophe fatigue'.

I was there lurking but kept my mouth shut.

There's also an interesting discusion in video 11 starting at around 9:30 where Mike Hulme talks about climategate and tries to claim, supported by social science literature, that the behaviour of climate scientists was all entirely standard scientific procedure. Then at 20:20 physicist Phil Moriarty speaks out about Climategate:

"For many of us what happened in Climategate, particularly the idea that you protect data .. was absolute anathema...many of us were shocked about what happened...journals stipulate that authors should provide to interested parties the raw data .. "

After that there's a stunned silence and the camera sweeps past Hulme looking a bit sheepish.

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Reader Comments (33)

Good for Phil Moriarty
He speaks for the majority of real scientists!

Mar 26, 2013 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

'Mike Hulme talks about climategate and tries to claim, supported by social science literature, that the behaviour of climate scientists was all entirely standard scientific procedure. '

Thankfully and has normal he is dead wrong in most cases . Indeed in most areas of science the standards that seem to be acceptable from climate science professionals are below those that would unacceptable in student on an undergraduate course in other sciences . But then so low are the standards in Hulme's area that a snake could not get under them , so its hardly a surprise.

Mar 26, 2013 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Could Paul Matthews describe the audience? What I read here suggests that they understood the issues.

Mar 26, 2013 at 2:38 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

Perhaps social science literature is as bad as climate science literature. Neither are proper sciences.

Mar 26, 2013 at 2:55 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Interesting comments from Steve Rayner.

'Catastrophe fatigue' is definitely something that the British public should be suffering from. Pretty much my whole adult life has been lived under the threat of vCJD, swine flu, bird flu, SARS, too much salt in the diet, global warming and so on ad infinitum.

How many have come to pass, at least on a scale where the initial concern does not look wholly disproportionate?

Mar 26, 2013 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan Blanchard

Meanwhile, over in the real world, people are turning away from climate skepticism. They understand that some people are trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

Just wondering how long before, or if ever in your life, you will issue an apology for all the misinformation you're responsible for.

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterKris

Well done that man. A real scientist.

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Kris you a mirror some things are reversed so perhaps you should stop looking at the 'real world ' in a mirror .

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Off-topic; did no one record the Al-Jazeera Lindzen thing?

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterFergalR

Dont you get it...its us evil skeptics that are causing energy prices to rise and we are solely to blame for the tens of thousands of people who die between December and March every year due to the cold!

Did you guys not get the memo? ;)

Regards

Mailman

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered Commentermailman

@kris

'Meanwhile, over in the real world, people are turning away from climate skepticism'

Got any evidence for this bizarre claim?

Maybe you are not in UK, but we are having the coldest March for 50 years. Many are cut off with snow and without power. A major serious national newspaper has called for the immediate repeal of the Climate Change Act. Earth Hour last Saturday (or was it Sunday) was a complete fiasco. The very sceptical UKIP party came within a whisker of gaining its first parliamentary seat a few weeks back, handosmely beating one of the governing parties beating one

So where would you suggest we look to find these people who are 'turning away from scepticism?' Coz it sure as heck ain't here.

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

My eyesight is getting worse. I read the article and saw "Hulme" as "Huhne". On the other hand....

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:37 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

That there's a stunned silence over the call for the release of data illustrates the depth of the fakery involved in climatology. Science thrives on the free flow of information, and scrutiny. Imagine CERN claiming that they've found a faster than light particle and then not releasing the data.

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterRedbone

Kris, your opinions are welcome here, but only if they are backed up with verifiable facts.
So where is your data that shows that “people are turning away from climate skepticism"?

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

@ Kris
Who? Paul Matthews? Bishop Hill? Mike Hulme? Who is responsible for misinformation? Who is "some people"?

And what misinformation?

Be more specific please, you are not making any sense...

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

DNFTT?

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

Discussion of Kris's comments to the discussion forum please.

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:45 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

"Warren raised the issue of Climategate and also said that recent cold weather could be a significant factor."

I wonder when he last paused to consider if warm weather over a short number of years could possibly have the opposite effect on people's thinking? Or is it just another case of low temperatures are weather but high temperatures are climate?

Mar 26, 2013 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

One comment from the panel the pricked my ears was on public data access. One panel member said there were issues that need to be considered before databases are opened up including cost, maintenance and - the bit that pricked the ears - "people to make sure the data isn't misused".

I would have liked someone to ask that panel member to explain that phrase.

If that means prevent people trying to take free publicly funded data and profit from it fair enough, if he meant approving of the type of use, results or heaven forbid people, then it would be a concern.

Mar 26, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Is the first question to Warren Pearce (at the start of video 9) from Alice Bell? She seems to say, if I read her correctly, that linking Hurricane Sandy to climate change was a lot of hard and noble work for activists, but that Boris Johnston linking cold weather to 'no climate change' was the work of someone with shady influence and hidden connections in the media.

Mar 26, 2013 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan Woolley

If that means prevent people trying to take free publicly funded data and profit from it fair enough

Even at that, though... just how would someone profit from data that is otherwise freely-available? Perhpas by making it more accessible, organizing it, etc; but isn't that a value-add, and doesn't that justify a profit? So long as the publicly-funded data remains available to everyone in the same format as to the entrepreneur who seeks to add value to it, I see no problem with it, and no "misuse."

Mar 26, 2013 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterdcardno

I guess misuse of data could include inappropriate processing of the data to prove a point (as per Mann et al) but then publishing a 'result' via blogs/mass media, and claiming that some result or other is "backed by Met Office Data", or the like.

Such misuse could divert a lot of work from reseachers who would be required to spend time to show why the result doesn't follow from the data. And if the methods are published, this could be close to impossible.

I'm not condoning such an interpretation, but could understand why a researcher might feel this way.

Mar 26, 2013 at 4:45 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta

@Gecko

'If that means prevent people trying to take free publicly funded data and profit from it fair enough, if he meant approving of the type of use, results or heaven forbid people, then it would be a concern.

The Woodland Trust Nature's Calendar project takes this a stage further.

First they collect money from the public as a charity. Then they get the public to collect the data for them. Finally they pay themselves to make public remarks like

'When I look at the long-term data – it’s really scary. The rate of change is frightening.

“Very fast change raises questions about who can adapt. Spring has been getting earlier and earlier.” *


But the publicly-funded, publicly-collected data never sees the light of day for us to check. This is wrong.

*http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/experts-express-climate-fears-now-spring-has-sprung-1-2782599

Mar 26, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Ian Woolley

She seems to say, if I read her correctly, that linking Hurricane Sandy to climate change was a lot of hard and noble work for activists, but that Boris Johnston linking cold weather to 'no climate change' was the work of someone with shady influence and hidden connections in the media.
Seems about right. You have a problem with that?
;-)

Mar 26, 2013 at 4:57 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

@steveta

'Such misuse could divert a lot of work from reseachers who would be required to spend time to show why the result doesn't follow from the data. And if the methods are published, this could be close to impossible

I'm not condoning such an interpretation, but could understand why a researcher might feel this way.'

We need to remind the researchers that - if it is data collected on the public dime - they are not the owners of it, merely the custodians. we, the public, are the owners. And unlike a physical book - where a librarian may be wary of lending out a valuable volume in case of damage - data can be copied an infinite number of times. It is not for a mere flunkey to judge what use the data may or may not be put to and allow his or her personal circumstances to decide whether he should 'grant' access.

Every time I hear of people preventing data getting out I am reminded of Dear Old Phil's plaintive cry:

'Why should I show you my data? You'll only try to find something wrong with it'

Exactly right Prof. Jones.

And that's what crooks the world over say to the auditors too.

Mar 26, 2013 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Perhaps social science literature is as bad as climate science literature. Neither are proper sciences.
Mar 26, 2013 at 2:55 PM Phillip Bratby

Mar 26, 2013 at 5:10 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

jferguson - The audience were mostly social scientists. Physical scientists like Moriarty and me were in a small minority.
Ian - Yes, that's Alice!

Mar 26, 2013 at 5:58 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

One comment from the panel the pricked my ears was on public data access. One panel member said there were issues that need to be considered before databases are opened up including cost, maintenance and - the bit that pricked the ears - "people to make sure the data isn't misused".

Mar 26, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Geckko

The statement about ensuring that "data isn't misused" reminds me of the attitude of many powerful figures in the Roman Catholic church on the eve of the Reformation. They had opposed translating the Bible into national languages because they wanted people to get their religious ideas from the church hierarchy. There had been reformers before Luther but they had little success. Luther's revolt against the established church occurred when, thanks to Gutenberg, printing was becoming common and consequently Luther and his supporters were easily able to disseminate their ideas and, before long, translations of the scriptures also became widely available.

Twenty years ago few people outside universities and other research institutions had access to the scientific literature. The advent of the Internet is changing that but there are still academics that want to restrict access to a sacred clique of initiates who can be relied on not to challenge consensus opinions too vigorously.

Mar 26, 2013 at 6:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

"The audience were mostly social scientists."

That's a phrase that scares me. How big was this audience? Do these people have a function beyond weaving Hulmesque verbiage? Am I paying for these people?

Mar 26, 2013 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Evans

Thanks to Paul and Bish for posting the videos, and highlighting interesting sections. The audience was a mix: social scientists were largest group (although definitely not a homogenous bunch), but also good representation from range of physical (or if you prefer, real!) sciences (physics, chemistry, biosciences, veterinary sci etc), public engagement people, media reporters and even the odd politician. Thought it was a fairly good spread.

@geckko Can you remember where the "make sure the data isn't misused" comment was? If so, I might be able to shed some light on the meaning.

Hulme/Moriarty was interesting - particularly in thinking about how to avoid another Climategate-type event in the future. One might simply say, 'the scientists should better live up to ethical responsibilities'. But how should we determine that in future? Opening up data sets? Opening up peer review? Opening up emails?! This is one of the nubs of 'Making Science Public' - some at BH might welcome much greater transparency/openness. But what other changes might this bring to the way science is practiced? (not just in climate science btw)

Mar 26, 2013 at 8:11 PM | Registered Commenter@warrenpearce

Mike Jackson

"Seems about right. You have a problem with that? ;-)"

You are Darius Guppy and I claim my five pounds.

Mar 27, 2013 at 10:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan Woolley

Warren

You raise an interesting question regarding how science could / should be made more publically accessible. In some areas, climate science actually has the structures in place (accessible archives of tree ring and other potential proxy data, journal requirements to provide data and code as supplementary information to published papers), but are not making good use of these.

One issue that does affect climate science and a few other fields (healthcare, nutrition) is the problem of science by press release - the recent Marcott et al. paper being a fine example where the press release accompanying publication did not reasonably reflect the reliable conclusions within the paper (which are about the longer term, low resolution temperature trends through the Holocene, not the recent warming). It hasn't taken long for the problems with the highly promoted part of the paper to be discovered, discussed and torn to shreds on the internet. Unfortunately, a number of researchers (and as you said, not limited to climate science) are willing to allow (and in some cases actively involved in allowing) their work to be prematurely and excessively promoted. They should take a leaf out of CERN's book, and keep very much to the letter of what they can prove.

Mar 27, 2013 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan Blanchard

Ian,

Thanks for response. 'Science by press release' is a good phrase. I'm not familiar with the Marcott press release, but there's a persistent phenomenon of amplifying research findings from journal->press release-> media coverage. I looked at an article on affects of coffee & climate change in comments here (with Paul Matthews). In that case, the press release was OK and the range of uncertainty was included in the Telegraph report, but the worst case scenario was by *far* the most prominently reported figure.

In the UK at least, one might argue that the impact agenda (a proportion of universities' funding being determined by the affects its research has had in the 'real world') will only exacerbate this problem in the future...

Mar 27, 2013 at 11:57 AM | Registered Commenter@warrenpearce

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