On ClimateGate

I’ve been talking with some friends about the recent leak of private emails between certain climatologists. It’s a mess, both literally and conceptually. However, who can really be surprised that out of context emails are embarrassing/suspicious and can be sensationalized to negate actual scientific research results? We know that could happen to us too if someone hacked our email accounts.

Climategate underscores the importance of projects like Clear Climate Code. They’re software engineers who are rewriting a key model (GISTEMP, which models Global Historical Climate Network data from the Goddard at NASA) so that the model is clear and understandable and verifiable. I tried to write a multiprocessing extension for a school project, but couldn’t verify the results due to equipment problems.

Science models & data are massaged all the time. A dirty fact, but common across many disciplines. The bottom line is, if the models in question have predicative power, anthropogenic climate change is real. If not, then climate change may still be real, but we must wait for better data and/or better models. Academic models of complex, schocastic systems are always ugly code in my experience. That doesn’t negate their validity.

That being said, scientists writing models aren’t often software engineers, and the data collection and collation is incredibly complex and messy with many possibilities for errors. Code and data should always open-sourced for verification, and keeping such things to yourself is inexcusable and a violation of how science should be done.

However, I highly doubt there’s a climate conspiracy cabal hiding a secret data db. All the data I’ve seen is open and freely available (and really messy!). Seeing those emails as suspicious appears as confirmation bias to me, no matter how much of a persecution complex the individuals in question appear to harbor.

November 26th, 2009 | Blogosphere, Current, Flat, Media, Science, Software, Transparency | No comments

Most Impressive

When I took Formal Logic in undergrad, we had to frequently step up in front of the class and write a derivation or proof on the chalkboards which lined three of the four walls. Our professor called it ‘board work’. One day, after a particularly mid-morning tryst with S5, he stops class, surveys the amalgam of sweet symbols arrayed on the boards before him, and with glee proclaims, “Yes, I think we leave the boards unerased today. It looks impressive enough.”

Yesterday, my wife looked over my shoulder and saw this:
My, Aren't We Impressive: Artificial Intelligence Homework on First-Order Propositional Logic

“Oh! It’s beautiful homework,” she exclaimed. It does seem impressive.

Like my yellow highlight color, we would do board work with yellow chalk. One glorious day, in the same yellow-chalked-equipped building but a different classroom, a history professor of mine walked into class a few minutes late, picked up a piece of chalk, snarled at it, threw it into the wall across the room whereupon it dissolved into sharp, white bows of dust. He swung around and proclaimed, “This is ridiculous. I can’t work with white chalk.” He then stalked out of the classroom. This 30-second whipsaw left us temporarily stunned. He never came back that day. We waited for ten minutes, and then left. I knew he was gone as soon as the chalk exploded into dust.

October 18th, 2007 | College, Discipline, Science | No comments