The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has issued a report as requested by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last year on data sharing in climate. The full report is here. The Republican press release is here .
There are no signs that Lonnie Thompson will be required to archive his Dunde ice core sample data obtained in 1987 and still unarchived at the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology (which is perfectly well equipped to host this information without any new funding whatever). There’s no hint in this report that Ralph Cicerone of the National Academy of Sciences has acquiesced in Thompson withholding his data. From a quick browse, the answers of the program managers are infuriating. In a quick read, the report is far too prepared to accept pieties from program managers. For example, they do not appear to have made any attempt to follow up any of the cases that prompted the inquiry: Thompson, Jones, Mann, Briffa, etc.
Readers of this site are aware of my attempts to get paleoclimate data properly archived. Many climate researchers are pretty good about archiving their data; the problem is that there are some who aren’t and those that aren’t all too often are the studies that are relied on. For example, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth shows a Hockey Stick made from Lonnie Thompson’s ice core data. So let’s consider that as a type case. Readers of this site are aware that “grey” versions of Thompson’s data are inconsistent, that Thompson has grudgingly archived only a few cursory summaries (which are themselves often inconsistent) and that Thompson has refused to archive original sample data, a refusal that has been acquiesced in by the NSF, National Academy of Sciences and by Sciencemag. This would be an easy case to investigate how NSF policies worked when the rubber hit the road. Here’s what GASO said:
NASA and NSF have data-sharing policies documented at the agency level that address openness and timing and apply to all topics of research; …
For example, the overarching data-sharing policy for NSF requires researchers to make data available to others but does not specify how, …
The Global Change Research Program observed that “proper preparation, validation, description, and care of data sets is critical to their use by the widest possible scientific community.” The CCSP has encouraged those agencies funding climate change research to incorporate the guidelines listed in this voluntary policy into their data-sharing policies and practices. Senior officials at DOE, NASA, NOAA, and NSF told us that their data-sharing policies and practices adhere to the principles of the guidelines. …
The NSF agencywide policy states that researchers are “expected to share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the primary data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered.”1313National Science Foundation, NSF Grant Policy Manual, (Arlington, VA, 2005). In order to address the needs of specific research programs, program-level policies often provide researchers more detailed guidance about how to carry out the agencywide data-sharing policy. This agencywide policy establishes a general expectation that data are to be shared with other researchers. The data-sharing policy for the oceans programone of NSFs programs funding particular climate change researchidentifies particular archives for researcher use, such as one that preserves sediment samples from the ocean floor. …
Further, the agencywide policy states that data are to be shared “within a reasonable time” and the oceans program policy states that data should be shared as soon as possible but no later than 2 years after collection. …
We found that NSF expects researchers applying for grants to present, as appropriate, a clear description of “plans for preservation, documentation, and sharing of data, samples, physical collections, curriculum materials, and other related research and education products.”16 However, the general grant guidance materials for researchers applying for DOE, NASA, and NOAA climate change grants do not explicitly instruct them to include data-sharing plans in their proposals. Nevertheless, some program managers encourage researchers to do so in practice.
The extent to which federal climate change research agencies use various aspects of the grant review process to encourage data sharing varies, depending on the initiative of the program manager, in part because there are no requirements for them to do so. For example, an NSF official stated that the consideration of past data-sharing activities is not a discrete factor that the agencies require program managers to use in making award decisions.
The pieties are recapitulated, but there is no documentation of Thompson’s obdurate refusal to provide sample data or the failure of any program manager to even say boo to him.
I sent the following letter to the NSF Administrator, Arden Bement:
Dear Dr Bement,
I have read the recent GAO Report, which states:
The NSF agencywide policy states that researchers are expected to share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the primary data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered.
For several years, I have been attempting to obtain the “primary data” pertaining to Thompson’s ice cores from Dunde, Guliya and elsewhere. This data was used recently in An Inconvenient Truth. For each core, there are typically over 3000 samples, and each sample has a suite of measurements including isotopes and chemistry. Thompson has failed to archive this “primary data” and has failed to share it with other researchers. Instead of archiving this important data, Thompson has (and this only after complaint) archived only gross summaries of the oxygen isotope information and not always for the complete core. Grey versions of the data are often inconsistent.
If existing NSF policies are sufficient to require Thompson to archive or share this data, could you please take immediate steps to require him to do so. If NSF policies are inadequate to require him to do so, could you please immediately advise the GAO that your policies do not require Thompson to archive or share his data so that GAO does not mislead readers who might interpret the language in their report as implying that NSF policies are binding on researchers.
Regards, Stephen McIntyre