Ralph Cicerone, President of the US National Academy of Sciences, has weighed in on the CRU and data sharing controversies – he’s now in favor of data sharing. While it’s nice that he’s seen the light, he has previously (in best Sir Humphrey style) manipulated the NAS panel terms of reference to avoid having to report on data problems in paleoclimate,
failed as President of NAS in ensuring that PNAS set an example of excellence in data archiving for paleoclimate articles and to use his personal prestige as President of NAS to request co-operation from paleoclimatologists who had refused to archive data used in the NAS panel report.
Cicerone writes today:
Contention over paleoclimatic data was at the heart of the UEA/CRU e-mail exchanges.
Clarity and transparency must be reinforced to build and maintain trust
So it’s interesting to look back at how Cicerone himself has previously acted when he had opportunities to help build and maintain such trust, especially in respect to paleoclimate data.
In 2005, the House Science Committee sent a list of questions to Cicerone, which they wished to see resolved – including issues pertaining to MBH that were then the topic of controversy, including the mundane question of whether the “information required to replicate their work has always been available”.
Instead of establishing terms of reference that actually answered the questions asked by the House Science Committee, in best Susan Hassool-style, Cicerone re-framed the terms of reference, taking the House questions off the table. As previously noted, both at the time and recently, this created consternation at the NAS Panel presentations, when von Storch tried to answer the House questions – questions that many in the panel had apparently never seen and some didn’t want to address. See CA contemporary report here, where I reported:
Von Storch’s introduction of the Boehlert questions prompted a discussion about whether these questions were within the scope of the panel’s mandate. Von Storch criticized MBH replicability giving a very categorical answer to one of the Boehlert questions that was identical to ours. So the panel has testimony on the matter. We also pointed out that presenters D’Arrigo and Hegerl had not archived their data and had refused to make it available as part of the IPCC review process. This sparked responses from both D’Arrigo and Hegerl purporting to justify this and concerns by the chairman [Gerald North] about whether replication and data archiving was going off topic and distracting from the questions that they were charged with answering, even though these were obviously questions specifically asked by Boehlert.
My contemporary post included the following account of a statement by a staffer from the House Science Committee in the public discussion at the end of the first day’s proceedings:
Goldston, representing the House Science Committee, closed off the first day’s proceedings by observing as a public comment that the Science Committee realized that there were many large questions associated with climate change and recognized that there were many big and contentious issues still to come in the future. However, the Science Committee had intentionally asked some finite questions associated with current controversies [e.g. data availability], since they wanted to take at least a few small issues off the table.
I urge readers to re-read the Sir Humphrey post. As a result of this controversy, there was a slight change in the terms of reference of the NAS panel (see CA post here), which resulted in the North panel making a few references to data archiving, but they did not investigate such issues and their comments did not amount to more than pieties.
The NAS report of 2006 relied on many studies with unarchived data. I wrote to Cicerone (See CA here) , excerpt as follows:
In many cases, I have corresponded both with the authors and the journals in an effort to obtain such data without success. In some cases, the correspondence has gone on for nearly three years without resolution. In several cases, the NAS Panel relied on such studies, even hearing personal presentations, but did not take the opportunity to request the authors to archive their data. However, now that the NAS has relied on these studies, it is of paramount importance that these studies are closely examined to determine if their conclusions are robust, or have limitations such as the NAS panel described for Mann’s work.
I believe that a letter to authors who have refused to archive data and methods in a complete manner, coming from you in your capacity as President of the National Academies, which has just published a study relying on their reports, might be effective in achieving the mutually desired goal of inspiring the authors to archive their data and methods. In Lonnie Thompson’s case, since some of the results have recently been published in the Proceedings of the NAS, the request could also be made via the journal.
In an Appendix to this letter, I have set out missing and pertinent data for six authors. Considering all of the above, I request that you promptly write to each of the authors asking that they promptly archive the data at the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology or other archive acceptable to the NAS. Thank you for your consideration.
Cicerone refused to take any action on the grounds that he could not “command” the authors to do so, which I already had expressly acknowledged – I merely asked him to request that they do so. The post goes on to say:
I then wrote to Gerry North who, to his credit, agreed to write to the various authors.
This praise seems to have been undeserved, as North’s purported agreement seems to have been a “trick” – in fact, he seems to have done nothing.
In 2007, I tried to obtain Lonnie Thompson’s data following his publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences see CA here. Despite clear policies that on their face require the archiving of large data sets, PNAS refused to require Thompson to provide a comprehensive archive of his sample data. The complicity of PNAS in Thompson’s evasion is reported at CA here.
But today’s a new day. In my original post, I quoted Sir Humphrey as follows:
“It is axiomatic in government that hornets’ nests should be left unstirred, cans of worms should remain unopened, and cats should be left firmly in bags and not set among the pigeons. Ministers should also leave boats unrocked, nettles ungrasped, refrain from taking bulls by the horns, and resolutely turn their backs to the music.”
Cicerone wisely realizes that this will no longer work:
In the wake of the UEA controversy, I have been contacted by many U.S. and world leaders in science, business, and government. Their assessments and those from various editorials, added to results from scattered public opinion polls, suggest that public opinion has
moved toward the view that scientists often try to suppress alternative hypotheses and ideas and that scientists will withhold data and try to manipulate some aspects of peer review to prevent dissent. This view reflects the fragile nature of trust between science and society, demonstrating that the perceived misbehavior of even a few scientists can diminish the credibility of science as a whole.
Cicerone in best bureaucratic tradition has called for yet another meeting, this time calling for an outcome with “explicit actions”:
Later this month, at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego, NAS and AAAS will lead a discussion of these important issues, examine points raised by the UEA/CRU situation, review best practices, and encourage scientists to develop standards for data access that work in their fields. The outcome of this special session must be explicit actions, as scientists must do much more now, and with urgency, to demonstrate that science is indeed self-correcting and worthy of the public’s trust.
I noticed two other Sir Humphrey quotes from my original post which seem timely in relation to climate science.
Sir Humphrey anticipating climate scientist obstruction of information on methodology and data:
“If people don’t know what you’re doing, they don’t know what you’re doing wrong.”
Sir Humphrey summarizing exchanges between realclimate and climateaudit – something here for both sides:
“Almost anything can be attacked as a failure, but almost anything can be defended as not a significant failure.”