Complete with a new name: Climaquiddick.
To get up to speed if you haven’t been following this story closely, here’s my post on it yesterday. Short version: A large batch of data from one of the world’s leading climate science centers was released on the Internet last week; this includes thousands of emails and other documents that reveal scientists at the center — people who have been intimately involved in the reports of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — may have been manipulating their data, and certainly intended to foil Freedom of Information requests and keep contrarian researchers out of peer-review journals if possible.
The focus on the story has turned from the emails the scientists exchanged to the computer code their center was using to produce its data sets, which have been an integral part of the IPCC’s reports. Declan McCullagh at CBS News reports some of the findings so far:
One programmer highlighted the error of relying on computer code that, if it generates an error message, continues as if nothing untoward ever occurred. Another debugged the code by pointing out why the output of a calculation that should always generate a positive number was incorrectly generating a negative one. A third concluded: “I feel for this guy. He’s obviously spent years trying to get data from undocumented and completely messy sources.”
Programmer-written comments inserted into CRU’s Fortran code have drawn fire as well. The file briffa_sep98_d.pro says: “Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!” and “APPLY ARTIFICIAL CORRECTION.” Another, quantify_tsdcal.pro, says: “Low pass filtering at century and longer time scales never gets rid of the trend – so eventually I start to scale down the 120-yr low pass time series to mimic the effect of removing/adding longer time scales!”
At Pajamas Media, which has been producing some of the most in-depth coverage of this story, Charlie Martin examines the code further and concludes:
[P]ut this in the context of what else we know from the CRU data dump:
1. They didn’t want to release their data or code, and they particularly weren’t interested in releasing any intermediate steps that would help someone else
2. They clearly have some history of massaging the data — hell, practically water-boarding the data — to get it to fit their other results. Results they can no longer even replicate on their own systems.
3. They had successfully managed to restrict peer review to what we might call the “RealClimate clique” — the small group of true believers they knew could be trusted to say the right things.
As a result, it looks like they found themselves trapped. They had the big research organizations, the big grants — and when they found themselves challenged, they discovered they’d built their conclusions on fine beach sand.
But the tide was coming in.
Even if the CRU crew are only guilty of promising more than they could deliver, that’s still a hugely important turn of events in the climate-change debate — and reason enough to put the policy debate on pause while this new information is sorted out.
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