Posts Tagged research

There is research and there is “research” Ken Perrott May 22

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I saw this image on Facebook yesterday and it really resonated with me. I had just been to the Hamilton City Council hearings on their draft annual plan. The anti-fluoride brigade dominated the session.

Many of their submitters proudly declared they had “researched” the subject and found fluoride is really nasty. They were eager to present their “research” findings to the council.

I have long been concerned that many people have cheapened the word “research” by the way they use it. Reading ideologically motivated web sites and magazines is not real research – yet it seems to drive the anti-fluoride community and provide a hubris that they are somehow doing “research.”

By the way, I presented a submission for the making Sense of Fluoride group. Download the linked pdf file if you want to read it.

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Cost of scientific research – and political naivity Ken Perrott Jul 05


I ended up immersed in the internet activity around the CERN physics seminar on the Higg’s boson last night. It was an unprecedented phenomenon.

However, amidst all the fascination, celebration and humour at the (possible) confirmation of the Higg’s particle I was sidetracked into a twitter debate with a local politician. In what appeared to be the sole negative tweet of the night she lamented to cost of the research involved: “the cost is depressing, $4 billion or thereabouts, only if it makes a real difference.” In later tweets she referred to the “cost to some other priority”, “the sacrifice it required,” “what is not done, who is not fed, who is not saved,” “tradeoffs,” “trying to justify this cost to the people I work for,” and “you can’t deny that something else is sacrificed in the choice [of research].”

Her comments were quickly criticised by a number of local people and, in the end, I think she realised she had made a political mistake. (Made worse by her being one of the co-leaders of her political party). But I really hope she learns something from the experience. It worries me that we have political leaders in this country who have such a naive understanding of science and the issues involved when it comes to considering science funding alongside other priorities.

The multidimensional crossword metaphor

Science is like a multidimensional crossword puzzle

In my post Scientific knowledge – reliable but not certain I quoted philosopher of science Susan Haack. She uses the metaphor of a crossword puzzle to illustrate the complexity, messiness and provisional nature of scientific knowledge. In effect last night we were seeing that in  process. The Higg’s particle had previously been “pencilled in” – last night they started to ink it in. Something is definitely there but we are still unsure of all the intersecting “words.” But we have some better clues.

The crossword metaphor is also very useful to illustrate to complexities involved when it comes to considering funding priorities in science. We just can’t isolate one “word,” (or research area) from another “word.” The influence of a “word” extend not only to neighbouring “words” but right around the puzzle – which in this case is very large and multidimensional.

Fundamental and practical research are interdependent

This means that so-called “blue sky” research just can’t be isolated from research which is directly related to a current problem. Discoveries made in our understanding of subatomic physics influences elaboration of our knowledge in chemistry, biology and social communication. It is naive to approach research funding as if the discoveries made in such “blue sky” areas have nothing to do with the research and possible discoveries in agriculture, health, teaching and communication. Or in future technology which may radically improve our quality of life.

One could rake up all sorts of relevant examples of how past blue sky research has influenced our life today, or how it may influence it in the future. But consider this. Should we argue that the expenses involved in launching satellites, establishing a human presence in near earth space, etc., are so large we can’t justify them? (Because they are large). And in the next breath argue that climate change issues are so important that the money “saved” be invested in climate change research, or improving food production in developing countries? One has to be pretty naive not to see the obvious connection between near earth space research and climate research. And the influence of climate on food production. Many of the problems  causing uncertainty in our understanding of climate change will only be answered by satellite observations.

When I started my research career I decided to choose areas like agriculture where it seemed possible to have a more direct influence on overcoming poverty and improving the quality of life. But as a chemist I have seen throughout my career that my research also depended on the previous (and sometimes current) findings of chemical and physical research considered fundamental or “blue sky.” Clearly such research also contributes, even if only “indirectly,” to resolution of practical problems and improvement of our quality of life. It would have been silly for me to argue that social investment in fundamental research should be stopped and the money diverted into my research area!

This does not mean that each researcher should  pick research interests at random in the belief that it all helps. Of course they should follow their particular interests and ideological or moral desires.

Balancing research funding priorities

Nor does it mean that governments should blindly just throw money at scientific research without any prioritising. Just that politicians should recognise the inter-related nature of research areas and take a responsible approach which does not cause underfunding of either fundamental research, applied research, or urgent humanitarian research areas.

As for the CERN research. The technology involved is huge and ground-breaking. Of course that is expensive. So expensive that governments decided to fund the research internationally. Spreading the costs has enabled governments to contribute without diverting important funding away from other areas. Funding of the International Space Station is also international for the same reason.

I think simple consideration of the history of CERN will show governments have been responsible in their funding. They have not been robbing Paul to pay Peter but paying them both – in a balanced and democratic way. Politicians who lament that international investment and cite other areas they think more deserving are ignoring that history. They are also showing ignorance about the nature of scientific knowledge.

And come on. Get real! The time to debate priorities is during the early stage when funding decisions can be balanced. Not at the time the rest of the world is celebrating a magnificent human achievement.

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The reality of scientific research Ken Perrott Aug 04

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I don’t think simple definitions of scientific method really catch the reality of how research is carried out. That is why I prefer not to use an algorithmic description of scientific method. Instead the definition suggested by Neil deGrasse Tyson appeals:

“Science is doing whatever it takes to avoid being fooled by reality”

Here’s a nice little cartoon outlining how real science can often be a frustrating and messy process.
Click on the image for a larger version)

With thanks to Biology Update (@BiologyUpdate)

Trust the experts — if they say what we want Ken Perrott Sep 23

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Scientific American has a short podcast on confirmation bias.  (Download the podcast) It especially relates to trusting experts in areas like climate change.

Christie Nicholson points out (see We Only Trust Experts If They Agree With Us):

We think we trust experts. But a new study finds that what really influences our opinions, more than listening to any expert, is our own beliefs.

Researchers told study subjects about a scientific expert who accepted climate change as real. Subjects who thought that commerce can be environmentally damaging were ready to accept the scientist as an expert. But those who came into the study believing that economic activity could not hurt the environment were 70 percent less likely to accept that the scientist really was an expert.

Then the researchers flipped the situation. They told different subjects that the same hypothetical scientist, with the same accreditation, was skeptical of climate change. Now those who thought that economic activity cannot harm the environment accepted the expert, and the other group was 50 percent less likely to believe in his expertise. The study was published in the Journal of Risk Research.

The investigators found similar results for various other issues, from nuclear waste disposal to gun control. Said one of the authors, ’People tend to keep a biased score of what experts believe, counting a scientist as an ‘expert’ only when that scientist agrees with the position they find culturally congenial.”

So true. And I believe perfectly natural. Confirmation bias is a human trait that has to be overcome in science. Fortunately the requirement for validating ideas against reality and the social nature of scientific research helps this.

Why the beliefs?

The questions is – why do we have these beliefs? Perhaps we can understand their origins in areas like politics, religion and support for sport teams – often these beliefs are hereditary. But climate change is a different issue.

I think that a lot of the resistance to scientific knowledge on climate change come out of the nature of the problems and our psychological response to such situations. The problems seem so immense and long term it is tempting to adopt avoidance techniques.  Out psychological reactions to the problems caused by human influences on climate change seem to parallel our psychological handling of grief. We have reactions of anger, denial, selection of evidence, etc. Hopefully humanity as a who can reach the stages of acceptance and action before it is too late.

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Marc Hauser replies — acknowledges mistakes Ken Perrott Aug 21

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Here is Marc Hauser’s response to the charge of scientific misconduct (from USA Today Updated: Harvard says Marc Hauser guilty of science misconduct). Hopefully we are seeing an example of science correcting itself.

I am deeply sorry for the problems this case has caused to my students, my colleagues, and my university..

I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes and I am deeply disappointed that this has led to a retraction and two corrections. I also feel terrible about the concerns regarding the other five cases, which involved either unpublished work or studies in which the record was corrected before submission for publication.

I hope that the scientific community will now wait for the federal investigative agencies to make their final conclusions based on the material that they have available.

I have learned a great deal from this process and have made many changes in my own approach to research and in my lab’s research practices.

Research and teaching are my passion. After taking some time off, I look forward to getting back to my work, mindful of what I have learned in this case. This has been painful for me and those who have been associated with the work.

See also:
Hauser misconduct investigation — Full text of Dean’s statement
Harvard Finds Scientist Guilty of Misconduct


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Hauser misconduct investigation — Full text of Dean’s statement Ken Perrott Aug 21

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Well, we now have an official statement from Michael Smith, the Harvard dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, on the Hauser “misconduct” affair. It’s an email sent to Harvard University faculty members. It was also sent to New Scientist by Harvard’s press office (see Harvard Dean Confirms Misconduct in Hauser Investigation). I have quoted the full text of the email below the fold.

The email confirms that Marc Hauser “was found solely responsible, after a thorough investigation by a faculty member investigating committee, for eight instances of scientific misconduct under FAS standards.” As a result three papers are either being retracted or corrected. The five other issue did not result in publications or the ropblems were corrected before publication.

Harvard has now completed its investigation. However, the email is unclear what disciplinary action will be taken against Hauser. In fact, its description of options (involuntary leave, oversight of research labs, restriction on applying for research grants and supervising student research) seem rather mild. To me this is an indication that the “misconduct” in querstion relates to poor scientific method, subjectivity in collecting data, over-riding fellow researchers, etc., rather than outright fraud.

Marc Hauser has apparently made a comment to the New York Times which has yet to be published. It will be his first comment on the events.

So all rather sad, but perhaps not a case of outright fraud.

Full text of email

Dear faculty colleagues,

No dean wants to see a member of the faculty found responsible for scientific misconduct, for such misconduct strikes at the core of our academic values. Thus, it is with great sadness that I confirm that Professor Marc Hauser was found solely responsible, after a thorough investigation by a faculty investigating committee, for eight instances of scientific misconduct under FAS [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] standards. The investigation was governed by our long-standing policies on professional conduct and shaped by the regulations of federal funding agencies. After careful review of the investigating committee’s confidential report and opportunities for Professor Hauser to respond, I accepted the committee’s findings and immediately moved to fulfill our obligations to the funding agencies and scientific community and to impose appropriate sanctions.

Harvard, like every major research institution, takes a finding of scientific misconduct extremely seriously and imposes consequential sanctions on individuals found to have committed scientific misconduct. Rigid adherence to the scientific method and scrupulous attention to the integrity of research results are values we expect in every one of our faculty, students, and staff.

In brief, when allegations of scientific misconduct arise, the FAS Standing Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) is charged with beginning a process of inquiry into the allegations. The inquiry phase is followed by an investigation phase that is conducted by an impartial committee of qualified, tenured faculty (the investigating committee), provided that the dean, advised by the CPC, believes the allegations warrant further investigation. The work of the investigating committee as well as its final report are considered confidential to protect both the individuals who made the allegations and those who assisted in the investigation. Our investigative process will not succeed if individuals do not have complete confidence that their identities can be protected throughout the process and after the findings are reported to the appropriate agencies. Furthermore, when the allegations concern research involving federal funding, funding agency regulations govern our processes during the investigation and our obligations after our investigation is complete. (For example, federal regulations impose an ongoing obligation to protect the identities of those who provided assistance to the investigation.) When the investigation phase is complete, the investigating committee produces a confidential report describing their activity and their findings. The response of the accused to this report and the report itself are considered by the dean, who then decides whether to accept the findings, and in the case of a finding of misconduct, determine the sanctions that are appropriate. This entire and extensive process was followed in the current case.

Since some of the research in the current case was supported by federal funds, the investigating committee’s report and other supplemental material were submitted to the federal offices responsible for their own review, in accordance with federal regulations and FAS procedures. Our usual practice is not to publicly comment on such cases, one reason being to ensure the integrity of the government’s review processes.

A key obligation in a scientific misconduct case is to correct any affected publications, and our confidentiality policies do not conflict with this obligation. In this case, after accepting the findings of the committee, I immediately moved to have the record corrected for those papers that were called into question by the investigation. The committee’s report indicated that three publications needed to be corrected or retracted, and this is now a matter of public record. To date, the paper, “Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins,” Cognition 86, B15-B22 (2002) has been retracted because the data produced in the published experiments did not support the published findings; and a correction was published to the paper, “Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, 1913-1918 (2007). The authors continue to work with the editors of the third publication, “The perception of rational, goal-directed action in nonhuman primates,” Science 317, 1402-1405 (2007). As we reported to one of these editors, the investigating committee found problems with respect to the three publications mentioned previously, and five other studies that either did not result in publications or where the problems were corrected prior to publication. While different issues were detected for the studies reviewed, overall, the experiments reported were designed and conducted, but there were problems involving data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results.

Beyond these responsibilities to the funding agencies and the scientific community, Harvard considers confidential the specific sanctions applied to anyone found responsible for scientific misconduct. However, to enlighten those unfamiliar with the available sanctions, options in findings of scientific misconduct include involuntary leave, the imposition of additional oversight on a faculty member’s research lab, and appropriately severe restrictions on a faculty member’s ability to apply for research grants, to admit graduate students, and to supervise undergraduate research. To ensure compliance with the imposed sanctions, those within Harvard with oversight of the affected activities are informed of the sanctions that fall within their administrative responsibilities.

As should be clear from this letter, I have a deeply rooted faith in our process and the shared values upon which it is founded. Nonetheless, it is healthy to review periodically our long-standing practices. Consequently, I will form a faculty committee this fall to reaffirm or recommend changes to the communication and confidentiality practices associated with the conclusion of cases involving allegations of professional misconduct. To be clear, I will ask the committee to consider our policies covering all professional misconduct cases and not comment solely on the current scientific misconduct case.

In summary, Harvard has completed its investigation of the several allegations in the current case and does not anticipate making any additional findings, statements, or corrections to the scientific record with respect to those allegations. This does not mean, however, that others outside Harvard have completed their reviews. In particular, Harvard continues to cooperate with all federal inquiries into this matter by the PHS Office of Research Integrity, the NSF Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Respectfully yours,

Michael D. Smith

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

See also:

Harvard says Marc Hauser guilty of science misconduct
Harvard Find Psychology Researcher ‘Solely Responsible’ for Scientific Misconduct
Harvard dean: Hauser guilty of scientific misconduct
Hauser found “responsible’ for eight instances of misconduct
Harvard to recify journal works
Document Sheds Light on Investigation at Harvard


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Science on New Zealand TV Ken Perrott Jun 07

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Maori Television has been very successful. As well as the coverage of Maori issues many viewers have been pleased at their programming of quality foreign films.

I came across another gem of theirs recently: 411 - a locally produced programme on innovation, science, technology and design. (See for information).

Presenters Tumamao Harawira and Taupunakohe Tocker

It’s a fast moving but quite informative programme. Often covering local companies and research institutes.

Recent stories have covered subject like Lense Innovation, Car Recycling, The Synchrotron, Cinematic Games, Kiwifruit Innovation, Maori Digital Art, Virtual Learning, Reef Design, Interactive Books and Wireless Mobile Device Learning.

Future programmes will cover Supercars, Honey Innovation, Bio-Engineering, Gaming Development, Custom Ear Monitors, Appliance Innovation, Building Technology, Observatory Technology and Advanced Materials Manufacturing.

It’s about time we had something like this.

If you are interested tune in Fridays 10:30 pm on Maori Television.

The presenters are Tumamao Harawira and Taupunakohe Tocker


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Science, values and ethics Ken Perrott Apr 28

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There is an unfortunate common perception that scientists are cold, hard people. That they are only interested in objective facts and are emotionless. And especially that science as a process is not creative and does not encourage the development of an ethical outlook. Consequently there is an attitude that while we can learn about the nature of reality from science and scientists we can learn nothing about ethics or the appreciation of reality.

Some people even claim that for this we must turn to religion. Although they never seem to be able to explain how on earth religious leaders can offer any better knowledge of ethics than scientists, boot makers, mechanics. or cooks.

I think most scientists would object to this common perception. So I was pleased to see this recent article from Agnosticism / AtheismValues of Godless Science: Modern Science Does Not Need Religion or Gods for Values. It’s worth a read so I reproduce it below:

Modern, Godless Science is not Value-Free:

It is commonly claimed by both critics and supporters that modern science is value-free. This is false, though it is true that science lacks many of the values traditionally ascribed to religion and doesn’t make any value judgments about the use of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, the very ability of science to function as it does, and so successfully, is dependent upon a set of very important values. Some of those values are explained here.

Work & Discipline:

Science is a difficult field to be successful in. Nothing gets done in science without a great deal of hard work, long hours, and the discipline necessary to work those long hours. Very little in science can be described as ’glamorous’ – most scientific work involves poring over large amounts of data and tiny details that would make most people’s eyes just glaze over. This work is necessary, however, because it builds the foundations for new discoveries.


Every profession depends upon its members being honest for the profession to function. In science this requirement can be even more important. Many scientists work independently and their results are then incorporated into the work of other scientists. Faulty data can thus take on a life of its own, infecting the honest work of researchers around the world. Fortunately there are systems in place to catch and eliminate cheating, but they don’t always catch problems immediately.


One of the most important values of science is the use of reason. Problems aren’t assumed to be solved by tradition, faith, or simply trusting someone’s word. The use of reason helps ensure that explanations and solutions are based upon reality rather than upon personal preference, what is politically correct, or what is ideologically convenient. Reason can of course be misused, but no more so than anything else – and thus far, reason has proven to be more reliable than anything else.


Although it’s common for scientists to work alone, science isn’t really a solitary profession. Scientists are part of a larger scientific community, one which encompasses both those in the same field and those involved in other aspects of scientific research. All are interlinked, such that the results reached by anyone may help the work of others. The community also helps ensure the reliability of everyone’s work because to be properly scientific, research must be reviewed by peers.

Questioning Authority & Critical Thinking:

Although there are authority figures in science like there are in every profession, this authority is not absolute. Scientists are encouraged to question and challenge the claims and results which authority figures offer. After all, the next biggest name in science will be someone who can prove that an earlier theory was wrong, or at least incomplete, and therefore that current authority figures have been mistaken. Every scientist has a vested interest in questioning authority.


It’s common to think of scientists as focused on logic, but a very good imagination can be more necessary to being a good scientist. Imagination is important because it allows one to think of new possibilities which may not be evident from the raw data alone. Imagination also allows one to develop new explanations which also aren’t immediately supported by the data, and this provides an impetus to look for the data. Often, it’s imagination that draws a person to science in the first place.

Progress & Improvement:

One important feature of science is that it is never static. No explanation is ever final or complete and there is always new data that has be to explained, so there is never any feeling that the work of scientists is finished. This means that scientists are always looking towards improvement and progress at all times. Science works for the betterment of humanity and society, helping us all move forward rather than simply being content with where we are now.

Methodology Over Conclusions:

One value of science which many can miss is the emphasis on focusing on proper methodology over conclusions. What this means is that work must not be done for the sake of reaching particular and favored conclusions. Instead, one must focus on following the proper scientific methodology and reasoning. This helps guarantee that one is more likely to arrive at the correct conclusions and correct explanations, regardless of what they may be. Imagine if other fields, like politics, worked this way.

Godless Science and the Enlightenment:

Modern science is largely an outgrowth of the Enlightenment and that, in turn, was a period when religious institutions and ecclesiastical authorities began to really lose their power over most aspects of people’s lives. The Enlightenment was thoroughly secular in that it did not derive its impetus or principles from religious tradition or authority. The most fundamental values of godless science are thus also the values of modernity: skepticism, empiricism, and secularism. It’s not a coincidence that science and modernity developed side-by-side: godless science has reinforced secular modernity while secular modernity has provided the atmosphere in which godless science could thrive.

What this means is that it isn’t possible to defend one without also defending the other. Secular modernity won’t be able to proceed very far without the reinforcing support which godless science is able to provide; godless science won’t be able to continue helping us understand the world around us without the atmosphere created by secular modernity. Not only do they need each other, but we need them as well: secular modernity provides the freedom and room for people to follow their consciences and explore their religious beliefs; godless science has become invaluable to our survival as a species.

Science is often maligned for being godless, but godlessness is largely why science is successful: being godless means that science is not beholden to any religious ideology or perspective. If it were, then it wouldn’t be truly free to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Science is also often maligned for lacking values, but science has many values – it’s just that they are values which are fundamental to our secular, godless modernity. It is this which most upsets critics because those values are proving their superiority to the religious values which anti-modern ideologues would rather promote.


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Getting to the truth — gradually Ken Perrott Apr 06

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I guess reaction to the UK Parliamentary report on “climategate” (see Climate scientist Phil Jones exonerated) is predictable. The more extreme climate change denier blogs are shouting “whitewash.” Scientific blogs are generally accepting the conclusions.

No scientific dishonesty

Anybody who had objectively read through the emails and explanations could not have been surprised.  The report rejects the charges of scientific dishonesty. It says of the much publicised use of the word “trick”:

“60. Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the word ’trick’ is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominately caused by human activity. The balance of evidence patently fails to support this view. It appears to be a colloquialism for a ’neat’ method of handling data.”

And on “hide the decline”:

“66. Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the words ’hide the decline’ is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominantly caused by human activity. That he has published papers–including a paper in Nature–dealing with this aspect of the science clearly refutes this allegation. In our view, it was shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous. We expect that this is a matter the Scientific Appraisal Panel will address.”

Peer review and freedom of information

Regarding charges of perverting the scientific peer review process the report concludes:

“73. The evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers. The Independent Climate Change Email Review should look in detail at all of these claims.”

Conclusions on the issue of freedom of information and access to data were more complex. Blame for any problems seems to be attributed to the University of East Anglia, rather than the small staff of the Climate Research Unit including Phil Jones. And the Information Commission Office (ICO) is criticised  for its “statement to the press that went beyond that which it could substantiate and that it took over a month for the ICO properly to put the record straight.” This press statement was used by opponents of Phil Jones to “prove” he had committed a breach of the Freedom of Information Act. The ICO is urged to “develop procedures to ensure that its public comments are checked and that mechanisms exist to swiftly correct any mis-statements or misinterpretations of such statements.”

The report largely dismisses the claims that  any withholding of data or computer codes by the CRU was unusual or had interfered with peer review or verification:

“51. Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available–which they mostly are–or the methods not published–which they have been–its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified.”

And it accepted that “It is not standard practice in climate science and many other fields to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers.”

Transparency issues

However, the report does argue for more transparency, especially considering the political importance of the field.

“We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data used to generate their published work, including raw data; and it should also be made clear and referenced where data has been used but, because of commercial or national security reasons is not available. Scientists are also, under Freedom of Information laws and under the rules of normal scientific conduct, entitled to withhold data which is due to be published under the peer-review process. In addition, scientists should take steps to make available in full their methodological workings, including the computer codes. Data and methodological workings should be provided via the internet. There should be enough information published to allow verification.”

This is really a recommendation for future, more ideal, practices rather than any specific condemnation of previous practices.

The parliamentary committee could not rule on possible breaches of the Freedom of Information Act, despite prima facie evidence (Jones’s request for deletion of emails):

“It would, however, be premature, without a thorough investigation affording each party the opportunity to make representations, to conclude that UEA was in breach of the Act. In our view, it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved simply because of the operation of the six month time limit on the initiation of prosecutions. Much of the reputation of CRU hangs on the issue. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively– either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.”

I think that conclusion is wise. There really does need to be an investigation more thorough than the parliamentary committee could make. Reputations are at stake and there still remains room for mischief making until this is cleared up.

The committee made several recommendations regarding improvement of the Freedom of Information Act and “the rules for the accessibility of data sets collected and analysed with UK public money.”

Irresponsible use of public data

Unfortunately it didn’t consider ways of dealing with the problem of malicious FIO requests and the irresponsible or misleading use of public data sets. This was an aspect raised in the written  evidence of the Royal Society of Chemistry: (CRU 42) (see Volume II, the oral and written evidence)

“10. The issue of misinformation in the public domain must also be tackled. Just as the scientific community must be open with regard to their evidence base, those who disagree must also provide a clear and verifiable backing for their argument, if they wish their opinions to be given weight. When disagreements occur, the validity of the analysis must be established before credence can be given to any opinion. Increased understanding of the process of scientific research, firstly in the government, but also within the media and general public, is vital in order to foster a more open sharing of information.

11. Support from the scientific community is needed to provide context and to explain the process by which conclusions are reached. Encouraging scientists to openly engage with the public can only be achieved if researchers are given the necessary backing in the face of any unfounded arguments against their work. This support must come from the highest levels, sending out a strong message on the importance of scientific methodology and research and promoting open sharing of information between scientists and the wider community.”

I have written about this problem before (see Freedom of information and responsibility) becuase it is also an issue in New Zealand. Legal changes to achieve this are not immediately obvious. However, I have seen a couple of suggestions in internet discussions. For example there could be a requirement that all FOI applications are registered and there is a requirement for public disclosure of what use is made of the data. Personally I would also like some sort of requirement of peer review. Surely it would improve responsible use of this sort of data if any resulting report or publication was submitted to the same sort of review as that required for the original scientists.

One commenter even suggested that this could be done now, by making a FOI request to public institutions for a list of such FOI requests. The individual requests could then be publicly listed on the internet with a chance for comment and update. This would become a sort of “wall of shame” for those making malicious FOI requests. This may help reduce, or at least publicly expose, vexatious FOI request campaigns such as those organised by Steve McIntyre and readers of his blog Climate Audit (see Submission to CRU Email review by Dr P. C. Mathews) last July.

In conclusion

A useful inquiry with an outcome generally favourable to science. It is a start to discovering the truth that has been obscured by the “climategate” hysteria. There are two more inquiries yet to report:

These will obviously be more detailed and their conclusions more authoritative. Hopefully the issue of responsible use of public data could be considered here. We should also remember the favourable report from the Pennsylvania State University Inquiry into Michael Mann (see Spinning exoneration of Dr. Michael Mann Into ’Whitewash’) and a subsequent inquiry (yet to report) into the science produced by Mann’s team.

I hope these can finally put to rest the doubts that have circulated about climate scientists and their findings.

See also:
The beginning of the end of climategate? « Andy Russell’s Blog.
CRU evidence to Sir Muir Russell’s review: Download pdf (78 pp)
Report from UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee  (The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia‘, HC 387-I).


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Chris Mooney interviews Michael Mann on ’climategate’ Ken Perrott Mar 12

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This is an interesting interview (download MP3). Michael Mann has been vilified by climate change deniers. His work on the so-called “hockey stick” graph  is still being misrepresented despite being validated by the US National research council and other researchers.

He’s a bit of a lone voice at the moment but really worth listening to. Point of Inquiry recently interviewed him and describe the interview this way:

“In response to growing public skepticism–and a wave of dramatic attacks on individual researchers–the scientific community is now bucking up to more strongly defend its knowledge. Leading the charge is one of the most frequently attacked researchers of them all–Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann.

In this interview with host Chris Mooney, Mann pulls no punches. He defends the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change, and explains why those who attack it consistently miss the target. He also answers critics of his ’hockey stick’ study, and explains why the charges that have arisen in ’ClimateGate’ seem much more smoke than fire.

Dr. Michael E. Mann is a member of the Pennsylvania State University faculty, and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. His research focuses on the application of statistical techniques to understanding climate variability and change, and he was a Lead Author on the ’Observed Climate Variability and Change’ chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report. Among many other distinguished scientific activities, editorships, and awards, Mann is author of more than 120 peer-reviewed and edited publications. That includes, most famously, the 1998 study that introduced the so called ’hockey stick,’ a graph showing that modern temperatures appear to be much higher than anything seen in at least the last thousand years. With his colleague Lee Kump, Mann also recently authored the book Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. Finally, he is one of the founders and contributors to the prominent global warming blog,”

via Michael Mann – Unprecedented Attacks on Climate Research | Point of Inquiry.

Download MP3

See also:
Spinning exoneration of Dr. Michael Mann Into ’Whitewash’
Climate change deniers’ tawdry manipulation of ’hockey sticks’
Freedom of information and responsibility


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