Sunday, September 09, 2007

NASA Releases Their Code:
Skeptics Are Still Upset


NASA has always been reluctant to release it's computer code. The reasoning behind this is as follows:
We publish hundreds of papers a year from GISS alone. We have more data, code and model output online than any comparable institution, we have a number of public scientists who comment on the science and the problems to most people and institutions who care to ask. And yet, the demand is always for more transparency. This is not a demand that will ever be satisfied since there will always be more done by the scientists than ever makes it into papers or products. My comments above stand - independent replication from published descriptions - the algorithms in English, rather than code - are more valuable to everyone concerned than dumps of impenetrable and undocumented code. - gavin
The English version of the code has always been available in what gavin calls "excruciating detail" in the relevant papers. After the miscommunication between NOAA and NASA about the content of NOAA's changing real time data streams the pressure from to release temperature code has changed NASA's tune. It is now available online here:
http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/sources/
Hansen also produced a public statement detailing the release in which Hansen made the following comment:
Because the programs include a variety of languages and computer unique functions, Reto would have preferred to have a week or two to combine these into a simpler more transparent structure, but because of a recent flood of demands for the programs, they are being made available as is. People interested in science may
want to wait a week or two for a simplified version.
And if you either read Gavin's previous comment or have done any programing yourself you would know that reading undocumented computer code can be extremely difficult. And in the comments of the skeptic site ClimateAudit.org we have the following comment:
As a general rule I’m not fond of heavily documented code because it introduces an additional point of failure. As code is edited, it begins to no longer resemble the comments unless the extra work to maintain the comments is done as well. And in my experience, this is almost never done. So I’d tend to cut Hansen some slack here on the source code.
Which defends NASA's practice of undocumented code. Despite getting what he wanted McIntyre is not happy:

In my first post on the matter, I suggested that Hansen’s most appropriate response was to make his code available promptly and cordially. Since a somewhat embarrassing error had already been identified, I thought that it would be difficult for NASA to completely stonewall the matter regardless of Hansen’s own wishes in the matter. [snip] Had Hansen done so, if he wished, he could then have included an expression of confidence that the rest of the code did not include material defects. Now he’s had to disclose the code anyway and has done so in a rather graceless way.

And he is apparently digging through reams of red tape to see what he can throw at Hansen:
NASA has very specific standards applicable to software described here . [snip] As I understand it, GISS is part of the Goddard Space Flight Center and is subject to these guidelines. It looks like they apply even to Hansen
Now I personally agree with McIntyre that the code should have been released right away even if it was so unreadable it would have been useless. However, given that GISS research science is operating on a "going-out-of-business budget" I'm starting to wonder if all of this ruckus is just a tactic to prevent any meaningful research from being done. Those standards are for billion dollar rockets and not scientific experiments that can be independently verified by other research teams like the CRU. Hansen has barely enough money to support a skeleton staff and to make sure his lawns are mowed yet McIntyre expects him to jump through more and more hoops? The code is released, the papers were always public and the data is public yet McIntyre wants more blood.... I'd love to know how much sleep Hansen gets.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

However, given that GISS research science is operating on a "going-out-of-business budget" I'm starting to wonder if all of this ruckus is just a tactic to prevent any meaningful research from being done.

And this goes for scholars too.

This is exactly what happened way back with Mann - Mann gave McIntyre a grad student and the grad student barely gave McIntyre the time of day. Well, someone got all huffy and recognized the opportunity to make the field look bad, & see what an industry and standard rhetorical tactic this has become.

Best,

D

(Dano)

Sparrow (in the coal mine) said...

Dano,

Do you have any more information? Links? Sources? That story sounds very interesting.

Dano said...

I'm going off of memory from watching the thing unfold. I have deadlines on three fronts right now (getting ready to shovel gravel and sand all day for a patio) and can't go back into my archives to wade through the stuff to find it.

I know McIntyre put up a thread on his blog with all the e-mails. There was also something at Heritage or FF or Heartland with the e-mail chain.

It was obvious that he was treated like a nobody by Mann and Mann's personality type and time constraints didn't help much. The grad student just data dumped on McIntyre & maybe that's what made the light come on.

Anyway, the cheer squad at CA eats this stuff up as most of them don't do this kind of work, so they project their standards onto everybody and it makes for good bot fodder.

Until its written up and published for audit...er...peer review, the assertions are merely PR [the new one: temp measurement records are way off which is presumably the reason for the ice melt this year and spring advancement over the planet].

Best,

D

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