Climate Code Foundation - Making Climate Science More Transparent
    By Hank Campbell | September 27th 2010 02:33 PM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    Climate science is in a difficult position.   On the one side, climate scientists like James Hansen say that the data behind IPCC media talking points is too easy to misinterpret so people shouldn't have it, but to hard science people, climate science accuracy, in the science data sense, is far too inaccurate for claims that its people make.    No one in physics could get away with the accuracy levels climate scientists regard as settled.  Witness Tommaso Dorigo's Rumor About A Light Higgs article, which included discussion that Fermilab had a 30% chance to find a 3-sigma signal for a light Higgs particle given its data to-date, something I have also said numerous times in the past, even given my more casual knowledge of high energy physics.   

    The media jumped on his article to debunk it and politically correct theoretical physicists tried to interject their opinions about how wrong it was, but I use the term 'politically correct' because a 3-sigma result in climate science would be outstanding and any number of media sources and theoretical physicists, including the culturally pandering ones who claimed the LHC had a 95% chance of finding the Higgs (his physics is theoretical but his exaggeration is real!), have accepted 2-sigma events in climate science as rock-solid and everyone who was unconvinced was called a Holocaust-denier level of anti-science hatemonger.

    But we accept that different sorts of science don't lend themselves to the rigor particle physics does.   Climate science is not wrong because it doesn't have a 5-sigma result, or even 3, it just requires some calibration, just like polls done by social scientists - because a political poll says Person X is leading does not mean Y should stop campaigning.

    In hard science, open data is always better than telling people they are too stupid to understand something.   There are a great many people with better grasp of statistics than some climate scientists so giving them access would not hurt, it would instead help.  Transparency wins, in science.

    A group called the Climate Code Foundation, based in England, seems to agree and are creating code that will allow people to understand raw climate data, much the way the software used by Hansen at the Goddard Institute does.  
    The Climate Code Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in August 2010, to promote the public understanding of climate science. The founders have been working for several years on the Clear Climate Code project, improving the clarity of the source code of climate science software. They have also started work on the Open Climate Code project, to encourage the publication of more source code in climate science. 
    northern hemisphere gis temperature
    An upward curve without hockey stick hype.

    None of the founders are climate scientists but are instead engineers - so the assumption is they write good code and don't have any sort of subversive agenda against global warming proponents and want to debunk the solid work being done.    I assume they are not, since at their first official climate science meeting, the Surface Temperatures workshop at the Met Office in Exeter two weeks ago, they were "made welcome, our motivation and focus was respected, and our voices were heard. The project principles established at the meeting include a strong commitment to openness and transparency, and although some scientists don’t share our conviction of the importance of code publication, the project is committed to publishing all its code."

    Which is a much kinder response than other fields might have gotten.    One other quote from their site:
    A mind-boggling side-light: estimates of the volume of non-digitized or hard-copy data range in the hundreds of millions of pages; NCDC alone has a digital archive of 56 million page images, and literally thousands of boxes of unscanned hard-copy in their basement. Many national weather services, and other governmental, non-governmental, and commercial organisations also have large paper or imaged archives
    There's a lot of data out there that could be used to get accurate pictures of what is happening now, why it is happening and what actions are best to take.  Here's hoping more open science can be a big step toward that.

    Get the code here.


    Thanks for the link. I don't agree with the tone of your article (IPCC reports, especially WG1, are painstaking science, not "media talking points"), or many of your assertions (climate science has many, many results which are considerably better than 3-sigma, despite some obvious disadvantages when compared with an experimental science such as physics), but you are exactly right about our emphasis on open science.

    Right now I am busy with administrative tasks relating to the Foundation (e.g. setting up our website at and forming an advisory committee of experts in climate science, software development, and open knowledge), but once those are past I expect us to make fairly rapid progress. One of our early tasks is to identify and catalogue existing published climate science code, possibly starting with the list at

    Hi Nick, the 'media talking points' jab was because in 2007 they released those 6 months before the actual reports and they were taken as fact by media.  The review of the IPCC that the UN demanded because of its problems specifically cited them for that plus their ignoring review comments, use of 'grey literature' and said "Working Groups should use a probability scale to quantify the likelihood of a particular event occurring, but only when there is sufficient evidence to do so."

    Which means no scare tactics and then telling people the data is secret.

    Why harp on that?  Because a few researchers with shoddy methods can damage the legitimate work of 10,000 good ones and the IPCC foolishness I mention (the tone you don't like) has set real climate reform back a decade.   When voters stop trusting researchers nothing can get done, even if the researchers implicated are a tiny subset.   

    The kind of data tool you are creating has done wonders for space science and biology and climate science needs that kind of open science approach also.   New ways to get better science, including crowdsourcing like Foldit and Galaxy Zoo and others, are a key part of Science 2.0.
    Hi Nick,

    Your climatecode project is very interesting. Right now I am in Rome at a kick-off meeting of a EU project that will support GEO in its effort to engage the science and technology community in building and using the Global Earth Observation System of Systems. One of the important issues we were discussing is how do we get more data, service, models and even algorithm providers to contribute and register their products in GEO.

    Your project seems to be dead on this and I can't encourage you strong enough to contact GEO, consult our web-pages etc and hook up on this serious attempt of making Earth Observation data and resources openly available to all (climate data is included of course).

    GEOSS components and services registry.

    If it is difficult for you to see how you can contribute or be integrated in this, I would be very happy to know because we are concerned with removing any obstacles preventing relevant contributions. :-)

    Bente Lilja Bye
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank, I'm not going to debate this at any length here, certainly if you're not able to stay focused on one target. Your remark about "grey literature", and the cherry you have picked from the IAC review, only make any sense in the context of WG2, which isn't the pointy end of climate science at all. The doubt cast on climate science in the public mind was largely generated (by a very efficient noise machine) around the stolen emails, which was CRU (WG1). Almost all of the "secret" data is available for free download from NCDC (etc). The rest is available for purchase from national weather services. This is why CRU (for instance) are unable to publish it. That sucks, and should be fixed - many people are trying to bring pressure to bear on the relevant weather services - but your comments are really not helpful. They just add to the noise.

    Galaxy Zoo are working with the Met Office and the National Maritime Museum on - getting climate data out of millions of images of Royal Navy log books. They demonstrated it at the surface temperatures workshop and it looks pretty awesome.

    Benta Lilja Bye, that GEOSS stuff is very interesting and I will definitely be in touch about it later this year.

    One analogy I use in relation to climate change is this: Sure we don't have the scientific precision we would like, but waiting for such precision is akin to a doctor refusing to treat a dying patient until the lab results come back.

    Right, that's why I note there are varying needs for accuracy in science.  Nick said there are some with 5-sigma accuracy but I can't imagine how that's possible, at least on anything meaningful.  It also isn't necessary.  What is necessary is more transparency.   In 2007 people were clearly not happy with 'black box' answers when billions of dollars are at risk and in a bad economy, there is even more scrutiny of data.    Climate scientists can't become statistics experts in addition to everything else but with tools and data a whole lot of people could help them, just like people have done in biology and astronomy.
    Hank: you write "the 'media talking points' jab was because in 2007 they released those 6 months before the actual reports and they were taken as fact by media. The review of the IPCC that the UN demanded because of its problems specifically cited them for that".

    I don't recognise any of this. Do you mean the WG1 SPM? Can you give chapter and verse of the IAC review? I've just looked through it again and (a) it generally praises the IPCC quite highly, and (b) doesn't seem to have anything to say about the timing of publication of the different parts of the assessment. It does say "Straying into advocacy can only hurt IPCC’s credibility," but that is with reference to (unidentified) public statements by IPCC leaders, not to any IPCC publication, and is not about the timing of those statements.

    Well, climate science relies too much on convenient assumptions. Even the reality of the so-called greenhouse effect seems illusive. See that paper:
    Good grief, the G&T paper. Evidently Florian is unaware (or just doesn't care) that G&T has been thoroughly trashed.

    I'm unaware, and I would love a link to a paper debunking it.