07 Feb

NOAA vs U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

Whether your politics fall to the right or left of centre there’s one thing we’re all sure of. We’re fighting blood sweat and tears to wrestle the sacred truth from the other so that our world might be restored to the path of peace and prosperity. Centre stage is the singular struggle that has defined life for my generation. The reality of climate change; or not.

Sock Puppets Cheering on the Destruction of Discourse

Somewhere in-between the punches and the scratches and the underhanded snatches the fight has become less about truth and more about winning, winning no matter the cost. From Stephen Colbert to Bill O’riley the narrative that we’re losing the battle for values and characters is told by both sides and every player. In the ultimate twist of irony, winning the fight for the truth has become a reason to lie, cheat, and deceive. Our online world allows paid actors and provocative trolls an ever increasing ability to form and define our shared reality by providing every ill-conceived question a chorus of sock puppets cheering on the destruction of discourse. 

A Steady Hand

It is in such times that one looks to the steady hands of the village elders and their traditional boring institutions for stoic and measured responses. A steady hand to hold back the passions of youthful folly that would lead us down false paths.

A village elder such as the esteemed members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology or the venerable NOAA.

So what exactly is going on between NOAA and U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (CSPTech)?

In response to an article by the Daily Mail, the Committee released this press statement “Former NOAA Scientist Confirms Colleagues Manipulated Climate Records”. Which consists of committee member quotes praising the source of the article, Dr John Bates, for his brave stand against the data manipulation efforts of the head of NOAA’s Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) Dr. Thomas R. Karl. 

Garbage in, Garbage out…

The centre of Dr. Bate’s complaint is that NOAA made compromises in the archival and verification process of  its climate data sets, rejecting a craftsman approach of polishing every data set before release.  NOAA opted instead to follow an iterative approach of processing the data incrementally as its software modeling improved and verifying its approach by matching it against measurements taken with newer higher quality instruments. 

The complaint centres around doing things perfect at the expense of running out of time with nothing, or doing what you can in the time you have.

Pareto Principle

Within the software and data development fields the concept of applying 20% of your initial effort to produce the broad strokes that produce 80% of your product is a well known approach to getting actionable results sooner that you further refine with time.

In the case of NOAA we are talking about actual software built to process the data sets, over time NOAA will continue to debug and tune the software model to gain greater accuracy and resolution of the data. However in our current environment the Daily Mail and Dr. Bates use the argument that we have to throw all babies out with all bath waters, that the trade off made by Dr. Thomas R. Karl amount to an outright lie. A position that the House committee members now repeat based on nothing more than a reading of the Mail’s article. 

Timing is Everything?

Dr. Bates clarified his remarks to EEnews today by saying, “The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper that had not properly disclosed everything it was.”

His complaint, he said, was that NOAA did not extensively archive data set versions through intermediary steps of the process leading to the report; steps that were deemed extraneous by management because the new results were independently verifiable through external measurements, but that the omission of these steps did not in fact compromise the data or the report.

Betrayal

Basically a data wonk disagreed with management how extensively to archive the changed set of a massive data set.

This small inner conflict over process between egg heads is now seized upon by the very committee tasked to bring clarity and guidance to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (CSPTech) and instead Chairman Lamar Smith uses the tabloid’s report to push a manufactured controversy that further erodes the honest discourse of our scientific leaders. In a word it betrays its mission, the American people, and by extension the world.

 

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