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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Intellectual freedom: The difference the blogosphere makes

In "Bloggers peer review a scientific 'consensus,'" Gordon Crovitz writes (Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2009),
Unlike Watergate, Climategate didn't come to light because investigative journalists ferreted out the truth. Instead, this story so far has played itself out largely on blogs, often run by the same scientists who had a hard time getting printed in the scientific journals. Climategate has provided a voice to the scientists who had been frozen out of the debate.

This may be how information-based scandals play out in the future: A leak from a whistleblower directly onto the Web. Expert bloggers then assess what the disclosures mean—a Web version of peer review.
Yes, precisely. Today's scandals do not usually involve conventional stuff like pricey hotsie totsie dancers at the lab holiday party, on the tax tab. No, it's more like this:
Blogging scientists have been busy reviewing the 15,000 lines of code by programmers that were included in the "Documents" folder of the leaked materials. The latest twist is hidden notations in the data from programmers that indicate where they had manipulated results. The programmers expressed frustration when the numbers didn't fit the case for global warming.

Comments in the code include "These will be artificially adjusted to look closer to the real temperatures," referring to an effort to suppress data showing that the Middle Ages were warmer than today. Comments inside the code also described an "adjustment" as follows: "Apply a VERY ARTIFICIAL correction for decline!!" Another notation indicated when a "fudge factor" had been added.
Read the rest here. You will be amazed at the nonsense and sloppiness - for example, locating weather stations near heating vents, etc. That would be like me forecasting the weather standing beside the vent from the dryers in a nearby apartment building's laundry room. No wonder it would be Florida to me and a frozen waste to you.

Why this matters: There are probably a number of areas where fudge is factored, but we don't know which ones, do we?

Expect pushback against independent media from non-transparent legacy sources. It will usually be fronted as supposed worthy causes like "localism",* fairness, anti-hate, or "science". All in favour of tamer, lamer media, who depend on advertising and maybe even government handouts to survive. They tell us what they are told to tell us, in an age when we are only a navbar away from finding out a key information for ourselves.

(*Thank "localism" when your recycling box is brimful of trash you never asked to be delivered to your home. You pay to turn living trees into egg cartons, via flyers that few want anyway. The retail giant must include the cost of flyers in its cost of goods sold, so that raises prices for everyone. But at least you are helping "localism." There have been schemes promoted under which government will also offer the local media largesse. That should promote about as much transparency as a stone-faced bureaucrat, worthy of Mount Rushmore, except he was never any use to his country, which is why he isn't up there.)

Already, I am hearing altogether too much about the blogosphere as a source of "hate". I guess anyone caught fudging data would see the person who called him out as a "hater." That's about as transparent as a boarded up shop window.

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