Friday, December 2, 2011

Data socialists

Over at Climate Etc Dr. Curry has penned a guest post selling a romantic vision of what she calls "data libertarianism" quoting an opinion piece by Fred Pierce:

The battle between the two men for the crown jewels was the backdrop — and very possibly the motive — for the still-mysterious hacking of CRU’s emails and their publication online at the end of 2009. Much of the world’s science community sided with Jones in the resulting “climategate” saga, condemning what they regarded as politically and commercially motivated attacks on their research.
But others took McIntyre’s side, seeing him as a data libertarian. And last June, following a new request for the data from Jonathan Jones, an Oxford physicist and “climate agnostic”, the FOI’s commissioner, Christopher Graham, finally ruled that the crown jewels should be handed over. And they were, a month later. The world did not fall in.
If CRU had been more open with its data from the start, a great deal of time and angst on the part of its scientists — and a great deal of public uttering of paranoid nonsense from climate deniers — would have been avoided.
Ignoring the foolish assertion that any amount of cooperation can stem the relentless neap tide of paranoid nonsense from deniers, this account of McIntyre's stance in the FOI wars is exactly wrong.

There has long been a huge amount of climate data freely available to the public. Some of it is not, for reasons that should be evident to any "libertarian": those that own the data (mostly national weather agencies) chose not to make it available to all. The data sets in question cost money to create. Their creators make money by selling licenses (limited licenses) to use the data -- licenses that have no market value if their property is forcible redistributed by the government as soon as a FOI request is made.

Steve McIntyre is what libertarians call a rent-seeker. He uses the coercive power of the state to force other people to give him, gratis, the fruits of their labor. He does not produce himself -- he uses the data of others, repackaged and sensationalized, to fuel the hit count of his blog.

A "data libertarian," if there is such a thing, would be horrified by this. The warp and woof of libertarianism is respect -- a respect that borders on fetishism -- for property rights. Forcing the people who spent time and money creating these data sets and profit by selling access to them -- for the supposed good of science and humankind -- is the opposite of the libertarian model. Making other people's property free to all comers is a philosophy which already has a name -- forced collectivization. In other words, what McIntyre is arguing for is data socialism, not data libertarianism.


  1. Indeed skeptics fail to acknowledge that station data was available to analyze years ago.

    They could have "done a BEST" back in 2005 but they quite clearly avoided doing so. They had lots of time for innuendo and insinuations that scientists had boosted warming by deleting stations or by adjusting the 1970s period warmer, but they had no time to actually test these claims.

  2. McIntyre is, as far as I know, a Canadian citizen and taxpayer, and as such contributed little or nothing to the costs associated with the research and data accumulation necessary for the assembly of the data sets used by Man nor those used by Phil Jones and his colleagues. As such I don't see what grounds he would have had for demanding the data; if Mann, for instance, had been working off NSERC money at a Canadian institution, McIntyre might at least have been able to justify his demands as a taxpayer.
    "Rent-seeker" - good diagnosis.

  3. Making other people's property free to all comers is a philosophy which already has a name -- forced collectivization. In other words, what McIntyre is arguing for is data socialism, not data libertarianism.

    When the data and programs have an impact on public policy that's when it has to come out of hiding and into the public eye. You can't have multi trillion dollar programs based on hidden information. Well unless you like things like justifying the Iraq war.

    If there was a for profit company collecting this data to make bets on the environment (a company called Weather Bill does this) then yes they are free to keep all of that secret if they want.

    In reading about Phil Jones and his desire to throw down the memory hole past conversations it seems like he wanted to keep his data hidden as it was in shoddy condition, records weren't accurately kept, its been massaged so much that who knows what is real. Anyone with a desire to see real science should be calling for hearings on this practice. I'm not sure why there isn't a culture of openness of sharing both data and programs in Climate Science. Perhaps someone could shine a light on that.

    Also I find it amusing to bring up "the coercive power of the state" as bad when discussing public policy.

  4. "You can't have multi trillion dollar programs based on hidden information."

    Really? 99% of all scientific/technical information is to be found in the peer-reviewed literature. 99% of the peer-reviewed literature is behind a pay wall of one sort or another, available by subscription. You can get to it; you simply need to pay for it. And our entire civilization is based on that body of work.

    It's easy to say that the fruits of somebody else's work ought to be free. But the problem with that, always, is how people are going to make a living if you make their work free by fiat. It's like the pharmaceutical industry. You could make all their blockbuster drugs cheap by breaking all their patents. But then you have to decide where the new drugs are going to come from; obviously not the private sector after they spend heavily to create this intellectual property and you stole it.