Lately Steve has been spearheading an effort to get the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia to release the data that underlie its analysis of global temperature trends. Such a request should not at all be controversial. Indeed the atmospheric sciences community went to great lengths in the 1990s to ensure that such data would be openly available for research purposes, culminating in World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Resolution 40 on the international exchange of meteorological and related data and products. The Resolution states:
Members should provide to the research and education communities, for their non-commercial activities, free and unrestricted access to all data and products exchanged under the auspices of WMO . . .WMO recognized the need to protect commercial activities, but placed no restrictions on the exchange of climate information described as follows:
All reports from the network of stations recommended by the regional associations as necessary to provide a good representation of climate . . .Obviously, the ability to do good research depends upon good data with known provenance. At the time WMO Resolution 40 was widely hailed in the atmospheric sciences community as a major step forward in data sharing and availability in support of both operations and research.
Thus it is with some surprise to observe CRU going through bizarre contortions to avoid releasing its climate data to Steve McIntyre. They first told him that he couldn't have it because he was not an academic. I found this to be a petty reason for keeping data out of the hands of someone who clearly wants to examine it for scholarly purposes. So, wanting to test this theory I asked CRU for the data myself, being a "real" academic. I received a letter back from CRU stating that I couldn't have the data because "we do not hold the requested information."
I found that odd. How can they not hold the data when they are showing graphs of global temperatures on their webpage? However, it turns out that CRU has in response to requests for its data put up a new webpage with the following remarkable admission (emphasis added):
We are not in a position to supply data for a particular country not covered by the example agreements referred to earlier, as we have never had sufficient resources to keep track of the exact source of each individual monthly value. Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.Say what?! CRU has lost track of the original data that it uses to create its global temperature record!? Can this be serious? So not only is it now impossible to replicate or reevaluate homogeneity adjustments made in the past -- which might be important to do as new information is learned about the spatial representativeness of siting, land use effects, and so on -- but it is now also impossible to create a new temperature index from scratch. CRU is basically saying, "trust us." So much for settling questions and resolving debates with empirical information (i.e., science).
To be absolutely clear, none of what I write here should be taken as implying that actions to decarbonize the global economy or improve adaptation do not make sense -- they do. However, just because climate change is important and because there are opponents to action that will seize upon whatever they can to make their arguments, does not justify overlooking or defending this degree of scientific sloppiness and ineptitude. Implementing successful climate policy will have to overcome the missteps of the climate science community, and this is a big one.