Monday, April 19, 2010

Data sharing not so easy at NASA

NASA planet hunters may only be releasing limited data set:
Although the CRU researchers appear to have had an attitude towards data sharing that breached generally accepted scientific ethics, the process of actually sharing the data would have been anything but straightforward. The CRU had no procedures in place for data sharing, the data came from a variety of sources with no standardized data format, it was a mix of published and proprietary information, etc. In short, it's one thing to decide to share the data, another challenge entirely to actually do so.

You can contrast this with NASA, which has procedures in place for sharing data and a standard policy for publishing it. But, according to a report produced by Nature News, the agency may only be sharing a deliberately limited version of the data from its planet hunting probe, Kepler.

Sharing data is considered an essential part of science because it allows others to verify and build on a research group's work. In most circumstances, however, researchers are allowed to keep data confidential until publication. This enables them to receive credit for their work, and allows them to perform a rigorous analysis before turning work over to the wider field for consideration.
I can see two differences: 1) in the CRU affair they've failed to share the data after publication - including those necessary to replicate their results, while NASA (as far as I can tell from the article) is only withholding data that might be spurious signal and does not interfere with the other conclusions presented in the articles; 2) NASA scientists are not pushing any particular policy based on the confidential datasets, as it was claimed to be the case with CRU.

I personally don't like embargoes and other bureaucratic policies in research, but I understand that sometimes they are the only feasible solution. specially for large scale analyses. This article at Ars Technica gives us a good example. But we must also recognize that the (real and perceived) relevance of the work is also dependent on how transparent the data are.

A disclaimer, which unfortunately is necessary to avoid future misunderstandings: I have no deep knowledge of climate sciences and I wholeheartedly trust those who know it; I know (it's not only a belief) that the climate is changing, while I disagree with the framing of overconfidence of some engaged scientists. There are many, many reasons to worry about the way we deal with the environment, anthropogenic global warming in this sense is just a diversion. But I don't think that whatever the scientific conclusions are, they lead to an inexorable government-sponsored solution (this step wouldn't be science-based). I am allergic to these lazy (almost irresponsible) solutions.

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