Lispian Random meanderings on whatever catches my fancy

Lispian
East Anglia Hack

As a security guy I’ve been pinged by the news about the East Anglia hack, the one about the climate site that was hacked with a slew of emails, data, and code swiped.

Whenever something like this happens people wonder if it can happen to their site. Of course, the answer is yes. But we don’t have the full context of the hack. Was it really a hack or was it an inside job? There’s a big difference. An inside job doesn’t necessarily require actually breaking into the system while a proper, outside hack does. Until we find out what actually transpired we won’t know if the systems were truly compromised or not. Unfortunately, if the hack was well executed it might be very difficult to tell if it was an inside job or an outside hack. Such is the problem with modern computer systems and the complexity that arises from their high interconnectedness.

All that said, there is another issue: the data that was taken. Leaving aside the legality of whether or not the data should have been released publicly or not, either via this supposed breach or via an FOI, the fact is that it has raised the hackles of both sides of the climate debate. And reading the back-and-forth from the various proponents of whichever side I note that the solution is rather simple: publish the data and work on creating a proper, well developed climate model.

There’s a certain amount of suspicion that arises when scientists work on something and the algorithms and data they’re using is not generally available. Without the algorithms and data others can’t check it to see if something fundamentally was overlooked, done incorrectly, what-have-you. Thus, having a public, open set repository for all climate data, algorithms, and code seems the logical and right thing to do. And, working on a model that is well written — by computer scientists — also seems the right thing to do. It would provide the means by which anyone could check the science and silence a lot of the arguments and bickering that is currently ongoing. Neither side should fear such an open forum since it is the very bedrock of science itself.

In other words, I’d recommend the entire climatology community take a huge huge hint from the Open Source community and go open source with their data and how their models operate, including code publication, algorithm publication, statistical assumptions, etc. These can then be viewed from a much more scientific and open perspective, and the cries of foul because of supposedly hidden information pertaining to something that might be crucially important to all should diminish.

What I’m saying is, I’m rather perplexed at the closed nature that some climatologists seem to take. Much of what they do is publicly funded. What they claim in terms of impact is something that will impact us all. Thus, we should have the science fully in the open. And we should expend money on creating proper models as opposed to having each group have their own models. Doing this in an open source manner would only benefit both sides — AGW skeptics and proponents alike. After all, it’s much easier to defend the science when the actual science is out in the open for all scientists to examine. Otherwise, if much of the backing material for a specific “science” is hidden then is it science or is it dogma and religion?

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November 2009
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