One of the great frustrations in science is getting good data. Collecting it yourself can be a boring, longwinded and seemingly pointless exercise, especially if you are collecting data on multiple variables when you know you’ll only use a few (a common thing in geology). Getting legacy data from others can be even harder. Incomplete data sets, different files, wrong formats, wrong headings etc etc… These are all issues we face. However, having complete data is golden – you don’t want your work usurped by another on the basis that they had more complete data and so could see the real picture.
So it seems in the climate change debate, we now see a real problem emerge. One that actually does cause a few problems for the climatologists who have provided the evidence for “AGW”. New Scientist recently published a piece correctly (in my opinion) highlighting this as a significant concern, but one with some seemingly intractable barriers to resolution. Large chunks of important data are sitting with commercial rights within the vaults of institutes around the world. Governments would pay penalties for their general release. This is not good for the science and only fuels speculations from the deniers. It is indeed a pity that the deniers can’t get their hands on it because then they could do the same tests and come to conclusions that add to the debate. However, all this should not be mistaken as a conspiracy – it is normal in many scientific fields to have data sets locked up under commercial arrangements (or government legislation). Science has worked around this for years and continues to do so. Climate science itself has worked successfully under this regime too. Perhaps this is just another storm in a teacup.
We’ve had government bailouts for banks, perhaps its time for governments to put some money and legislation behind freeing up these data sets completely. Pay-off the commercial interests, legislate for data freedom. It would be a nice shot in the arm for a needlessly troubled science. I suspect only the deniers have anything to fear.