How to solve attribution conflicts in climate science

Readers may recall this post: More dirty pool by NCDC’s Karl, Menne, and Peterson

…where I take NCDC to task for not given proper attribution to the surfacestations.org and volunteer Russ Steele for use of a photo on the cover page of their Exeter report, seen below.

I was a bit taken aback by the cover image (left, from NCDC’s Exter presentation), because it was straight from our surfacestations project (right, click image for gallery), but there was no attribution that I could find.

So yes, I was a little miffed that they’d used it, especially since it has been an ongoing problem with NCDC using my preliminary data (against my wishes) to write a paper.

So I fired off an email to Dr. Matt Menne of NCDC about the issue.

And I got a response a few days later. The email was friendly, apologetic, and offered two solutions. I opted to just have him do the solution that put our standard attribution on it.

Q: I’d like to use some of the photographs and data on this website, can I do that, and what credits/citations must I give?

A: For mass media publications or for scientific research the policy is simple. A citation should be given both to the website/project designer and to the person doing the site survey. Our Rules page outlines the license terms user have made when submitting surveys and photos. Each station should have a site survey form which indicates the photographer by name.

A sample photo credit/citation would look like this: Photo courtesy of Anthony Watts, www.surfacestations.org and [photographer name in survey form]

And, to his credit, he did, though he missed adding Russ Steele’s name.

That is the cover page of his updated presentation, which you can download here (PDF)

So, apology made, attribution added, document updated, and the problem was solved. Simple, I’m satisfied. Of course I could have been a jerk about it and demanded all sorts actions via formal complaints, copyright claims, etc. But I didn’t. It simply didn’t rise to that level.

But I’m betting that I won’t even have to ask about adding Russ Steele’s name in place of “various contributors” He’ll see it here and fix it, or somebody will tell him.

Given all the wailing that has been going on about the Wegman report (Aka “copygate” Steve McIntyre sums it up pretty well here) and attribution to Bradley, and a whole strange set of circumstances, it seems to me that after four years of the Wegman report floating around the web, if Dr. Bradley really had an attribution issue, he could have avoided the whole stink going on now by simply asking Dr. Wegman to modify the report in a way that satisfies whatever his complaint is.

But that would be too simple, too direct, and too professional. It also wouldn’t get the pound of flesh some of the players like John Mashey and “Deep Climate” want.

It’s a sad state of affairs, really, and only invites escalation of moribund issues beyond the scope of their actual worth.

More dirty pool by NCDC’s Karl, Menne, and Peterson

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43 thoughts on “How to solve attribution conflicts in climate science

  1. It is somewhat disappointing that they were careless about this in the first place.

    It is paradoxical that academics are very protective of their own IP, but quite often have to be nagged by their institution to respect the copyright if others. Teaching staff in particular often believe that teaching gives them special dispensation. Maybe this attitude diffused over to research activities.

    Anyway I an glad this got resolved amicably.

  2. It’s clear to me that you set the standard for graciousness in this case Anthony. Bradley should learn something from you

  3. re LazyTeeenagaer @ 1023pm
    It is not careless but a genuine distaste for them to have to acknowledge contributions from outside the inner sanctum. In science it is called professional snobbery, and has been the downfall of many senior scientists who protect their patch from up and coming young folk. A real shame and not becoming of a geniune scientist.

  4. I look forward to see the completion (already?) and publication of your surfacestations.org work in a peer-reviewed journal, Anthony & coauthors.

  5. Terry says:
    October 15, 2010 at 10:48 pm
    In science it is called professional snobbery, and has been the downfall of many senior scientists who protect their patch from up and coming young folk.

    ====================================================

    Not only in science. I have seen the same in the music world, where the student is never allowed to surpass the talents and abilities of the teacher. To the extent where extremely talented students hearts are broken and eventually give up.

    I could never work out what goes on in those teachers heads.

    Myself, was so proud to have students working the world stage.

  6. Chris in Queensland said:
    October 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    I have seen the same in the music world, where the student is never allowed to surpass the talents and abilities of the teacher.

    My definition of a great leader/teacher/manager is one who develops his/her staff so they go on to do better things. I always understood that a manager does his work through other people by helping them to reach (or surpass) their own (i.e. the manager’s) ability.

    I got a genuine thrill out of developing my own staff. It also enabled me to do other things, knowing that they were doing their part of the job so well.

    The final step was ALWAYS to acknowledge in public the contribution they made, especially to higher management. I never lost out by it.

  7. I think you are far too kind given the unprofessional treatment given you by these people / organizations.

    One would think that EVERYBODY can endorse the goals of improving data quality and providing credit where credit is due. But the reality is – without YOUR efforts – none of these new attempts would have been initiated.

    They ought to be singing your name and approach every chance they get ! “And we’ve elected to model our approach after Anthony Watts’ surfacestation.org effort – which clearly demonstrated
    a) deficiencies of surface temp data …..
    b) the power of crowdsourcing ….
    c) impact of UHI ….. ”

    The list goes on …….

  8. Anthony, Your rock-solid principles and your adherence to them are to be admired and, hopefully, emulated.
    As a teacher, I alwayd found it incredibly satisfying when my students did well in the world beyond school and felt priveliged to help them in their achievements.

  9. Alexander K says:
    October 16, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Anthony, Your rock-solid principles and your adherence to them are to be admired and, hopefully, emulated.
    I second this, Anthony. Your blog is an island of sanity and courteousness.
    As a teacher, I always found it incredibly satisfying when my students did well in the world beyond school and felt priveleged to help them in their achievements.

    When I was in a position to employ young scientists, I always chose people who had the potential to be better than we were. Fortunately my colleagues were of the same opinion :).
    I think that there are two types of people in the world: those who inherently are mostly parents/teachers and those who are mostly hunters/warriors. The latter have a leadership chip on the shoulder, like dogs in a pack, in any field they find themselves and cannot allow a young dog get ahead of them, whereas a parent/teacher sees it as a success that the young get ahead.

  10. “But I’m betting that I won’t even have to ask about adding Russ Steele’s name in place of “various contributors” He’ll see it here and fix it, or somebody will tell him.”

    The failure to acknowledge the copyright owner of the image is just intellectual laziness. He simply couldn’t be bothered to do the extra little bit. It also suggests he’s quite willing to appropriate other materials for his purposes if he doesn’t see it as someone’s intellectual property. This is a very common problem for photographers especially whose work is used on the web. Photography is so common and so pervasive (and frequently so easy to do) that it escapes notice as someone’s IP.

    “…and various contributors” is his way of saying he’s probably lifted so much stuff, that he’s not going to go back and try and sort out where he took it from. Wegman is guilty of this as well, as are many people in both camps who have to sift through piles of stuff to produce summary reports or overview documents with deadlines that ended before the project started.

    Some of it comes also though, from simple condescension – the material simply isn’t given the respect it deserves, because its not his, and its not particularly favourable to his thesis. He’s corrected it because the oversights are litigious, and he represents organizations which will lean on him for the lack of diligence, not because of the justice of the correction, but because of the light it shines on his supervisors.

    You have to treat these guys like the children they are. Thank him politely for making an attempt to get it right, then correct him for not getting it right, and repeat until he does get it right. “There, isn’t that good? See how much less fussing you’d had to do if you’d done it right the first time? Maybe you’ll remember the next time , that its much easier to do it right in the beginning. Now, who wants a treat?” :)

    [Reply - "...and various contributors" comes straight from Anthony's tag at the bottom of surfacestations.org pages. It just means he didn't look up the original photo again for attribution ~jove, mod]

  11. As the saying goes:
    imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    someone using your idea has to be the sincerest form of imitation?

  12. Anna V wrote:

    “I think that there are two types of people in the world: those who inherently are mostly parents/teachers and those who are mostly hunters/warriors. The latter have a leadership chip on the shoulder, like dogs in a pack, in any field they find themselves and cannot allow a young dog get ahead of them, whereas a parent/teacher sees it as a success that the young get ahead.”

    I think thats a false dichotomy. In my experience, many of the fiercest “hunter/warriors” I’ve known were also the very best teachers (and some of the most “benign” parent/teachers become the most vicious hunter/warriors under the right circumstances). Leadership is a necessary quality for exemplary teaching. Like many skills, leadership can have a wide variety of expression. Its not a chip on someone’s shoulder, its the acceptance of a personal responsibility, however badly it might be expressed. Greatness comes in knowing how to lead, and when to let the led find their own way.

    “When I was in a position to employ young scientists, I always chose people who had the potential to be better than we were. Fortunately my colleagues were of the same opinion :).”

    I appreciate this is said somewhat tongue -in-cheek, but there has always been the nagging suspicion amongst many that this had more to do with ensuring the legacy of the teacher than the merit of the student :).

    Arguably, you could also say that it represents the failure of the teacher – focusing on those who would likely achieve stature regardless of the teacher, rather than concentrating on those who truly needed the teacher’s guidance.

  13. As a non-traditional student, I have run across items in textbooks that are mis-attributed, not attributed or flatly wrong. I have contacted the publisher, and I’ve yet to see any sort of correction. I think it is arrogance. Anthony, you are a classy guy, and these folks did what was right. But maybe they wouldn’t have it it was not a rather public exposure of their non-attribution.

  14. LazyTeenager says:
    October 15, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    It is somewhat disappointing that they were careless about this in the first place.

    It is paradoxical that academics are very protective of their own IP, but quite often have to be nagged by their institution to respect the copyright if others. Teaching staff in particular often believe that teaching gives them special dispensation. Maybe this attitude diffused over to research activities.

    Anyway I an glad this got resolved amicably.

    That is because copyright law does give a special dispensation to teachers and researchers. It is called “fair use”

    http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

    That said, fair use does not relieve the user of the obligation to cite the source and behave in a professional manner, it only protects them against legal action for infringement.

    It is one of those areas that over time people get lazy and sloppy about dealing with copyrighted material. The seldom see the issue as one of respecting the originator by giving them proper credit for the original work, even if they are not legally obligated to get written permission for the intended use.

    Larry

  15. Anthony: well done. As another has commented above, your blog is an island of sanity, and this kind of attitude and action is an essential part of why that is so. This thread is not an exercise in self-congratulation; I think it’s both a chance to thank you for doing “the right thing,” compare it with what the “wrong thing” looks like (so we can recognize and avoid it), and consider the issue in a general way. What exactly is it, with those who habitually trample the rights of others, who lack respect, who have no sense of decency? Is it ignorance, arrogance, laziness, selfishness, cowardice? A blend? Some deeper flaw that shows itself through these defects? Whatever the root, I would argue –at the risk of being a bit reductionist– that it often signals a general rot. False in one, false in all. And: character is revealed by how one treats subordinates and those without power. I am glad this issue has been resolved to your satisfaction; and life is too short for you to act as this man’s moral tutor; but based on your description of the exchange, I would be very surprised if he has learned anything about himself from it, and if he mends his ways.

  16. As to the “looking forward to having Surface Stations.Org ‘s results published in a peer reviewed journal” comment… what BALDERDASH!

    What, would need to be “peer reviewed”? The pictures? The latitude and longitude numbers? And who the H-E-double toothpicks would be the “peers” to these people? Would it be the exisiting “climate scientists” who are so indolent as to have NOT done this effort years ago? Or, maybe the NOAA people who have accepted the results from these pathetic excuses for “observing” stations, for 50 years?

    This is the FOX guarding the chicken coop, part Deux. Let’s start pointing out this “peer review” mantra for what it is, it is a “RELIGION” in and of itself. (“All bow to the holy ‘Peer Review’! “)

    Interesting to note the difference between the “hoity toit scientists” and their “peer review”, and the type of review that my P.E. signed off documents go through (whether I created them, or someone else). In the professional engineering realm, if a design needs to be reviewed, and signed off, it is done so with COMPLETE OPENNESS
    with regard to the reviewers and creators (compare “peer review”, where the creators and the reviewers are not suppose to know who is who!)

    Also there are several cycles. (I know of “peer review” cases where ONE rejection spikes a paper, that’s not very sporting!)

    I’m rather convinced that “peer review” in the “hoity toite” realm (Science, Nature, etc.) is pretty much there to preserve ORTHODOXY.

  17. “. . .it seems to me that after four years of the Wegman report floating around the web, if Dr. Bradley really had an attribution issue, he could have avoiding the whole stink going on now by simply asking Dr. Wegman to modify the report in a way that satisfies whatever his complaint is.”

    Yes, exactly. The human condition being what it is, mistakes are made, or minor differences of opinion on procedure are adjudicated and addressed. Make the effort first before going the Drama Queen route.

  18. Anthony,

    I am happy with the surface station attribution, and do not mind being listed as a “various contributor.” I was just one of multiple volunteers and very proud to be a member of your surface station survey team. Thanks for taking the time to set the record straight.

  19. Perfect! People make mistakes. If dealt with rationally, mistakes get fixed and forgotten about in short order.

    The most important word in the English language is, “oops.” People should be willing to use it more often.

  20. Anthony,

    I’d love to see an entry on the question of how close we are to a Kuhn Paradigm shift on climate change. Increasingly, I have the feeling that the disquiet which has been bubbling below the surface is set to boil over.

    Am I alone in this view?

  21. Anthony,
    my memory is a little fuzzy and I can’t quite recall. When NCDC’s attributiongate first broke last January did Kieth Kloor do a post on it?

    REPLY:not that I am aware of -Anthony

  22. LazyTeenager wrote: “It is somewhat disappointing that they were careless about this in the first place.”

    In an ideal world, yes. But I would guess that this report was prepared by a team against a deadline. As someone who does that myself (not on climatology), I can testify that (1) it’s difficult to communicate to everyone on the team all the guidelines of this sort (attribution is only one), (2) it’s easy for people to misunderstand or forget, (3) it’s easy for metadata (like where a photo came from) to get misplaced, and (4) there’s never enough time before the deadline to do a thorough review, and any review that does take place is usually aimed at intellectual content (are we saying the right things) and style (are we saying it understandably). So I sympathize.

    Off the topic, but I also sympathize with the loss of raw data collected in the 1980s and even 1990s. There have been so many changes in data storage between then and now, and data on magnetic media (and even CDs) gets corrupted over time, that it takes a well funded effort to copy data over to new media while ensuring its integrity. Data formats change, too; anyone wanting to recover data from a relational database of the 1980s has a real task ahead. In some ways, the shift from paper records to computer media has made it much easier for data to go missing, be corrupted, or become uninterpretable.

  23. Excellent and gracious account.

    Note that they also edited their online version of the Talking Points Memo, adding a citation to Watts (2009), Heartland Institute.

  24. “Professionals” acting unprofessionally…it’s far too common…being truly “professional” has little to do with letters after your name… It’s just about treating people as you would like to have them treat you.

    Anthony is a true professional and demonstrates it all the time.

  25. Anto, to me not so much boiling over, but more like slopping over.
    Since the EA e-mail release, and the public opinion drop, and some climate scientists actually starting to realize that the contrarions actually have some points, it appears that the more reasonable people on both sides of the debate are finally starting to act like adults.

    For the sake of this subject, I can only say that it’s about time!

  26. I like to think that, at least in a very small way, I am one of the best “various contributors” on the web. :-)

  27. @Mike Maxwell: good point about data loss, either outright (shredded, moved) or effectively (incompatible formats, lack of systems running host software, etc). It’s compounded by (a) the rapidity of obsolescence in technology and (b) the related explosion in file size and type. From a 64-KB Atari to Terabyte backup drives in one human generation, and we’ve only just started. So our culture hasn’t evolved good rules about “data courtesy” e.g. attribution of fragments assembled into a new whole. The same kind of mismatch is playing out elsewhere in the legal system, as post-modern techniques to create “structured debt instruments” (mortgage-backed securities) in a purely electronic form are now crashing into due process foreclosure procedures based on common law dating back to the Middle Ages. To put it mildly, we live in interesting times.

  28. Anto says:
    October 16, 2010 at 7:30 am
    Anthony,

    I’d love to see an entry on the question of how close we are to a Kuhn Paradigm shift on climate change. Increasingly, I have the feeling that the disquiet which has been bubbling below the surface is set to boil over.

    Am I alone in this view?
    —–
    Anto, that is an excellent question! It is difficult to perceive a true paradigm shift when we are in the process of going through it.

    I once taught a class of MBA students that the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the Russians signified a paradigm shift, and for a while in history, that appeared to be the case. However, the carbon-credit balloon seems to have deflated as quickly as it inflated! (look up Chicago Climate Exchange for example).

    The topic of climate change (errrr, disruption, sorry!) is so complicated with so many competing interests, that I think it will take quite a while for this to play out. However, you are correct, I think we are living through a true paradigm shift.

    The resignation of Dr. Harold Lewis from the American Physical Society was a signal event! Watch for more.

    Thanks, Anthony, you are making huge contributions, and I am pleased that they gave you and Surface Stations due credit on the Exeter presentation!

  29. I don’t think that it was an oversight. It was more of a mental blind spot. Because you are not part of academia (as they see it), you don’t count. Therefore no attribution is necessary. Just the same way they can use your work without permission nor attribution. Elitist arrogance. Harsh, but unfortunately reality.

  30. To Anto and CRS, Dr PH re Paradigm Shift

    I think we are in or approaching the shift too and it is a comforting thought.

    A classic paradigm shift, however, can’t just be about rejecting a broadly held view; it has to involve accepting a new one. If “we” reject CAGW what are “we” replacing with? Ie – An earth centred solar system was replaced with a a sun centred one…”Classic” mechanics was replaced with Quantum mechanics…etc…

    As I think about it, the lack of a replacement paradigm remains the biggest challenge to skeptics/deniers. There’s a whole range of potential theories to explain the recent “climate disruption” but no one theory or no grouping serves as a replacement paradigm.

    Don’t get me wrong; I am entirely frustrated that CAGW is the current paradigm but paradigm it is!

  31. Per my last post, the description of the replacement paradigm would seem like a good thought piece for Willis E.

  32. dbleader61 says:
    October 16, 2010 at 1:02 pm
    Per my last post, the description of the replacement paradigm would seem like a good thought piece for Willis E.
    —-
    Excellent posts, DB! I hope Willis takes up the challenge!

    The “death of global warming” resembles the death of a religion to me…..long-held and protected beliefs, fiercely defended, now wither in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Dr. Lindzen alluded to this in his Fermilab colloquium.

    Perhaps it is more analogous to the death of communism? There seems to be very little serious consideration to Marxism/Leninism that I can see. In any event, long-held beliefs are dying in all except for the most invested in the belief system.

    If the Arctic ice mass continues to rebuild, and we have another winter like the last one, I think the end will be near. Cancun and the Fall elections in the US will be interesting!

  33. Imagine all the lawyers that would out of work if more people would solve their problems this way.

  34. So it’s blackmail now?

    Seems like less than two weeks ago that Anthony offerred this sage advice:
    “if Dr. Bradley really had an attribution issue, he could have avoided the whole stink going on now by simply asking Dr. Wegman to modify the report in a way that satisfies whatever his complaint is.”

    So this is what they say when he does?

    [NOTE: this is Mosher's post, not Anthony's ~mod]

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