From Gary Strand, software engineer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) commenting on Climate Audit:
As a software engineer, I know that climate model software doesn’t meet the best standards available. We’ve made quite a lot of progress, but we’ve still quite a ways to go.
I’ll say. NASA GISS model E written on some of the worst FORTRAN coding ever seen is a challenge to even get running. NASA GISTEMP is even worse. Yet our government has legislation under consideration significantly based on model output that Jim Hansen started. His 1988 speech to Congress was entirely based on model scenarios.
Do we really want congress to make trillion dollar tax decisions today based on “software [that] doesn’t meet the best standards available.”?
There’s more. Steve McIntyre comments:
Re: Gary Strand (#56),
Gary, if this is what you think, then this should have been reported in IPCC AR4 so that politicians could advise themselves accordingly. I do not recall seeing any such comment in AR4 – nor for that matter in any review comments.
Steve McIntyre July 5th, 2009 at 7:49 pm
Re: Gary Strand (#56),
If we can convince funding agencies to better-fund software development, and continued training, then we’ll be on our way. It’s a little harsh, IMHO, to assign blame to software engineers when they’re underpaid and overworked.
Boo-hoo. Hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars is being spent. PErhaps the money should be budgeted differently but IMO there’s an ample amount of overall funding to have adequate software engineers. Maybe there should be some consolidation in the climate model industry, as in the auto industry. If none of the models have adequate software engineering, then how about voluntarily shutting down one of the models and suggest that the resources be redeployed so that the better models are enhanced?
I’m not making this QOTW to pick on Gary Strand, though I’m sure he’ll see it that way. It is a frank and honest admission by him. I’m making it QOTW because Gary highlights a real problem that we see when we look at code coming from NASA GISS.
But don’t take my word for it, download it yourself and have a look. Take it to a software engineer at your own company and ask them what they think.
Sure, this is one of many climate modeling software programs out there, but it happens to be the most influential, since GISS and GISTEMP are the most widely cited outputs in the popular media.
U.S. industry seems to do a better job of software development than government programs, because in business, if something doesn’t work, or doesn’t work well, contracts get lost and/or people get fired. There’s consequences to shoddy work.
In academia, the solution is usually to ask for more grant money.