An Open Letter to Dr. Subra Suresh

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Dear Dr. Suresh:

My sincere and heartfelt congratulations on your being appointed Director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF). It is indeed an honor for anyone. In particular it is a great achievement for you, considering the long road you traveled to eventually attain the post.

Photo Source: Science Magazine

With the honor of your new post, of course, comes the responsibility. And according to Science Magazine (paywall) , you are already moving on that:

Even before his Senate confirmation in September to the 6-year post, Suresh began asking colleagues about the myriad issues that he will face at NSF.

I laud this effort. And I hope you will pardon me for using this venue to add another issue to your already-long list. However, it is a very important one.

Here’s the thing. It’s not complex or hard. You guys need to stop funding scofflaw scientists.

What do I mean by “scofflaw scientists”? The NSF has long-standing policies regarding the sharing and archiving of data that is gathered with NSF-distributed taxpayer funds. The earliest policy I know of is the 1989 NSF adoption of the recommendations of the National Science Board Report “Openness of Scientific Communication” (NSB 88-215). It says (emphasis mine):

1. Open Scientific and Engineering Communication

The NSF advocates and encourages open scientific communication. The NSF expects significant findings from research it supports to be submitted promptly for publication, with authorship that reflects accurately the contributions of  those involved.  It expects investigators to share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the primary data, samples, physical collections, and other supporting materials created or gathered in the course of the research.  It also encourages awardees to share software and inventions or otherwise act to make such items or products derived from them widely useful and usable.

NSF will implement these policies in ways appropriate to the field of science and circumstances of research through the proposal review process; through award negotiations and conditions; and through appropriate supportand incentives for data cleanup, documentation, dissemination, storage, and the like.  Adjustments and, where essential, exceptions may be allowed to accommodate the legitimate interests of investigators and to safeguard the rights of individuals and subjects, the validity of results, and the integrity of collections.

This very straightforward language from NSF has been clarified, and strengthened since then. For example, in 1991, the NSF U.S. Global Change Research Program said:

For those programs in which selected principal investigators have initial periods of exclusive data use, data should be made openly available as soon as they become widely useful. In each case the funding agency should explicitly define the duration of any exclusive use period.

These requirements for archiving and sharing have been repeated in other NSF statements (see here and here for details and discussion of these NSF policies.)

Despite this, NSF continues to fund scientists who openly flout the policy and refuse to archive their data. The poster child for this group could be the glaciologist Dr. Lonnie Thompson. How bad is he? Well, let me say that I wouldn’t be surprised to see photos of his missing data on the sides of milk cartons.

Steve McIntyre’s now seven-year unsuccessful quest for Thompson’s elusive data, such as the widely cited but unarchived Himalayan ice core information for Dasupo, Dunde, and Gulaya, is detailed (inter alia) here, here, herehereherehere, and here.

Despite Thompson’s years and years of dodging requests for his data, NSF has continued to fund him. Here’s a record of how much of our tax money has gone to Dr. Thompson and his wife (they often apply jointly for grants).

Most of the grants are either solely to Dr. Thompson (pictured), or to him and his wife. Only in a few grants are there other “co-investigators”. Data Source: NSF

Now let me be very clear here. I have no problem with the NSF funding scientists, as long as you keep President Eisenhower’s warning “that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite” firmly in mind.

I’m also not concerned about the amount of the money that has gone to Dr. Thompson. Eleven megabucks is a big pile, it’s true, but a) that’s over 38 years, and b) it’s not cheap to mount an expedition to go to places like the Himalayas (pictured) and drill ice cores. I don’t think he’s getting rich off the NSF, to the contrary I suspect he’s squeezing the bucks to get more ice cores per dollar.

And curiously, I don’t even have much problem with Dr. Thompson being a scofflaw scientist. I don’t like it, but as long as there are rules and money in the same system, we can guarantee that somebody will try to game the system rules to get the money. This time it’s Lonnie’s turn.

But Dr. Suresh, I must tell you frankly, it angrifies my blood mightily when you keep funding scofflaw scientists like Thompson. I wax wroth, and utter venerable Anglo-Saxon imprecations, when the NSF doesn’t follow its own policies. And to my wife’s embarrassment, I confess that at times I find myself audibly urging anatomically inventive but ultimately improbable acts of sexual auto-congress on those government employees who are allowing this to happen.

Unfortunately, the NSF is not alone in this. Science and Nature Magazine, the flagship journals of scientific research, both have execrable records of enforcing their own policies on data archiving. The same is true of PNAS.

This is a part of the reason that the American public is so disenchanted with climate science. Fortunately, you are in a position to completely fix your agency’s part in the problem. The cure is simple:

1. Every time someone applies for a grant, you explain to them that they have to archive their data. If the applicant has had a grant before, ask them where the data sets from each of the previous grants have been archived. If they have unarchived data, no grant until they archive. To save your graphics department some money, here’s your new recruiting poster:

It’s not difficult. It doesn’t require Twelve Steps, it’s a One-Step program. As I said above, you need to stop funding scofflaw scientists.

So that’s my issue, and I trust you will see it right.

Next, my free advice, which is worth at least what you paid for it, perhaps more.

My advice is quite simple. Be public about what you do. If you decide to follow your own policies regarding data archiving and sharing, make an announcement. If a scientists’ funding is being held up until data is archived, make that fact available. This is the age of the internet and the Freedom of Information Act. If you expose all of your actions to the light of day, you don’t have to worry about them being exposed later (as they assuredly will be). Use the blogs such as WUWT to your advantage. Always remember that you are spending our money, so we are owed any and all information on how you are doing so. Answer requests from the public about data and policies promptly and without evasion. In short, make the operation of your agency as transparent as all good science should be.

My best wishes go with you. I do not envy you your new job, but given your track record I suspect you will do it well.

w.

(PS – My thanks also to Steve McIntyre for his untiring efforts in the long quest to get Dr. Thompson to archive his data. It is a travesty that folks like the IPCC continue to rely upon Dr. Thompsons results, when he has consistently and repeatedly refused to show his work. That attitude wouldn’t make it past my high school chemistry teacher, and has no place in modern science.)

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Nick

Typo? grants are spread over 38 years,not 28,according to your graphic.
REPLY: Fixed, Anthony

latitude

Willis, why make it an open letter?
Send it to him.
REPLY: Better yet, why don’t we ALL send it to him? From their about page:
The National Science Foundation’s street address is: 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230
– Anthony

As the saying goes “Good luck with that”.
I really do think that publicly funded data ought to be public property, but I’ve also noticed that the present trend is for organizations, foundations, and government agencies to be packed with folks with “an agenda” first, and a moral compass second… so I don’t see a lot of hope in this.
But still, with luck. And may the (cold) wind be always at your back.

kwik

Can’t someone get WikiLeak to fix it?

David, UK

Hear, hear!

Dear Anthony,
The good Bishop and I looked at Nature magazine’s position with Phil Jones’ 1990 urban heat island paper. What I found is summarized at:
Data availability in climate science: the case of Jones et al 1990 and Nature
The letter from Doug Keenan to UK Science and Technology Commons Committee on the same paper is here

James Allison

This email appears to belong to Dr Suresh
ssuresh@nsf.gov

DJ Meredith

Darn. I was just about to submit a grant proposal to the NSF for a 3 year research project for $3Mil.
The research would involve quoting a large group of scientist’s previous work, walking around and remaining stationary at beaches in tropical climates and comparing my observations against similar efforts in winter locations often referred to as “resorts”.
When completed, the research will show whatever the NSF would like it to. I’ll follow Dr. Thompson’s standards of archiving, and data will be readily available to all my friends.
Willis….could you hold off on sending that letter for awhile? I’ll even buy you some carbonated hops and barely based bottled alcohol cleaning substance in Belize if I get my grant!!

oMan

Anthony: great idea. As for “good luck with that,” that’s a real problem but not a reason not to try. And in fact the whole theme of Transparency is big and only going to get bigger. When science is done with secret data that makes it hard or impossible to replicate, it’s bad. When the science was paid for by the public, it’s unacceptable.

Dr T G Watkins

Well said.
The pressure must continue to be applied on both sides of the Atlantic. The ‘weather’ is certainly helping and, of course, another 5 or 10 years will decide the issue.
The urgency to expose this scientific misadventure is entirely economic; to prevent suicidal energy policies and the transfer of wealth from “the poor of rich countries to the rich of poor countries” (great quote, not mine).

P Walker

Dr. Suresh’s email address is listed on the NSF website .

I suggest you write your own letters. Be orginal. polite. factual.

Publicly funded anything is public property. In my view anyone who holds public property hostage is committing an act of theft. Theft is immoral in most philosophical systems and against laws in just about everyplace unless of course you are above the laws of man and these philosophical systems. What pisses me off more then anything is the obvious attitude of Lonnie Thompson and others (he is not alone here) that he is exempt from the ethical and moral codes of science. I am less then pleased with the leaders of funding and publishing organizations that simply refuse to follow their own operating rules and guidelines.

R. de Haan

A very clear and brave attempt to repair what’s very, very wrong for a long, very long time. But to be honest with you, Dr. lonnie Thompson is a “difficult” case and his contributions are as far from science as Jupiter to Mars.
Even with a dozen pink glasses it will be difficult to see the end of the tunnel.
What we’re dealing with here is rotten ice, rotten scientist, a rotten ideology, rotten directives financed by rotten State money.
You can’t solve that by archiving the data alone.

Cynthia Lauren Thorpe

The more and more I read and then investigate ~ the more and more respect
I have for your genuine, heart-felt, mind-engaged, efforts, Anthony, et al.
The integrity and sincerity on display for ‘all to see’ is astounding… I applaude
each of you who take part in maintaining & regaining whatever vestiges remain
of true Scientific Thought ~ of ‘Science in general’. You are indeed, Gentlemen &
Scholars. I’m proud, in fact, to ‘read’ what you ‘write’.
Lastly ~ for YOU specifically, Anthony and secondarily, to all your ‘science buddies’.
Here’s a poem I penned. May it serve as a reminder and bless you and your families this Christmas Season.
There is a place within my soul
Where thoughts as if wild seeds are sown
Into fertile soil rich dark and deep
It’s where I rest where I may weep
In my Father’s garden where every prayer
Is tended to with utmost care
As I sit amongst the flowers
I’m refreshed within the time that’s ours
I find such beauty – hence unknown
Feel such comfort as I’m shown
That all my pain and all my cares
Turn into each precious flower there
In this private place where I am known
In my Father’s garden – where I am grown
Be encouraged. You are cherished, indeed.
from a friend who prays for you and respects your calling
C.L. Thorpe – jus’ hangin’ out with the sheep

“Auto Congress” is right on the money! Another useful phrase: “klepto pseudo science”.

I do hope Dr. Suresh turns out to be the good egg that I cannot help but get the feeling Willis thinks he may be. Time will tell.
Pointman

Al Gored

Wow. That graph shows the real hockey stick!

Fred from Canuckistan

Real scientists reveal their data and methods.
Scofflaws & scam artists weave, dodge & obfuscate.
What a legacy Dr. Thompson will leave . . . . a poster “scientist”

The other side of the coin is for architests of public policy to stop using conclusions from undisclosed data. This is as insane as would be the IRS accepting self-assesment of tax based on undisclosed company accounts.
I guess Judith Curry’s response to congress has advocated this.

morgo

we will believe it when we see it if thay don,t come up with the past research than throw them in jail all of them

CRS, Dr.P.H.

Interesting bit here…..a friend sent me Sen. Bernie Sanders’ website & mailing address information, and it has this proviso:
“Please note that due to heightened security in the U.S. Capitol, mail service to my Washington, D.C. Senate office is significantly delayed. If you have any correspondence that is time sensitive, please use alternatives such as e-mail, phone, or fax.”
http://sanders.senate.gov/contact/contact.cfm
…I hadn’t heard about anything in particular, but in light of recent events (bombing in Sweden was an eye-opener), I can’t say I’m surprised. Email should do it.

Gnomish

Oh, sure – plead for the cannibals to give you the cooking instructions. How much sense does that make?
Wtf do you think it’s all about, eh, science or something? Speaking of poster kids – how about that NASA?
That, my friend, is the face of publicly funded seance. Look hard, look long, look deep.
Make your expectations conform to reality as proven – and don’t try to tell me that one good deed redefines the bugger – or you may as well pay lip service to Mike’s Mannhood.

I’d rather the government stop funding all scientists. As long as the government is doing the funding, science will be corrupted by politics. It’s not possible for it to be otherwise.

jae

Willis: Wonderful, truthful, factual, on-target post. Oh, I hope NSF pays some attention. But I am not going to hold my breath…

Lady in Red

Send hard copies of your letter to NSF, with cc’s to both Senators and your Congressman.
That will make a pile of paper! ….Lady in Red

John F. Hultquist

CRS, Dr.P.H. says: at 4:35 pm
due to heightened security in the U.S. Capitol, mail service to .
Some years ago I read that all mail and packages to the Washington elite is “processed” by mere mortals before it is sent to the offices listed as the mailing address. A senate office would qualify as elite.
——–OTHERS——–
I second “write your own letter” and add — make it brief.

eadler

It seems that Steve McIntyre has not been able to get the data that he wants from Lonnie Thompson, and some of Thompson’s older data may have been lost. So he is trying to discredit Thompson’s work, despite the fact that he is one of the world’s leading glaciologists and has won many prizes for his scientific work. His integrity and ability are accepted by the scientific community, even if McIntyre doesn’t admire him.
The fact is that the most important part of his work is actually in an archive at Ohio State University. There is a huge freezer with preserved ice cores. These are a great source of paleoclimate data and since the technology for analysis of this data is evolving, it is important to preserve these ice cores so that more can be learned from them.
It also seems that the logistics of drilling ice cores at high elevations is complicated, and it is no wonder that a lot of money is needed to fund the effort.
http://blogs.chron.com/climateabyss/2010/04/weekend_conversation_lonnie_thompson.html

“How long does an expedition take?
Anywhere from one to two and a half months, depending on accessibility, the thickness of the ice, and the logistics. In Hualcàn, we were out of range of helicopters, so we had to hire fifty mountaineers and porters to move our equipment from the valley to the summit of the mountain, not to mention food and medicine.
The entire expedition has to be self-contained and self-sufficient. At the end of the day, if anything goes wrong on the summit, nobody’s going to come and get you, so you have to be able to rescue yourself. Every place has its own challenges, with different bureaucracies and logistical issues to deal with. When you’re moving that much equipment and ice, you must be sure that the system works effectively, or you could come away with nothing.”

REPLY: Bullshit! – none of your argument is any excuse WHATSOEVER for not archiving your base data, and making it available to other scientists for replication. – Anthony

If it is so expensive to obtain the ice core data, wouldn’t it make all the more sense to put effort into preserving this precious data for posterity?

eadler says:

“It seems that Steve McIntyre has not been able to get the data that he wants from Lonnie Thompson, and some of Thompson’s older data may have been lost. So he is trying to discredit Thompson’s work, despite the fact that he is one of the world’s leading glaciologists and has won many prizes for his scientific work. His integrity and ability are accepted by the scientific community, even if McIntyre doesn’t admire him.”

There are plenty of people who don’t admire Lonnie Thompson. Adler has the black hat on the wrong head. He says Thompson has “part” of his data archived. Well, isn’t that special. Michael Mann also has part of his data archived – and part of it is in a “censored” ftp file that falsifies his Hokey Stick. These grant hogs with both front feet in the public trough are all alike: they show the public only what they want the public to see – and call it science.
It is the unethical Thompson who is wrong here, not Steve McIntyre. As a taxpayer I view people like Thompson as nothing more or less than kleptocrats. They flout the rules while pocketing tax money that I earned. What gives him the right? Is he someone special?? Adler’s defense of thieves only shows his own lack of character.
eadler continues: “It also seems that the logistics of drilling ice cores at high elevations is complicated, and it is no wonder that a lot of money is needed to fund the effort.”
Adler obviously didn’t read the article, or he would have seen that Willis specifically addresses this very point. Maybe it’s because eadler clogs the blogs with his pseudo-expertise. He’s the Barrie Harrop of blogland, and just as much of a pest.
Tell ya what, Adler, why don’t you pay Thompson’s grants and salary? Then we won’t be concerned that he “lost” his taxpayer-funded data, or that he refuses to publicly archive the rest.

Sully

CRS, Dr.P.H.,
Very possibly Bernie Sanders email, and that of many congresscritters, is screened due to the justifiable concern that information counter to his worldview may make his head explode.

mike g

Is not a scientist’s integrity in question when he stonewalls for this long? Isn’t it time we start calling a spade a spade?

Scott

REPLY: Bullshit! – none of your argument is any excuse WHATSOEVER for not archiving your base data, and making it available to other scientists for replication. – Anthony
——————————————
sums up the whole AGW theory really and only took 2 lines

CRS, Dr.P.H.

Sully says:
December 12, 2010 at 7:28 pm
CRS, Dr.P.H.,
Very possibly Bernie Sanders email, and that of many congresscritters, is screened due to the justifiable concern that information counter to his worldview may make his head explode.
REPLY:
Heh! You may be right! More probably, it is due to the vast volume of threatening chatter the FBI is picking up.
I have years of experience in working with DC, don’t waste your time with emails or snail-mail. The absolute BEST way to reach those folks is via fax. Here’s Suresh’s contact stuff:
http://www.nsf.gov/staff/staff_bio.jsp?lan=ssuresh&org=NSF&from_org=
If we all start sending faxes, well, it will gum up the works & he’ll notice. Not that I advocate that type of activity or anything….

wayne

C.L. Thorpe… very thoughtful! You seem to have seen throught to what is wuwt’s primary characteristic.

chili palmer

Vast porn surfing problem at NSF via FOI documents, 9/29/09 Washington Times, “Porn surfing rampant at US Science Foundation.”
“Employee misconduct investigations, often involving workers accessing pornography from their government computers, grew sixfold last year inside the taxpayer-funded foundation that doles out billions of dollars of scientific research grants, according to budget documents and other records obtained by The Washington Times.
The problems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) were so pervasive they swamped the agency’s inspector general and forced the internal watchdog to cut back on its primary mission of investigating grant fraud and recovering misspent tax dollars.
“To manage this dramatic increase without an increase in staff required us to significantly reduce our efforts to investigate grant fraud,” the inspector general recently told Congress in a budget request. “We anticipate a significant decline in investigative recoveries and prosecutions in coming years as a direct result.””…
NSF cash to M. Mann in 2009: Per a WSJ report, Jan. 20, 2010, “Michael Mann’s Climate Stimulus,” Michael Mann received more than $2.4 million from the NSF in 2009 alone.

Bulldust

Interesting when people try to defend the indefensible … and amusing. Even better when people like eadler try to make out that Lonnie is some intrepid adventurer from days gone by… no doubt many of the lady folk swooned when reading the post.

JFD

I sent my e-mail to Dr. Suresh. It was polite and to the point about making research data and methods available to the public, when the funding was granted by NSF or any other government entity. Suresh is taking on a big job. Passing out $7.4 billion per year is not easy work. I also laid out a few of my ideas on how some of the bundle of money should be allocated. I have a long association with India so tried to use it to good advantage in my approach. Suresh’s biography looks good to me. No question that he is a doer.

LazyTeenager

Smokey smokes
———–
It is the unethical Thompson who is wrong here, not Steve McIntyre. As a taxpayer I view people like Thompson as nothing more or less than kleptocrats. They flout the rules while pocketing tax money that I earned. What gives him the right? Is he someone special??
————-
I concur that the research data should be shared.
But claims of theft are lies until you can prove otherwise.

thingadonta

Scientists, to take an Australian expression, “for some unknown bloody reason”, sometimes seem to think they are above the normal working rules of the rest of society. I saw alot of this in academia, where scientists would occasionally be exempted from certain rules, procedures, stated policies, societal values etc etc. Part of the reason I saw was because the adminstrators of such generally think it doesnt really make much difference. They are WRONG. Science, by nature, is very sensitive-its sensitive to initial condtions, sensitive to cultural prejudices, sensitive to politics and moral values, and sensitive to researcher bias.
The quicker the academic-cultural tendency to be lax in following and monitoring normal rules and procedures, including stated ones, which the rest of society also follows, the quicker this disappears from science, the better.

AntonyIndia

Dr. S. Suresh will know that in his country of birth science done under government funding barely receives scrutiny from the financier. PhD research is just going through the motions to get the desired paper.
In his (present) country of residence he can now show that the US is not a “developing nation” thriving with lack of supervision, corruption, quota’s and nepotism.

Balazs

This letter is banging on open doors. Starting January 18, 2011, all NFS proposal has to contain detailed data management plan explaining, how data resulting from the proposed research will be archived and disseminated.

kim

Responsible for
Correcting Gore’s Hockey Stick.
Truth Inconvenient.
===========

jorgekafkazar

steven mosher says:
December 12, 2010 at 3:51 pm
I suggest you write your own letters. Be orginal. polite. factual.
Right, Steven. A jillion copies of the same letter will get a lot less attention than 10,000 individual notes with different subject lines.

Baa Humbug

I like the funding graphic. Notice the up-curve around about 1992? Rio Earth Summit anyone?
I’d be interested in other “scientists” grants charted like this one. I’m guessing there will be enough hockey sticks to supply an Olympic Ice Hockey competition.

Matthew

Rule number 1: Show. Your. WORK!
I learned this in Grade 2 math class. Unfortunately, some “scientists” have yet to figure this out.

Mark says:
December 12, 2010 at 5:12 pm
I’d rather the government stop funding all scientists. As long as the government is doing the funding, science will be corrupted by politics. It’s not possible for it to be otherwise.
__________________________
Seconded!
Tax-and-spend crowd would argue that today science cannot be done at your table with a piece of paper and a pencil. They would tell you that one needs large sums of money (and, therefore, government financing) to do any technologically advanced research. They would smother you reciting breakthroughs and advances achieved at the taxpayers’ expense.
There’s an answer to that:
Just a few days ago Elon Musk and his SpaceX company launched their Falcon 9 rocket to space, put the first privately developed spacecraft, Dragon (carrying cheese as a sarcastic payload) to orbit, and achieved a successful splashdown several hundred times cheaper than NASA bureaucrats could do it in their happiest dreams.
Surely, financing by NASA played a role, since NASA is one of SpaceX’s potential customers. But everyone knows that Musk would do the same without any NASA involvement. He actually put in over $100 million of his own money into it.
Large and expensive scientific and technological projects can and should be financed privately. Only then could we hope for truth in science, and for useful, not wasteful results.
Is glaciology really worth all of us paying for it without our consent? And being left on the dark about methods and unadulterated results? Let the free market decide.

ge0050

Great article on climate conferences and what they really hope to achieve
http://landshape.org/enm/copenhagen-a-failure-think-again/

Tim

“Be public about what you do.”
The truth fears no examination

Jimbo

I often like to cite cold fusion and Pons and Fleischmann as a fairly good example of when science goes wrong and then corrects itself. The failure of Dr. Lonnie Thompson to archive much of his ice core data and make it available to others to try to replicate his results means to me he has something to hide. Take heed!

…….Pons and Fleischmann provided very little technical data from their experiment, and they had no proof of their 5 year research on cold fusion……..A combination of foolishness, greed, and carelessness played a role in creating one of the biggest scientific blunders of the century……Because of the scientific reputations they had made for themselves, the public, especially Chase Peterson, came to believe in their cold fusion claim……Pons tended to withhold details of his experiments from the scientific community…..
http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/courses/classes/NE-24%20Olander/cold_fusion.htm

Does this ring a bell?