Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Deep Naivetee

I've made a couple of comments on Bryan's blog early this morning. One is a continuation of my usual ranting, and another is an expression of confusion about what web services have to do with anything scientific coders care about.

Meanwhile I am amused to see my position described as "deeply naive" in a blog by Dan Hughes that I haven't spotted before. It seems worth following for the in crowd.

I don't, actually, think a ground-up rewrite would be easy, and I have some ideas for a less ambitious approach to prove the pudding for a higher level abstraction approach. We'll see what NSF says about it.

However, I think the tenacious attachment to the code which Dan himself goes so far as to describe as "very olde, very poorly constructed, undocumented, and yet very actively used" (much further than I would go) is damned peculiar. It seems to imply that what we are doing doesn't matter. Well, if it doesn't matter we should quit, and if it does matter we should bite the bullet and write something clean and maintainable and (dare I say it) even literate.

In the end this matter is too important for anything less than maximal transparency. It completely baffles me that this goal is so thoroughly outside the field of vision of practitioners. I think it's fundamental.

Update: Whoops. I mistook what Dan Hughes was about. He isn't attached to the code. He doesn't work with the codes, he just snipes at them from a distance. He's an "auditor". Likely, he doesn't want to believe that climate modeling is feasible, or at least is playing to an audience that thinks like that. One can hope he does not reach the illogical conclusion that climate protection is not a useful goal of policy pending the substantial improvement of such models.

Let me make it very clear from observing real productive climate scientists that extant models are useful tools for science, and that the scientists are well aware of their imperfections and flaws.

This doesn't mean they/we should be immune from criticism, nor that we have a clear sense of how useful the extant models are for projection. I have a lot doubts on that score, but I take the rational risk-weighted response of being more worried about our collective future, rather than less so, as a consequence.

Further Update: That said, the discussions on Hughes blog are not without value. I found this one especially interesting.

Further Update: While it might appear that there is no intent by Hughes to provide a constructive alternative (see comment #6 to this thread) he does in fact offer us up a strawman proposal for an alternative approach here (linked from #7 in the same thread). His server is slow and unreliable, but it's there on occasion. Reading...


Bryan said...

Well, I think William and I were both included in the naive bucket too. A few moments research may have shown him that all three of us have more than a few credentials in this field:-) A few moments research hasn't yielded any information about him ... but a perusal of his blog shows his naivetee about modelling per se, and the comments in your second link to his blog reinforce them :-) I don't plan to bother reading it any further!

Anyway, back to webservices. Actually, I agree with you in that web services have nothing to do with scientific coders, if those coders are modellers ... From what I understand of your interests, I'd not bother with them if I were you. Stick with your position, meanwhile, for some of the things I have to do, I can't avoid them. Doesn't mean I like them ... I'd rather be thinking about python based couplers.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, he didn't publish my comment so far, we'll see.

On further investigation I do suspect his comments on Lorenz chaos are disingenuous rather than merely misguided. It seems a common tactic of attack on the technical flank.

On the other hand, the existence of vigorous skepticism among engineering types can't be denied, and I think it's important. Such people are opinion leaders among their communities, and they tend to move in more conservative circles than we scientists, especially post-AGW-educated climate scientists, do.

There are several reasons I want a legible model; having something to show this crowd is among them.

Michael Tobis said...

Hughes' blog is not responsive today.

He did publish my comment; I am curious to see if he will respond.