As mentioned here before, dendrochronology has a problem with confidential data. European dendro labs tend to keep their data as in-house trade secrets in order to be able to charge for their services. This means that the labs function as black boxes: you pay a fee, stick a piece of wood into the box, a date comes out the other end, and you have no way to evaluate the process taking place inside. This is poor science.

For reasons of climate skepticism, a London banker named Douglas Keenan has now probably managed to liberate a 7000 year base curve for Irish oak from Queen’s University Belfast by legal means. Keenan is a notorious crank. But the UK Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled that the university must hand over the data to him, effectively placing them in the public domain.

The whole thing is pretty pointless from a climate-historical perspective as the trees are known to record summer rainfall well, but not temperature. To archaeology and dendrochronology, however, it is in my opinion excellent news. Academic dendrochronology needs a new open-source business model if it is to act as a fully scientific discipline. The Belfast ruling is a step in the right direction, even though it has been forced for the wrong reasons.

Thanks to Dendro-Åke for the tip-off.

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  1. #1 Jerry
    April 23, 2010

    To hell with Black Box Science. Are we the pimps of facts, or scientists.

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