“BOINCing” to Oblivion

In February 2005 Coolwire 11 commented on the ridiculous Oxford University based mass clinate modelling experiment where people all over the world (no doubt mainly in taxpayer-funded places) engaged thousands of PCs to run modelling software. Results were reported back to HQ and all sorts of wild speculative claims about future warming have been made in the media from late 2004 based on these dubious numbers.

Now we hear that in a massive "mea culpa", the group’s "head honcho" has had to admit to major errors in their programs.

Coolwire’s advice is to "find something more relevant and useful to do people and stop wasting taxpayers money!" Read the words below and just imagine the blood on the floor behind the scenes.

Here is their statement at: www.climateprediction.net/board/viewtopic.php?t=4759

Posted: Wed Apr 19, 2006 1:16 pm
Post subject: Message From Climateprediction.net PI
Re: Recent Problem

Greetings,

As many of you will have gathered already, we found a problem with one of the input files to the BBC Climate Change Experiment, and after much heart-ache have decided the only option is to restart simulations from 1920 with a corrected file. I’d like to apologise for that. I’d also like to reassure you that your work so far has still been very useful, and will be used in future scientific papers. We are very grateful to you for all your help and hope you continue to take part in this important research.

Like most other people, I was just heading away for an Easter break when we finally worked out what the problem was, leaving poor Carl and Nick to handle this one on their own (and the family were none too impressed by my hugging the mobile anyway). So apologies for not having posted sooner, and thanks very much to all the moderators who have picked up on many of these points already.

1) Your crunching to date has absolutely not been wasted. This isn’t a problem with the model, just with one of the specified drivers of climate change, the “global dimming” effect. Separating out these drivers is exactly the kind of experiment we routinely perform in modelling centres, so although this particular experiment was inadvertent, we will still learn a lot from the runs you have already done by comparing them directly with the new runs you are just starting. In essence, what your models have done is show how much the world would have warmed up over the 20th century if it weren’t for the masking effect of global dimming.

2) Even with perfect 20/20 hindsight, we probably couldn’t have picked up the problem more than a week earlier. It is obvious now that too many models were warming up too fast over the 20th century, but we needed a reasonable number to have got through the 1970s to be able to see this wasn’t just due to chance. From the point at which it was clear that all the front-runners were crashing on the same date in 2013, I think the team tracked down the problem about as fast as was humanly possible, and we had to have a fix in place so that people would have valid runs to restart on.

3) The software was, of course, very thoroughly tested for the possibility of it interfering with other applications on your PC because our top priority is making sure it is absolutely safe for you to participate in this experiment. So while we all knew there was a risk of errors emerging on the scientific side, and there always will be (anyone who pretends otherwise has no idea what climate modelling entails), we are confident there was no risk to you, the participants. I’m sure Carl would appreciate me pointing out that his software and BOINC handled a completely unexpected mode of failure of the model perfectly, without any nasty side-effects.

4) The problem, once identified, was very simple to fix, and our simulation of the 20th century has now been tested about as thoroughly as it can be, so I believe you can be confident that your new simulations will be doing what we think they are doing. Now that some of you have simulations that have reached 2000, we will use your uploaded files to start a few simulations from 2000-2080. These won’t provide valid predictions but they will mean that by the time you all reach 2000 the next time, there will be extra security against any problems like this in the second half of your simulation.

5) For those of you who are interested, the problem was a single entry in a file header, which meant that the model started reading from the wrong point in the file. Because the data and the dates in the file were OK, the problem was far from obvious. The computer scientists among you will no doubt have strong views about a file format that allow model dates and input-file dates to get out of synch in this way, and you will find that everyone who works with the Met Office climate model, including everyone at the Met Office, agrees with you. But you just have to remember that these climate models are some of the most complicated pieces of software in the world, having evolved over many years, and the Met Office model was designed to be the world’s best, not to be an easy piece of software to run on a PC.

Thank you very much for your support. I’m sorry this will mean a couple of months’ delay in announcing the result. Although this may seem like a long time to some of you, in the progress of science, believe me, it is the blink of an eye.

Yours sincerely,

Myles Allen

Principal Investigator, climateprediction.net / The BBC Climate Change Experiment

5 comments to “BOINCing” to Oblivion

  • Bob_K

    With all the wasted electricity, and the resultant CPU heat generated, if they run enough of these so called simulations, humans will start having a significant effect on the climate.

  • Think of all the column cm’s of media hype over many months too.
    All the mislead readers and TV & radio audiences, fed a load of rubbish.
    On the plus side, I give credit for what admissions they now make.
    But why it took so long to find ?
    Will their Jan 2005 Letter to Nature now be withdrawn or amended ?
    No holding of breath please.

  • Ian Mott

    Note that no one offered a revised upper number for temperature increase? Where is 11 degrees now? Was it replaced with a modest little number 2? or even a mincing 1.5 degree change? It is all very well to fess up to the mistake but what are they doing to correct the numbers that have been burned into the mind of the punters?

  • Brooks Hurd

    It was quite illuminating to listen to Myles Allen answer Simon Cox’s questions (BBC 4’s Overselling Climate Change) on highlighting the outlier 11 C result in their press release. Allen’s explanation made it clear that climateprediction.net is much more concerned about getting press coverage than they are in doing scientific studies.

  • Wolfgang Flamme

    Just have a look at this:
    >news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4720104.stm

    If there is global warming, then it’s due to excessive waste of computing power.

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