Off the Grid

November 29, 2009

This map is insane. I think it’s extremely misleading, but Revkin’s linked to it at Dot Earth so it probably deserves some comment. Looking back over my e-mails from the past week, I suspect that a map charted from my own correspondences would be pretty similar. I’m on several international distribution lists and listservs, and what with Copenhagen heating up, it wouldn’t be hard to reconstruct something similarly broad-reaching. Moreover, since there’s no information on who said what and how parties were linked, the map is more of a commentary on the global reach of information transfer than on a web of intercalated responsibility.


  1. This is an interesting network visualisation. I am not sure it would look similar if your emails were fed in, this depends to how many others you are linked (and how frequently the exchange occurs).
    If the dataset was all emails to: and from: you, you would be in the centre with a level of authority of 1.

  2. Hello Dr. Hale,
    As the author of the visual, I agree that it can be quite misleading, just as any visual taken alone. Furthermore, as you note, it is riddled with selection issues and suffers from choices of aggregation and approximation. However, as is often the case in scientific inquiry, this is all we have.

    We make this point in the text of the post, and even in the conclusion: “Thus, so far as these emails are a reasonable “proxy” for the true structure of this communication network, these are some of the most important individuals in the network.”

    It is only honest as a fellow scientist to acknowledge the shortcomings of our research. Though the public may not be able to understand scientific disagreement, it is dishonest to pretend otherwise within the community of researchers. This is something that the CRU perhaps could learn.

  3. Given the nature of their scientific research, it’s not really news that Michael Mann, Ken Briffa, Phil Jones, Tom Wigley, Keven Trenberth, et al. communicate with each other a lot. So aside from the interesting graphical portrayal of information transfer, as Ben mentioned, what conclusions can be drawn from it?

    Of course, there is another question: What conclusions will be unfairly drawn? I will not be surprised if we see a bunch of that…

  4. Great visualization! I agree that we can’t draw many conclusions from the visualization, but it does help to describe or at least define the boundaries of this particular epistemic community. It also begins to inform what Judy Curry was talking about w.r.t. ‘Climate Tribalism’ with the CRU affair. Would like to see someone build on this visualization.
    If nothing else, this is very appealing to us visual types 🙂

  5. There is an updatd version complete with a Movie:


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