Sneaking infrared peeks

The BBC reports on the initial public release of imagery from the Planck telescope, a space-based observatory of the far infrared to microwave spectrum. The pictures are pretty, and all, but what surprised me a bit is the part I bold-faced here:

The project team will need a while to analyse all the data and assess its significance. A formal release of fully prepared CMB images and scientific papers is not expected before the end of 2012. However, such has been the anticipation for Planck data that one or two groups have already tried to make unauthorised interpretations simply from the images released to the media like the one on this page. But Dr [Jan] Tauber says this activity is pointless. "The CMB is certainly visible but the image itself is colour-enhanced so you couldn't do any science with that," he explained. "We have also reduced the resolution of the image to something which is more manageable for people to look at. Otherwise it would just be too big."

It’s interesting to me that paleoanthropology is not alone in people trying to jump the gun on the release of information. Genomics seems to have this problem mostly under control, despite the rapid open release of big datasets, but that may be because of the relative lack of widespread preprint availability by ArXiv.

It’s not necessarily pointless in this case – although the data may not be good enough for the purpose of accuracy, some non-obvious interpretations of major features may be easy for a specialist to make based on low-resolution pictures. Not up to publication standards, but as for disseminating your interpretation on a preprint server they may be enough.

That’s certainly the case in paleoanthropology, where a glimpse of a new fossil makes some things very obvious. You can see why the “ownership” of data is a big issue, particularly as data more and more are the product of large international groups of scientists.