There seems to be a big mobilisation of climate change deniers at the moment. Someone on Twitter described selective use of stolen emails, “Climategate”, as pre-Copenhagen smears. They added a quote from Churchill which I think is very apt: “A lie is halfway round the world before the truth can get its pants on.”

Most of the local media seems to be taking a relatively balanced approach to the Climategate email issue (see for example A climate scandal, or is it just hot air?). However, we now have  a “controversy” manufactured by the local Climate Science Coalition an Climate Conversation Group. A group of climate change deniers, none of them climate scientists themselves, who attempt to cast doubt on the science produced by real climate scientists. This started with a press release (Are we feeling warmer yet?). picked up and promoted by Ian Wishart (a local conspiracy theorist and climate change denier) and some local conservative and religious apologist blogs (see for example I confess I now believe in manmade Global Warming, Climate scientists caught lying and New Zealand not warming?).

Basically, it was a manipulation of raw data from NZ weather stations to support their preconceived claim of no temperature change over time. Accompanied by a claim that NIWA has dishonestly adjusted the same data to produce a temperature change.

The issues, and the scientific facts, are well covered by Garth at Hot Topic (NZ sceptics lie about temp records, try to smear top scientist) and items at the NIWA web site. I recommend reading these.

Nature of the distortions

The scientific issues involved, and the distortions made by the deniers, are an interesting example of how scientific data can be manipulated dishonestly. The issues are well illustrated by these graphs from NIWA. The figure shows the raw temperature data from three stations in Wellington. The main Kelburn station data (green) shows what is most probably a significant increase of temperature over time. This data is consistent, taken from the same site since 1930.

However there was also data available from before 1930 from a separate station at Thorndon site (blue). This site was much closer to sea level and understandably gave higher readings.

In essence, what the climate change deniers did was combine the data from these two stations without any corrections. it produced the result they wanted because the combined raw data was skewed by the higher temperatures at the Thorndon site and hence removed the temperature trend. They simply attached the blue plot to the green one!

The figure illustrates how climate scientists deal with these sort of problems. Unfortunately there was no overlapping data for the two stations. But there were concurrent data (red) for the Airport station (at approximately the same elevation as the Thorndon station was) and the Kelburn station. This enable determination of an adjustment factor which could reasonably be applied to the raw Thorndon data.

The resulting graph after proper combination of the data from the three stations is shown in the next figure. (Here, the red and blue data have been adjusted by the factor determined fror the red and green data).

Now, of course,  the complete data made available by NIWA, and their graphical presentation of NZ temperature trends over time, are more complex than this. They contain information from more met stations. But, I think, the consideration of the Wellington station data clearly presents the issues involved.

It also clearly demonstrates the deception attempted by the NZ Climate Science Coalition.

(Sure, I am going to get deniers who wish to talk about the non-Wellington data – a tactic for prolonging the attack and divert attention away from the dishonesty of the Climate Science Coalition and the Climate Conversation Group).

Attack to divert attention

Some of the deniers have partly acknowledge their deception. Richard Treadgold, who collated the information in the press release has acknowledged that they purposely avoided proper adjustment for site differences. However, he still attempts to shift the criticism by claiming NIWA hadn’t provided details on adjustment method.  NIWA claims that they had made the Coalition aware of methodology several years ago.

But you can see the tactic. The best defense is attack – accusation of more cover ups! Similar to the way creationists react to discovery of fossils of transitional forms – by then claiming there are two “missing gaps” instead of one! Anything to prevent attention turning back to the deception of the Climate Change Coalition the Climate Conversation Group. And the climate change denial blogs have quickly taken up that chorus.

But the real question for those bloggers was asked by US blogger Deltoid: “I wonder how many of the folks accusing NIWA of cooking their data will correct their posts?” (See New Zealand Climate Science Coalition caught lying about temperature trends).

My concern about the attacks on reason, on science. While some people have been concerned about the implications of the “Climategate” emails others have resorted to extreme and emotional  attacks on integrity of scientists involved. Some are even attacking the very idea of science! Peter Griffin from the NZ Science Media Centre described it this way a few days ago: “The comment sections of some blogs have become particularly grubby places to congregate” (see Climategate brought out the worst in us).

Mind you – it would be interesting, wouldn’t it, if somebody hacked into the servers used by the Climate Change Coalition and the Climate Conversation Group. Just imagine the exchanges which probably took place over how this data should be massaged and presented. Over who could be used to release the “report.” And what blogs and newspapers could be trusted to carry their message uncritically.

Just imagine the “Deniergate” that could result!


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