A desperate plea to be noticed?

By Ken Perrott 17/08/2010 4

Quite a few local bloggers* have commented on the legal action some New Zealand climate deniers are taking to get NIWA to change its national temperature record. This is only the latest step in a nasty little campaign by these people to deny the reality of climate change. Nasty because it distorts the data and facts and makes outrageous attacks on the integrity and honesty of New Zealand scientists. The latest step – but I do wonder if it is the last step – seeing it is likely to backfire.Initially this campaign attempted to take advantage of the “climategate” email hysteria to whip up local anti-science feelings. Of late, as this hysteria has dispersed the local deniers have deteriorated to a small but vocal clique making carping and dishonest attacks on NIWA. I guess they see this legal action as a way of somehow revitalising their campaign.

Legal action won’t change the climate

Don’t they know the story of King Canute? Several commenters have pointed out our understanding of reality is obtained by scientific enquiry, not legal action. That resorting to legal action is a sign of weakness. And that this legal action will probably backfire. Although, I guess when they are defeated that can always resort to the conspiracy theorist claim of “whitewash.” Russell Brown at Public Address suggests that journalists may actually be able to use reporting of this case to communicate some of the real science involved in climate change (see Doing Science in Court).

The political nature of this action, and the dishonesty of the charges, is well shown by the complete refusal of the denier groups to do any scientific analysis or checking of the NIWA data or conclusions themselves.  The raw temperature data is readily available and the methodology is published If the deniers seriously believed that NIWA’s adjustment of the data was faulty they had complete freedom to to their own anaylses and adjustments. They refused to do this and instead concentrated on attempting to impugn the honesty of NIWA scientists.

I wonder how they will answer these questions in court. Why did they not do their own analysis.? Why did they not calculate their own adjustments? Why did they not test the NIWA conclusions by repeating the analyses? After all, the data and methodology was available to them.

Lazy critics – won’t do their own work

This criticism of the refusal of the denier groups to undertake any analysis of their own is implicit in the comments several climate scientists made of the legal action (see Journals not court is place for scientific debate – experts for full quotes).

Dr Andy Reisinger, Senior Research Fellow, New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute and author of Climate Change 101:

“The Climate Science Coalition has not put forward any clear and consistent scientific arguments against this local or global temperature trend, has not published its views in scientific peer-reviewed journals, has not disclosed its own ‘scientific’ methods by which it claims to show that there has been a cooling rather than warming, and its members have little credibility in the climate science community.”

Dr Dave Lowe, former NIWA climate scientist:

“New Zealand climate change scientists employed by various Crown Research Institutes and Universities are amongst the best in the world and are internationally respected. Their research is continually scrutinised, peer reviewed and methods validated by independent research organisations world wide and this includes the techniques used to provide New Zealand temperature records.”


“my suggestion is that the NZ Climate Science coalition should take the raw data used to produce the NZ temperature records (it is all publicly available) and work with it to produce the answer that they require. However their methods and results should then be subject to the same harsh international peer review and method validation processes as those undergone by the NIWA and other NZ climate scientists.”

Ralph Sims, Professor of Sustainable Energy, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University:

“If they have a strong scientific argument as Mr Leyland is professing, why not simple submit a paper to a scientific journal in the usual manner and let the debate continue? Or is it that they simply want the publicity in order to keep their organization afloat?”

Euan Mason, Associate Professor, University of Canterbury:

“This legal suit is a nonsense designed to attract publicity and spread fear, uncertainty and doubt in the absence of a decent argument.  The media should ignore it and the judge should throw it out.  Let the “Climate Science Coalition” tender its own calculations and subject them to rigorous peer review by submitting a scientific paper.”

I have previously commented on this issue which has arisen because more and more scientific data, obtained by publicly financed research, is being made available (see Freedom of information and responsibility). Incompetent and frivolous use of this data should be controlled. There should be a requirement for proper scientific assessment of all reports and documents produced using the data. Whether the documents are produced by scientists or by those skeptical of the science.

(Related to this issue: Have a look at my email correspondence with the local climate change deniers. They outright refused to make available the data and methodologies they used in a discredited report attacking New Zealand scientists. So much for freedom of information.)

*See also:
Hot Topic’s When asses go to law.
Good background. Also NIWA v Cranks: Update one
Court challenge to Niwa ‘stupid’
Niwa challenged over accuracy of data – NZ Herald Report
Tumeke’s Shame on NZ Herald climate denier spin
Code for Life’s Opinion: Wanting to ’resolve’ (climate) science with legal games…
The Standard’s Attacking NIWA
No Right Turn’s Climate change: PR, not science
Dim-Post’s Inherit my wind

And a couple from the critics of the science:
Poneke’s Climate stunt won’t stop science eventually winning over propaganda and media beat-ups
KiwiBlog’s CSC v NIWA
Whaleoil’s N.I.W.A. taken to court over data accuracy


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4 Responses to “A desperate plea to be noticed?”

  • Agree with everything you say Ken, except the last bit about control of data as @rwoodnz pointed out on Twitter. I think its futile and a bad precedent to set to try and control how people use publicly released data – sure people will use it in an incompetent and frivolous way, but their credibility will evaporate as they do so. Anyone should be able to interpret the data derived from publicly funded research without having to seek approval first or jump through regulatory hoops. In the age of the internet, anything other than that is futile.

  • I actually agree with you Peter. My comments really represent wishes. There has been a lot of concentration of making scientific data available publicly but very little on ways of getting responsible use of the data.

    Personally I don’t know how we do this. I agree that its not the sort of thing that can be regulated and enforced and obviously rogue use can’t be prevented.

    I am not suggesting the sort of control that @rwoodnz seems to be assuming.

    Scientific institutes and journals have, or should have, procedures to ensure some sort of quality review. (I am continually amazed to find that many university departments don’t seem to have an internal peer review system in place). This is often as much about protecting the standing, reputation and integrity of the institute as reviewing the science. And I guess organisations like these denier groups who make use of public data in such a frivolous way really open themselves up to being thoroughly discredited. Losing any reputation they have.

    One suggestion I heard was something along the lines of fair use. That when one downloads public data one ticks yes to having read the conditions of use which refer to attribution and keeping the data and methodology public.

    While this won’t stop malicious use or require such groups to make their treatment of the data publicly available it does confer some sort of moral obligation.

    In the end I guess all these groups have to go on is their reputation (and I guess most don’t worry about that). The moral pressure of requesting their data and methodology (and the implication of their refusal to comply) could help there. A fai use provision would encourage this.

    But no – I am not suggesting regulation and/or rigid control. far from it.

  • Hi Ken, thank you for clarifying. I didn’t assume much, I only went on the words used:
    “Incompetent and frivolous use of this data should be controlled. There should be a requirement for proper scientific assessment of all reports and documents produced using the data”
    I agree with Peter’s comment and in respect to your further suggestion I’d say that while it appears reasonable on the surface I’d rather we rely on the reputation approach than try to add conditions to public data.
    On another note, I’m not a great fan of using the denier label. It raises images of holocaust deniers and suggests emotively that there is only one possible side to the debate. Despite the dominant sicence community having very good reason to say there is only one side, the option should always be kept open as I am sure the history of science apply illustrates.

    • Hmm – perhaps I should amend the post to clarify. As I said I am not clear myself how to encourage responsible use and it would be good to get feeback. Currently I think a “fair use” declaration might be the way to go. It’s quite common with other things.

      Re “deniers.” I usually try to differentiate between sceptics, contrarians and deniers.

      Anyone honestly sceptical about the science (perhaps not accepting it) and approaching it in the normal scientific manner I would call a sceptic. (I consider myself sceptical in that sense – I think that is the honest scientific attitude). Unfortunately this term is often used inappropriately for people who have no scientific interest but work hard to discredit the science for political reasons. The people undertaking this legal action are not, in my view, sceptics. They have been quite dishonest about the science and have actually worked had to slander the scientists involved. It would not be honest on my part to call them sceptics.

      Contrarians may have their hearts in the right place but are by nature difficult buggers. It tends to come with age and I have them in my own family.

      Deniers I generally reserve for the more malicious. Those who, generally for political motives, work hard to deny the science.

      I guess there is also a large group of people who are “in denial” And one can’t blame them. It is only human to be in denial about a huge problem which seems insoluble. In fact some philosophers and psychologists suggest this is a normal stage in people’s reactions.

      I try no to criticise this last group and would not describe them as deniers.

      There is always more than one side to debates but science really isn’t that sort of debate. More about rational disagreements over the reality of facts. Look at some of the comments on blogs like Hot Topic and tell me what word you would use for those who make outright incorrect, and maliciously incorrect, claims.

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