Opinion: Wanting to "resolve" (climate) science with legal games…

By Grant Jacobs 15/08/2010

… is silly.

Regular readers will know that while I don’t write about climate change,* I have commented while writing on other topics** that trying to ’resolve’ scientific matters by flexing legal muscle is a poor tactic, to put it politely.

According to this article in the The Press, The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (sic) has filed papers against NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) over the accuracy of it’s climate change data to the High Court.

The article states:

The coalition would ask the court to find Niwa’s New Zealand Temperature Record invalid.

Isn’t this a matter of science, not law?

Scientific matters belong in scientific literature, not the courts.

If they have something to present, present it as a research paper, surely?

More than just ask the court to invalidate data, they apparently are also asking to:

[…] seek a court declaration preventing Niwa from using the NZTR when it advised the Government or any other body on global climate issues. It would also ask the court to order Niwa to produce a full and accurate NZTR.

I no lawyer, but this would seem to be wanting to block and dictate the terms of data they don’t like.

I call tough luck.

According to the press accounts, ’the raw data [are] publicly available’. If so, the NZCSC are free to interpret these data as they see fit already. I can’t see that anyone is blocking them presenting their interpretation.


As far as I am able to tell, there is no statement on the NZCSC website about this at the time of writing. There is a statement (of sorts) on the ’Climate Conversation Group’ website. The technical points belong within a scientific review, not the courts. Their final point is that an independent review has already been organised. I would have thought the thing to do is to await the outcome of the review.

Hot Topic is a better forum for discussing climate change and it’s politics than mine.

** Where I’ve done this I have been writing about various alternative medical ’remedies’.

Other articles on Code for life:

You can change the ideas, but not the data

Friday’s Factoids and Quirky Quotes

Preserving endangered species – of gut microbes

Temperature-induced hearing loss

Testing common ancestry to all modern-day life

0 Responses to “Opinion: Wanting to "resolve" (climate) science with legal games…”

  • I see Doug Edmeades is a trustee. Some may remember the Maxicrop saga where he was the Ag scientist who said it didn’t do what the makers stated it should. Years of litigation followed. He won. Fascinating he is now putting himself on the other side of the fence. I would have thought that science might win here as well.

  • Ross – I posted this comment at Hot Topic. We have discussed this issue before.

    Doug is a former colleague of mine. I have tried to engage with him on this issue but he refuses to reply to my emails. Pity as we generally get on well and respect each other and we could actually discuss this evenly.

    There is an interesting story of opportunism and betrayal of science behind all this. Doug Edmeades and Bert Quinn were the two main government scientists who were in MAF’s defense team. Maxicrop sued after Doug had made a comment on their product on Fair Go.

    MAF won the case and won well. The science was good – but it terrified the bureaucrats of ever getting involved in legal procedures again. Bert Quinn recognised this fear so when he left MAF and started his own company he often used threats of legal action to prevent MAF, and then AgResearch, from publishing our data on direct application rock phosphate and particularly on the Egyptian rock he imported. Doug was heavily censored and this was one of the reasons he eventually left to start his own agricultural consultancy.

    Our whole group was told not to publish or comment on our data. It was a disgusting example of capitulation on our managers’ parts. And even 10 years later I was ordered not to use my data after another legal threat from Bert. Around the same time Bert used legal action to get a book Doug had written on the Maxicrop and QuinnPhos issues withdrawn.

    So Doug, like Bert, is no stranger to legal actions and the way that even threats of legal action can be used against scientific institutes. And to suppress honest science. I am sure he is hoping for similar success in intimidating NIWA here.

    I imagine that Doug has ended up in the denier camp (relatively recently) because he sees it as a way of confirming himself and promoting his consultancy within the agricultural community. That’s all I can put it down to. It certainly is not because of any scientific integrity. As I said he has refused to respond to my emails.

    But his actions are certainty disappointing. He has got in with some bad political apples (ACT and the NZ Centre for Political research). And in the end it will only destroy his reputation.

  • Thanks for sharing this here Ken. I think it’s useful to understand how pressures can be placed on organisations in ways that those outside of the loop (as it were) might not appreciate, and see something of the “games” that can result as a consequence.

  • I’d recommend this from The Pundit as follow-on reading:


    Among other things it includes a link to the statement of claim.

    As a follow-on comment of my own if they have substantial financial backing and they were genuinely concerned about the data, they could just do some research using this finance, rather than this legal action (bullying, bluster, attention-getting — call it as you see it). Others are suggesting that their “real” interests are political, rather than the temperatute data itself.