Treadgold and the NZ CSC: dogging a fled horse

By Gareth Renowden 08/02/2010

The campaign by the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition and Richard Treadgold’s “Climate Conversation Group” to cast doubt on the NZ temperature record and to smear the scientists who have worked on it has stepped up a notch or two in recent days, following a response by NIWA to an Official Information Act request from NZ C”S”C secretary Terry Dunleavy. It seems Dunleavy and Treadgold didn’t like the answers they were given, because they immediately jumped on one small part of the response, and rushed out a press release throwing up their hands in in horror. Here’s Dunleavy:

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has been urged by the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC) to abandon all of its in-house adjustments to temperature records. This follows an admission by NIWA that it no longer holds the records that would support its in-house manipulation of official temperature readings. [my emphasis]

In December, NZCSC issued a formal request for the schedule of adjustments under the Official Information Act 1982, specifically seeking copies of ’the original worksheets and/or computer records used for the calculations’. On 29 January, NIWA responded that they no longer held any internal records, and merely referred to the scientific literature.

“Merely” referred to the scientific literature? That’s where scientific knowledge is to be found, not in worksheets or computer records. Treadgold developed the theme at his blog, under the heading FARCE: NIWA don’t have the changes:

Heads must roll – Turning into farce

In an astounding admission of ineptitude, after their former arm-waving and expostulations of injustice, NIWA have finally confessed that they cannot provide the adjustments they made to the original temperature readings in the official NZ temperature record.

Luckily for us, Treadgold later posted pdf copies of NIWA’s response, as well as Dunleavy’s original request, and so we can see for ourselves what NIWA said. Funnily enough, things are not quite as Dunleavy and Treadgold would wish us to believe.

NIWA’s response to Dunleavy essentially says that the raw temperature data is available, the station histories are available, and the methodologies used for the adjustments are available. That is all you need to reconstruct the long term temperature record for New Zealand. The CSC/CCG didn’t like this answer, and leapt on one sentence in NIWA’s reply. Here’s what Dunleavy asked for:

2. An explanation of how those original observations were processed to provide the current individual records. Please provide copies of the original worksheets and/or computer records used for such processing.

Here’s NIWA’s reply:

2. You sought explanations relating to the way in which original records were processed to provide the individual station records. The methodology is documented in the following publicly available sources:

  • Salinger, M.J., 1981. New Zealand Climate: The instrumental record. Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Victoria University of Wellington, January 1981;
  • Salinger, M.J., 1977. Dunedin temperatures since 1853. Proceedings of 9th New Zealand Geographical Society Conference, pp.106-109; and
  • Salinger, M.J., 1979. New Zealand temperatures since instrumental records began. Proceedings of 10th New Zealand Geographical Society Conference and 49th ANZAAS Conference, Auckland, pp.13-17.

The original worksheets and / or computer records used for the calculations in Dr Salinger’s thesis work are the property of Dr Salinger, who no longer works for NIWA. NIWA does not hold copies of the original worksheets.

The fact that NIWA doesn’t have Jim Salinger’s PhD notebooks from 30 years ago becomes, in Treadgold-speak:

NIWA blundered in not keeping track of some important records that justify the country’s warming since the 19th Century, even if it inherited the problem from its predecessor in the Met Service, or the early behaviour of Jim Salinger, who did the work. […] Now NIWA has admitted in writing that it lost the original data.

What NIWA actually said was that the information was in the three papers listed. Nothing is lost. Everything is in the public domain. This is what happens in real science: knowledge exists in the literature. In fact, a lot of it is in Jim Salinger’s PhD thesis, a copy of which has been in the VUW library since 1981. Appendix C covers the details, I’m told. I could order it through my local library, if I really wanted to check the details. But even without that information, the CSC/CCG could take the raw data and the station histories and, using statistical techniques readily available in the literature construct their own long-term temperature series. That would be an independent replication of the method used by Jim Salinger and NIWA over the years. It might even be a valuable contribution to the state of knowledge. That’s how real science is done. Instead Treadgold prefers to fulminate on his blog, demanding apologies from David Wratt, NIWA, and today, Hot Topic. Here’s a flavour of his prose:

So will we discover what sort of a man is Mr Renowden? If he prefers to disagree with NIWA and to cling to the idea that there are reasons for large (or any) adjustments to the temperature readings, he should declare what those reasons are and what are those adjustments, to which stations. However, NIWA, whose cause he so vigorously defends, will be unable to assist him.

If, on the other hand, he agrees with NIWA, that no reasons for large adjustments are known, he should apologise to us, for we said just that in the paper he so vehemently disagreed with.

There is much more of this sort of stuff in his normal pompous and oleaginous style, most of it eminently ignorable. But he’s issued a challenge and so I’ll rise to it. The initial CSC/CCG “study” remains complete nonsense, and the claim in it that were “no reasons for any large adjustments” simply wrong. There are sound physical and historical reasons why adjustments are necessary, as I explained in my original post on the subject. The idea that you can simply link up sets of raw data without taking changes of location, altitude and recording gear into account is daft, and Treadgold and his team should have known that. Ignorance is not an excuse when you are smearing the work of respected scientists. Bizarrely, Treadgold seems to think that NIWA now accepts that “no reasons for large adjustments are known”, which is risible. How else would they go about preparing a full exposition for the web, which will appear later this month? [Hint: see above].

I also reported that the CSC had been told years ago that adjustments were necessary. Treadgold accepts that Vincent Gray and Warwick Hughes were contacted by Jim Salinger (then a NIWA employee), who gave them relevant information. But apparently, because the emails were addressed to individuals and came from Jim Salinger, not NIWA itself, then they don’t count. The fact is that Vincent Gray reviewed the CSC/CCG “study” before its release, but neglected to disclose this inconvenient knowledge to its authors. Once again, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse when you’re engaged in a smear campaign. Treadgold is shown to be dissembling, attempting to deflect attention from his own errors.

So what are we left with? A shonky “report” is published, scientists are smeared. The report is shown to be rubbish. The scientists respond to the criticisms by generating a new temperature series — with no adjustments at all — that confirms the trends in the longer series. But the CSC/CCG keep going, firing off an OIA request. Predictably, they don’t like the answer they get, so they resort to spin and misdirection. End result? Same as last time. Egg on face. Treadgold, his “Climate Conversation Group” and the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition merely confirm my initial diagnosis. Ignorant and intemperate hypocrites to a man.