NIWA v cranks 3: the economics of truthiness

By Gareth Renowden 18/08/2010


Bryan Leyland’s dissembling about the funding of the NZ Climate Science Coalition under direct questioning from Sean Plunkett on Monday morning’s Morning Report on RNZ National — he repeatedly asserted his ignorance of financial matters, directing Plunkett to Terry Dunleavy — puts him in an awkward position. Leyland is a trustee of the NZ Climate Science Education Trust (along with Dunleavy and Doug Edmeades), the body hastily established to request a judicial review of NIWA’s national temperature record. Before lodging papers with the High Court, the trustees should have held a properly minuted meeting and discussed how they intended to fund the action — both in terms of meeting any legal fees, or dealing with any costs awarded against them. This would be standard good governance practice in a charitable trust, and if such a meeting were held then Leyland must be fully aware of the NZCSET’s current funding, and how it expects to fund an expensive and risky legal action. If no meeting were held, or Leyland has no idea how the trust expects to fund the action, then he is failing in his duty as trustee. Perhaps this is an issue that Plunkett and Morning Report might like to follow up…

Listen to the Morning Report segment here:

Climate sceptics take NIWA to court over data

Some interesting dates: I understand that the Statement of Claim lodged with the High Court is dated July 5th, and refers to the NZ Climate Science Education Trust. However the NZCSET’s Deed of Trust (go here, and enter 2539286 in the organisation number search box) is dated July 30th so did not exist when the Statement of Claim was drawn up. The Statement of Claim also states that the NZCSET is a registered trust, but registration was not granted until August 10th. Minor administrative matters, I am sure, but hardly indicative of the creation of trust intended, as its deed says, to:

…promote a heightened awareness and understanding of, and knowledge about, the climate, environment and climate and environmental issues among scholars and researchers, members of the professions and members of the public… (Sec 4.1.1)

One might suggest that the cart was put a very long way in front of the horse. More reaction to this strange affair below the fold…

In the NZ Herald this morning Brian Rudman demonstrates the value of a long memory, and the stupidity of the CSC’s stance:

In a press release coinciding with their trip to the High Court to file papers, the coalition claims “The NZ MetService record shows no warming during the last century.”

The joke is that in February 2002, I had some fun at the MetService’s expense, revealing that for $100,000 it would happily shift a weather station anywhere a mayor requested in order to improve his or her town’s temperature on the nightly television weather spot. And who did I find to criticise this sleight of hand but none other than the deniers’ bete noir, Jim Salinger, then a senior scientist at Niwa.

My investigations had been sparked by a reader noting that Wellington seemed to share Auckland’s temperature on the telly each night, which we all knew couldn’t be true.

It turned out that Mark Blumsky, the capital’s mayor from 1995 to 2001, became unhappy with the low temperatures reported from the traditional weather recording stations at Wellington airport, the Kelburn hills and Lower Hutt and demanded MetService find a warmer spot.

MetService said name your spot, and as long as it meets certain guidelines such as being over grass, and the mayor paid $100,000 in set-up costs, that would be it.

Which is how the sheltered lawn in front of the Michael Fowler Centre became a new MetService weather station, and Wellington’s daily temperature on the telly suddenly increased by about 1.5C.

Rudman also draws attention to the real losers here — the long-suffering tax payer:

The image of the flat-earthers in court making fools of themselves, trying to prove that if you travel to the horizon you’ll fall off into oblivion, is rather appealing. But court proceedings are ruinously expensive, and while the mystery money-bags funding the coalition – Act Party supporters are mentioned – may be able to afford it, taxpayers cannot.

Yet we are the ones who will have to fund Niwa’s day in court defending itself against this attention-seeking stunt of the deniers.

Meanwhile, denier-in-chief Barry Brill provides a typically wooden response (Chair challenges Science Media Centre) to comments on the case by leading scientists, and in so doing nicely demonstrates he hasn’t got a leg to sit on:

’Most of the comments by these learned scientists is limited to ad hominem, rhetorical cant, providing little confidence that they are well-informed on either the New Zealand temperature record or its significance.’

Another sceptic who needs to learn the correct meaning of ad hominem.

At Pundit, Andrew Geddis considers some of the legal aspects of the cranks putative case — it’s worth reading all the comments there — while the Timaru Herald waxes equivocal in its leader today. And while the legal case was gestating, that loquacious polymath Bryan Leyland was happily predicting an imminent global cooling by drawing on the infamous McLean, De Freitas & Carter paper and his own gut-feeling about sunspots. I think we’ll file that hostage to fortune away for future reference…