NIWA v Cranks 4: Shoot out at the fantasy factory

By Gareth Renowden 09/10/2010

Earlier today a Hot Topic reader drew my attention to this article: Legal Defeat For Global Warming In Kiwigate Scandal, which Nigella Lawson’s father’s secretly-funded Global Warming Policy Foundation chose to feature on its web site. What’s “Kiwigate”, he wanted to know?

Turns out it’s the NIWA versus NZ Climate “Science” Education Trust court case, launched back in August. It also turns out that the article in question is wrong in just about every material respect, and possibly libellous to boot. And the source for this farrago? A post by Richard Treadgold at his Climate Conversation blog, where he claims (in characteristically long-winded fashion) that in NIWA’s “statement of defence” (the document supplied to the High Court as a response to the NZ CSET’s “statement of claim“) NIWA “formally denies all responsibility for the national temperature record (NZTR)“. Well, not quite. Let’s look first at the “Kiwigate” piece…

The “Kiwigate article” is by one John O’Sullivan, who claims to be “the world’s most popular Internet writer on the greenhouse gas theory”, and first appeared at Suite 101. Here’s the intro and opening paragraph:

In the climate controversy dubbed Kiwigate New Zealand skeptics inflict shock courtroom defeat on climatologists implicated in temperature data fraud.

New Zealand’s government via its National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has announced it has nothing to do with the country’s ’official’ climate record in what commentators are calling a capitulation from the tainted climate reconstruction.

Remarkably, just about every assertion in these two sentences is false. The case hasn’t come before a judge, let alone reached a courtroom. I understand there have been meetings between lawyers, but little else so far. NIWA has made no “announcement” about anything, and the “commentators” O’Sullivan is relying on appear to be singular and called Treadgold. The “Kiwigate” coinage appears to be his own, and has found little favour elsewhere.

The rest of the article is no improvement, and includes potentially libellous references to Jim Salinger and Michael Mann. Interesting that Lord Lawson and his team feel free to repeat those allegations by a hosting them at their site. O’Sullivan’s story/fairytale has also been enthusiastically featured at Bishop Hill, Lubos Motl’s Reference Frame blog, and Morano’s Climate Depot. Fact-checking is clearly optional when the story suits your world view.

But let’s go to the source: Treadgold. Yesterday he wrote about his interpretation of NIWA’s statement of defence:

… NIWA formally denies all responsibility for the national temperature record (NZTR).

Now that is surprising — shocking, really. Forget their defensive posturing since our paper criticising it last November — now they’ve given that up and say the NZTR isn’t their problem, they’re not responsible for maintaining it and apparently there’s no such thing as an ’official’ New Zealand Temperature Record anyway.

Actually, it’s not shocking at all. I pointed out in my first post about their legal posturing that there was no such thing as an “official” NZ temperature record, certainly not one that had been relied upon by government as a basis for any policy. Let’s look at the legal statements in a bit more detail (you can download the full documents from the links in my opening paragraph). Here’s the relevant section of the NZ CSET statement of claim:

The New Zealand Temperature Record

7. As part of the National Climate Database, NIWA has responsibility for determining the official New Zealand Temperature Record (the NZTR), which is a statistical time series of the nationally-averaged annual mean surface temperatures experienced in New Zealand.

8. The NZTR is a public record and NIWA is a controlling authority as defined in the Public Records Act 2005.

9. The NZTR has important public consequences. It provides the historical base for most government policy and judicial decisions relating to climate change within New Zealand, and contributes to the rationale for such policy and decisions.

NIWA’s reply says (translating from the legal formatting):

  • There is no “official” or formal NZ temperature record, but a number of different “streams” of climate information derived from the full database of weather data, including the various long term series NIWA and Jim Salinger have worked on over the years.
  • NIWA is the “controlling public office” for the climate database, and that’s the “public record” not the various series derived from it.
  • NIWA denies that the NZTR has been the historical base for most government policy and judicial decisions relating to climate change in NZ.

Somehow Treadgold manages to parse this as a rejection of the various long-term temperature series NIWA and Jim Salinger have compiled. The truth is that NIWA robustly defends the original seven station series (7SS) — see paragraphs 11, 12 and 13 of their statement.

Treadgold’s comprehension failure then compounds itself:

NIWA has formally stated that, in their opinion, they are not required to use the best available information nor to apply the best scientific practices and techniques available at any given time. They don’t think that forms any part of their statutory obligation to pursue ’excellence’.

In fact, NIWA’s statement specifically points out that it is required to “pursue excellence in all its activities” (paragraph 4, quoting from the CRI Act 1992). Treadgold is, it appears, hoping no-one will actually read the details and see where he’s attempting to mislead.

Treadgold’s whole post reads a lot like a pre-emptive attempt to spin failure as victory. Here’s his conclusion:

They [NIWA] seem to be doing their homework this time. Their statement of defence discloses that the new NZTR is all ready to go, subject only to peer review by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). Before too long the 7SS will be history.

No, the 7SS will still exist, recalculated from the same data as before, and (I’m willing to bet) without much in the way of change. New Zealand will still be warming, and at about the same rate as before.

Victory without firing a shot! It’s great to be vindicated after the criticism we’ve copped, but what an anti-climax!

Victory? The High Court will first decide whether the CSET’s case is worth hearing, and even if the case should reach court, the chances of NIWA being able to mount a successful defence look very good. Vindicated? Remember that the original Treadgold “report” claimed that warming in NZ “had nothing to do with emissions of CO2 — it was created by man-made adjustments of the temperature. It’s a disgrace.” But when the dust has settled, all the temperature records will still show that NZ has warmed, and the glaciers will still have retreated. How inconvenient for our little climate Quixotes… Here’s Treadgold’s poignant closing sentence:

After the country has a well-founded temperature record, I wonder if anyone will remember to thank us?

I think it’s rather more likely they’ll send you the bill for the money and time wasted by a pointless, politically-inspired campaign to smear NZ scientists and cast doubt on the reality of warming in New Zealand.

Finally — and embarrassingly for Treadgold — one of his heroes (Anthony Watts) turns up to an express an interest in a guest post by RT, but only if he can write something a little more succinct and clear. Here’s Watts:

This blog entry is really badly written […]. ;-)