Climate data (yes, again)

By Marcus Wilson 17/08/2010

I don’t usually rant too much on my blog – it’s not my style, but the news yesterday about a legal challenge to NIWA’s temperature data is just too provoking. Yes, I know it has been well-blogged about already by other Scibloggers, but for good reason. There deserves to be some sensible scientific comment made. So here’s mine, as a scientist (a physicist), not as a climate specialist. How on earth is taking an organisation to court over its scientific data going to achieve anything positive (other than making sure lawyers don’t get made redundant)?  Scientific work is normally scrutinised through peer review – where other scientists look at it and comment. Peer review has its problems, for sure, but it is the best system we have. How can a judge possibly be in a better position than the entire scientific community to say whether a collection of scientific data is valid or not? It is utterly crazy and any judge who knows anything about science (I mean science as a whole, not just climate change) should throw this case out as being beyond what the law is there to cover. There are better things for my taxes to be spent on; moreover, there are hard political decisions to make over climate change and the governments of every country should be given encouragement to make them appropriately in the face of science, not in the face of legal red tape.

0 Responses to “Climate data (yes, again)”

  • I found it interesting that one of the CSC’s complaints is that Jim Salinger’s PhD thesis wasn’t peer-reviewed. And this is technically true — it was (presumably) reviewed by his then-superiors!

  • And his methodologies were actually published in a peer reviewed paper.

    It’s just that no-one kept the scraps of filter paper and backs of envelopes he used to do the specific calculations.

  • As far as I can tell the entire purpose of this legal action is to stop NIWA being involved in any provision of advice vis-a-vis climate change to the government of the day.

    I think that is what this specious case is all about. I think the litigants are aiming to get climate change thrown out as an issue in NZ by silencing the one organisation clearly in a position to comment and advise on the subject.

    And for many people the constant discussion in the media about this topic does not reassure them that there is a real issue at hand but that there is real dispute over the issue with many [apparently] intelligent people unsure as to whether the issue is real or imagined.

    And that is how the climate change deniers want to keep it.

    The longer they can keep people confused over the reality of climate change the better. That way government can get away with not making any decision of tackling the problem.

    However, sticking your head in the sand and going “la-la-la” was never a recipe for dealing with a problem.

    • This is exactly why I felt I should put up a paragraph about it. I am fully aware there are bloggers out there much better qualified than I to talk about climate change (I am just a physicist who has never done any climate / meterological work in his life – actually, that’s not quite true – I did two weeks work experience when I was 15 at a local met. office station) but I do know that the government will make better decisions if it listens to proper science rather than axe-grinders. Please Terrace-dwellers, pay attention to the science.

  • Do, please, keep on raising these issues and where possible ridiculing the climate change deniers. Some passion and some good rants are needed. All of science is in for a very difficult period if they get much traction.

    I speak as an expat American science teacher who has seen this madness up close. The great Republican/right-wing attack machine has arrived in New Zealand.

    Carbon dioxide-driven climate change was much-discussed, but pretty much accepted as a reasonable expectation just awaiting good documentation all through the early decades of my career.

    About 20-30 years ago, good science became the enemy of too many bad politicians. Matthew Meselson debunked the CIA’s claims of “yellow rain” chemical warfare in Vietnam. The scientific community made the absurdity of Reagan’s antimissile defence plans clear to the public. Energy efficiency and sustainability were obvious needs in the early 1970s, but Carter’s solar panels were removed from the White House by Reagan.

    It became easier to discredit science and scientists than to answer their arguments. “There you go again, saying things that nobody wants to hear”

    Lawyers outnumber scientists by 50:1 (conservatively) in any legislature or judiciary I have ever known. Politicians follow the money, knowing little and caring less about science. They remember science as some hard courses they had to take in secondary school. Scientists control little money and do not sway large voting blocs, thus are irrelevant.

    Dealing with this threat requires a good scientific approach: gather data on the main actors, study the cause-effect relationships, understand the networks involved, and intervene at key points. Do not just stand up as a target for their best shots, as if the truth matters in politics and public relations the way it does in science. Do not accept your enemies’ pretence of honest inquiry.

    I hope that someone can follow the money behind these challenges, which I very much doubt has New Zealand origins. Yesterday the Exclusive Brethren, today … ?

    • “Scientists control little money and do not sway large voting blocs, thus are irrelevant”. Yes, that’s the sad fact and is why we need to blog, amongst other things. This reminds me of something Shaun Hendy recently reported on (I can’t remember where he got it from, but sounds like it was from a politician) “Science policy doesn’t win votes”. Sad, but true. We need to change that perspective.