NIWA’s obfuscation unequivocal — it’s worse than we thoughtRichard Treadgold | December 18, 2009
NIWA have published misleading material on their web site and seem to have advised the Minister for Climate Change Issues to give evasive answers to questions in the Parliament.
For those unfamiliar with the story: NIWA keeps raw data for the national NZ temperature record and makes it available on their web site. The Climate Conversation Group and the NZ Climate Science Coalition conducted a joint study of the temperature record, researched by a science team and published on 25 November under the title Are we feeling warmer yet?.
But we’re only asking about the weather
That study demonstrated that the official graph does not represent the raw temperature data. NIWA told us that adjustments have been applied so we’ve asked for the details. So far they obfuscate. We don’t know why they refuse to disclose what the weather has been.
We conclude that NIWA’s response to our enquiries has been defensive, obstructive and oddly disparaging.
The Hon Rodney Hide became concerned about deteriorating standards in public science and asked in the Parliament whether the Hon Dr Nick Smith would require NIWA to release the full data for the official NZ temperature record. On the last possible day for answering, Nick finally replied: “You must ask Wayne Mapp; he’s the responsible minister (for Research, Science and Technology, the portfolio that covers NIWA).” We won’t get any Parliamentary questions answered now until well into the New Year, so Nick Smith has caused a considerable delay in getting this information to the public.
Gratuitously, he added: “I would note however that the NZCSC have had this information since 2003.” He hoped that little factoid would hurt the Coalition’s reputation, but it won’t, although it might hurt his own — because the Coalition didn’t exist until 2006.
See the email, they said, but they deceive us
NIWA say that the Coalition have had all the information needed to reproduce the official graph since 19 July, 2006, when, they say, “NIWA advised NZ Climate Science Coalition member Dr Vincent Gray” of the need for adjustments and gave him a couple of examples. Dr Gray has located an email of that date and we can now reveal that it was from Dr Jim Salinger, not NIWA, it was not addressed to the Coalition and did not mention the Coalition.
It was sent just a few weeks after the Coalition was created, before they ever discussed the national temperature record. Dr Gray tells us that and other emails before and since were not official communications on either side — they were letters between two scientists who had known each other for years.
But most significantly the email does not give details of the adjustments made to the temperatures, nor does it give the information required to derive the adjustments. Dr Salinger just discusses the changes in a general way and gives a few examples and that’s all. NIWA’s assertion that that email contains the requested information is not supported by reading the email.
If Dr Gray had received the information he asked for in 2006, it would have made no sense to ask for it again last October, so the fact that he did ask again is further evidence that NIWA have never supplied the information and they are misinforming us and misleading the public. Even now, Dr James Renwick has not answered Dr Gray, neither has Dr David Wratt, despite a further plea from Dr Gray only three weeks ago.
We are asking valid, reasonable questions of a public body, the very same questions which Dr Gray has been asking for many years. Why don’t they answer? It is unprofessional of them to refer to private emails and give replies that are readily shown to be unfounded.
Their refusal betrays a deep reluctance to assist
It might help to point out that the Coalition is not like Greenpeace, where members take orders from head office and write and speak on behalf of the organisation. We’re rather more independent than that—an association of like-minded individuals who study climate science. The organisation is not necessarily aware of private correspondence between any of our supporters and former employees of NIWA. The Coalition is a voluntary, unpaid amalgam of scientists, engineers, journalists and free thinkers, all keen to investigate different bits of the global warming puzzle, discuss it and try to understand it.
The Coalition could not be expected to have access to Dr Gray’s records for years past. To expect the whole Coalition to know that one scientist was sent an email several years ago suggests mere ignorance; but to refuse to resend that email or a copy of a paper betrays a deep reluctance to help. And that’s disgraceful. If any other government department gave deliberately obstructive answers to questions from their clients (much less Parliamentary questions), heads would roll.
So what are we asking for? What has caused this flurry of frosty press releases and belligerent blogs? Here are the tough questions that have put the nation’s premier environmental organisation into a tizz and provoked them to a nervous, self-obsessed obfuscation:
- The graph of the New Zealand temperature record on the NIWA website is based on just seven weather stations. What, precisely, gives NIWA confidence that they are representative of the whole country?
- What, precisely, are the adjustments made to the temperature readings at each of those seven stations, what is the raw data involved in making them and when were they each made?
- What, precisely, are the reasons each station was adjusted?
We note that these questions are within NIWA’s area of competence.
In response, NIWA fashioned the following reply, which they posted on their web site. They said:
For more than two years, New Zealand Climate Science Coalition members have known of the need to adjust the “seven station” data. They have had access to:
- The raw data.
- The adjusted data (anomalies).
- Information needed to identify the adjustments made by Dr Salinger.
- Information needed to develop their own adjustments.
We put only three questions and they haven’t answered any of them! For seven stations, it would take about half an hour to pull out the figures and send them over. We would go away and so would any hint of scandal. What are they hiding?
The longer NIWA obfuscate, produce red herrings, answer questions we haven’t asked and criticise us for what we haven’t alleged and haven’t challenged, the more suspicious everybody gets.
They’ve made counter-claims that have persuaded many bloggers that we are a pack of ill-willed villains. We are, for suspicious reasons, asking questions to which we already know the answers!
But when they say the information exists in a public record, they are deceiving us. We have looked very carefully, but they have not cited a single document containing the adjustments made to the temperature readings, and that raises a very natural supplementary question, one we hadn’t anticipated: why not?
Peer review — anyone interested? Nobody! Typical.
Some bloggers claim we’re attacking the NZ temperature record, since it’s well-known that we question claims of dangerous man-made global warming. There might be some merit in that, but it’s a bit soon for us to mount an attack on the record when we don’t know how the record was obtained. Those who excoriate us on those grounds must fear the changes won’t stand up to scrutiny, else why not support our demand to reveal them? We’re only asking questions.
All we’re doing is scrutinising the record, as any good peer-reviewer would. This is peer review. Even the doubters and deniers approve of peer review, right? If not, why not?
But NIWA have made counter-claims so we must respond to them. Are those counter-claims true? We have said nothing until now, save a couple of blog comments. We have been waiting politely, giving NIWA and Dr Nick Smith a decent opportunity to answer our questions through the proper channels before taking up an argument.
Then on Wednesday last week, at a climate briefing for MPs by NIWA’s Dr Wratt, Nick Smith unceremoniously barred Dr Vincent Gray from attending, giving an unconvincing reason. Rodney Hide had invited Dr Gray along as a scientific adviser. We had been waiting politely for their reply before responding to their counter-claims, but with NIWA now clearly intent on frustrating our request, it looked like the waiting was over.
Still, we kept quiet until the following Friday (a week ago), for the publication of the answers to the written Parliamentary questions. But those answers made it obvious they were not even pretending to be helpful. The gloves were off.
We give the lie to NIWA’s prevarications
So here, finally, is our response to each of NIWA’s points. It follows the numbering on NIWA’s web page headed “NZ temperature rise clear”. Their answer in italics, our response follows.
3. NZ Climate Science Coalition disingenuous
- For over two years the Coalition has had access to: The raw data.
We didn’t ask for the raw data, but this statement is true. In July, 2007, NIWA finally stopped charging citizens for the public temperature data and since then it has been available on the internet for free. But this is a red herring, since our study says plainly that we downloaded the raw data from their web site, so we must have known it was there. This is a silly answer to a question we didn’t ask.
- For over two years the Coalition has had access to: The adjusted data (anomalies).
This is not true. One of our members recently recalled that Jim Salinger (not NIWA) sent him personally (not the Coalition) several years ago a spreadsheet containing the adjusted data and he gave a copy to the science team working on the project. It was exactly what we needed to identify the stations and the gross adjustments, but we’ve had it for just a few weeks. In addition, it is not the adjusted temperatures, it is the anomalies, which require more work to interpret — and the spreadsheet does not contain either the individual adjustments or the reasons for them. We did not ask for the adjusted data.
- For over two years the Coalition has had access to: Information needed to identify the adjustments made by Dr Salinger.
This is mush and hardly relevant. We asked for the adjustments; what kind of answer is it to say we already have “information needed to identify” those adjustments? What does that even mean? In their web posting “NZ temperature rise clear” they don’t support this answer, they fudge the point and cite no document. This assertion is vacuous and remains hollow without citations.
- For over two years the Coalition has had access to: Information needed to develop their own adjustments.
This is not true. There are papers discussing methodology, but that doesn’t help us. There are several papers citing each other in a complex chain of references, each one giving some information, but none of them give a good enough description to replicate what Salinger did. They say the stations have been described, but where have they been described? Without citations this statement is unhelpful.
They say our paper was based on analysing the seven stations without adjustments for site changes. No, it wasn’t only site changes, it omitted adjustments for any reason; that’s the point. We saw the graph they made, then found the data they provide. They don’t match. Tell us why not.
The following indented, numbered headings are from NIWA’s web site; our comments follow.
(a) Coalition told in 2006 of need to take account of site changes
As we describe above, the Coalition was not involved in that exchange. Our scientists are well aware of reasons for adjusting temperature data and repeatedly mentioning Hokitika and Wellington does not satisfy our request for details of each adjustment.
(b) Methodology for adjusting data publicly available
While it can be argued that Rhoades and Salinger (1993) is indeed public, when you actually read the paper, you find a tangled web of papers that cite each other (all involving Salinger somewhere), none of which provide all of the information. The Rhoades and Salinger paper was only submitted and not published, so it is unlikely the method used was international standard practice (the Rhoades and Salinger paper is the only one that specifically discusses the methodology, as it is a techniques paper). This reference does not answer our questions.
(c) Unadjusted (raw) data publicly available
This answers a question we did not ask by repeating a fact that our study plainly states.
(d) Adjusted series provided in 2006
Dr Salinger (not NIWA) sent his spreadsheet with the adjusted data to a fellow scientist mere weeks after the Coalition was created, without any communication between the Coalition and NIWA. The spreadsheet contains nothing about the adjustments. They refer to a NZ Meteorological Service publication which we haven’t located yet and would appreciate a copy of.
You made them, so you explain them
We asked NIWA why these seven stations were chosen, what the adjustments were and why they were made. They have not answered our questions, which would be considered reasonable in any normal peer review.
We got back a torrent of assertions which don’t address our questions and a series of scholarly references that turn out not to contain the data we seek. This provides an object lesson in the very meaning of obfuscation. We are not deterred, however, because we think it’s very important to examine the NZ temperature record in order to clarify public policy.
The ball is in NIWA’s court to reveal what the adjustments are. Then, based on our analysis, they need to demonstrate that they are valid. They made them, so they must explain them. To repeat what our study found: without the adjustments there is no trend—no warming—and under those circumstances a scientist takes extra care to justify the changes he has applied.
We do not doubt there has been some warming—or else we would still be stuck in the Little Ice Age. Nor are we implying that NIWA have stooped to fiddling data. We are merely trying to get answers to queries their data raise. It shouldn’t be too hard for NIWA to list the actual adjustments to these stations. There are only seven of them.
They mention what should be done; we ask what was done
Nick Smith, in a letter to Rodney Hide dated 8 December, referred to standard adjustment techniques “described in the scientific literature” or NZ Met Service publications. But the argument that they used “standard techniques” is misleading. There are a range of techniques, each with advantages and disadvantages, and they must say which was used because there’s no other way to know.
The choice of adjustment technique and how it is implemented are also important. In the case of the technique outlined by Rhoades and Salinger (1993), there is a high degree of subjectivity in relation to which data are adjusted and by how much. It is insufficient to state that the methods were standard, as when a subjective assessment is required there is a high degree of operator variability. Did Dr Salinger make all of the subjective assessments?
Indicating that the data on station changes are available does not explain what adjustments are made. The adjustments that could be expected for screen changes, switching to AWS (automatic weather stations) and urbanisation were not made. Nor do any adjustments appear to have been made for any other recognised factors that influence temperature at a site.
Depth of NIWA obfuscation repugnant
NIWA say that “information about changes” to the seven stations is in a report published by the NZ Met Service in 1992. They add that “much of this information” is also in the metadata in their climate database. However, it is unlikely that “much” information is equivalent to “all” information and thus it is unlikely to enable us to replicate what Dr Salinger adjusted, no matter how strongly they insist that we can. Why does the metadata not contain all relevant information for each station? What has been left out and why?
The depth of NIWA’s obfuscation is obvious and must be repugnant to practising scientists and intelligent citizens alike. NIWA should simply help us to examine and understand the public data. What are they afraid of?
Herald again flies NIWA’s pennant
On 5 December the NZ Herald joined the controversy, upholding the IPCC global warming doctrine with a story by Eloise Gibson saying NIWA had “taken the unusual step of publishing a graph of raw climate data on its website to answer critics who accused it of fiddling the figures.” Unfortunately the Herald succeeds only in bestowing a veneer of credibility on NIWA’s deceptive assertions and diversions; if only they’d done a little checking!
Miss Gibson found time to quote NIWA but none to question their critics: suggesting bias by Miss Gibson, who had our details. Dr Renwick presented a set of 11 stations from around New Zealand which have not been adjusted and which show warming. The article said:
Dr Renwick said that any selection of “reasonably representative” sites would show roughly the same trend.
That is demonstrably untrue. He says “any selection” would show the same trend. But one must only look to our study to falsify that. It presents seven unadjusted stations that display no trend at all. Or does he not call them “reasonably representative”? If so, why do NIWA allow unrepresentative sites to be used for the national average? Because strangely, it was those very seven that they just happened to choose for the national average, which just happen to show no warming until they adjust them!
We would like to know why Dr Renwick cites those 11 new stations and what relevance they have to the questions we asked about the seven stations making up the national average. We wonder if Dr Renwick considers them representative of the country, more suitable than the seven, or less suitable. Unless there are interesting answers to those questions we think the 11 new stations are only a diversion.
He said Niwa had explained why it adjusted the data to members of the Climate Science Coalition in 2006 …
That’s only partly true: as we explain above, NIWA refer to an email sent several years ago to an individual, not to the Coalition, and say it explains why they adjusted the data—but we asked for all the individual adjustments and their reasons. Still, NIWA can prove what they say—let them release the email and we’ll all see what’s in it. Then please answer our questions.
… only to have it raised again two weeks before a major climate conference. “It does seem a coincidence,” he said.
Well, it was coincidence—as coincidental as our study being published just a week after the CRU leak. We didn’t plan the publication, we released it as soon as the ink was dry. It had nothing to do with Copenhagen or the CRU; that was a bonus.
Doubters of man-made global warming have gone into overdrive in recent weeks as world leaders prepared to agree to new cuts to greenhouse gases.
This is not objective reporting, it is editorialising by Miss Gibson, a transparent attempt to link our fact-based questions regarding the NZ temperature record with the worst of global warming activism, without actually saying so. We wonder how Miss Gibson could be comfortable making these insinuations about our motives without asking us what those motives are.
It is especially distasteful to see such tactics pulled out only to shelter a public utility engaged in patent obfuscation. The Herald once championed the cause of truth, of honest enquiry and public accountability. Long ago I gave a speech in their Reference Library which expressed, before the editor and many of the journalists, admiration for the paper’s reliable devotion to the truth. There may be few left there who remember that speech, but what do they think now; and what on earth are they doing? The Herald is brought low.
We wonder why Miss Gibson is so in thrall to the established IPCC doctrine on global warming that she entirely fails to apply to this story that journalistic balance she presumably learned and lauded during her training.
NIWA, give us the facts
If we really could figure out the method easily from a single paper, as NIWA say we could, why couldn’t they? Why did Jim Renwick have to bring Jim Salinger back to figure it out? Couldn’t they do it without him? And if they couldn’t, how on earth could we? This doesn’t make sense, and NIWA must tell the truth. Stop obfuscating—just tell us the adjustments.
Our scientists are still researching the papers cited by NIWA along with other papers uncovered by our research, some of which cast doubt on Salinger’s claim of strong warming in New Zealand since the 1930s. That research will not be complete until some time in the New Year.
So NIWA should come to their senses and just tell us the changes to the national temperature record. If they are justified, then they are non-controversial, so just tell us what they are! If they are not justified, then they are controversial, and we still need to know what they are! If you don’t know what they are, you’ll have to bite the bullet and admit it.
Our three questions are on the table. NIWA have not answered even one. Now a fourth, more ominous, question looms larger with every passing day: why don’t they answer?