Today we bring you more details of the High Court hearing from two weeks ago, including a surprising admission by NIWA, who practically discard the “peer review” provided for them by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM).
In various previous posts (NZ sceptics v. NIWA – summary of case, More about the NZ temperature record, What warming, Incredible sham from NIWA and others) we summarise the *Coalition’s case against the Seven-Station Series (7SS).
Since 1999 this temperature series has been providing the basis for New Zealand’s climate change policies, but its major role has been to be presented whenever a public body needs official evidence of the country’s temperature history.
Until we investigated, NIWA’s web site did not disclose that the temperature readings had been adjusted. We only found out when we went to graph the data they provided – our graph was wildly different from theirs and showed no warming. For years, NIWA scientists even refused polite requests from our scientists to disclose the adjustments they had made to enable independent review of their results.
As our frustration grew, Coalition members and the CCG in 2009 published their landmark review Are we feeling warmer yet, showing the difference between the raw and adjusted readings, and began publicly to criticise NIWA’s reluctance to release official public data.
NIWA promises Parliament they’ll publish
Unable to respond to the Coalition’s criticisms (it transpired later that they had lost the details, they just didn’t tell anyone), NIWA undertook to fully reconstruct the 7SS in a review project which would occupy five or six scientists for several months. In making this promise to Parliament in February 2010, NIWA’s minister (the Hon. Dr Wayne Mapp) added three further undertakings:
- the NIWA work would be externally peer-reviewed by two scientists from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM).
- the confidence levels of the adjustments would be calculated and disclosed.
- by June 2011, a scientific paper describing NIWA’s methods would be submitted to an academic journal for publication, and would be subject to independent peer reviews.
That made four principal objectives. What’s their status?
- Reconstruction: as we know, it’s finished.
- Peer reviews: NIWA and the BoM say that a single peer review occurred. NIWA claims their report has been approved; the BoM describes a somewhat cursory examination. There’s no evidence of the BoM’s approval and no sign of a thorough examination. There’s no evidence of other peer reviews.
- Confidence levels: unpublished.
- Formal paper: not submitted, unpublished.
In summary: three out of four objectives were not achieved. That is not adequate and I note that no explanation has been offered. It’s certainly not what the Minister promised the Parliament.
After the announcement of the review, nothing happened for several months, so the Coalition issued Judicial Review proceedings.
About six weeks later, NIWA sent station records to the BoM showing their proposed adjustments. After some to-and-fro, NIWA received a final report from the BoM (excluding Hokitika) in early December. NIWA didn’t like it a bit. They first sent off an interim reply and then gave the BoM a 40-page broadside on the eve of Christmas. The BoM didn’t respond.
So NIWA made the best of it. They published a report on the ‘Review of NIWA’s “Seven-Station” Temperature Series’ on 16 December, 2010, with its new temperature record (NZT7). The report included a wishy-washy letter from the BoM confirming it had carried out a peer review, but saying nothing significant about the outcome.
OIA requests refused
In the global climate change debate, much reliance is placed by some, such as the IPCC, on allowing only peer-reviewed material, in an attempt to ensure good quality information. There is also enormous public interest in our suit against NIWA, both here and overseas.
Recognising this, I asked NIWA for copies of their correspondence under the Official Information Act. I’ve previously described the outcome in NIWA’s review taking a hiding, NIWA’s review: what are they hiding? and NIWA — show us the peer review!
The Ombudsmen’s office warned of possible delays in January 2011. They later asked for comment on NIWA’s claim for legal privilege on the grounds that the whole peer-review had been undertaken as a defence to our legal proceedings.
My first request related to the period up to publication of the Review. In July 2011, I lodged a further request for the period subsequent to the Review. I finally received “no” for an answer just a few weeks ago, in July.
Independently, Warwick Hughes asked the BoM for copies of the correspondence under the Australian Freedom of Information Act. His experience was described in What are the Aussies hiding, No, really — what are they hiding, Some questions for the BoM’s FOI executive and other posts.
The Coalition’s legal advisers sought Court-supervised discovery and inspection of the BoM peer-review papers. NIWA’s advisers fought this tooth and nail. After about eight months of constant delays, the parties settled the discovery dispute on a basis which left out the BoM papers.
NIWA and BoM part company
The Coalition then filed an amended claim to include the Review. NIWA’s amended defence repeatedly referred to it, claiming the BoM peer-review “found the results and underlying methodology used for the 7SS were sound.”
Unfortunately, the BoM don’t agree with them. It was time to split.
So at the eleventh hour, buried at paragraph 306 of Dr David Wratt’s revised affidavit, just a few days before the hearing, we found this surprising abandonment of what was previously the highly-valued and much-touted (such as for assuring the Parliament that all was above board) BoM peer review:
306. TJD113 – TJD120 regarding the BoM review of NIWA’s report: I confirm that NIWA and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) carried out a peer review process. NIWA does not seek to rely on it for the purposes of this proceeding. The reason for that is not that the BOM peer review did not support NIWA’s approach to adjustments and homogenisation of the raw data in temperature records (it did) but, rather, that NIWA and BOM regard the process of peer review and the interchanges between them as confidential, privileged, and subject to public interest immunity. It is inimical to the future relations between NIWA and international agencies such as BOM for these exchanges to be subject to scrutiny in litigation: it impedes the free and frank exchange of information which underpins the value of the relationship between such agencies. Accordingly, rather than rely on the BOM’s work, NIWA proposes to rely on evidence prepared specifically for the purpose of this litigation. In the event that the plaintiff seeks further discovery (which is suggested in Mr Dunleavy’s affidavit) that application will be resisted on the grounds stated above together with the fact that this matter has already been canvassed and settled during the interlocutory rounds of this case when limited orders for further discovery were made by consent. Those orders excluded the BOM material and, so as to put the matter beyond doubt, NIWA does not rely on the BOM review in any event for the purposes of these proceedings.
This boils down to a confession to the Court that NIWA has no evidence to show that the BoM approves of NIWA’s review. NIWA does not even bother to present the ineffectual BoM covering letter at page 15 of the Review, for it expresses no approval of the report – though NIWA claims it does.
NIWA’s obstructive behaviour
The plaintiff’s solicitor responded to NIWA’s last-minute renunciation with these comments:
NIWA now goes so far as to claim that climate science exchanges between public agencies (both subject to Freedom of Information statutes) are too secret to be seen by this Court. This claim has no credibility, and I invite the Court to draw an adverse inference from NIWA’s obstructive behaviour. The obvious inference is that the BoM found NIWA’s unprecedented methodology to be fatally flawed. As the defects remain undisclosed, it would be dangerous for this Court to accept NIWA’s unsupported opinions on any of the scientific matters in dispute.
[The extract shown above] says that NIWA will “rely on evidence prepared specifically for the purpose of this litigation”, presumably referring to the affidavit of Kevin Trenberth. It is notable that Dr Trenberth makes no attempt whatever to analyse or justify any of the Review Adjustments. NIWA’s failure to obtain validation from any external source reinforces the adverse inference already mentioned.
This was a very different outcome than was promised by Minister Mapp. Now the Review outcomes are no more than NIWA’s in-house opinion. The Review techniques were self-invented, and have no precedent anywhere in the world. BoM apparently didn’t like them. Trenberth wasn’t prepared to vouch for NIWA’s detailed methods or results. No other expert witnesses were found to support them.
Although relying upon Rhoades & Salinger (1993) (RS93) in every chapter of the Review, the Wratt affidavit finally admits that the RS93 statistical techniques were not used in the Review. The departure from RS93 is not mentioned in the 174-page Review report. There’s no explanation for abandoning the internationally-recognised methods in the Review, in the Court documents or anywhere else.
Nearly 20 months ago, the Review stated that NIWA was still in the process of calculating the confidence levels of the adjustments, as promised by the Minister in February 2010. But they were not produced for the hearing. NIWA says they will be recorded in the promised journal paper.
But there’s no journal paper. NIWA told the Court it has been too busy defending the proceedings to have time to write it. Then, of course, there is the problem of those independent peer-reviewers…
* NZ Climate Science Coalition