Friday 28 January 2011

Dealing with Denialists - Delingpole Part III

EDIT: Added a link to the paper "Are we feeling warmer yet?" 

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: Richard Treadgold has pointed out a mistake I've made below. I say that a  CSC paper critiques a methodology used by NIWA to adjust temperatures. This is not true. The CSC were not told of the adjustments when that paper was written. Subsequently they sought unsuccessfully to have those adjustments explained.

This post actually doesn't have anything to do with James Delingpole, but it completes a series of three posts on climate change "scepticism", better described as denialism. I wrote about James Delingpole's appearance on BBC's Horizon earlier in the week and last night I followed up on that with a debunking of some of the denialist evidence in which Delingpole has placed his faith. This post is about how one should deal with a denialist of Delingpole's ilk. A couple days ago I saw someone I follow on Twitter retweet an update from another Twitter user called @AGW_IS_A_HOAX, which was this:

"NZ #Climate Scientists Admit Faking Temperatures RT @admrich #AGW #Climategate #Cop16 #ClimateChange #GlobalWarming".

"Wow," I think. Scientists have actually admitted to faking temperatures. This I've gotta see. I mean, that's a big deal, right? I suspect it's probably BS, but what the hey. So I click on it. And this is how you deal with a denialist claim. You actually look into it. Here is the text of that article reproduced in full:

New Zealand Climate Scientists Admit To Faking Temperatures: The Actual Temps Show Little Warming Over Last 50 Years

Read here and here. Climate "scientists" across the world have been blatantly fabricating temperatures in hopes of convincing the public and politicians that modern global warming is unprecedented and accelerating.
The scientists doing the fabrication are usually employed by the government agencies or universities, which thrive and exist on taxpayer research dollars dedicated to global warming research. A classic example of this is the New Zealand climate agency, which is now admitting their scientists produced bogus "warming" temperatures for New Zealand.

"NIWA makes the huge admission that New Zealand has experienced hardly any warming during the last half-century. For all their talk about warming, for all their rushed invention of the “Eleven-Station Series” to prove warming, this new series shows that no warming has occurred here since about 1960. Almost all the warming took place from 1940-60, when the IPCC says that the effect of CO2 concentrations was trivial. Indeed, global temperatures were falling during that period.....Almost all of the 34 adjustments made by Dr Jim Salinger to the 7SS have been abandoned, along with his version of the comparative station methodology."
A collection of temperature-fabrication charts.
Okay, first off I don't know anything about anything mentioned in this article. Maybe some of the linked sources will fill me in. I check out the first link, the first "here" where the article says "Read here and here". I can see that there's been some sort of dispute between two New Zealand groups associated with climate change. One is New Zealand’s Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC) and the other is New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), but it doesn't tell me a whole lot more than I already got from the other article. I check the second source behind that article. The second article, I now realize, is published on the website of a person called Andrew Montford with whom I've been speaking recently and who is the author of a book titled The Hockey Stick Illusion. I would not label Andrew a denialist. He makes some good points and seems to be a decent guy and geniune sceptic (This is not to suggest all denialists are outwardly dishonest; however, they do tend to be hard to reason with). Again, this article doesn't give me anything that I haven't already seen, except a link to another background source. I go there.

From this piece written up on Scoop NZNEWSUK I discover that a coalition group consisting of the NZCSC and the Climate Conversation Group (CCG) has pressured the NIWA into abandoning a set of temperature record adjustments of which the coalition dispute the validity. This was the culmination of a court proceeding in December 2010, last month. In dispute were 34 adjustments that had been made by Dr Jim Salinger to the 7SS temperature series, though I don't know what that is exactly. I also discover that there is a guy called Richard Treadgold, Convenor of the CCG, who is quoted several times. Some of the statements he makes are quoted in the articles I've already seen. They are of a somewhat snide tenor. The CSC object to the methodology used by the NIWA to adjust temperature measurements (one developed as part of a PhD thesis), which they critique in a paper in November 2009 with the title "Are we feeling warmer yet?", and are concerned about how this public agency is spending its money. I'm going to have to dig a bit deeper if I want to find out more. There is a section with links under the heading "Related Stories on Scoop". I click on a few of those.

One of these leads me to more. Of particular interest is a fairly neutral article outlining the progress of the court action. I get some more background:
For the last ten years, visitors to NIWA’s official website have been greeted by a graph of the “seven-station series” (7SS), under the bold heading “New Zealand Temperature Record”. The graph covers the period from 1853 to the present, and is adorned by a prominent trend-line sloping sharply upwards. Accompanying text informs the world that “New Zealand has experienced a warming trend of approximately 0.9°C over the past 100 years.”
The 7SS has been updated and used in every monthly issue of NIWA’s “Climate Digest” since January 1993. Its 0.9°C (sometimes 1.0°C) of warming has appeared in the Australia/NZ Chapter of the IPCC’s 2001 and 2007 Assessment Reports. It has been offered as sworn evidence in countless tribunals and judicial enquiries, and provides the historical base for all of NIWA’s reports to both Central and Local Governments on climate science issues and future projections.
So now I can see why this is so important. The temperature record informs the conclusions of the IPCC assessment reports and provides crucial evidence for global warming. Further down we get:
NIWA announces that it has now completed a full internal examination of the Salinger adjustments in the 7SS, and has forwarded its “review papers” to its Australian counterpart, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for peer review.
So the old 7SS has already been repudiated. A replacement NZTR [New Zealand Temperature Record] is being prepared by NIWA – presumably the best effort they are capable of producing. NZCSC is about to receive what it asked for. On the face of it, there’s nothing much left for the Court to adjudicate.
Going back to the earlier Scoop article, I note that the CSC, in the person of Treadgold, are congratulating themselves over their vindication. NIWA has been forced to withdraw its earlier temperature record and replace it with a new one. Treadgold quite clearly states that "NIWA makes the huge admission that New Zealand has experienced hardly any warming during the last half-century" and that "the new temperature record shows no evidence of a connection with global warming." Earlier in the article he also stresses the role of the CSC in achieving these revisions, saying "after 12 months of futile attempts to persuade the public, misleading answers to questions in the Parliament from ACT and reluctant but gradual capitulation from NIWA, their relentless defence of the old temperature series has simply evaporated. They’ve finally given in, but without our efforts the faulty graph would still be there."

All this leads me to believe that if I look at the website of NIWA I will see a retraction of the earlier position and a new position that New Zealand has experienced no unusual warming. This is easy enough to check. I go there. Actually, I search for it to find the exact page. Here is the 7SS page on the NIWA site. Am I surprised that NIWA have retracted nothing and that in fact their revised graph shows similar results? Not really. However, I am somewhat surprised by this page on the Climate Conversation Group website which claims that the 7SS temperature record is as dead as the parrot in the Monty Python sketch. It says "On the eve of Christmas, when nobody was looking, NIWA declared that New Zealand had a new official temperature record (the NZT7) and whipped the 7SS off its website." However, I've already seen that this is not true. Perhaps there was once a 7SS graph and information about the temperature record on the site's homepage that can no longer be seen. I don't know. I can only speculate. I know that there is a section on the NIWA site about the 7SS temperature record that contains a number of graphs and figures and discusses recent revisions. It has been updated as recently as December 2010, last month. The NIWA page talks all about the 7SS series and has a heading that reads "Our new analysis confirms the warming trend".

The CCG page claims that the new NZT7 is not in fact a revision but rather a replacement. Although it results in a similar curve, the adjustments that were made are very different. Frankly I can't see how that matters at the end of the day. Now, I don't really know whether I can believe that the NIWA analysis is true, but what I am in no doubt of whatsoever is that the statements made by Richard Treadgold that were quoted in so many places are at best misleading. The NIWA has not changed its position in the slightest. The assertion that the NIWA have admitted that New Zealand has not warmed much since 1960 is a politician's careful argument. Both analyses showed the same result. This is a fact that NIWA have not disputed; however, they still maintain a connection to global warming. A document explaining the revisions talks about why the warming has slowed after 1960:
The unusually steep warming in the 1940-1960 period is paralleled by an unusually
large increase in northerly flow* during this same period. On a longer timeframe, there
has been a trend towards less northerly flow (more southerly) since about 1960.
However, New Zealand temperatures have continued to increase over this time, albeit
at a reduced rate compared with earlier in the 20th century. This is consistent with a
warming of the whole region of the southwest Pacific within which New Zealand is
Denialists have taken Treadgold's misleading mantra and spread it far and wide including on Twitter and fringe websites, but it is faulty as I've just demonstrated. Why do people do this? Perhaps they are hoping that others won't check the sources. Most people don't. I hope this serves as a lesson for why you always should.

*This refers to flucuations in the prevailing north-south air flow across New Zealand.


  1. A thorough investigation, thanks Matt. You got a couple of things wrong, and your conclusions are awry, but I'll give the details at the Climate Conversation blog.
    Richard Treadgold.

  2. Hello Richard. I appreciate your comment. I'll be happy to correct any facts that I've misrepresented. Thanks.

  3. You might like this coverage of the same story by Friends of Gin and Tonic:

  4. You make very valid points but do you realise it is often possible to do exactly the same for stories that support AGW? A lot of what is reported turns out, on closer investigation, not to be correct. I think this is precisely why so many people find themselves sceptical.

    You feel the way you do about "deniers" because it seems to you that, when you investigate their claims, they often fall short of what was claimed. Similarly, many sceptics see claims about AGW that they know are not correct. This leads them to their sceptical view.

    I read the other day an article which blamed AGW for lack of snow on Kilimanjaro (sorry, can't find the reference now) and I remember reading a report a while ago ( that said the loss of snow was due to land use changes rather than warming. Yet people still propagate the falsehood that global warming is to blame.

    You are presumably tolerant of articles that make mistakes about AGW and intolerant of sceptical claims. Sceptics are the opposite.

  5. I have done Richard Treadgold a disservice if he believes that I have lumped him in with the camp that I've called denialists. I merely criticized the accuracy of his statement, which caused others to distort it. I accept that there are similar distortions on the consensus side, but this excercise was in dealing with the claims made against the consensus, which is still where the authority lies. I am keeping an open mind. I applaud the Climate Conversation Group in challenging a vague temperature record and gaining clarity. Public bodies like the NIWA are beholden to the public and should reveal their analysis methods. Nevertheless, the press statement was misleading.


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