Brian Rudman – Will he apologise? An Open Letter

I will start this post with a quote from Brian Rudman, a columnist on the New Zealand Herald. It dates back a while, to August 2010, and this is what he had to say:

The flat-earthers from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition are off to the High Court to try to persuade a judge to invalidate the country’s official temperature record compiled and collected by the Government-owned National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

As devout deniers of man-made global warming, the coalition claims the only way Niwa can claim a warming trend of 1C over the past century is by cooking the books. [emphasis added]

The same article goes on to offer scathing, sarcastic, and rather unpleasant commentary on the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.This is another example of his discourse from the same article:

The image of the flat-earthers in court making fools of themselves, trying to prove that if you travel to the horizon you’ll fall off into oblivion, is rather appealing. But court proceedings are ruinously expensive, and while the mystery money-bags funding the coalition – Act Party supporters are mentioned – may be able to afford it, taxpayers cannot.

The trouble with this commentary, aside from the ugly tone of the commentary (which is of itself inappropriate for a serious newspaper) is that, when confronted with the court case, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) backed down, and abruptly decided that their temperature was not an official temperature record after all. The New Zealand Climate Conversation Group tells the story succinctly and I will quote it at some length (note, there is a link in the text that takes you to NIWA’s statement of defence in case you doubt the back down):

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.

NIWA has a printed promotional brochure describing its climate activities, which commences with the iconic 7SS graph. No piece of climate lore is more familiar to the public, and it is better known than NIWA’s logo.

But now, para 7(a) of NIWA’s Statement of Defence states that “there is no ‘official’ or formal New Zealand Temperature Record”.

In para 8(b) it says the NZTR is not a public record for the purposes of the Public Records Act, using the exemption of “special collections” defined (in para 4(b)) as non-public records used for “research purposes”.

In para 4, NIWA denies it has any obligation to use the best available data or best scientific techniques, while conceding that it has statutory duties to pursue excellence and to perform its functions efficiently and effectively.

It turns out that the 7SS had seen temperature adjustments, which were identified by the so called ‘flat earthers’ and ‘fools’ and the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC), and NZCSC fought a long and protracted battle to find out exactly why the adjustments were made. The nature of the battle to discover the nature of the adjustments is a particular concern, as it seems reasonable that any adjustments to the temperature record should have been fully documented and justified.

However, the reason for the obstruction of NZCSC from finding the source and justification of the temperature record becomes apparent when the source and nature of the adjustments were revealed. This from Quadrant Online:

Referring to the NIWA web page, one finds that this major warming trend is the product of a single study involving only 7 temperature stations – out of the 238 stations which currently report to NIWA. In response to a request under the Official information Act, NIWA has disclosed that this study was undertaken as part of a student’s thesis some 30 years ago.

NIWA has no record of how the NSS came to be in their computers. The only reasonable inference is that the student himself, one Jim Salinger, must have added it when he became NIWA’s Principal Scientist many years later.

As it is, the thesis is unobtainable, and the calculations that were made to create the adjustments are lost (the dog ate my homework?). The original thesis did not result in a peer reviewed article, so has not been subjected to the scrutiny of the academic journal system (such as it is). In short, a temperature record was given credence by NIWA, despite the fact that there was no justification that could be provided in support of the adjustments that were made. It is therefore no surprise that they were reluctant to explain the source and justification for the adjustments, as there was no justification that they could provide. This is not good science, it is just assertion.

So it is that I return to the start of this post, which is the use of terms like ‘flat earther’ by Brian Rudman when describing NZCSC. It seems that, at the very least, NZCSC have done science a great service. A temperature record entirely lacking in any justification, used as a basis for policy, and described as an ‘official temperature record’ by Brian Rudman himself, has been abandoned. It was abandoned because there was no scientific justification for the record. As such, I am posting this open letter to Brian Rudman:

Open Letter to Brian Rudman

Dear Brian,

As a columnist for the New Zealand Herald, one of New Zealand’s leading media and news outlets, you have influence on the views of your readers. If this was not the case, then why have columnists at all?

The point is that, with such a position, there is surely a responsibility, and that responsibility is to provide views that inform readers. I have copied above some of the statements you made about the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC) in an August 2010 opinion piece. When you describe an organisation as ‘flat earthers’ you are implying that they are in denial of science. However, the 7SS that was the subject of the NZCSC critique and court action has been found to have had no scientific merit by any reasonable standards. It can not be verified, can not be explained, can not be subject to replication, can not be used in any part of normal scientific enquiry.

Perhaps you were unaware of the problems underlying the 7SS at the time of your commentary? This may explain some of the rather insulting terms that you used. However, had you taken the trouble to visit the NZCSC website, read their publication on their concerns about the 7SS, you could have found that they had substantive reasons for their concerns, and these reasons were firmly rooted in legitimate concerns about the science behind the 7SS. Your failure to attend to this basic fact checking is a matter of concern. As I have said, you publish in an influential national media outlet. You are not, as I am, a humble blogger, but an influential national figure.

As such, in this open letter, I would ask that you provide an apology to the NZCSC. It seems that your characterisation of them as ‘flat earthers’ and ‘fools’ was entirely lacking in justification. I am sure that you are a reasonable person, and will see the merit in an apology, and that you will be more open minded about the work of NZCSC in the future.

For the record, I am not a part of NZCSC, or connected in any way, and I am not funded by any party or organisation for writing this blog. I am just a concerned private individual who blogs on a subject that interests me.

I look forward to your reply, and will be pleased to reproduce any reply in full on the blog, but would also hope that you will have the decency to publish your apology in your next column.

Kind Regards,

Mark, blogger at New Zealand Climate Change

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6 responses to “Brian Rudman – Will he apologise? An Open Letter

  1. Richard C (NZ)

    I suspect that although Brian Rudman seems to have mastered the basics of ad hominem attack, he probably does not have the foggiest clue of how the 7SS or its successor the NZT7 is compiled. He’s probably equally ignorant of Salinger 1995 that documents and attributes 0.7 C of warming in the NZ temperature record over the last century to internal climate variability only (change in prevailing wind direction mostly) that occurred over a relatively short 10-20 year period starting around 1945. There can be no anthropogenic influence because temperatures have been decelerating since that rise but did Rudman report that?

    Does he know for example, that the data for each location is obtained from maybe half a dozen different measurement stations within the vicinity of the most recent open station which is the reference station for the locality? This is because of relocation of measuring equipment and changes within each site from time to time. The result being that the data for each contributing site must be adjusted up or down to be in terms of the reference site (step changes) and to enable splicing of each of the now adjusted raw datasets from the CliFlo database to make a contiguous series. The validity of each step change can be tested but the BOM audit did not use any alternative to NIWA’s cumulative step methodology using remote stations to check the steps. Rudman is premature in his assessment because those steps are receiving some very close attention from people with considerably more statistical nouse than Brian exhibits i.e. the jury is still out but does Rudman investigate that?

    It is the cumulative aspect of NIWA’s methodology that has the potential to magnify any errors there may be in the step adjustments especially in the early years, say 1909-1940/45. The three outliers in the NZT7 are: Auckland, Nelson and Hokitika, Auckland in terms of absolute values and all three in terms of polynomial trend (a cyclic curve when 3rd order). That all three are outliers may be due to errors in step adjustments alone. This can easily be demonstrated by tweaking the early steps to arrive at a completely different curve. Nelson, as NIWA has it, is an accelerating curve (warming) but a small change to the early steps results in a polynomial trend that is decelerating over the last decade (cooling, as are the polynomial trends of 4 of the 7 locations in the composite NZ series). Does Rudman even have the capacity to understand that let alone a will to actually report it?

    Rather than Rudman’s bluff and statistically uneducated bluster, he might apply a polynomial trend to the NZT7 data and submit it to his editor for publication along with his update on the recent cooling trend in the NZ temperature record when a more realistic trend is applied than NIWA’s linear 0.9 C/century. An objective reporting of NZCSC’s efforts to monitor NIWA’s science would be refreshing too but will Rudman ever be moved from his own denial of the scientific method when he is so comfortable within the mental horizons prescribed for him by others?

    An article from Rudman reporting pocine aeronautics is more likely to be forthcoming given Rudman’s ignorance. Galileo made a scientific breakthrough by pursuing the concept of heliocentrism, condemned as “false and contrary to Scripture” by the Catholic Church. He thought it through himself, did his own research and made his own observations. Rudman can never emulate or even claim affinity however remotely to Galileo if he cannot do similarly but with the data readily available to us now via the internet there are plenty of people that are doing exactly that and have an understanding of climate metrics that Rudman will never have.

    • All very pertinent points. My assumption is that Brian Rudman has never thought to actually examine the dissenting views, as he is entirely comfortable in his own world view. I also suspect that you are correct that, at the time of writing at least, he had absolutely no idea about the 7SS. I find it very discouraging that the NZ Herald might consider that this kind of attack is acceptable, when the opinion piece failed to even address the issues that are substantive. As you identify, it is simply an ad hominem attack.

  2. Pingback: Brian Rudman Open Letter – An Update | New Zealand Climate Change

  3. Pingback: New Zealand Herald, No Integrity, Brian Rudman, No Integrity | New Zealand Climate Change

  4. Pingback: Follow-Up: Professor Hunter | New Zealand Climate Change

  5. I haven’t been following this issue but now am all agog—did the wee scamp ever have the cojones to apologise, or is he still hiding out in the depths of the Mummy Herald?

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