Tag Archives: NZCSC

Brian Rudman Open Letter – An Update

In my last post, I discussed an opinion piece which discussed how rude Brian Rudman (A New Zealand Herald Columnist) was when discussing the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC). In the opinion piece, he described NZCSC as ‘flat earthers’ for using a court case to contest the NIWA 7SS climate history (for details see the original post). At the end of the post, I wrote a polite open letter for Brian Rudman asking that he apologise for his rude remarks, as the evidence has since shown that NZCSC’s action was justified.

Having published the post, I immediately left a comment on Brian Rudman’s  opinion piece that was current at the time. The comment was not published, and I guess that this might be explained on the basis that it was not on the subject of the opinion piece to which it was posted. However, as I had considered that this was a possibility, I also used the facility to contact the news desk, and sent the following message on the 13th April:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have just posted a comment on Brian Rudman’s latest opinion, pointing out that there is an open letter for him at this blog:

https://newzealandclimatechange.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/brian-rudman-will-he-apologise-an-open-letter/

Mr. Rudman used very unpleasant language in his description of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC), and the letter asks that he apologises for what he said, in particular in light of events since his comment.

I am writing to you as I am sure that you would be concerned at the unpleasant tone of Mr. Rudman’s column, in particular in light of the what has since taken place (explained in the post).

The column at issue can be found here:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10666806

It appears that Mr. Rudman opined without a proper investigation of NZCSC’s side of the story. As a responsible news outlet, I would hope that you feel that an apology would be in order.

Kind Regards,

Mark, NZ CLimate Change Blogger

I have received no reply from either the NZ Herald or from Brian Rudman. No apology or comment has been issued. As a result, accepting that correspondence might go astray, I have sent another message via the ‘contact the news desk’ facility as follows:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I wrote to you on the 13th April, regarding an opinion piece by Brian Rudman. I pointed you to an open letter at the following address:

https://newzealandclimatechange.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/brian-rudman-will-he-apologise-an-open-letter/

Can you confirm that you received my last communication? If you did so, I am puzzled that you have not taken the trouble to respond. I hope the information in the link is self-explanatory in the event that this is the first time that you have been made aware of the open letter.

However, I am concerned if you have received the last communication, and have simply chosen not to reply. I would expect that you would have concern that all of your information, whether ‘straight news’ or opinion pieces were well informed. I would also hope that, if you wish to defend one of your columnists, you would have the courage of your convictions and present a defence of the columnist.

I await your reply with interest.

Mark, NZ Climate Change

I am hopeful that the lack of response or reply is due to administrative problems or errors. It seems that, when a person identifies to a new outlet that one of their columnists is taking such a strong position, and may be misrepresenting an organisation in doing so, any responsible news outlet would take the trouble to either:

  1. Defend their columnist if they believe the columnist’s position was justified
  2. Seek to correct any problems that were identified

There is also the question of Brian Rudman’s integrity. If he has been notified of the open letter, then it would be reasonable for some kind of response to defend his position. His opinion piece was extremely rude about NZCSC, but it appeared that he did not bother himself with seeking information about their work and research. The point in my open letter is that he misrepresented NZCSC, and that the facts of the matter have demonstrated NZCSC were right in their pursuit of court action against NIWA. Brian Rudman might seek to refute this, or alternatively have the courage to admit his error. For the latter, does he have the courage of his convictions, and for the former does he have the personal integrity to right a wrong?

I hope that my last communication with the NZ Herald will prompt a response, and will be happy to publish the NZ Herald’s position in full, along with any statement from Brian Rudman. However, will they respond? I hope so, as it would be heartening to know that such a high profile news outlet, and such a high profile columnist, do indeed have integrity.

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The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition

The purpose of this blog is to focus on the arguments about climate change in the broad, but with a particular focus on New Zealand. As such, this post is devoted to the leading organisation in New Zealand that is taking a skeptical stance; The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC).

NZCSC was founded by an eclectic mix of concerned people, including academics/scientists and business people, all of whom shared concerns that the ‘science’ of climate change, or rather the anthropogenic global warming thesis, was questionable. I am a great admirer of the work that they are conducting, and in particular their campaign to investigate the veracity of the New Zealand temperature record. However, I do have a concern with the organisation, which is that I am unconvinced of the effectiveness of their efforts to explain their work. As such, this post is a friendly critique of the NZCSC, and I hope that it comes to their attention and is useful in improving their communication.

So, having explained that I am positively disposed to their investigative work and research, what is the problem with their communication? A good starting point, which is the sole focus of this post, is their website. The debate about climate science needs to be addressed on two fronts; the science itself, and the communication of the science to the public. I concentrate on their website as a starting point as I have some experience in internet marketing and website usability (I have conducted usability studies for e-commerce platforms and designed and built database driven websites).

Starting with the basics, on the first occasion of opening the NZCSC site, the first impression that I felt was that it was old-fashioned and unattractive, and was overloaded with endless unsorted links and news items. As a campaigning organisation, this is hardly the way to entice people to pursue their interest further. The website just does not look like it has been designed professionally, and I am sure that it will be off-putting for many potentially interested people. Another problem is the lack of any pictures throughout the site. It is very plain and very dull. Pictures and illustrations add to a site, even if they just make it more pleasant to look at. However, they can also be used to create emphasis or make a message more memorable.

Before continuing further, I should emphasise the one positive in the site, which is the search box. The search utilises the Google site search facility and is relatively effective. I tried a few searches, and it seemed to pull up reasonably relevant content. However, search should be a last resort, not a first resort.  As such, my concern is with the way that the site is structured.

If we start on the home page, there are the links to ‘help non scientist visitors’. The way that this is phrased is such that it sounds a bit condescending. It is a bit like saying that all the rest of the content is only for the use of scientists, and not for the uninformed. I fully understand their aim in presenting the link in this way, but there are better ways to phrase it (I will come back to this point). If we then look at the main navigation menu for the site, this is when we are in real trouble. The ‘home’ button is fine, the ‘about us and contact’ is fine, but the rest – just downright confusing. The ‘links and videos’ button takes you to a page, which then links to other pages, but I had no idea what to expect when getting there. It seem a bit pointless,  to lump the content of this page together, and just produce links to further pages.

Another link is even more worrying, which is the link to the ‘NIWA NZ Temperature record’.  The first problem is that any ordinarily interested visitor would not be likely to have any idea about NIWA’s temperature record or any idea what this might be about. The link is offered upon an assumption that a new visitor might be as interested as the authors in the details of the debate over temperature records. It is even worse when actually following the link. There are just a series of links to details of correspondence between NZCSC and NIWA. If any has managed to grasp the meaning of the link, and has a moderate interest in climate change, they are then confronted with links to detailed correspondence. I am very interested, and I will read it, but I doubt that many would bother.

The curious thing is that the NZCSC investigation of the NIWA New Zealand temperature record is their most important contribution (I believe) to the debate. However, aside from this unclear link on the home page, you would have no idea of their great success in the questioning of the ‘official’ New Zealand temperature records (I will discuss this in later posts, as this is not the purpose of this post). As a moderately interested reader, open to the skeptical side of the debate, there is no way to reach a summary of their long and impressive campaign. If they doubt this, they should just get some ordinarily and moderately informed people, sit them in front of their website, and see whether they have any idea of what they have achieved when browsing the site.

This, I believe is the essence of the problem of their presentation. The website is built and designed for the highly informed. It is informing the informed with more information, and starts with an assumption that everyone who visits knows the details of the debate. They do not. The links at the top of the page for the non-scientists seem to be thrown in for such people, but are hardly a substitute for communication with a moderately interested audience. ‘Yes’, it is a good idea to have an explanation of the science for the non-scientist, but this can be presented in more friendly ways, such as ‘Climate Science – the Basics’ (the first thought that came to mind, not a definitive answer). This should be in the main menu and lead to a user-friendly page of some links, with a short description of the relevant content.

Returning to the main menu, there are links to pages for ‘policy’, ‘science’ and ‘economics’. These again lead the reader into yet more links to news stories which are presented in endless lists. It is not even that clear that the news stories pertain to the link title, but that is a side issue. Finally, there is the link that is simply titled ‘Dr. Vincent Gray’. To most visitors, this link will not be meaningful, and I am not sure why they might click on it. If, for some unknown reason, a new visitor might get as far as actually clicking on the link, they are then confronted with a list of links in the format of ‘NZCLIMATE & ENVIROTRUTH NO 188‘. Again, in the unlikely event that anyone with a moderate interest level might click on the link, they are presented with yet another link, and this opens up a pdf file that details Dr. Gray’s examination of a particular issue. No doubt, this content is all good, but I doubt that all but the most interested might ever get this far.

Overall, I believe the NZCSC’s website is actually a negative for the organisation. For any first time visitor, it is highly unlikely to create a positive impression, and most likely produces a negative impression of the organisation. I believe that the work, and the message of NZCSC is of great importance, but they are simply not approaching the second element of their work (communication) with the professionalism necessary to get their message ‘out there’.  They are up against a largely hostile media, politicians who are mostly afraid to go against the ‘consensus’ and a populous in which there is a strong ‘green’ strain of thought.

Sure, there are skeptics in New Zealand, but only the most interested would ever make use of, or find resources in the NZCSC website for presenting their arguments. I am aware that they have other approaches to communication, but anyone interested in what they have to say is likely to visit their website as a first port of call. If they do so, they are likely to be disappointed. However, what of those people who are moderately positively disposed towards the anthropogenic global warming thesis? These are the people who might be persuaded of the case for skepticism. As the NZCSC’s website now stands, I think they have very little chance of persuading these people.

It is, of course, easy to be critical. The tough question is what to do to improve the website. The starting point is to get a professional designer to at least make the site look more enticing and professional (my apologies to whoever designed the site, but it needs to be said). The second step would be for NZCSC to take a long look at their priorities, and make sure that these priorities are reflected in the structure of the website. In all cases, their navigation system needs to take into account two types of users; the moderately interested and informed, and the very interested and informed. I am, of course, making an assumption here that they wish to engage with the former, but even for the latter (i.e. people like myself), the current site is very poor.

Long lists of unsorted news articles and links (throughout so much of the site) is certainly a negative and does not help a casual or interested person to understand NZCSC’s work. Whilst the information linked to is interesting, huge lists of these links (presented in caps as well) are just filling space, and are not usable except for the most interested readers (and even they will struggle to search through the links – I used the Firefox ‘Edit > Find’ function to search for content).

I could make further long and detailed suggestions for specific improvements but it actually requires NZCSC to have clarity in their priority and purpose, and this is not something that can be done by a friendly external critic such as me. Having looked at their work, it seems that the NZ temperature record is of particular importance, but they need to decide whether this is their priority in their communications.

As such, their first step must be to get the right people in the organisation sitting in the same room for a time, and to agree on exactly what they are trying to communicate, how they will communicate it, and make sure that their priorities and ideas are reflected in the site structure. Above all, if my assumptions are correct, they need to ensure that they engage with a wider audience, and make sure that this is reflected in their site. Finally, when they have completed the work, they need to test the site’s usability with their intended audience to make sure that it actually achieves their aims.

As I have emphasised, this is a friendly critique. NZCSC have my full support in the work that they are doing. However, I would like to see them get a wider audience for their work, and I think that they are putting barriers in the way of achieving this. In my case, I have chosen to write a blog, and this is my small and amateur contribution to the debate (and is therefore not put forward as an exemplar of how to approach communication). In the case of NZCSC, they have the potential for a far greater contribution, and that requires a better presentation of their work.