Tag Archives: Professor Keith Hunter

Climate Change and Science

Some readers may wonder why I have doggedly pressed Professor Keith Hunter to clarify his comments on the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition. I hope that news coming out of the US will help explain. These are the results of a new survey:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of American Adults shows that 69% say it’s at least somewhat likely that some scientists have falsified research data in order to support their own theories and beliefs, including 40% who say this is Very Likely. Twenty-two percent (22%) don’t think it’s likely some scientists have falsified global warming data, including just six percent (6%) say it’s Not At All Likely. Another 10% are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

There is growing concern amongst the public about the honesty of scientific researchers, and the concern revolves around climate change. The climategate scandal, of course is one of the key issues. However, a review by Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) highlights another matter of concern. Published in Climatic Change, the abstract of his paper is as follows:

Abstract Authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) received guidance on reporting understanding, certainty and/or confidence in findings using a common language, to better communicate with decision makers. However, a review of the IPCC conducted by the InterAcademy Council (2010) found that “the guidance was not consistently followed in AR4, leading to unnecessary errors . . . the guidance was often applied to statements that are so vague they cannot be falsified. In these cases the impression was often left, quite incorrectly, that a substantive finding was being presented.” Our comprehensive and quantitative analysis of findings and associated uncertainty in the AR4 supports the IAC findings and suggests opportunities for improvement in future assessments.

The original paper is well worth a read, but Dr. Pielke has also presented a blog post on the paper, with the headline ‘How many findings of the IPCC AR4 are WGI are incorrect? Answer 28%.’ The actual paper concludes with the following:

Although the IPCC has made enormous contributions and set an important example for global assessment of a vexing problem of immense ramifications, there remain clear opportunities for improvement in documenting findings and specifying uncertainties. We recommend more care in the definition and determination of uncertainty, more clarity in identifying and presenting findings and a more systematic approach in the entire process, especially from assessment to assessment. We also suggest an independent, dedicated group to monitor the process, evaluate findings as they are presented and track their fate. This would include tracking the relationship of findings and attendant uncertainties that pass up the hierarchy of documents within AR5. Strict rules for expressing uncertainty in findings that are derived from (possibly multiple) other findings are needed (see, e.g., the second example in the Supplementary Material).

It is not the purpose of this note to discuss other, related scientific assessments of climate change knowledge; but, we do note that our preliminary analysis of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Synthesis and Assessment Products suggests a far less systematic application of the guidance supplied to authors of those documents and far less consistent application of the defined terms. We believe that the concerns we have expressed here, and the resulting recommendations, apply more broadly than the IPCC process.

The point of the paper is best expressed in the blog post.

What does it mean?  Nothing too interesting, really — science evolves and any assessment is a snapshot of knowledge in time. However, I suspect that some people will get excited or defensive to learn that by the IPCC’s own logic, the report’s future-looking findings could include 28% or more that will not stand the test of time. Of course, such excitement and defense are part of the context that the IPCC and its critics have together created, which has led to incentives to hold the IPCC up as some sort of sacred text or to denigrate it as a sham. Our work suggests neither. Instead, from the perspective of its assessment products it is a valuable if imperfect organization.

As Dr. Pielke has identified, the IPCC reports are used as a sacred text, but science is not about sacred texts. The IPCC is presented as an authority which cannot be questioned, which ends up as an argument from authority rather than an argument about the evidence and theory. A further problem is the reluctance of key researchers to release the raw data, and details of the adjustment to data, that is the foundation of much of the science that the IPCC relies upon.

For example, Steve McIntyre has had to doggedly pursue data from several key papers with endless obstructions used to block his access to the data. Just one example can be found here, but taking the time to read the blog will find a long and sorry tale of questionable behaviour on the part of those presenting the science (or reviewing the science) of climate change. A similar tale can be found here in New Zealand, with endless obstructions to the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition’s (NZCSC) investigations into NIWA’s temperature records. Richard Treadgold offers a good summary of the rather shabby story here, saying the following:

NIWA has enjoyed tremendous support in our dispute with them. Much has been written about it and much obloquy heaped on my and my Coalition colleagues’ heads. This scientific review of NIWA’s report provides justification for our initial scepticism and our perseverance. Seeing what this audit reveals, it’s hard to find reasons to support NIWA.

At first, we hinted strongly at malpractice, to goad the ever-languid NIWA scientists into releasing the data they had withheld for many years. Our goading eventually succeeded in prompting the reconstruction of the NZTR.

Examining the results of that work has uncovered stronger evidence of unscientific and even possibly unethical behaviour than we ever imagined. We certainly never hoped for this. To clarify: this does not please us. We never wanted to find evidence of dishonesty, never imagined that we might and we are disappointed to discover that they failed to do what they said.

There really is something shabby about all of this. In my own work, in an unrelated discipline, I have found similar problems. For example, in a mirror of problems with skeptical researchers have had with reviews, I found an example in which a piece of research that refuted a broadly accepted theory was reviewed by the originator of the theory. It may come as no surprise that the review saw the paper rejected for publication (not my own research I might add, but I have had a similar if less dramatic experiences).

Those on the skeptical side of the debate have, as Richard Treadgold puts it, have obloquy heaped on their heads. Terms such as ‘flat earthers’ and ‘deniers’ are applied. The problem is that much of the skeptical side of the debate resolves around questions about the empirical evidence and theory. On the other side of the debate, in addition to the ‘honest’ science, there is concealment and/or distortion of data, invocations of arguments from authority, and blocking of access to the supposedly gold standard of science, the peer reviewed literature. The general public are starting to notice.

Dr. Pielke is correct when he implies that there is good science on the warming side of the debate, but the bad ‘science’ creates doubt in the minds of the public about the science overall. There are perfectly honest researchers on the warming side of the debate, who are undoubtedly conducting their research with integrity. The problem is that they will end up being tarred with the same brush. More broadly, ‘science’ as a concept is being tarred with the same brush.

It is for this reason that the defenders of the bad science need to be called to account, in particular when those people are in a position of influence. Organisations like NZCSC are the defenders of science, but are instead portrayed as nuts/cranks.Those who insult these defenders of science cloak their insults with the name of science. In doing so, they undermine science as a whole. In other words, it is time for the defenders of science to be given the respect that they deserve.

Note: What constitutes ‘science’ has long been a problematic question. However, I do not think that anyone would reasonably suggest that practices such as distorting data to fit theory or blocking critical work just because it is critical would be accepted as ‘good science’.

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Professor Keith Hunter – Again

I posted this as an update on my last post but, on reflection, felt that it deserved the status of a full post. In particular, as you will see below, there are some causes for concern. This is copied from the update on the last post, with a couple of minor changes.

I just remembered that I needed to add an update on the ‘saga’ with Professor Keith Hunter (perhaps saga is too strong an expression, but…). If you click on the link, you will get the gist of the story. Professor Hunter is pro-vice chancellor of sciences at University of Otago, and I suggested that his discussion of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition’s (NZCSC) court action against NIWA had been on the wrong side of science. I asked him to clarify his position in light of events showing that NZCSC had revealed the problems in the ‘science’ used by NIWA. His most recent response was to indulge in an ad hominem attack on me (sound familiar – see previous post). I suggested that he might respond to the substantive issue. I checked my email today, and still no response.

It seems a little sad that a person in such a position within the scientific community might not come out and clarify that they are firmly on the side of good science. Whether he likes or dislikes the position of NZCSC, it seems that a person in such a lofty position should want to be actively supportive of action that served the interests of science. Instead, what we have is an attack on my integrity, and a refusal to clarify his position.

In this case, Professor Hunter has allowed a newspaper to quote him, and is not willing to stand by his comments, or clarify his position. It is very easy to dish out quotes but it seems that individuals should be held responsible for such quotes, in particular when they hold positions of responsibility and influence. It seems that, in light of the events that followed the quotes, he should want to use any outlet to clarify his position, if indeed he regrets his comments. In light of the refusal to clarify the quotes, it might be that Professor Hunter does indeed stand by the quotes. If so, one can only express concern for the scientific endeavours of the University of Otago. After all, if Professor Hunter does stand by his comments, one can only wonder at what he believes is good science.

Bearing in mind Professor Hunter seems to take a dim view of this blog, he might want to clarify his position in another outlet. Perhaps a press release in which he explains his position, but the mode of clarification is not an issue? After all, if he stands by the quotes, he should explain why. We should know why such a high profile scientist stands by such a position. If he regrets his attack on NZCSC, then he should make this public, as the comments were, to be quite frank, rude. I have highlighted in my posts on this issue that Professor Hunter’s quotes might be seen as problematic in regards to good science. He might have forgotten that he issued the quotes, and this might explain why he did not previously clarify his position.

However, now that I have pointed out the problem, if he does not stand by his quotes, it seems a matter of courtesy and also personal integrity to express regret for such an intemperate and rude attack. It does not have to be here, but in any public forum. If he does stand by the quotes, it seems that he has a responsibility to explain his position. After all, he is in a position of responsibility in one of New Zealand’s leading research universities. His discussion of the messenger (this blog) should not at be issue, except that he might not choose to comment here but instead comment elsewhere. Or does he think that a person in his position should not be held responsible for their public statements?

Once again, over to you Professor Hunter. I look forward to reading your clarification somewhere (and you are always welcome to comment here if you so choose).

Another Response from Professor Hunter

I am now engaged in a rather odd ‘back and forth’ with Professor Hunter. To give a background to this rather odd story, I wrote an open letter to Professor Hunter, asking him to clarify his critical position regarding the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition. I pointed out that he criticised the Coalition for taking NIWA to court over the ‘official’ New Zealand temperature record, but later events showed that the Coalition were right to do so, as the temperature record was not founded in science.

Professor Hunter responded to my open letter by suggesting that he would not respond on the basis that I was an anonymous blogger, and I explained my anonymity in a response (see post here), and again invited a response to the open letter. Well, today, I have had two responses (see comments section here) from Professor Hunter, which are detailed below:

You say “The reason why I recount these points is that I am at a very early stage in my own academic career. I considered the question of anonymity carefully. In light of the fact that this is just a blog, and my contribution to the debate about climate change is just one view (and as I am not engaged in research), I decided to remain anonymous/”

How can you be in the early stage of an academic career and yet not be engaged in research? It seems to me that these are mutually incompatible.

If you are not engaged in research then you are not an academic. This makes your anonimyity even more suspicious than it was before your statement above, which is no defense at all in itself.

[and]

Immediately after I made the above post, my PC crashed, which makes me even more suspicious of your web site.

This is a somewhat startling response. It seems that Professor Hunter is suggesting that I am not engaged in an academic career. My point in mentioning not doing research was to say that I am not researching climate science, which would compel me to not be anonymous. As it is, yes, I am conducting research (with three studies in progress at present), just not on climate science.

As for the second post, this is rather puzzling. Does Professor Hunter really believe that I would seek to crash computers? For what reason? Nobody would view the blog if I sought to make the computers of readers crash, which would defeat the object of the blog…..unless of course there was a cunning application designed to recognise Professor Hunter’s computer and exclusively crash his computer, as a result of some kind of bizarre desire to persecute Professor Hunter. Perhaps Professor Hunter might note that correlation does not equal causation. This blog uses a respectable blogging service, and one which would not allow software that harmed computers.

Professor Hunter, I have no desire to crash your computer, or any other person’s computer. In my open letter, I simply asked you to clarify your position in light of the events that followed your comments on the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition. It was very polite, and even respectful, as in the following:

As with any newspaper report, we can not know whether the remarks were taken out of context, and I am sure that Professor Hunter would not want to have his views misrepresented. In particular, he is a high profile New Zealand scientist, in a position of responsibility in a research based university. As such, I thought it might be an idea to see if Professor Hunter is still standing by these views. In particular, he discussed NZCSC as ‘throwing mud’, which would suggest that they had motivations that were not related to a concern about the scientific accuracy of the NIWA temperature records.

Professor Hunter also called the action of the Coalition ‘stupid’, and I just sought clarification of his views in light of the events that followed (i.e. the temperature record was found to be without scientific grounding).

This rather odd sequence of responses comes as a result of a very polite request for clarification of views. Instead of clarifying his position, the response of Professor Hunter is to attack my integrity. Perhaps, rather than attacking my integrity, Professor Hunter might offer a response. It would perhaps take him one minute. Below are two possible responses that I have suggested for his convenience, that he might just cut and paste:

  1. I stand by the comments that I made about the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition’s court action against NIWA.
  2. In light of events, my comments about New Zealand Climate Science Coalition’s court action against NIWA were regrettable, as the action served to highlight that the New Zealand temperature record was not founded in science.

Perhaps Professor Hunter might just let me know his position by saying that he agrees with point (1) or point (2). It would not be any effort at all. Alternatively, he might wish to offer a more extensive discussion. In all cases, I will be happy to publish the response. This seems easier and more productive than calling my integrity into question, in particular as my invitation for comment was respectful and polite. This contrasts with the quoted comments of Professor Hunter, such as calling court action of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition ‘stupid’.

Over to you, Professor Hunter.

Note: The original New Zealand Herald article in which Professor Hunter was quoted can be found here.

Follow-Up: Professor Hunter

On May the 8th of this year, I sent an email to Professor Keith Hunter, who had made comments on the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition’s (NZCSC) court action against NIWA. His comments were not positive, and as I identified in the email, the NZCSC action forced NIWA to deny that their official New Zealand Temperature record was not official, and it was revealed that the ‘science’ behind the temperature record would not meet any reasonable description of the word science. As yet I have received no reply, so I have today sent a brief email as follows:

Dear Professor Hunter,

I sent you an email a while ago regarding your comments reported in the New Zealand Herald regarding the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.

I am assuming that your lack of a response is due to a lack of time, or perhaps you would like to stand by the comments that you made in the New Zealand Herald?

If it is a lack of time, a one minute reply would suffice, perhaps to simply state that you regret your comments in light of the retraction of NIWA that the 7SS was the official temperature record? I do not think that this is an arduous request.

Assuming that you do not reply, I can only interpret your lack of response as being indicative of your being content with the comments that you made, even though the evidence is that the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition have been proven to be justified in taking their action, and showing that the New Zealand temperature record was not based upon good science.

If the latter option is correct, how do you justify this when you are a scientist? In particular, are you happy that an official temperature record was built on foundations of sand, and that policy was being built upon what, in a generous interpretation, would be dubious science?

I am sure that you would like to clarify your position, so look forward to your reply.

Kind Regards,

Mark,
NZ Climate Change.

I am somewhat surprised that, so far, I have not been sent a reply. On another occasion, I likewise contacted Brian Rudman, a columnist in the New Zealand Herald, asking whether he would like to comment on his very rude article about the NZCSC court action against NIWA, but I received no reply.

It seems a little disappointing that these individuals are happy to opine on issues, and do not seem to want to respond when events have shown their views to be wrong. I can only hope that Professor Hunter responds this time, as it seems that a scientist should be appreciative when an organisation, such as NZCSC, reveals that bad science is being used to shape government policy. Whether he disagrees with the wider arguments or position of NZCSC, it seems that a scientist should be in favour of good science, and in all cases he should therefore now express his support for the court action of NZCSC.It prompted NIWA to revisit the temperature record, as the ‘science’ could not be justified.

If not, we can only wonder at what Professor Hunter’s views on science actually are. Does he believe that poor science is acceptable provided that it concurs with the views of the authors/an organisation? Does he support poor science as a foundation for government policy? Is he willing to bend to the wind of prevailing dogma at the cost of good science? We simply do not know, and I am sure that Professor Hunter would like to set the record straight.

I look forward to his reply, and will publish it once it has been sent.

Note: Sorry for the lack of posting for a while, but other commitments have kept me away. My first goal was to update you on the response to the email sent to Professor Hunter, but there are many other subjects I would love to cover. Apologies again.

Professor Keith Hunter – an Open Letter

I wrote a post a while ago, in which I asked Brian Rudman of the New Zealand Herald to apologise for the rude way that he spoke about the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC). No surprise, but no comment and no reply was forthcoming, even though his rudeness about NZCSC was unjustified.

The subject that started this was the NIWA official temperature record. NZCSC were simply trying to find out how adjustments were made to thermometer readings to create the official New Zealand temperature record. Facing stonewalling by NIWA, NZCSC finally took NIWA to court, at which point NIWA backed down, denying the official temperature record was official (see here for full story). The reason was that, in basic terms, it was beyond any scientific defence. The current situation is that NIWA have revised the record, and are once again denying access to the details of the adjustment.

The key point in the whole story is that NZCSC were vindicated. The New Zealand official temperature record had no foundation in science. I therefore found it interesting to find another article dated August 16, 2010 in the New Zealand Herald, as follows:

Court action against New Zealand’s state-owned weather and atmospheric research body is “stupid” and just creating confusion, University of Otago pro-vice chancellor of sciences Keith Hunter says.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) is being taken to court in a challenge over the accuracy of its data used to calculate global warming.

[and]

But Prof Hunter told Radio New Zealand the courts could not determine whether or not the adjusted records had been adjusted properly.

“It can only be done by people who have an established scientific reputation in meteorology. So if the coalition has got those people they should do the analysis. If they haven’t they should find someone else who has got that.

“There is nothing sinister about making adjustments. Measurements are often adjusted because of procedural differences between stations or changes in instruments with time.

“The coalition are just creating confusion. Throwing mud and if they throw enough mud some will stick and organisations like Niwa get dragged down in it,” Prof Hunter said.

As with any newspaper report, we can not know whether the remarks were taken out of context, and I am sure that Professor Hunter would not want to have his views misrepresented. In particular, he is a high profile New Zealand scientist, in a position of responsibility in a research based university. As such, I thought it might be an idea to see if Professor Hunter is still standing by these views. In particular, he discussed NZCSC as ‘throwing mud’, which would suggest that they had motivations that were not related to a concern about the scientific accuracy of the NIWA temperature records.

Bearing in mind, the court action saw their actions as being vindicated, and a temperature record with no sound foundation withdrawn, I have sent Professor Hunter the following email.

Dear Professor Hunter,

I have found a news story from the New Zealand Herald in which you discuss the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition’s  court action to question NIWA’s temperature record as ‘stupid’ and suggest that they are ‘throwing mud’ at NIWA. NIWA later retracted the official status of the temperature record, and have since reconstructed the temperature record. As you may or may not be aware, the original temperature record failed to meet what any scientist would call a reasonable standard of science.

As I understand the situation, the cause of the court action was the refusal of NIWA to release information on the adjustments to the temperature record. The court action was a last resort, and one which finally revealed that NIWA had no firm scientific basis for the temperature record. Interestingly, they are again blocking access to the adjustments to the new temperature record they have developed.

In light of the fact that NZCSC have, through their efforts, revealed that the New Zealand temperature record was without scientific foundation, would you care to retract your comments to the New Zealand Herald, or clarify the comments in light of subsequent events. I am sure that, as one of New Zealand’s leading scientists, you would feel that NZCSC have done a service to science in revealing a widely cited body of scientific data to be without scientific merit. Perhaps you may wish to congratulate them on their contribution to the ongoing investigations in climate change?

For your reference, I have linked to the original story in the New Zealand Herald, and a summary of the NZCSC fight to clarify the science behind the New Zealand Temperature record.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10666415

http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2010/05/crisis-in-new-zealand-climatology

I have also published a copy of this email online, and it can be found at the following address: [address of this post in email]. I will, of course, publish any reply in full.

I very much look forward to your reply.

Kind Regards,

Mark, NZ Climate Change

It will be interesting to see if a scientist is willing to back those who revealed the lack of scientific foundation for the New Zealand temperature record.