Tag Archives: University of Otago

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).

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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.