NIWA bows at last to pressure, but feels ‘insulted’

Tam-o-Shanter sea urchin

In the NZ Herald yesterday morning came news that NIWA is “putting all of its temperature data and calculations on the internet”.

It’s been five weeks since the NZCSC request to NIWA’s CEO, John Morgan, under the Official Information Act; it’s only two months since we published our study critical of the handling of the NZ temperature record; and it is decades since Dr Vincent Gray, Dr Warwick Hughes, Dr Jim Hessell and others started asking Dr Jim Salinger for his data and calculations.

This is tremendous news and it is to NIWA’s credit that they are releasing the data. But one comment from Renwick strikes a sour and revealing note:

Yesterday Dr Renwick said that while he had no problem releasing the Niwa data he found it insulting to be singled out when, for example, medical and Treasury researchers were not expected to disclose all of their workings. “There is a real issue of trust here. The assumption is people like myself don’t know what we are doing or we’ve got some kind of agenda just to get research funding.”

He feels insulted? He should stop whining. Any discomfort Jim Renwick feels in being compelled to hand over to the public this public data is of his and his colleagues’ own making. NIWA is being singled out only because of its sustained intransigence over many years.

NIWA scientists have repeatedly refused this routine request from brother scientists. NIWA has obstructed answers to questions in the Parliament. They have failed to fulfill David Wratt’s statement in Nick Smith’s office on December 9 to the Hon Rodney Hide: “We’ll post it all up on our web site”. And they have never given reasons for refusing to disclose the data.

Renwick might like to reflect on the probability that, if they were asked nicely, scientists or researchers in medicine or the Treasury would happily hand over their data and workings. Indeed, they have probably already done so, to fellow professionals, without public fanfare. Why should they refuse? They understand whom they serve, and they are no doubt glad of some interest in their public work, instead of being treated as part of the furniture.

It usually goes without saying that a scientist welcomes assistance in finding errors in his work, for that’s what science is about, so the data are shared happily on request. Why are NIWA different? If Renwick is trying to enlist our sympathy by confessing to feeling insulted the attempt fails. However this situation arose, if Renwick and his colleagues had done their duty in the beginning by being open with their data it would never have come to this.

Renwick claims he “has no problem” releasing the data; if that is true, why didn’t he release it when he was first asked for it? In making a virtue of necessity he strikes a sour note. An apology for his recalcitrance would be sweeter.

At least one NIWA scientist seems to have formed the view that his work is exempt from public accountability. While such an attitude survives in a government body, the organisation is tainted.

2 Thoughts on “NIWA bows at last to pressure, but feels ‘insulted’

  1. Barry Brill on February 6, 2010 at 1:46 am said:

    Dr Renwick is quite right in observing that NIWA’s disclosure policy has become “a real issue of trust”. Can the people of New Zealand trust NIWA to act as climate scientists, and not as climate evangelists?

    One has only to read their PR releases, or their website material, to detect a clear and consistent agenda to strongly promote the AGW hypothesis, whilst glossing over its manifold uncertainties and all the contrary evidence. Check it out for yourself at – http://www.niwa.co.nz/our-science/climate/news.

    Did you get the impression of a purely scientific institution, undertaking empirical research on complex issues, with no bias towards any pre-determined outcomes? Or did you feel you had blundered into the offices of a public relations firm in the midst of a high-profile campaign?

  2. Pingback: Climate Conversation Group » NIWA breaks promises, should apologise

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