I have rediscovered an incomplete skirmish with NIWA’s chief executive, Mr John Morgan; all that remains for me is to concede defeat. This is my last post mourning the passing of good science.
A year ago, Morgan boasted “The methodology applied by Niwa was in accordance with internationally recognised methodology.” He was referring to NIWA’s preparation of the NZ temperature record, the seven-station series (7SS) which the coalition challenged in an application for judicial review the year before. Those following the story will recall that the challenge concerned the original 7SS, dating from 1999, not the revised 7SS prepared by Dr Brett Mullan in 2010.
I summarised this story last November and in February this year I asked again (rather patiently, I thought) for “a copy of the scientific literature that approves of the measurement technique,” explaining “I believe you have not answered my question.”
After Morgan’s final refusal on 20 March I was angry. I told him:
Confirmation of your statement can only be found in documents describing the international recognition you cite, so nothing else will do; I ask you to produce them because you have not produced them anywhere else.
In the absence of your confirmation, doubts arise as to whether the documents exist. Yet as a prestigious institution steeped in the ways of science, NIWA surely understands the value to credibility of producing evidence.
My readers and I want to see a copy of those documents you cited in which international recognition of NIWA’s methods in the Review is described, or an Internet reference to such documents. As it concerns material whose existence you confirmed in a public forum, our request is an appropriate matter under the Official Information Act 1982. It doesn’t require scientific input. You can answer it easily with some photocopied pages.
But it’s a hopeless case now because after getting an answer, however simple-minded, the Ombudsman will not query the good sense of it, just (officially, whatever his reservations) be satisfied some answer was given. So Morgan wins the skirmish, but at the considerable cost of exposing himself to distrust.
For nobody could accept his preposterous answer to me (which implies no scientific corroboration whatsoever) so he surely advertises his loss of control of unruly scientists. For if David Wratt—or Brett Mullan or whomever Morgan might have gone to—had provided a normal scientific reference to even a single instance of international approval of their methods, Morgan would have passed it on to me, for why shouldn’t he?
But he had to go to a complete outsider, Justice Venning, for some comfort that his guys used an internationally-recognised method. Even the CEO couldn’t get a name or a reference out of his top climate scientists, from Wratt down. And what does a judge know of science? Well, in his own words, in his own judgment, Geoffrey Venning confessed (paragraph numbers given):
 It is well established that the Court, in considering an application for judicial review, will be cautious about interfering with decisions made by a specialist body acting within its own sphere of expertise.
 I consider this Court should be cautious about interfering with decisions made and conclusions drawn by a specialist body, such as NIWA, acting within its own sphere of expertise. In such circumstances a less intensive or, to put it another way, a more tolerant review is appropriate.
 Unless the decision maker has followed a clearly improper process, the Court will be reluctant to adjudicate on matters of science and substitute its own inexpert view of the science if there is a tenable expert opinion.
 I consider that unless the Trust can point to some defect in NIWA’s decision-making process or show that the decision was clearly wrong in principle or in law, this Court will not intervene. This Court should not seek to determine or resolve scientific questions demanding the evaluation of contentious expert opinion.
So there you have it. John Morgan relies on a self-adjudged, non-scientific source to warrant international ‘scientific recognition’ of NIWA’s 7SS.
But who believes him?