Pliant Ombudsman even supplies lock—will we ever get in?
Four-year battle continues
The Dominion Post recently chastised the Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverley Wakem, for her poor performance.
It is truly extraordinary to hear her scolding journalists as “rottweilers on heat” and warning them not to annoy “innately conservative” officials who might then become “gun-shy”. These statements are what you would expect from a bad-tempered bureaucrat, not an ombudsman.
It is not for the Chief Ombudsman to tell anyone to be polite and humble when asking for information. It is most certainly not for her to suggest that officials can obstruct information – because that is all that being “gun-shy” can mean here – when they are irritated.
The newspaper concludes: “She seems to empathise more with senior officials than with those asking pesky questions.”
NIWA wins – thank the Chief Ombudsman
By coincidence, I had received a few days earlier (finally!) the Chief Ombudsman’s decision on our complaint against NIWA. She turns us down. NIWA wins.
NIWA refuses to tell us what really went on when the Australian Bureau of Meteorology peer-reviewed NIWA’s reconstruction of New Zealand’s temperature records in 2010. Reading Dame Beverley’s decision, the Dom Post theme emerges again, of the Chief Ombudsman helping public agencies elude restraint.
It seems our Chief Ombudsman lacks the will to implement the legal requirement of her office to challenge powerful government agencies when they disadvantage private citizens. She denies our right to understand and verify the country’s temperature record and instead affirms NIWA’s right to keep their methods and their crony science secret.
Curiously, the Ombudsman’s office has asked us “to refrain from publishing the opinion, or referring publicly to its contents,” before publication of an anonymised version of it on the Ombudsman’s website. But I’m doing so now because there’s no legal backing for interim secrecy and because there’s still considerable public interest in the matter, even after four years of waiting.
But what is NIWA hiding?
In submissions to the Ombudsman dated 17 May 2011, NIWA, inter alia, stressed how much information it publishes concerning climate issues, including the Seven-Station Series (7SS) national temperature record.
NIWA is a very open organisation. It already makes its raw and adjusted temperature data available to the public through its climate database, which is accessible via its website (http://cliflo.niwa.co.nz). In addition NIWA widely and publically [sic] publishes its research findings both in peer reviewed and general publications, through its various reports and public presentations and by direct interaction with the public and end users of its research. It has a keen interest in disseminating its research findings as widely as possible so that the public are aware of climate change issues. In relation to Mr Treadgold’s request, NIWA made the final peer reviewed station reviews, along with a confirmation from BoM that it had undertaken an independent peer review, available to the public. In addition, the original station reports and data used in the reviews were made freely available to the public.
Those activities and dissemination channels mean that NIWA’s research, the data it analyses to develop research results, its methodologies and various analyses are widely available. This allows other researchers (and the public) if they so wish, to reproduce and verify or otherwise, NIWA’s research, results and conclusions. This allows members of the public to assess the veracity and validity of NIWA’s research and verify the scientific basis upon which policy decisions are made by the Crown and territorial authorities. To this extent NIWA contributes to the development and administration of policies and laws and assists the public to participate in that process.
(Except when they don’t.) Dame Beverley is completely taken in by this and doesn’t appear to recognise that publishing information over here doesn’t by itself justify withholding information over there. In the decision released to us, she fully accepts without independent confirmation the one-eyed praise NIWA gives itself and summarises approvingly:
Accordingly, it seems clear that NIWA’s information and views concerning climate issues are not hidden from public view. On the contrary, they are widely disseminated.
But they haven’t released the information we’re after. NIWA freely publishes so much material (apparently) that one wonders how any could be left. We ought to be satisfied. Why do we persist with our troublesome demands for more?
NIWA certainly misleads us
For all the lack of sympathy she demonstrates for citizens battling bureaucrats, there’s no suggestion that our retiring Ombudsman actually misleads anybody, but NIWA certainly does mislead us. They have a track record. They misled us in the beginning by claiming the methodology they used for their adjustments had been published in certain places when it had not been. NIWA has deceived the Ombudsman over the meaning of peer review, they promised the Parliament they would publish their most recent methodology in a peer-reviewed journal but have done nothing about it, they deceived their minister and the Parliament over their methodology for adjusting temperature readings, and no doubt reckon that deceiving a cheerfully compliant Ombudsman will scarcely be noticed.
Why have they battled for four years to keep it secret? There was never an agreement with the BoM for confidentiality (the BoM was ready to give us the documents we wanted and even helpfully described them all — but NIWA refused to allow the release). Why aren’t they honest? Why don’t they tell their employers (us) the truth and openly (like proper scientists) describe the peer review?
What are they hiding?