The Curious Case of the Missing Thesis

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When the NZ Climate Science Coalition made an OIA request for the NIWA amendments which shaped the whole NZ temperature record, it was told the amendments came from a doctoral thesis submitted in 1981 by James Salinger.

NIWA’s General Counsel officially advised (on two occasions) that “the methodology is documented” in the thesis, but “the original worksheets and/or computer records used for the calculations in Dr Salinger’s thesis work are the property of Dr Salinger, who no longer works for NIWA.”

When NIWA belatedly published its Schedule of Adjustments on 9 February 2010, it explained that relocations of weather stations required before-and-after comparisons against an independent station. The document notes that “Salinger (1981) provides the results of these three-site inter-comparisons for the 7-station series, up to about 1975.”

“The thesis, the thesis!”

The Minister responsible for NIWA, the Hon Dr Wayne Mapp, told Parliament on 18 February 2010 that the adjustments to the 7-station series were taken from the Salinger thesis. In a follow-up written answer (PQ1320) he explained more fully that “the adjustments used in the present “seven-station” series are consistent with those in the Salinger thesis. Some changes to the original adjustments have been necessary in the thirty years since the thesis was published.”

In answer to PQ1193, Dr Mapp advised that the source material for NIWA’s Schedule of Adjustments were: “a list of the more than 30 sites used to develop the ‘seven-station’ series; raw unadjusted data for these individual sites from NIWA’s National Climate Database; the time series of adjusted monthly mean temperatures at the seven locations; and Appendix C from Dr Jim Salinger’s 1981 Ph.D. thesis.”

In answer to other Parliamentary Questions, Dr Mapp described how the detailed calculations for the Salinger thesis had been recorded on the VUW mainframe, and were lost when the University changed its system in 1983. He defended the lack of 7SS peer-review by contending that the Salinger doctoral thesis had itself been reviewed by two supervisors. However, oddly, neither of them were climate scientists.

Listen again: it’s the thesis, you dunderhead

So it was hardly surprising that the statement of claim in the coalition’s Judicial Review proceedings allege (in para 12) that: “the 7SS temperature data is sourced from the National Climate Database, but is subject to a number of adjustments taken from a student thesis submitted in 1981 by Dr James Salinger, a former NIWA employee.”

For they simply followed what NIWA had been advising them.

What is surprising is the response in NIWA’s statement of defence — which flatly denies that the adjustments were ever taken from Salinger’s thesis. And NIWA becomes very coy at this point, declining to say where the adjustments came from. It unbends sufficiently to state that the adjustments were updated by the MetService in 1992, but has nothing whatever to say about their original sources.

In fact, Jim Salinger has become a non-person. The statement of defence doesn’t mention him anywhere -– except as a person Jim Renwick consulted when he (Renwick) allegedly authored the 11-station series.

The shell game continues. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave …”

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that NIWA is a public agency, accountable to and paid by taxpayers, with a legal duty to maintain accurate temperature records. For they don’t act like public servants.

Now they ask: what thesis?

At first they presented their published effort as 100% pure, and only admitted to doctoring the data after the Coalition had proved the interference. Then they produced no documents or computer code in answer to OIA requests, but cited the 1981 thesis as the source of the doctoring.

After reams of parliamentary questions they remembered the calculations were lost … but still kept pointing all ten fingers at the thesis. Now, cornered in a forum where sworn testimony is required, they say “what thesis?”

Through the Court, the plaintiff has asked NIWA for particulars of the original source of their 7SS adjustments. NIWA’s response is that it will not voluntarily make any disclosure.

What are we to make of this eleventh-hour abandonment of the “thesis story” which has underpinned the whole of NIWA’s public presentation for the past eight months? Remember, they brought in Network PR to vet all their statements during this period, so the thesis version was not random — it was the cornerstone of a well-thought-out spin campaign. Has the new team, the heavyweight legal pack, come up with a new, improved storyline?

You have to feel sorry for NIWA’s supporters, trying once again to put a good spin on their mysterious machinations, but knowing they’re impossible to justify in polite company.

I remember that the same taxpayers are paying for the scientists, the spin doctors, the QCs and the others, and I grow weary. Whatever happened to open government?

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22 Thoughts on “The Curious Case of the Missing Thesis

  1. Mike Jowsey on 21/10/2010 at 11:40 am said:

    OMG – they’ve disappeared the Thesis! It’s worse than we thought!

    What are these [SNIP ad hominem remark] scientists hiding with such desperation? Could it be blatant incompetence? Or worse – [SNIP ad hominem remark] to bias the data towards a preordained result? Why would they do such a thing? Isn’t there a whistleblower within NIWA with enough gumption to let the cat out of the bag? Or has the Salinger dismissal frightened everybody into submission to the Organisation?

    So many questions, such an eerie silence….

  2. Andy on 21/10/2010 at 12:14 pm said:

    Has anyone read the thesis and found the pertinent parts?
    Is it possible to copy the thesis and publish it online? (If not, why not)

  3. val majkus on 21/10/2010 at 1:54 pm said:

    Sorry, I’ve put this in the wrong thread so have copied it here:

    I’ve been searching the net to see where Salinger got his PhD but no luck but there is this explanation in Crisis in New Zealand climatology by Barry Brill

    Global warming during the 20th Century was 0.6C, with a margin of error of +/-0.2C. The Southern Hemisphere warming was less than half that level. But New Zealand warming, according to NIWA, was almost twice the global average – and with no error margins mentioned.

    Referring to the NIWA web page, one finds that this major warming trend is the product of a single study involving only 7 temperature stations – out of the 238 stations which currently report to NIWA. In response to a request under the Official information Act, NIWA has disclosed that this study was undertaken as part of a student’s thesis some 30 years ago.

    NIWA has no record of how the NSS came to be in their computers. The only reasonable inference is that the student himself, one Jim Salinger, must have added it when he became NIWA’s Principal Scientist many years later.

    Now I’ve found Richard’s article at this august site:

    Thesis available, but only in Wellington
    ACT MP John Boscawen asked a question in the Parliament of the Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Dr Wayne Mapp:

    Can the minister confirm that Dr Salinger’s PhD thesis is still “publicly available”? If so, where, and how may it be obtained?

    A simple question, you might think, and so it is. Listen to the answer from Dr Mapp.
    I am advised that Dr Salinger’s PhD thesis is publicly available through the Victoria University Library. This thesis is in the Closed Reserve Collection at VUW Library. It can be accessed by the public.

    (Note that VUW means Victoria University of Wellington.) Though I don’t like the sound of the “Closed Reserve Collection”, it’s good news that he says the thesis is available to the general public. But listen to the conditions:

    To view the thesis, members of the public can visit the Closed Reserve Desk between 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday. On production of an ID, they can be issued a temporary visitors card and can check out the thesis for up to six hours. The thesis must be kept within the library.

    So you have to go to Wellington, you have to read and absorb hundreds of technical pages in only six hours and you can only copy a little bit of it. Presumably you get another six hours each day you stay in Wellington. It could cost a lot of money unless you have relatives in Wellington.

    and note Richard’s comment to that article (quoting in part) NIWA’s response to the NZCSC

    You asked about adjustments made to the seven station data series. Information regarding those adjustments is available from the following publicly available sources.” You will note he does not say “the adjustments are contained within” the sources. Then he cites

    · Salinger, M.J., 1981. New Zealand Climate: The instrumental record. Thesis
    submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Victoria University of
    Wellington, January 1981;
    · Rhoades, D.A., and Salinger, M.J., 1993: Adjustment of temperature and rainfall
    measurements for site changes. International Journal of Climatology, 13, 899 –

    I recommend this article for background material which is probably all in a thread somewhere on this site which I just haven’t found yet

  4. Andy on 21/10/2010 at 2:21 pm said:

    This is what the NIWA website states:

    The ‘seven-station’ series was originally constructed by Dr Jim Salinger as part of his Ph.D. His thesis is held by Victoria University of Wellington, and the reference is:

    * Salinger, M.J., 1981. New Zealand Climate: The instrumental record. Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Victoria University of Wellington, January 1981.

    The methodology for adjusting for site changes in the NZ temperature record was published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Climatology in 1993:

    * Rhoades, D.A. and Salinger, M.J., 1993: Adjustment of temperature and rainfall measurements for site changes. Int. Journal of Climatology 13, 899 – 913.

  5. Andy on 21/10/2010 at 2:29 pm said:

    The abstract of Rhoades and Salinger can be found here

    Adjustment of temperature and rainfall records for site changes

    The pdf of the full paper is behind a paywall. Does anyone have appropriate access?
    Otherwise, a 24 hour fee can be purchased

    • Andy on 21/10/2010 at 3:29 pm said:

      This paper costs $29.95 for 24 hour online access.

      I want to check that (a) someone else hasn’t already been here, and (b) I am on the right track.

      What I find puzzling is that NIWA state that the methodology is published in Rhoades and Salinger in a peer reviewed international journal.

      In that case, is the thesis issue moot?

    • Andy on 21/10/2010 at 5:54 pm said:

      Just a general point about the thesis/peer review issue.

      A PhD thesis is generally examined by two examiners. – internal and external but not necessarily so.

      A peer reviewed paper gets submitted to a journal, and gets reviewed by an anonymous panel of reviewers, to determine its suitability for inclusion in the journal.

      PhD theses do not themselves qualify as peer-reviewed papers. Typically, a PhD student will submit parts of their research for inclusion in peer-reviewed journals during the course of their study.

      Most likely, Rhoades and Salinger contains material from the PhD Thesis, so there is probably a fair bit of overlap.

      It should be noted that it is unlikely that any reviewer checked the figures used in any calculations. This is my assertion based on my knowledge of the peer-review process, and was in fact brought up in the parliamentary enquiry into the CRU emails in questions to Phil Jones by Graham Stringer MP et al.

      This in itself is not a criticism of Salinger or NIWA; it is a general observation of the scientific process in general.

      Of course, this is my opinion. Your mileage may differ.

    • val majkus on 21/10/2010 at 10:30 pm said:

      Andy I suggest you send a message to Richard Threadgold; you can contact him through the ‘contact’ button at the top of the screen
      My belief is that the adjustments are probably moot at this time; it will be a matter of swapping requests to and replies to particulars or interrogatories before issuing subpoena for production of documents (and the NZCSC can rely on the replies to the FOI request when formalising their requests and hopefully their solicitors will do this as there is some damage to NIWA’s credibility from what the article says and the replies can be produced and filed in Court as well as the FOI requests responses)
      I can understand why you are looking for the adjustments and it would be helpful to file in the Court proceedings but no doubt the thesis can be subpoened from the Victoria Uni for production in the Court proceedings
      But with this kind of case best to do as much preparation in documentary form as possible and things that the Coalition have done in the past like the FOI request and the replies can be relied upon at least in Aust and I suspect in NZ as well

    • Thanks for your comments, Val. You’ve obviously thought about the issues. Our legal team are well informed, well qualified and fully appraised of the situation, so please don’t be concerned. it’s notable that you emphasise the documentation, and this is indeed an area that our team are paying close attention to.

      You’ve probably gathered by now that the actual adjustments to the 7SS are indeed moot, or are about to become moot, since NIWA will shortly present their “review”. The adjustments to that series and their reasons, of course, will become the new focus of our scientists’ attention and we intend to examine them quite carefully.

      Oh, and I see every message sent to this blog, so you don’t really need to email me privately unless it’s a private matter. Seeing each message means that recently I’ve been scanning upwards of 80 emails a day — but that’s the price of… um, what am I getting for the price? Oh, yes, spreading the message that dangerous man-made global warming is unproven. Great.

    • val majkus on 22/10/2010 at 11:32 pm said:

      thanks Richard; it will be interesting to see what the NIWA review comes up with as compared with the current 7SSS data; I wonder if you could keep us informed as to the various steps in the case; I understand the next step is a Case Management Conf; it willl be interesting to hear what your legal team discover once the results of subpoena for production are available; as to the missing thesis did the dog bark in the night or not bark in the night; that was the clue

    • Andy, if you examine what NIWA actually say, you find they nowhere promise the reader will discover the method Salinger used. Instead, they use non-specific expressions such as “available in”. However, as my most recent post makes clear, merely pointing to the thesis for so long was apparently a mistake, and because they’ve recanted on the thesis in their Statement of Defence, this should expose them to a criticism of misleading us, or at least of inconsistency. We’ll see.

    • Clarence Kay on 21/10/2010 at 11:33 pm said:

      I have a copy of Rhoades & Salinger (1993), which is a highly mathematical paper comparing 7 neighbouring weather stations in Canterbury. Its conclusions are discussed by Barry Brill’s paper on Lincoln station, elsewhere on this blog, and they differ from those shown for Lincoln in NIWA’s Schedule of Adjustments.

      This paper doesn’t mention the thesis, and adopts a completely different methodology from that used by Salinger in Appendix C of the thesis. It strongly advocates that comparisons should be limited to stations which are both geographically close and climatically similar. It says that before-and-after periods should be of similar length. Most of the methodology it recommends was ignored by Brett Mullan in his Hokitika paper on the NIWA website.

      Rhoades & Salinger also emphasises the uncertainties and suggests that analysts just have to accept that homogenisation of ancient data is often impossible.

    • Andy on 22/10/2010 at 8:09 am said:

      Thanks for the synopsys.
      It sounds like a download of this paper would be a good idea.

    • Andy on 22/10/2010 at 8:18 am said:


      Your statement

      This paper doesn’t mention the thesis, and adopts a completely different methodology from that used by Salinger in Appendix C of the thesis

      This would appear to be quite an important statement, as it in effect makes the statement (quoted above) on the NIWA website either misleading or downright wrong.

    • Richard C (NZ) on 22/10/2010 at 8:39 am said:

      Andy O/T, please point me to our “Keywords” discussion – I’ve lost it.

      If you can’t find it either, I’ll put something up in “Open threads as promised”

    • Richard C:
      Just search for “keywords” in the Google custom search field at the top. Works for me. Or did you find it?

    • Richard C (NZ) on 23/10/2010 at 1:43 pm said:

      “Or did you find it?” – Yes I did find it (by accident).

      “Just search for “keywords” in the Google custom search field at the top. Works for me.”

      And works for me too, now.

      Richard T, this is a HUGE Tip. Thank you. I just assumed that the custom search does not search comments, not realizing that it was a GOOGLE CUSTOM search (some blog search boxes only search post titles!).

      I do not get the same joy at JoNova, FYI. I think Jo is a bit frustrated with her out-of-date theme but is reluctant to change in view of all the tinkering she has done with her existing set-up and she does not have a Google custom search box. I’ll sent her your Tip too next time I communicate.

      She has not gone through a BLOCKS2 “experiment” in other words.

    • Richard C (NZ) on 23/10/2010 at 2:04 pm said:

      “She has not gone through a BLOCKS2 “experiment” in other words.”

      Or an “Open Threads” exercise.

      You’re way ahead in the game in that respect RT, and eyes (and Trolls) will follow eventually (see “Open threads as promised”), but at least you don’t have Jo’s Mods stress at the moment (She has a team on that BTW).

    • Richard C (NZ) on 23/10/2010 at 1:53 pm said:

      The new Google custom search function may have some bearing on why the search engines have gone bananas over CCG (Ahead of WUWT, JoNova and HT in this regard. Jo Nova thinks it’s only in NZ but I think it’s global – not arguing though)


      Please go to the “Open threads as promised” link (see up-thread) to continue this conversation.

    • Well observed, Andy. It sounds as though you’re starting to understand why we’re keeping on at NIWA. For their answers have been deceptive from the beginning. There is no other word for their duplicitous responses.

  6. val majkus on 21/10/2010 at 2:48 pm said:

    good research Andy; It’s doubtful if the adjustments are in the paper itself but more likely an appendix; no I don’t have access

  7. val majkus on 22/10/2010 at 12:03 am said:

    by the way the relevant para in the defense is para 10 and 12; the ‘Database’ to which 12 refers is defined in para 6

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