NIWA’s review taking a hiding

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Questions raised over review of NZ temps

On 16 December, 2010, just before Christmas, just after the Parliament had risen for the year, just as the citizenry were rushing around doing Christmassy things and just as, necessarily, their oh-so-short memories of the year just gone were fading, NIWA released their long-promised review of the official New Zealand temperature record (NZTR).

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology gave it some luke-warm approval. In a letter dated 14 December, following their ‘peer review’ of NIWA’s ‘Review Report,’ Neil Plummer, Acting Assistant Director (Climate Information Services), at first gives this description of what the review would involve:

In this context ‘scientific review’ means a critical inspection/examination of the station reports taking into account the range of supporting evidence provided. The ideas, methods and conclusions of the papers are assessed for scientific error, internal consistency, clarity and scientific logic.

The data and methodology provided in the reports from NIWA are taken as an accurate representation of the actual analyses undertaken. We are not in a position to question all of the underlying analyses and data that have contributed to the final results, such as methods used to compile raw data taken at stations. We do, however, perform some independent analyses as appropriate to the aims of the review as outlined above.

Mr Plummer states clearly that they accept the data and the methodology presented by NIWA without questioning it. He also helpfully points out what the peer review will not do. Then he goes on in that vein at such length that he gives us the impression he doesn’t really want to review NIWA’s report at all. It would be too hard.

The review does not constitute a reanalysis of the New Zealand ‘seven station’ temperature record. Such a reanalysis would be required to independently determine the sensitivity of, for example, New Zealand temperature trends to the choice of the underlying network, or the analysis methodology. Such a task would require full access to the raw and modified temperature data and metadata, and would be a major scientific undertaking. As such, the review will constrain itself to comment on the appropriateness of the methods used to undertake the ‘seven station’ temperature analysis, in accordance with the level of the information supplied.

Observe that Plummer confirms, for those in any doubt about it, that the Bureau was not given access to the data behind the NZTR. The rest of this paragraph removes so much from the peer review that we begin to wonder if anything is left to be examined. Finally, in the last paragraph, Mr Plummer expresses an opinion on NIWA’s report.

The opinion is so mild, so limited in extent and so clearly lacks confidence in NIWA’s work that serious questions must be raised. He says:

In general, the evidence provided by NIWA supports the homogeneity corrections that have been applied to the temperature record to create the ‘seven station’ series. The scientific papers clearly report on major issues which have been identified in the metadata and past scientific literature. It is also clear that a number of significant adjustments (as identified by NIWA in the reports) are clearly [sic] required for the raw/composite station series owing to inhomogeneities which would otherwise artificially bias results.

So the guts of it is: “In general, the evidence … supports the … corrections.” Wow! Underwhelming! We get the impression that some of the evidence fails to support the corrections. The rest is a bit of waffle which completely ignores Plummer’s initial reassuring description of what the review by the BoM will examine.

Now, the fascinating thing is that, perhaps under the influence of the PR firm Network PR, NIWA’s CEO manages to magnify the Bureau of Meteorology’s magnificently mild mandate into this full-blown press release trumpeted on Scoop and picked up by the MSM:

The report was independently peer reviewed by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to ensure the ideas, methods, and conclusions stood up in terms of scientific accuracy, logic, and consistency.

“We asked the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to conduct the peer review to ensure a thorough examination by an independent, internationally respected, climate science organisation”, said NIWA CEO John Morgan.

Mr Morgan confirmed that the scientists from the Bureau’s National Climate Centre concluded that the results and underlying methodology used by NIWA were sound.

However, it’s curious that, while John Morgan quotes from Plummer’s description of what the review would look for, he conspicuously fails to mention the comment in the last paragraph of what it actually found. For they are very different statements.

Specifically, the Bureau did NOT find that “the ideas, methods, and conclusions stood up in terms of scientific accuracy, logic, and consistency.”

The Bureau did NOT conclude that “the results and underlying methodology used by NIWA were sound.”

So why did Morgan say that it had? Why did he not repeat the actual opinion stated by the Bureau in the letter? Why did he not echo the words “in general, the evidence … supports the … corrections”?

To find out, on 2 January (after legal advice) I made an official request under the Official Information Act, asking NIWA for copies of correspondence and related material concerning their arrangements for a peer review by the Bureau of Meteorology.

Continued in my next post

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6 Thoughts on “NIWA’s review taking a hiding

  1. Pingback: Climate Conversation Group » NIWA’s review: what are they hiding?

  2. QuentinF on 16/02/2011 at 1:53 pm said:

    This is also significant as per ALL world temperature measurements.
    (not that any temperature measurements are meaningful at any individual site anywhere on the planet. We should be looking at precipitation!.. see Robert Felix radio interview)

  3. Doug Proctor on 28/02/2011 at 7:02 am said:

    “… The data and methodology provided in the reports from NIWA are taken as an accurate representation of the actual analyses undertaken. …” from the BOM mandate.

    This is the caveat that makes the review valid but irrelevant. It is the same one that was used in the Jones/HadCru/Climategate three investigations.

    This caveat is also in all reserve engineering studies of the oil and gas industry. It is why Shell can have a one-time 40% writedown in their (mostly from Nigerian) reserves without anyone being held accountable. It is also why directors of companies – like government ministers – avoid prosecution. The error, if found later, is always that of someone else believed “reasonably” to behave professionally, in both an ethical and technical sense. We cannot predict the malfeance of others, the thinking goes.

    When something important is questioned, best intentions are not just what needs review. Results need review. Accountability is not, apparently, a socially important attritube of management (consider that lying about weapons of mass destruction never came back to hurt George W. even when the result was war and the destruction of a foreign country).

    I understand that the NZScCoalition is taking a second stab at getting a reappraisal of the data and RESULTS of work on the New Zealand temperature records. Also that a similar attempt is being made in Australia with the BOM data and position. There must be a huge threat perceived at a governmental level about the demand for truthfulness vs “truthiness”.

    The publlic is manipulated on a regular basis. As Tony Blair admitted, a FOIA makes “good government” difficult – as long as good government requires lying, obfuscating and making regular deals with the devil. Which, apparently, it does. Shouldn’t, needn’t, but right now it does.

    Good luck with forcing a review that would undermine government credibility (deserved as it is). At least we are not in the days where comments about riding one of a “troublesome priest” don’t lead to the steps of a cathedral.

  4. Clarence on 05/08/2012 at 9:44 pm said:

    I just noticed something about the wording of BOM’s letter which gains significance with the benefit of hindsight. We now know that something had gone wrong between NIWA and BOM, and that NIWA has fought on all fronts to prevent the BOM report from ever seeing the light of day!

    The operative sentence in Plummer’s letter doesn’t confirm that “the evidence …. supports .. The corrections.” It says ” the evidence PROVIDED BY NIWA supports .. the corrections.”

    So, all BOM was prepared to say was that NIWA itself didn’t come forward with any evidence which opposed their own corrections. No surprise there. But the fact that these words were inserted suggests strongly ( with benefit of hindsight) that the evidence unearthed by BOM might have led to a quite different conclusion.

  5. Richard C (NZ) on 06/08/2012 at 11:20 am said:

    Understandable reticence by BOM, they were busy moving from their HQ series to ACORN-SAT using a whole different and documented methodology to NIWA’s.

    Had BOM been given free rein (but at some cost) to re-analyse the 7SS from raw CliFlo data using their own site move step criteria, I’m guessing (going by their method) that BOM would have come up with a series with even less than the linear +0.34 C/century that NZCSC found. A cynic would suggest that BOM, knowing this, were relieved that all they had to do was accept NIWA’s method thereby absolving them from opening a can of worms.

    BOM’s site move step criteria however – producing even less adjustments than R&S (8 less in NSCSET 7SS) – requires them to look elsewhere for warming. They found it with “weather-dependent” step adjustments (“break points”). Read about that in BOM’s ACORN-SAT documentation:-

    Trewin, B. 2012.
    Techniques involved in developing the Australian Climate Observations Reference Network � Surface Air Temperature (ACORN-SAT) dataset.
    CAWCR Technical Report No. 049

    NIWA’s 7SS equivalent being conspicuously absent – because it was promised.

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