Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Doing Science in Court

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  • Peter Martin,

    Not "Jim Salinger, lead author in the last IPCC report", or "Jim Salinger, nationally-famous weather scientist", but "Jim Salinger, who did some work for Niwa as a student and was later sacked for misconduct".

    There has been a lengthy and sustained attack by ACT on NIWA and Salinger. This, in the House in March of this year, for example :

    Hon Rodney Hide: How can the Minister have confidence in the work done by NIWA on climate science, when the institute’s information has led Ministers to give wrong answers in the House, when the principal author was associated with the now utterly discredited British climate research unit, when other scientific authorities disagree with him, when the institute itself has no material available that can support the analysis underpinning its official series, when the principal author of the series has now been sacked, and when the institute is having to review the series because it has no confidence in it, nor can it justify it or defend it?

    Now that Salinger has been 'privatised' perhaps NIWA is in the sights...

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 187 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg,

    There's something wonderfully Soviet in the way ACT supports this action.

    Make the science conform to our ideology! Or we'll see you in court!

    And by wonderful I mean horrible.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    I'm not sure about 'soviet' - seems a bit more like 'nobody expect the spanish inquisition' - but with lawyers rather than comfy chairs

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2606 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I can't imagine what would be worse than goats.

    Regularly posting on kiwiblog?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    My personal headline for this is:
    Climate Sceptics Sue to Ignore Weather.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1443 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    NZCSC will present expert scientific evidence (possiobly including world heavyweights) to debunk NIWA

    I can't wait to hear what powerful arguments the brilliant scientific mind of Mike Tyson will do to those puny NIWA pseudoscientists!

    Perhaps Rick Giles will show up for the knockout blow by simply standing there and saying nothing.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    I do wonder whether someone with sufficient money might bring an appeal before the High Court as to the CSC's registration as a charity. It's allowed for in the law, assuming that someone associated with NIWA might argue that they're aggrieved by the Commission's decision to allow charitable status to a lawsuit manufacturer, but the time to lodge such appeal is rapidly running out.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    There's something wonderfully Soviet in the way ACT supports this action.

    Make the science conform to our ideology! Or we'll see you in court!

    And by wonderful I mean horrible.

    Come to think of it, it's no coincidence that many such middle-aged neo-cons were uber-Marxists in their youth. What doesn't change though, is their zealotry.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5418 posts Report Reply

  • mic weevil,

    this from Dr Andy Reisinger, Senior Research Fellow, New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, VUW:

    defend[ing] the obvious against the obscure and ridiculous

    seems to best sum it up for me.

    auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 52 posts Report Reply

  • Phil Lyth,

    NZH carries an NZPA report (well done to the unknown journo). Excerpts:

    University of Otago pro-vice chancellor of sciences Keith Hunter:

    It can only be done by people who have an established scientific reputation in meteorology. So if the coalition has got those people they should do the analysis. If they haven't they should find someone else who has got that.

    and

    There is nothing sinister about making adjustments. Measurements are often adjusted because of procedural differences between stations or changes in instruments with time.

    The coalition are just creating confusion. Throwing mud and if they throw enough mud some will stick and organisations like Niwa get dragged down in it

    Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor said the society was evaluating whether there was merit in joining the proceedings.

    On the face of it, it's hard to see how the issue can properly be brought before the court. We have no doubts that the science behind global warming predictions is robust and reliable and would wish to support the institute in any way that we can.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 458 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    And if folks want some more hockey sticks to look at.

    The sad thing is that it really doesn't matter what the outcome of this court case is, the effect will be less money for science and a little less respect for science and scientists. That almost certainly is the point.

    It's sad that there are people who feel their personal gain, from the businesses they own, is more important than a probable danger to the world as a whole. We saw the same responses from business which were threatened by banning of CFCs decades ago. Dismissal of the science, doubt cast on the projected hazards, doubt cast on the scientists and the science. Luckily they failed then.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Meanwhile, they get to libel every climate scientist in NZ through the courts

    I'm halfway through reading Richard J. Evans's account* of the David Irving/Penguin books libel trial

    As a defence against libel is to show that what was said was true, and as Penguin were being sued by Irving for libelling him as a holocaust denier, part of the defence was for Professor Evans to systematically define the characteristics of a denialism, and then show that Irving's work fitted the profile.

    It's quite striking how many characteristics are shared by the two different types of denier: cherry-picking of facts that fit a theory and ignoring those that don't, twisting of facts that can't be overlooked, concessions on minor points in order to make it appear that a contrary position on a major point is reasonable, belief that a shadowy conspiratorial group is hiding 'the truth', etc.**

    In the end, Irving had his day in court, and had his reputation destroyed.

    But in order to do so, the defence team spent two years full time preparing for the case. The cost of defending the accusation of libel was millions of pounds. To defeat just one guy who held a view that was pretty far outside the mainstream anyway (in contrast with climate change denial, which is worryingly mainstream).

    If this is the start of a trend for fighting climate science battles through the courts, it's a worrying development. The science is far harder to understand than historical documents are. The cost for fighting each action is going to be huge. And it is likely that the key aim (to sow doubt in the minds of the general public) is going to be achieved whatever the result is (Professor Evans pulls no punches at the end of his account in naming and shaming journalists who couldn't get the basic facts of what the trial was about and what happened correct, let alone the conclusion).

    These people are well-motivated, well-funded and have a clear strategy and game plan. A counter-strategy is urgently needed.

    *Mad love to Simon Grigg for pointing me in the direction of this guy.

    **Why, yes, not only did I just Godwin this thread, but I explicitly compared climate change deniers with holocaust deniers. I'm entirely comfortable with that, although I should probably point out that 'denier' indicates an extremist position of explicit denial and a closed mind, rather than someone who has yet to be convinced.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Why, yes, not only did I just Godwin this thread, but I explicitly compared climate change deniers with holocaust deniers.

    Nothing wrong with that; they're on about the same intellectual level.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Phil Lyth,

    The cost of defending the accusation of libel was millions of pounds.

    This is of course _Libel In The UK_ Last night I caught a repeat of Kim Hill's 7 August interview with Simon Singh who successful defended a case, talking about his own experience and what is, I understand, the near-universal support for rational change sooner rather than later. An end to libel tourism may be in sight.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 458 posts Report Reply

  • Phil Lyth,

    The cost of defending the accusation of libel was millions of pounds.

    Rich is of course talking about the UK. Last night I caught a repeat of Kim Hill's 7 August interview with Simon Singh who successful defended a case, talking about his own experience and what is, I understand, the near-universal support for rational change sooner rather than later. An end to libel tourism may be in sight.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 458 posts Report Reply

  • Phil Lyth,

    oops, ignore first

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 458 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    I feel a Galileo defence (when tried for heresy) coming on...the Earth is warming but God made it so.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    From a link by George D.

    Be prepared for conflict with the candidates and their staffs. Their job is to win the election, to improve their chances and cripple the other guy. If that means supporting confusion, ignorance, neglect, demagoguery or silence on certain issues, they will not hesitate to do that. We know this.

    This just makes me sad.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1881 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    Science reporting is hard; suggesting there is a conspiracy is easy (that's my short version of how Anthropogenic Climate Change conspiracy theorists work). All you need do is suggest that the peer review process might have some slight bias (other than truth) and you can slander scientists day and night for eternity. Anyone in the Sciences who argues against you is obviously in on the conspiracy and members of the public who think you are wrong just don't know the "science." A legal action like this is the ultimate way to look scientific whilst not actually engaging with the science; the NZCSC and their satellite groups will make out that they are defending science when, really, they are attacking it in a mischievous way.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • mic weevil,

    "when, really, they are attacking it in a mischievous way."

    some might say mischievous others might say malicious

    auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 52 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    Well, that too. My problem, seeing that I'm writing a PhD on conspiracy theories, is that I try a little too hard not to accuse people of conspiring in malicious fashion; when you start getting in the depths of conspiracy theory literature it becomes just a little frightening to think just how many of these conspiracy theorists might have an agenda other than being sincerely convinced of their righteousness.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Mike Graham,

    In the unlikely (I hope) event that CSC are successful in their Court action, what happens then?

    It's not just NZ data that indicates warming - will the CSC start court action in every country where a scientist has produced numbers that indicate that global warming is a happening thing?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    Well, if they can prove a conspiracy here. I imagine the groups who support the NZCSC will use the case to bolster their attacks "at home."

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    In the unlikely (I hope) event that CSC are successful in their Court action, what happens then?
    It's not just NZ data that indicates warming - will the CSC start court action in every country where a scientist has produced numbers that indicate that global warming is a happening thing?

    It doesn't matter. They will have succeeded win or lose. The intent is to drain resources from doing the science and drain resources from promoting science involvement in policy.

    By doing that they allow room to have policy decided by the tried and true systems of graft and political favour. Essentially the only purpose is to allow policy that favours businesses that benefit from delaying controls on carbon emissions.

    The timing here is interesting, a little over a year from the election means that any emissions policy can be put on hold until the courts have decided the truth.

    None of this is complicated. It is however sad.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    seeing that I'm writing a PhD on conspiracy theories

    Threadjack. Cool - what's your favorite book about conspiracy theories?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

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