Herald gives de Freitas platform to smear climate science

Climate change denier and Auckland University geographer Chris de Freitas seems to have fast access to the dialogue pages of the NZ Herald. His latest effort this week is a long ramble ostensibly around the possibility of an El Niño this year, but at its centre contains a nasty slur on the honesty of climate scientists. He confuses, presumably deliberately, predictions of a weather event in the short term with the longer term predictions of climate change.

The short term prediction relates to the possibility of an El Niño event this year. He claims NIWA’s reported 50% chance of an El Niño is not a prediction at all, but more akin to tossing a coin. This observation doesn’t stand up. NIWA doesn’t say every year that there’s a 50% chance of an El Niño. They were drawing attention to current developments which point in the direction of an El Niño.

Nevertheless de Freitas presumably sees his observation as a useful build-up to his planned attack. His next step is to comment on how incredibly complex climate systems are, and to quote no less an authority than Albert Einstein who said of the weather that prediction for even a few days ahead is impossible. Incidentally I’ve never seen a climate scientist claiming to predict the weather next week. But in de Freitas’ mind this leads to a climax:

The problem is complicated by the fact that the public usually fear the worst, and fear sells. So, if the period for which the prediction is made is beyond the end of the climate scientist’s lifetime, such as with long-term predictions of human-caused climate change, or “global warming”, any scary prediction will attract attention and hopefully also research funds or job promotion.

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Climate of complacency #2: de Freitas lies to TV3

Imagine my shock when I discovered today that Chris de Freitas — the Auckland University academic who hit the news a couple of years ago when it was found that he was teaching climate denial to first year students, but who has a 20 year history of advocating for inaction on climate change — had made headlines by telling lies to a TV news operation. The headline: Kiwi scientist: Climate change not to blame for heatwaves. For a while it was top story on the TV3 News web site. Here’s how the story opens:

A New Zealand scientist has denied popular claims the recent Australian heatwave and other extreme weather events around the world are linked to global warming.

Here’s where de Freitas plays fast and loose with the facts:

The Australian government’s Climate Commission released a report last week stating: “climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse”.

But associate professor of climate and environment science Chris de Freitas, from the University of Auckland, says this is not the case.

“There is no evidence to suggest that,” he says. “It’s really [just] hype.”

There’s the lie. De Freitas states without qualification that there’s “no evidence”. And yet the Australian Climate Commission’s report on the subject, prepared by three scientists with a great deal more experience and scientific mana than junior geographer de Freitas, states:

Climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse.

The report provides a long list of peer-reviewed scientific studies to support its conclusions. But de Freitas keeps on digging a hole for himself:

Dr Freitas says the earth actually hasn’t warmed for at least a decade, and scientists do not know enough about climate change to tell if carbon dioxide emissions could cause large or damaging changes.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that what we’re doing is creating dangerous change.”

Tell it to the firefighters, Chris. Tell it to the people of Dunalley. Tell it to the Australian people suffering as climate change comes home to roost.

There are several questions that have to be asked about this “news” item. Why did TV3 go to de Freitas for a story in the first place? Was de Freitas touting his contrarian lies to the media, or were his friends at the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, where he rejoices in the role of “science adviser”, pushing his views to news operations running short-staffed during the summer break?

Auckland University, which allows de Freitas to teach rubbish to its students under the guise of academic freedom, has to ask itself if it can really stand behind an employee who so egregiously lies in public. Academic freedom should be cherished, but allowing de Freitas’s nonsense to go unchallenged devalues the very notion, and diminishes the university’s hard won reputation as a centre of academic excellence.

Climate: The Counter Consensus

ClimateThis review of Bob Carter’s latest book, by Dr James Renwick, Principal Scientist at NIWA’s Climate Variability & Change group, was first published in the March newsletter of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand. My thanks to Jim for permission to republish it here.

This book is a curious read, full of misinformation, straw-man arguments, and poorly-documented assertions. To become immersed in it, we must enter the through-the-looking-glass world of the “independent” scientist, where those such as myself are the ones “…who have dissembled, told half-truths, cherry-picked their data, fantastically exaggerated, and suppressed the circulation of better science” (Prefatory Essay, p. 19). Meanwhile, the ideas put forward by Prof. Carter are portrayed as representing a balanced appraisal of the issues. From where I sit, that’s the opposite of reality.

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McLean’s folly and the climate clueless

In an astonishing press release issued last week, the New Zealand Climate “Science” Coalition predicts that 2011 will be the “coolest year globally since 1956 or even earlier”. The C”S”C bases its prediction on the work of Australian “computer consultant and occasional travel photographer” John McLean. Hot Topic readers will remember McLean as the lead author of a rapidly rebutted 2009 paper (written with Chris de Freitas and Bob Carter) which claimed that El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events were a driver of global temperature increases. I covered the full story at the time: see Mother Nature’s Sons and subsequent posts.

One unoriginal finding of the McLean paper was that global temperatures were affected by ENSO events — warming after El Niños and cooling after La Niñas. Last year NZ C”S”C member Bryan Leyland used this to “predict” a coming cooling, which was lapped up by the usual suspects. In January this year, Leyland predicted cooling would continue until at least June. Now McLean has taken this a step further by predicting that temperatures will plunge to that of a cool year 50 years ago. There’s no justification for this prediction in the press release, beyond McLean pretending that his 2009 paper showed that CO2 was a minor player in global temperature change.

Unfortunately for the credibility of all involved, McLean’s prediction is utter unphysical nonsense. Here’s why…

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Fools gold: cranks can’t count

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. 14 months on from the start of the Treadgold/Climate “Science” Coalition/ACT campaign to cast doubt on the long term New Zealand temperature record, after parliamentary questions, much mud slinging at Jim Salinger and NIWA, legal action, and the expensive and time-wasting reconstruction of a temperature series that’s pretty much identical to the original, diligent digging by Open Parachute/Sciblogs blogger Ken Perrott has revealed a stunning level of statistical incompetence in the “paper” that started it all. Written and published by Richard Treadgold of the Climate Conversation Group, that “paper” contained a graph purporting to show a long term NZ temperature series constructed without adjustments for station moves.

A day or two ago, Treadgold posted a link to the underlying data at his blog, and Perrott — who has been requesting this information for most of the last year — was quick to download it and take a peek “under the hood” of Treadgold’s graph. And what he found was truly remarkable. Treadgold makes no allowances for missing data, makes no attempt to create a valid composite series, simply averages the numbers and plots them on a graph. There are a lot of gaps in the data — especially in the early years — so the “NZ” temperature is in some years just Dunedin, or Dunedin plus Wellington, or Wellington plus Auckland, and so on. Treadgold’s incredible statistical naivete allows him to not just compare apples to oranges, but to feijoas and konini berries as well. The result, of course, is a dog’s breakfast. To make matters worse, he then computed a trend on the data, and announced:

Straight away you can see there’s no slope—either up or down. The temperatures are remarkably constant way back to the 1850s. Of course, the temperature still varies from year to year, but the trend stays level—statistically insignificant at 0.06°C per century since 1850.

A whole political campaign has been constructed on the back of this statistical idiocy. Variations of Treadgold’s claim have been used in questions in Parliament. Valuable scientists’ time and tax payer money has been wasted pursuing his folly. The Climate “Science” Coalition are still desperately trying to keep the issue alive, hoping that if they can create enough smoke everyone will assume there’s a fire somewhere. Unfortunately for Barry Brill and his colleagues, Treadgold’s statistical incompetence undercuts their whole campaign. Do they really think the NZ public and politicians will take the word of a bunch that sling mud and smear scientists, when they are incapable of doing their own simple sums?

Congratulations to Ken for unmasking this fraud. I eagerly await the fulsome apology Treadgold owes to Jim Salinger, NIWA and the public of New Zealand. Perhaps the NZ C”S”C might offer to repay some of the tax payer funds wasted on this affair. But I won’t be holding my breath…

Meanwhile, I think it’s worth repeating the conclusion to my first post on this affair:

None of these cranks should be accorded any respect in future. By their words shall we know them, and their words show them to be ignorant, bullying fools. De Freitas [science advisor to the CSC] should withdraw and apologise, or resign from his post at Auckland University, and if Treadgold, Dunleavy, McShane, Leyland,or any other member of the NZ CSC want to partake in public debate on the subject of climate science, they should expect derision to be heaped on them and their views.


[Update 10/2: Prompted by Manfred’s comment below, I checked back over the original 7SS data and Treadgold’s spreadsheet — as well as with one or two people who might be expected to know ;-) — and it appears that taking a simple average of the annual anomalies in years where some stations reported no data was NIWA’s practise for the original 7 station series. It’s not ideal, particularly in the very early years when there are large gaps in the data, but it’s how it was done. Treadgold was therefore following established practise, in that one respect. I therefore apologise to Richard for echoing that specific allegation without first checking the data. However, this does not get him off the hook for the rest of his “analysis”, nor prompt me to change my overall conclusions. I accused him of “statistical idiocy” and that charge stands — not least because he derives his anomalies by taking unadjusted or raw station data and relating it to a 1971-2000 baseline derived from different stations at different locations using different measurement equipment, and then pretends that he’s made the warming disappear. Tell that to the glaciers…]

[Stone Roses]