When asses go to court

Perhaps the least interesting aspect of the High Court hearing which started today — the NZ Climate “Science Education” Trust (NZCSET) versus the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), before Justice Venning — is the ostensible casus belli, the construction of a long term temperature record for New Zealand. The law does not concern itself with trifles, and the minutiae of the techniques used to homogenise temperature records to account for site moves and instrument changes is nothing if not trifling with respect to the climatological big picture. New Zealand and the world have warmed significantly over the last 150 years, of that there is no doubt, and no amount of legal action will make warming go away and New Zealand’s glaciers recover the mass they’ve lost.

Nor has the the long term New Zealand temperature record been important to the formulation of government policy on climate change. That has relied on international diplomacy, the workings of the United Nations and the international consensus on the science of climate, all leavened with a healthy dose of local politics. The NZ temperature record played no part in either the design of the emissions trading scheme or its watering down.

So if this case is not about temperature records and their relevance to government policy, what is it about? We need to consider a few key questions.

  • Who is bringing the action?
  • Who is paying the lawyers?
  • Who wins, and who loses?

The answers are bad news for the taxpayers and citizens of New Zealand — and perhaps the world.

The legal action is being brought by the NZ Climate Science Education Trust, described by the NZ Herald as “a branch of the NZ Climate Science Coalition”. The trust was formed at the same time as the case was announced1, and appears to have been created solely to protect its trustees from bearing the costs of a failed legal action. In the nearly two years since it was formed, the NZ CSET does not appear to have been granted charitable status, and has made no discernible efforts to act as an “educational trust”. All it has done is pursue this legal action against NIWA and its climate scientists.

The Heartland-funded NZ Climate “Science” Coalition is chaired by Barry Brill, a retired lawyer and former National party politician. Since he assumed the chairman’s role, the Coalition has discovered an enthusiasm for legal action. It’s an approach to climate affairs that Brill hopes to export to the rest of the world. Describing the genesis of the NIWA case at the Heartland Institute’s sixth climate sceptic networking event, held in Washington last year, Brill said “We are going to need to do this all round the world.”2

So who has been funding this action? It’s reasonable to assume that Brill, as the prime mover in the case, has been providing his services to the NZ CSET free of charge, but now that there is a hearing in the High Court, and Queen’s Counsel are presenting the evidence to the judge, there will be unavoidable, and probably substantial expenses to be met. Is it possible, perhaps, that Alan Gibbs, the millionaire sceptic3 backer of the ACT party, is helping out his friends? A peek at the accounts of the NZ CSET would be rather interesting…

There is, however, a significant asymmetry in the way the case is being funded. NIWA, as a crown research institute, has no option but to take the issue seriously. Since Richard Treadgold first launched his shonky assault on the NZ temperature record, NIWA scientists have worked hard to explain their methods. Taxpayer funds were allocated to a reconstruction of a long term NZ temperature record4. Despite all that, Brill and his pals formed the NZ CSET and launched their legal action. Since then, NIWA scientists have had to spend time preparing for the court case. All of this has taken place at a time when the government is cutting expenditure, and funding for the CRIs has been under pressure. Instead of getting on with doing science, NIWA staff have been diverted to preparing for this court appearance. It’s been a gross distortion of their scientific agenda and a considerable waste of their time — all brought about because a retired lawyer and his chums with weird ideas about climate science decided to try a bit of legal grandstanding.

Whoever wins or loses this case, the only real losers will be the NZ taxpayer. Should Justice Venning find for NIWA, then NIWA might seek an order to recover their legal costs in defending the action. At that point, it’s highly likely that the NZ CSET would be found to have no assets. Brill and his boys would lose, but face no financial consequences.

Win or lose, an outrageous abuse of process will have taken place, at enormous cost to the taxpayer. No discernible purpose will have been served. No warming averted, no disaster avoided, just the massaging of the bloated egos of a few climate cranks with influential friends.

  1. In fact, the NZ CSET wasn’t properly registered until after a statement of claim was lodged with the High Court. []
  2. At 6 minutes into this video of his introduction to a Bob Carter keynote. Surprise, surprise: Carter is supporting the NZ CSET case with “expert” evidence, despite being a geologist rather than a meteorologist or statistician. []
  3. Gibbs has been closely involved with NZ C”S”C spin-off, the International Climate Science Coalition. []
  4. Which turned out to be pretty much the same as the earlier work has suggested. []

56 thoughts on “When asses go to court”

  1. IANAL, but is there not a legitimate method to dismiss this as a frivolous and vexatious case? There would surely be costs, but minimal compared with a protracted case. Alternatively, since the NZCSET is an entity that was clearly created to avoid legal consequences, perhaps in Law it will fail to protect those who hope to hide behind it. Because the Law and the courts punish those who treat either with contempt and their powers are extensive.

    At least, here’s hoping. I would dearly like Treadgold and his associated societal parasites to be taken to the cleaners.

    1. IANAL either, but the fact that it has reached a hearing suggests that the judge believes that its worth hearing argument. Beyond that, judges have significant discretion in this sort of case, but how that might be applied here is beyond my ken.

  2. I don’t think NIWA ever moved to have the case struck out, did they? That would have been the most sensible thing to do in the first instance. Was there ever a case to answer?

    What expertise does Venning have to be able to adjudicate? This is a highly technical case – does he get scientific advice? How does he guage the veracity of Bob Carter’s affadavit, for example?

  3. In a quick partial scan, I noticed that Carter Made this statement, which I believe to be misleading or false: Energy & Environment claims to be Peer-reviewed, but since it is a ‘journal’ where bad science goes to die, I somewhat doubt that it can muster suitable referees. Although I note that Fred Singer and other ‘unreliable’ sources publish there, and that says enough about E&E for me. IIRC, E&E isn’t a WoS P/R journal. I’m certainly not paying for what I believe to be garbage, so I can’t comment on the paper, but it’s probably unmitigated BS.

    30. Meantime a peer—reviewed paper critical of the Review (presented by Dr Vincent Gray, a member of the Coalition) has been published in an
    internationalIy—recognised scholarly journaI4.

    4 Gray, V. (2011) The Seven Station Series. Energy and Environment, Vol 22 No 4.

    1. NZ Courts have in the past demonstrated that they have little clue how to sort out good science from bad, and they won’t go to academia or our Universities for advice (hubris?). There are plenty of examples of this hubris in the history of Queen vs Peter Ellis *.

      The justice system seem to approach this area as do many of our journalists, giving equal time to both sides of arguments despite the sides having vastly different weight in terms of scientific merit.

      * http://www.peterellis.org.nz/2003/2003-0906_Listener_MemoryAndTheLaw.htm


  4. I dont know if strike out was sought. Its hard to get. You have to show that there is some sort of absolute legal or evidential impediment to the applicant being able to get a decision in their favour. A very weak case is not on its own sufficient.

    Key documents for the Trust case are here:


    The statement of claim is carefully drafted and avoids any obvious traps that would have made a strike out easy.

    1. Nothing (that I’ve heard or seen) in the news tonight. NIWA should have been putting their case to the judge today. The hearing was set down for a week, but could be shorter…

  5. I wish I was in akl to witness this case. It would have been tough to stay silent on the public benches tho. contempt [how ironic] being what it is etc.

  6. Stuff says there is an attempt to strike out evidence from Terry Dunleavy as being non-expert. If that works the NZSET will just have to draw on their extensive pool of climate scientists to provide evidence……oh, wait….!

    1. This defense seems a little weak to me. The statistical work was audited and reviewed by three separate professional statisticians, who all agreed with the workings.

      1. Properly applied, the R & S method yields the original 7SS. The fact that Treadgold et al can get a different result says a lot about their choices and much less about reality (or their skill with statistics).

        1. The fact that Treadgold et al can get a different result says a lot about their choices and much less about reality (or their skill with statistics).

          Au contraire, I would maintain that it says a great deal about ‘their skill with statistics’

          1. So you are claiming that all three of the professional statisticians who reviewed and audited the work are wrong?

            Do you need to be a “climate scientist” to understand statistics? If so, why?

            1. Their statistics may be correct – i.e. the mechanics may be right, the sums add up – but their application may be wrong. The corrections to be applied depend on choices that are not all statistical in nature (see Mullan, 2012, Applying the Rhoades and Salinger method to NZ’s “Seven-Station” Temperature series, Weather & Climate, 32(1), 23-37).

    1. Its about time that libelous bullies such as Mark Steyn face some headwind. His comments in: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/309442/football-and-hockey-mark-steyn are truly abhorrent, completely without any merit and nothing but hateful spite.

      I guess the denial-hydra lost a few too many of its ugly heads lately in order to keep its cool, and behavior such as Steyn’s is just a symptom of its demise as it screeches under the pressure of the evidence…. good riddens and good on Mann for standing up against this crap!

        1. Perhaps you should educate yourself and read more about Michael Mann and his science, and the numerous independent studies that have essentially confirmed his work. It appears that you’ve been basing your views on the wide range of often libellous denial industry propaganda. The very same dishonest and malicious garbage using such tricks as quote-mining; plagiarised passages with what is apparently deliberate falsification and twinned with bogus statistics tuned to generate hockeysticks from noise that has inspired the hate campaigns against climate scientists.

          The hockeysticks are in the data.

          1. Oh I have read lots of stuff written by Michael Mann. I subscribe to his Facebook page.

            He is a truly great scientist who has shown the world how serious our predicament is.

            Mark Steyn is a good for nothing rabble rouser who defends free speech and other nefarious activities.

            1. Whether or not he’s “the Jerry Sandusky of climate change”

              You’re going to dignify spewing this garbage as some ‘sacred liberty’, are you? How utterly tawdry can you get? Quite the standard for you all to rally to, I’m sure.

              And no small number of your heroes may as well get used to spending time in the courts, andy. They’re going to be the Tobacco defendants of the 21st Century, after all…

            2. Freedom of speech is not the same as the freedom to run from the consequences stemming from that speech! I thought coming from the UK you were quite familiar with that distinction yourself, where the law is rather tough on people slandering others.

              Steyn used his freedom of expression in an utterly disgusting and libelous manner and the idea that you seem to find this defensible is abhorrent.

            3. Andy, given the direction of your long history postings “from the dark side” 😉 in the past, your little line:

              “Mark Steyn is a good for nothing rabble rouser who defends free speech and other nefarious activities.”

              is rather suggestive to the interpretation that you think that Steyn is providing a veritable example of the use of Free Speech, while people criticizing him could be denounced as calling Free Speech a nefarious activity…

              Not sure what sort of Cool aid you are drinking these days, but I must admit that at least on the surface of things you seem to have adopted a more reasonable stance on the whole matter of AGW recently in some of your postings…. was it perhaps the sudden influx of hard to deny Climate phenomena of 2012?

  7. OK, Gareth, here’s a more restrained shot at Steyn, Andy and their ilk:

    Deniers imbue the debate with callousness. They obfuscate and distract. They try to score cheap points with fallacious arguments that play to fears, not sense. They do not serve truth, only a cause. They dogmatically repeat their own beliefs yet dismiss others without thought. They are doing a tremendous disservice to our public discourse.


      1. I’m glad to say that I was able to help Andrew Skolnick in the early stages of his investigation. 😉 I dug up the “Vanilla Girl” link, for instance, and was frankly astonished when AS found it was similar to a real case O’Sullivan was involved in.

        1. ‘Frankly astonished’ is the only conceivable reaction to this bizarre episode in the history of Denial – and, let’s face it, when you consider how wacky the baseline is here you know we’re talking industrial-strength Bizarre in managing to stand out!

          (Cue Sting and ‘Don’t stand so close to me’… 😉 )

  8. Oh dear – too lazy to find the Open Thread – µWatts announces he’s going into lockdown pending a dramatic and controversial announcement (google it yourself if you must!), and rumour has it the BEST final results are due – and, guess what; climate change is real!

    Amazing coincidence, do you think?

    If Anthony is looking for any nice hats to claim as his very own and then eat I have a couple of spares around the place… 😉

    1. CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

      Read it and weep, ‘skeptics’. He floats a couple of straw men – the 2035 BS again! – lower down in the piece, but this is one hell of a blow to you all.

      1. CO2 certainly. Guess there’ll be more detail away from the OpEd.But this fits with

        These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

        Anyway, this is turning into quite the red letter day. Potholer Hadfield has given us this rather nifty piece, too. Seems some people have indeed been routinely doctoring those Hockey Stick graphs…

        1. Interesting that Muller claims to be the converted sceptic.

          This comment from Lucia’s blackboard.
          You can verify the attribution for yourself

          Richard Muller 2012:
          “CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming.”

          Richard Muller 2003:
          Let me be clear. My own reading of the literature and study of paleoclimate suggests strongly that carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels will prove to be the greatest pollutant of human history. It is likely to have severe and detrimental effects on global climate.


          1. As usual, when presented with the juxtaposition of quotes without the context its best to read Mullers 2003 interview directly, in which he made this point:
            It then does become clear that Mullers views are a bit more complex on the matter than this quote would suggest.
            Nevertheless obviously Muller had back in 2003 already a very clear understanding of what it means when a process interferes with the biosphere in a manner such as (soon) doubling CO2 levels, and good on him for recognizing this then. Probably by 2012 he is witness, partially with his own work, that his 2003 intuition is confirmed.

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