Big guns brought to bear

homer.jpgThe now infamous McLean, de Freitas and Carter paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research (see Mother Nature’s Sons) has attracted a damning response from some of the biggest names in climate science, including a strong Kiwi contribution*. A comment has been submitted to JGR by Grant Foster, James Annan, Phil Jones, Michael Mann, Brett Mullan, Jim Renwick, Jim Salinger, Gavin Schmidt, and Kevin Trenberth. McLean et al’s “analysis is incorrect”, “seriously overestimates” the link between ENSO and global temperatures, and their paper provides no support for any claim about recent global temperature trends. Here’s the abstract:

McLean et al. [2009] (henceforth MFC09) claim that the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), as represented by the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), accounts for as much as 72% of the global tropospheric temperature anomaly (GTTA) and an even higher 81% of this anomaly in the tropics. They conclude that the SOI is a “dominant and consistent influence on mean global temperatures,” “and perhaps recent trends in global temperatures”. However, their analysis is incorrect in a number of ways, and greatly overstates the influence of ENSO on the climate system. This comment first briefly reviews what is understood about the influence of ENSO on global temperatures, then goes on to show that the analysis of MFC09 severely overestimates the correlation between temperature anomalies and the SOI by inflating the power in the 2–6 year time window while filtering out variability on longer and shorter time scales. It is only because of this faulty analysis that they are able to claim such extremely high correlations. The suggestion in their conclusions that ENSO may be a major contributor to recent trends in global temperature is not supported by their analysis or any physical theory presented in that paper, especially as the analysis method itself eliminates the influence of trends on the purported correlations.

Looks to me like there’s no academic wiggle room for McLean, de Freitas and Carter. They got it very wrong. The big question now is how they managed to sneak the paper through peer-review. Meanwhile, claims that McLean et al shows “that most of the late 20th century global warming and cooling can be attributed to natural climate processes” will remain up at crank web sites, and Carter and de Freitas will consider their real work — to provide more propaganda for the denial machine — well done.

[* Brett Mullan and Jim Renwick are at NIWA, Jim Salinger’s now in the same department at Auckland University as CdF (which must make for interesting conversation over morning coffee), and Kevin Trenberth is a New Zealander.]

We better talk this over

jim_salinger.jpg Jim Salinger’s sacking by NIWA has gone to mediation. Stuff has an iffy picture but good background to today’s first meeting: six NIWA execs attended, facing up to Salinger and his lawyer. The meeting finished at 3pm this afternoon, and Jim tells me that “the matter has not reached resolution, but talks continue”. He won’t be saying more until the process has concluded. Meanwhile Ken Perrott has an excellent summary of the reaction to Salinger’s sacking from the NZ scientific community at Open Parachute. Should be more coverage in the days to come, and I’ll update this post with links as they come in.

[Bob Dylan]

Science rallies round Salinger

jim_salinger.jpg The scientific community in New Zealand and around the world has been buzzing with the news of Jim Salinger’s dismissal by NIWA, and messages of support have been flooding in. This morning’s NZ Herald quotes former colleagues bemused by NIWA’s action:

Former Niwa scientist Andy Reisinger, who now works at Victoria University, said the decision to sack someone of Dr Salinger’s standing for breaking media protocol was “incomprehensible”. “I’m not sure how that can be justified.”

Others are concerned at the increasing bureaucratisation of the research institutes:

Dr Dave Lowe, who left his job as a principal atmospheric scientist at Niwa about 18 months ago, said one reason for his departure was a lack of freedom “to get on with the job”.

“These big Crown research institutions have become dominated by managers. They tend to forget that the bread and butter for the company … comes from its top scientists and they include people like Jim Salinger.”

In this week’s NBR, Tom Frewen’s Media Watch column provides some interesting background on the revamping of NIWA (not available online):

…the board and chief executive then [2007] embarked on a programme of corporatisation, ratcheting up directors’ allowances and executive salaries to attract top talent. NIWA’s 2007-8 annual report reveals that the number of employees on $100,000 – $110,000 doubled from 24 to 51, while those on $110,000 – $120,000 tripled from ten to 30.

Frewen also quotes the new NIWA chief executive , John Morgan, from that same report:

Something we recognise is that the science sector is not too good at promoting itself. We need to better communicate our science. NIWA’s duty is to be experts and confidently present facts. This can be a challenge” Mr Morgan added ominously, “in a media environment where personal opinions and controversy often gain profile.”

Ominous words for Jim, Frewen concludes.

Meanwhile The Press this morning prints a letter of support for Salinger from expat New Zealand scientist professor Peter Lamb of the University of Ohio:

Dr Salinger has demonstrated a remarkable ability to communicate complex scientific information to the public. Few scientists are able to perform this role as well as he does.

Salinger’s also been getting support in Parliament, with Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons asking the hard questions:

John Key said in a speech in 2005 that he didn’t want NZ to keep exporting scientists and importing taxi drivers. This case won’t help him realise his dream.

See also: Nature News, and listen out for RNZ’s Mediawatch tomorrow (May 3).

Sound of silence

jim_salinger.jpg The National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has fired climate scientist Jim Salinger for “unauthorised dealings” with the media. Salinger has been one of New Zealand’s leading climate scientists since the 1970s, and his sacking has shocked many in the scientific community. The Dominion Post reports:

The Crown agency’s long-serving principal scientist was dismissed earlier this week, reportedly for trying to help TVNZ’s weatherman Jim Hickey with some “climate-related inquiries” and for doing an interview with Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme without permission.

He said he received a letter in March from management summoning him to a disciplinary meeting for an interview he did with TVNZ in February commenting on Auckland’s hottest day. The interview had not been approved and was labelled “serious misconduct”. He was also reprimanded for talking to TVNZ about glaciers for which he thought he had permission.

I covered the offending glacier story here: it was an excellent piece of journalism, reflecting well on both TV NZ and the NIWA staff working on the survey. Salinger was also one of the five NZ scientists who complained last year about being on Heartland’s list of people whose work didn’t support global warming: a move which gained Jim a lot of support in the NZ media — hardly surprising when for years he’s been one of the main “go to” men for a quotable opinion on climate and weather issues.

NIWA have not commented on the dismissal, and they are unlikely to in the short term given that an employment court case is in the offing. Whatever the ins and outs of employment law, the Crown-owned research institute is going to have to work hard to avoid the suspicion that — in an echo of attempts by the Bush administration to muzzle Jim Hansen — management fired Salinger because he was refusing to be gagged.

The Green Party has already called on NIWA’s shareholding ministers, Wayne Mapp and Bill English, to ask the CRI’s board to investigate the sacking, but Mapp has refused according to the DomPost:

Dr Mapp said he would not intervene. “The matter is an employment dispute, which must be handled by the chief executive and the board,” he said.

I think Mapp has this wrong. Salinger’s dismissal raises questions of free speech and academic freedom, and if the government is to avoid suspicions of censoring inconvenient truths — at a time when cranks are being given time to spout nonsense before the ETS Review committee — then it needs to act swiftly to reaffirm that New Zealand scientists are not being muzzled. The international reputation of our science could be at stake.

See also: Stuff, Herald on Sunday, and for a critical take on the burgeoning role of bureaucrats in NZ science, an opinion piece by Doug Edmeades in Australasian Science this week (via the Science Media Centre).

[Simon & Garfunkel]