I hear that New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful country, full of fascinating people. But since I began researching the global warming debate I admit my view of it has become more nuanced.

You see, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) devotes a chapter in its large assessment reports to the effects global warming might have on human health. The current head of that chapter is a medical doctor and public health professor from New Zealand named Alistair Woodward.

In 2009 Woodward authored three overtly political diatribes on the topic of climate change that were published, rather unbelievably, in the New Zealand Medical Journal. You may read them here, here, and here. (Backup links are here, here, and here.)

The first of these papers declares that climate change must be controlled by “timely central government means” (the italics are mine). The second urges doctors to educate their patients “in climate change action.” The last one speaks darkly of climate deniers and asserts, rather hilariously, that:

Change is not necessarily normal.

Another New Zealand contributor to the IPCC is atmospheric scientist Martin Manning. As head of the Working Group 1 Technical Support Unit for the 2007 edition of the Climate Bible, he was a powerful insider. But I lost a great deal of respect for him after reading an article he authored in Scientific American that rather unscientifically refers to climate models as crystal balls.

If the above weren’t enough to convince me that New Zealand is hardly a bastion of critical thinking a recent article in the New Zealand Herald cinched it (backup link here).

It’s a long piece by investigative reporter Chris Barton. But rather than asking what in God’s name political treatises are doing in the New Zealand Medical Journal, it instead criticizes climatologist Chris de Freitas because he doesn’t include 3,000-page IPCC reports on his university course reading lists.

Really. Here are some quotes from the article:

The Geography 101 lecture workbook confirms the lack of such information. There seems little, if any, reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its landmark 2007 reports were not listed in the course reading material.

Asked about the lack of information in Geography 101 regarding IPCC reports and anthropogenic climate change [de Freitas] said: “In several of my courses I focus on these.”

”If Chris has not mentioned the IPCC, that is regrettable because the IPCC process is very important,” says [Professor Glenn] McGregor.

There’s a name for an article like this one. It’s called a hatchet job. Nowhere does it mention that de Freitas has been Deputy Dean of Science at Aukland University, that he has served as Vice President of the Meteorological Society of New Zealand, or that he is the author of dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers. In other words, it leaves the impression that de Freitas is a marginal scholar when this isn’t the case at all.

While this article gives Manning lots of room to criticize de Freitas, it conveniently neglects to mention Manning’s senior role with the IPCC.

Rather than alerting readers to the fact that people who specialize in examining natural disasters and human-caused climate change say that, currently, no link can be found between the two (see here), the journalist seems to think this link is beyond dispute.

In fact, he devotes the first three paragraphs of his article to this faulty premise. Later, he backs up this position by reporting the views of insurance companies – without pointing out that that industry gains financially if people believe such a link exists since premium hikes then seem justified. (In May, American journalist Paige St. John won a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for a series of articles that explored those sorts of issues – more here.)

On the one hand the article slams de Freitas for presenting his students with “a minority view” on climate-related issues. On the other it ends with quotes from Kevin Trenberth.

Remember him? He’s the gent who participated in a press conference that implied a link between global warming and more intense hurricanes – even though he has no hurricane expertise and even though his view was not shared by a single hurricane expert (see here). In other words, Trenberth is notorious for expressing a minority view of his own.

Whether or not the IPCC perspective on the world will turn out to be correct remains to be seen. My own research tells me its processes are so flawed that would be truly remarkable.

But Barton, the journalist, has appointed himself judge and jury. He has written an entire piece that implies that the IPCC view of the world is accurate and that de Freitas is shortchanging his students by not toeing the IPCC line.

This is ugly stuff – and it is an example of why many scientists choose to keep their heads down rather than publicly voicing their skeptical views.

I think de Freitas is a brave man who has been savaged by a journalist who brings shame on his profession. If you’d like to send this professor a kind word, he can be reached at c.defreitas AT auckland.ac.nz


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