Prue Hyman: Muzzling The Critics

1a prue hymanHow our Government tries to muzzle scientists and others…

By Prue Hyman

In my December column I handed out plaudits to those supporting free speech, academic freedom and whistle-blowing in New Zealand against government and media attacks.

Today I return to related aspects of this erosion of democracy, focusing on the climate of fear preventing many scientists and community organisations from speaking out.

One of the four worthy aims of the July 2014 document ‘A Nation of Curious Minds: He Whenua Hirihi I te Mahara’ was that of “encouraging the science sector to be more engaged with the wider community.” This to ensure that “New Zealanders are more aware of the relevance of scientific research and the new technologies and innovations it provides.” (

Developed by government departments in conjunction with Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, the practical development of this aim was to be through the development of a code of practice on public engagement for scientists led by The Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ).

Gluckman — ‘encourage scientists to speak out’

sir peter gluckmanGluckman said that “a new code would encourage scientists to speak out, and give them guidelines for doing so” – but one could reasonably accuse him of doublespeak (or in the original George Orwell version doublethink) on this ‘encouragement’ and instead expect restrictive guidelines, with him adding that “some scientists tend to exaggerate what they know and forget to state what they do not know.” ( He also warned about their speaking beyond their narrow area of expertise.

Certainly if we examine the reactions of many scientists to the proposed code, there is substantial disquiet.

  • First, there is already a Royal Society Code of Conduct which seems unobjectionable.
  • Second, few scientists know about this, and yet most are strongly driven by ethical considerations.
  • Third, many of them already fear speaking out and consider that the proposed code of practice may make things worse.

All this according to a survey of scientists carried out by the New Zealand Association of Scientists, attracting 384 responses within a week. ( 40% of those responding already felt gagged because of management policy or concern over loss of funding, while others were concerned that this could get worse.

Responses have been telling

Many quotes from the responses were telling, such as: “The suggested revisions toe dangerously close to the line of requiring scientists to only agree with government or private corporation’s lines, instead of being free to comment on a wide range of issues – as is the right of any human being.”

Similarly many community organisations including NGOs heavily dependent on government funding and contracts are fearful of the consequences of speaking out where they disagree with current policies.

Sandra greySandra Grey (photo alongside), and Charles Sedgwick have done excellent work surveying community groups and report that half of respondents feared that if they spoke out their funding would be cut, compared with a quarter in 2008. Some had experienced threats or have contracts with gagging clauses.

A 2013 paper on their work refers to the nature of NGOs’ relationship with the state including contracting contributing to an environment in which debate is discouraged or barely tolerated.

Problems under both main parties

The trajectory has been to control through contracts, administrative requirements, and efficiency demands,” with the result that the emancipatory role of community and voluntary sector organisations as the voice for marginalised groups is often subverted.

And this has occurred under BOTH main political parties, with engagement in debate welcome only if it avoids challenging the nature of the state and existing elite structures. (

One piece of good news

I want to finish this sorry story with one piece of better news. The rules governing registration of charities and their interpretation have also been restrictive on policy advocacy, even where this was totally subsidiary to service delivery.

NCWThe National Council of Women of New Zealand, hardly the most radical of those organisations fighting for gender equality, was de-registered as a charity in August 2010 because of this.

It successfully fought this decision and has recently won a case in the High Court against Inland Revenue and the Charities Registration Board. IRD had imposed taxes for the two years NCW was de-registered, but the Court reversed this and ordered backdating of the re-registration.

Thank heavens for some sense somewhere in the system!

Subject: CH4/CO2 ATT Sir Peter Gluckman
Date: Sun, 16 Nov 2014 15:22:35 +1300
From: Robert
Dear Peter Gluckman
I’m trying to find out the forcing factor of CH4 over CO2.
This was a post I just placed on the Generation Zero Face Book page
> Hi GZ people I’ve got a little project for you. I would like to know the forcing factor of CH4 (methane) over CO2. Currently the planet is @ 1.8 ppm CH4 The IPCC says CH4 is 24 times worse than CO2 over 100 years, and there is another ‘official’ report saying it is about 86x worst over 20 years. Although individual molecules of methane are oxidized, and therefore the atmospheric warming potential of a given quantity – call it a methane burp for want of a better name – will decline over time, that is not the real situation in the atmosphere, where every molecule of methane that is oxidized is replaced by another. Indeed, the rate of release of methane into the atmosphere currently exceeds the oxidation rate, so the total quantity of methane is increasing. The Earth is enveloped in an ever-denser ‘jacket’ of methane. So how can a warming potential that declines to a value of 1 relative to carbon dioxide apply? I’ve heard of different ratings from 150 to 300 (and up to 1,000 X worse if a release is large enough for local impacts.?) @ 150 times worse than CO2 that equals 270 PPM CO2 equivalent, giving us a total of 670 ppm CO2/CO2e which is 320 ppm higher than even the people say is the max for humans long term survival. As the CO2 hangs around for about 1,000 years, it will keep warming up the planet …………… but that is another story. You mission Mr and Mrs Phelps is to prove the above information right or wrong. Good luck, we can’t find the answers. Hoping one of you GZ’s has a teacher or professor you might be able to quiz?
(They may all be a bit to young to get the mission imposable joke?)

I’ve also posed this question to Dr Dave Lowe, Emeritus Professor Peter Barrett, Dr Natalia Shakhova, to name a few.

If you have the time I would really like your thoughts on my above statement
Robert Atack

And this to the chair of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change

Subject: CH4/CO2 Att Rajendra Pachauri
Date: Thu, 04 Dec 2014 16:26:56 +1300
From: Robert

Hi Rajendra
I am trying to find out the forcing factor of CH4 over C02 in time frames that matter, like what is the forcing factor when the CH4 is only a week old?
This is the question my friend Kevin posed to someone the other day, his explanation is way better than I could manage.


For more than a year I have been very troubled by the way the relative warming effect of methane compared to carbon dioxide is calculated, the UNIPCC initially assigning a value of 23 times CO2 over 100 years and 72 times CO2 over 20 years, which were subsequently increased to 34 times CO2 over 100 years and 86 times CO2 over 20 years.

I have searched, with no success, for the instantaneous absorption-re radiation value of CH4 versus CO2, and many months ago telephoned (and emailed) Paul Beckwith at the University of Ottawa to discuss the matter; at the time he said he thought it was about 250, but has not confirmed this figure. The decay curves I have seen suggest an instantaneous value for methane of the order of 300 times that of carbon dioxide, and I have seen an unreferenced article by Malcolm Light suggesting a value between 1,000 and 300 times CO2 for times scales that matter.

It seems to me there is something very suspect in the manner in which the IPCC calculates the effect of methane in the atmosphere, in that it treats methane as though it decays to carbon dioxide (which we know it does) and assigns and average value over time for the decay. Yet the concentration of methane in the atmosphere does not decline because every molecule of methane that gets oxidized by the OH ion or OH radical mechanism is replaced by another. Indeed, the rate of release of methane molecules into the atmosphere clearly far exceeds the rate of oxidation, so the concentration and actual mass of atmospheric methane both increase,.

End snip

So far I’ve sent this question out to maybe 100 ‘scientists’, and have had 4 responses, happy to send them to you if you are interested, it is looking like CH4 is 300 – 400 times stronger a GHG than CO2?


The thing is people – Peter Gluckman et al are tied to the IPCC, and are unable to say anything outside their offical statements, which are 1)- 5 to 7 years behind current information, and 2)- most statements are scrutinized by the likes of John Key, and as we saw in his Hard Talk interview, he will always take the bullshit cover up story first. Least we forget his Hardtalk moment –
‘They’ are ALL lying to you, but they know you are happy in your collective ignorance, because simply the truth will not ‘set you free’ …. the truth is bloody scary.

So like all politicians Gluckman is just there to pick up his pay, doing anything to earn it is a separate issue?