Polar bear specialist Mitch Taylor on accountability in polar bear science

Polar bear specialist Mitch Taylor emailed me and others his response to the New York Times article that appeared Tuesday (10 April) about the Harvey et al. (2018) BioScience paper attacking my scientific integrity. Here it is in full, with his permission, and my comments. Don’t miss the footnote!

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Steve Amstrup is lying to the media about my critique of his 2007 model

Until now, my scientific paper post at PeerJ Preprints for review, about the failure of Steve Amstrup’s 2007 USGS polar bear survival model (Crockford 2017), has been formally ignored by Amstrup and his colleagues. But now Amstrup and his colleagues have taken to lying to the media about my analysis because he can’t refute it in a scholarly manner.

Mother with cubs Russia_shutterstock_71694292_web size

Amstrup was quoted by Erica Goode in her New York Times article on the Harvey et al. (2018) BioScience attack paper published Tuesday (10 April 2018: “Climate Change Denialists Say Polar Bears Are Fine. Scientists Are Pushing Back”):

“Dr. Amstrup, however, said that according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the average September sea ice extent for the years 2007 to 2017 was 4.5 million square kilometers, “nowhere near the low levels projected it would be by the middle of the century.”

“To say that we already should have seen those declines now when we’re not early [sic] to the middle of the century yet is absurd,” he said.” [my bold]

And over at the online outlet Mashable (11 April 2018: “Climate scientists fight false polar bear narrative pushed by bloggers”), reporter Mark Kaufman quoted Jeff Harvey, lead author of the BioScience paper on the issue, although Harvey is hardly an authority:

“(Harvey noted Crockford misunderstood and then mischaracterized this prediction).”

Amstrup also presented a lame critique of the portion of my Financial Post 27 February 2018 op-ed that dealt with his 2007 predictions, published 2 March 2018 by Climate Feedback (self-proclaimed “fact checkers”), that is easily refuted because it’s a blatant lie. He’s saying 2015 sea ice models are relevant to his 2007 predictions that used 2005/2006 sea ice models.

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Climate mauling, polar bears, and the self-inflicted wounds of the self-righteous

The BioScience paper “Internet blogs, polar bears, and climate-change denial by proxy” (Harvey et al. 2018) is a smack-talk response to my pointing out that polar bear numbers did not plummet as predicted when mid-century-like sea ice conditions arrived unexpectedly in 2007 (Crockford 2017). Here is why this shoddy piece of work will go down in history as a self-inflicted wound for the polar bear community (and biologist co-authors Ian Stirling and Steven Amstrup) and an own-goal for their wanna-be climate-hero friends, Stephan Lewandowsky, Jeff Harvey, and Michael Mann.

idea 1 final…absolutely the stupidest paper I have ever seen published” tweeted climate scientist Judith Curry, Emeritus Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology (“Georgia Tech”).

Dr. Curry is a favourite target of colleague Michael Mann’s penchant for derogatory name-calling. Ironically, Mann often promotes something he calls the “Serengeti Strategy,” which he described to US Congress in 2017 in presenting himself as a victim of abused by others [my bold]:

“I coined the term “Serengeti Strategy” back in 2012 in “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” to describe how industry special interests who feel threatened by scientific findings—be it tobacco and lung cancer, or fossil fuel burning and climate change—single out individual scientists to attack in much the same way lions of the Serengeti single out an individual zebra from the herd. In numbers there is strength, but individuals are far more vulnerable. Science critics will therefore often select a single scientist to ridicule, hector, and intimidate. The presumed purpose is to set an example for other scientists who might consider sticking their neck out by participating in the public discourse over certain matters of policy-relevant science.” Michael Mann, 2017 Congressional testimony.

Mann thinks others are using this strategy against him but if he had half an ounce of self-awareness he’d see it’s exactly what he and his long list of colleagues are doing with the Harvey et al. BioScience attack on me. Intimidation by numbers is the only rational explanation for a roster of 14 when two incompetent researchers could have produced a similar result.

Polar bear specialists Ian Stirling and Steven Amstrup knew they didn’t have a valid argument to refute my paper (Crockford 2017; Crockford and Geist 2018) on their failed polar bear survival model (Amstrup et al. 2007), which their responses to my International Polar Bear Day (27 February 2018) Financial Post op-ed revealed to the world (see here and here with references).

So when ignoring me didn’t work – or, more accurately, when the world started paying too much attention to me, by their own admission (Harvey et al. 2018:3) – they teamed up with Michael Mann, Jeff Harvey, and Stephan Lewandowsky (all with previous form attacking colleagues who don’t share their views) to publish an academic paper attacking my scientific integrity. In the words of Terence Corcoran, I was “climate mauled.”

Judith Curry stated recently (14 February 2018), regarding the Mann lawsuit against Rand Simberg, Mark Steyn and the National Review vs. the attacks on her integrity:

“Mann’s libelous statements about me (because he is a scientist with many awards) are far more serious than say Rand Simberg’s statements about Mann.”

In other words, like the attack on me in the Harvey paper (used to libel other internet bloggers by association), when senior scientists like Mann, Stirling, and Amstrup use derogatory and defamatory language against a colleague it’s a serious breach of professional ethics that impacts careers. Harvey et al.’s attack against me may be worse than those against Curry at a Congressional Hearing because it has been entered into the scientific literature in my own field.1

However, I expect BioScience (read mostly by teachers, students, and the general public, and therefore widely subscribed to by public libraries) was the only outlet willing to publish such unprofessional tripe. The editor’s refusal to retract the paper after numerous complaints about the language and the quality of the scientific content, tells you all you need to know about the journal’s low, sectarian standards. For example, the notice showing the two corrections they were willing to make at the end of March 2018 had to be pulled because such an egregious error occurred (it was posted to the wrong journal) it got the attention of online watchdog Retraction Watch! [Still not fixed as of 8 April]

Polar bear paper correction retraction_5 April 2018

It also tells us quite a lot about the bias of its publishers, the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Did you know, for example, that this organization has an “actionbioscience” program that provides free idealogically biased content aimed at kids and teachers that’s not particularly different from the biased content produced (without references) for kids and teachers by activist conservation outfit Polar Bears International (employer of Harvey et al. co-author Steve Amstrup)? The AIBS actionbioscience program currently includes an out-of date, alarmist essay by litigious Center for Biological Diversity employee Shaye Wolf on the plight of penguins (from 2009) as well as one by pessimistic polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher (from 2008) .

If you are able, please support the work I do here at PolarBearScience, some of which will go to Josh for these fabulous cartoons:

Here is a list of issues regarding the Harvey et al. paper as well as responses to it: some of these you won’t have heard before. Because this is a long summary post, for convenience I offer it here also in pdf form: “Climate mauling, polar bears, and self-inflicted wounds of the self-righteous.”

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Polar bear population numbers are for kids, says specialist Andrew Derocher

Polar bear specialists made global population numbers the focus of the world’s attention when they predicted a dramatic decline and possible extinction of the species. But now that the numbers have increased slightly rather than declined, the same scientists say global numbers are meaningless: the public should give those figures no credence and anyone who cites global population numbers should be mocked.

NBC 2015_3 there will soon be a big decline in polar bear numbers snap

See the screen shot from a 2015 NBC news video above and another from the science journal NATURE in 2008 below (Courtland 2008):

Courtland 2008 headline

Yet, below is a recent message from one of the world’s most vocal polar bear specialists, four years after a similar incident raised the public’s ire:

Derocher tweet 2018 Feb 28 quote

However, you can’t make a plausible prediction of future survival without an estimate of present population size: not even today’s worst journalists would buy it, nor should they.
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Correction notice for Harvey et al. BioScience paper retracted due to error

You just have to laugh: the promised miniscule changes were finally made to the embarrassing Harvey et al. 2018 BioScience paper last week but today were retracted.

Retraction Watch headline 3 April 2018

The corrigendum was erroneously published 28 March 2018 at the journal Neurosurgery. And that blunder attracted the attention of the folks at Retraction Watch.

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An embarrassment to science: BioScience editor formally rejects retraction request

After four long months of waiting, late last week I finally received an official  response from the editor of BioScience regarding my retraction request for the Harvey et al. paper (Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy), which I sent 5 December 2017.

Crockford 2017_Slide 12 screencap

From the sounds of it, the wait took so long because the paper went through a tedious process of parsing words just so among the 14 co-authors (akin to that used by the IPCC in constructing the Summary for Policy Makers), to convey the authors meaning and retain as much of the original insult as possible. In reality, we know the decision was made barely two weeks after I sent the request (16 December 2017) because that day, BioScience editor Scott Collins told a reporter he had no intention of retracting the paper.

In the end, the authors were compelled to make two small word changes. The editor insists that:

“…prior to publication, the article was peer reviewed by highly reputable scholars with expertise on the topic as per our standard procedures.”

So he says.

But all we can do is judge by the results the reviewers approved: a paper with two prominent spelling errors (“principle” component analysis; “Refereces” cited) as well as several serious errors in the supplemental material that were brought to the editors attention (which does not even break the surface of the statistical errors described in detail by others or the additional errors found after my retraction request was filed, including a case of plagiarism of my blog content by a so-called “science” blog used in the paper).

Harvey et al. hardly needed much analysis for savvy folks to judge its quality: on the day of release, climate scientist Judith Curry’s scathing remark on twitter said it all:

“This is absolutely the stupidest paper I have ever seen published.”

Among the co-authors of the paper are polar bear specialists Steven Amstrup and Ian Stirling, as well as Stephen Lewandosky and Michael Mann (who now writes for children, competing with my popular polar bear science book for kids):

The online version available today (26 March) did not contain the changes described by the editor in his 23 March 2018 email nor were the spelling errors fixed (pdf here). Errors in the supplementary data file remain (here), although these were identified months ago.

The entire fiasco, start to finish, is an embarrassment to science but apparently, the editor does not care. As I’ve said before, this paper says more about the editor of the journal, the journal’s publishers, and the authors of the paper than it does about me or any of the bloggers discussed within it.

If published as is by the journal, it will go down in history as a low point for science and BioScience will have the dubious honor of being complicit in its production, as will all 14 co-authors. I encourage you to read the paper and see for yourself.

The same morning I received the response from the BioScience editor (text below), Dr. Richard Tol received a rejection notice for the critique of the Harvey et al. paper he and co-author Anand Rajan submitted 25 January 2018 (“LIPSTICK ON A BEAR: A COMMENT ON INTERNET BLOGS, POLAR BEARS, AND CLIMATE-CHANGE DENIAL BY PROXY”), with two reasons given:

“First. author guidelines state that letters are limited to 500 words and must be considered to be constructive. Secondly, and more importantly, your letter has already been published verbatum on line and therefore does not merit re-publication in BioScience.” [my bold]

Odd timing and a bit ironic, isn’t it? Preprint server publication is damned as ‘prior publication’ even though it is dismissed out of hand by vocal champions of scientific virtue because it hasn’t been through a journal-orchestrated review process (as opposed to simply being reviewed by peers).

Such a “dismissal” has occurred with my paper that shows how and why Amsturp and colleagues 2007 polar bear predictions failed so miserably (Crockford 2017), now downloaded more than 2300 times (see a shorter summary in Crockford and Geist 2018, and here). This is the paper Amstrup and Stirling don’t want the public to read.

I’ll let readers decide for themselves if they agree with Collins on whether the changes agreed to by all parties to this sham of a paper come anywhere close to addressing the insult to science and dedicated scientists everywhere.

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At the winter maximum, still about the same polar bear habitat this year as 2006

There is no evidence that slightly less winter sea ice than the average since 1979 has had any negative impact on polar bear health or survival: the difference is simply not biologically meaningful to Arctic animals.

PB_male on ice_Regehr USFWS_March 2010_labeled

Polar bear on winter sea ice around the yearly maximum in the Beaufort Sea, 2010 (March 21).

NASA’s 23 March 2018 announcement regarding the Arctic sea ice maximum this year:

“Sea ice in the Arctic grew to its annual maximum extent last week, and joined 2015, 2016 and 2017 as the four lowest maximum extents on record, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.”

Except, what they don’t tell you is that 2006 had almost the same extent as 2018 and 2006 wasn’t far behind according to the official, averaged data presented at NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis:

Arctic sea ice Maximum 10 lowest extents_NSIDC 23 March 2018

Current conditions at the winter maximum (at 17 March 2018, from NSIDC Masie, extent measured at 14.7 mkm2, using software able to discern more ice than used for the figures in Table 1), shown below: Continue reading